How to get to Ethiopia

AS A COUPLE
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Practically all international visitors to Ethiopia fly into Addis Ababa, where Bole International Airport handles all international flights into the country and is also the hub of the domestic flight network. A high proportion of tourists fly with the national carrier Ethiopian Airlines, which has one of the most extensive networks of any African carrier, including direct flights from select cities in North America, South America, Europe, Australasia and a large number of African countries. For those who intend to use internal flights, an important advantage of booking your international ticket with Ethiopian Airlines is that it gets you a discount of up to 60 percent on domestic fares.

Fares are not strongly seasonal, but it may be more difficult to book a cheap ticket at short notice in the peak tourist season of October to February.

Flights from the UK and Ireland

Ethiopian Airlines operate direct international flights from London Heathrow, with a flying time of about eight hours. Other carriers routing indirectly from London through Europe, North Africa or the Middle East include British Airways (in partnership with Qatar Airways), EgyptAir, Emirates, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines. Generally these are not significantly cheaper than Ethiopian Airlines, and less convenient, but it is worth checking all the carriers’ websites for specials. Ethiopian Airlines has also announced it will run thrice-weekly flights to Addis Ababa from Dublin from mid-2015.

Flights from the US and Canada

From the east coast, there are direct flights with Ethiopian Airlines from Washington DC and Toronto. These are direct inbound but route through Rome on the return leg. The direct flying time is around fifteen hours (with flights via Rome taking longer). In addition, flights are due to begin three times a week from Los Angeles in mid-2015, with an hour’s stopover (on both legs) in Dublin. Routes cater to the substantial Ethiopian expatriate community in North America and tend to be busiest over the holiday periods (in particular Christmas and Easter) when many people return to see family.

Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

There are no direct flights from Australia or New Zealand, but several one-stop options are possible, including via Bangkok with Thai Airways, Dubai with Emirates or Qantas, and Johannesburg with South African Airways (SAA), then switching to an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa. The flying time, including layovers, is likely to be around 24 hours or longer.

The main carriers between Ethiopia and South Africa are SAA and Ethiopian Airlines, which operate a joint flight from Johannesburg. It might also be worth looking at indirect routings, for instance with Kenya Airways via Nairobi. The direct flying time is around six hours.

Overland from Kenya

The 1600km overland route between Nairobi and Addis Ababa via Moyale is not for the faint of heart, whether you travel in a private vehicle (a 4x4 is strongly advised) or on public transport. The first 550km (around 12hr), from Nairobi to the forested montane oasis of Marsabit via Isiolo, is straightforward enough, following a good asphalt road as far as Merille, 125km short of Marsabit, beyond which it’s a graded dirt road. Most travellers overnight in Marsabit, which has a few hotels and is a good place to break up the trip. The next 250km (around 10hr), from Marsabit to Moyale, remains one of the most challenging roads in East Africa, a spine-jarring strip of corrugations and potholes. Buses connect Nairobi, Isiolo, Marsabit and Moyale more or less daily, sometimes with more than one service. Once you’re at Moyale, the border crossing should be straightforward, assuming you have a visa (unlike at Bole, these can’t be issued on arrival) and once in Ethiopian Moyale, you have a choice of a few adequate budget hotels before catching a bus the next morning to Hawassa (10hr) or Addis Ababa (15hr).

The Rough Guide to Ethiopia and related travel guides

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Andy Turner
9/28/2020
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