Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Visas, Accommodation and Food

It has been a while since I have updated this blog but I recently traveled again in May, this time to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This was my first time on the African continent and there were quite a few differences, the most obvious being that I felt very much like a minority when walking around as the other places I traveled to had Asian tourists or locals around.

Local coffee shop

Visas and Addis Ababa Bole International Airport

After close to 24 hours of continuous travel including three separate flights and two layovers we were finally in Addis! The last I checked, only two countries are exempt from visas when entering Ethiopia so make sure you plan for this. There is the option of visa on arrival where you pay USD 50 for a stamp in your passport. However, this policy may change any time due to political circumstances. 

I opted to prepare my visa before departure with the embassy in Canada using their website's instructions. There is no online form version for this unless you use a third party visa company. I applied for a one month visa which is valid from the day that it is issued. This is very important because you cannot apply for your visa too far ahead of time or it could expire before you leave. For example, I went on a two week trip so I applied for the visa one month prior to the date of departure. It cost more to apply for a visa rather than purchase one on arrival but there is the ease of mind that I will not be rejected at the border for any visa issues.

When we were there, we had to fill a health form and have our passports checked to see if we were in any Ebola affected countries prior to arriving to Addis. After going through this part we went through the queue for customs and immigration. It was quite long and some people would cut queue. Fortunately, by the time we were finished with the process our luggage was already circling around the conveyor belt so we did not have to wait for that.

Accomodation

Addis Ababa is Africa's diplomatic capital hence there are people from all over the world here. There are some hotel chains such as the Sheraton and the Radisson. We stayed at a hotel called Dreamliner which had a booth at the departure hall of Bole Airport to get a shuttle bus to the hotel.

There was a man dressed like hotel staff who helped us with packing our luggage onto the shuttle bus but then asked for tips after. Be aware that the hotel staff will not ask for tips like this so you may want to just carry your own luggage.

At the entrance of the hotel is a bag and metallic scanner like the ones at the airport. Many places in Addis will have this such as in hotels and nicer restaurants. When I went to the post office, we were not allowed to bring our cameras in.

Hotel lobby

The Dreamliner hotel is about 15-30 minutes drive from the airport depending on traffic. It was clean with WiFi in the rooms and lobby. Be aware that the WiFi is quite spotty so be patient. Internet penetration is only 1% in Ethiopia. The staff are friendly and we enjoyed a buffet breakfast every morning with fresh fruit. This was the only place I had fresh fruit and I will explain more in the food section.

Now lets move onto things that the hotel could not control but may affect your visit. When we were there, only half the road in front of the hotel was level and the other half was rubble. On our last day there, a machine dug up the concrete parking lot right in front of the hotel doorsteps and left a pile of rubble there. I presume it is for construction purposes. There are cafes and coffee shops within walking distance of the hotel but the rubble makes it inconvenient to go to them especially at night when you cannot see as well.

Street in front of hotel

Electricity is not a constant here. Several times the power went out and the hotel does have a generator but it is extremely loud. Sometimes it turns on at 3am in the morning which can affect your sleep. On the topic of noise, behind the hotel is a large dirt football (soccer) field. People gather there and on frequent nights there was an extremely loud intercom playing music and reciting something in the late hours of the night like 4am. 

Food

A dietary staple of Ethiopians is injera made from a grain called teff. I would describe it as a spongey rolled up carb that is slightly sour. You eat with your right hand and rip up sections of injera to pick up the sauces placed on top.

Left: injera and Right: tibs (beef) wot

I was very careful not to eat any raw vegetables or fruit other than at the hotel. Even at a nice restaurant, the salad made a friend sick. I presume it was because it was washed with the local water which we were not used to. I did buy mangoes from a fruit stand nearby the hotel and cut it up to eat in my room without any problems.

Fruit stand

I brushed my teeth and changed my contact lenses using the hotel's tap water and that was fine. Needless to say, drink only bottled water while you're here. 

Some nice restaurants to try include:
Kategna for traditional food
Yilma for grilled beef

At Kategna

Coffee

Ethiopia is well known for their coffee and rightly so! I am not a coffee drinker but here I found myself wanting a cup quite often. The traditional style is served in what looked to me like Chinese tea cups instead of the mugs we're used to in North America. 

Down the street from the hotel was a local coffee shack called Messi Coffee. There were three tin/metal walls so you could see outside onto the street while sitting inside. It was a cozy place with small stools and tables that could fit 6-7 people maximum. The coffee cost 4 birr a cup and you could see the lady boiling the fresh coffee over a coal stove next to you as you drink. It was one of my favourite experiences there!

Brewing coffee

Coffee for 4 birr

If you're looking for a more cafe style, Tomoca has several branches there. They're famous for their macchiato and you drink standing around some tables. Each cup is 12 birr and I bought an abundance of packaged coffee here.

Macchiato for 12 birr

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