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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Ethiopia: The Roof of Africa

Tour Information

Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to Ethiopia. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they take this tour. Although we do our best to make sure that what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.

TRAVEL TO ETHIOPIA:This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird, and starts and ends in Addis Ababa. Please read the Important Travel Information for Participants on Sunbird Tours here.

ENTERING ETHIOPIA: United States citizens will need a passport valid for six months after you leave Ethiopia and a tourist visa. These can be obtained from the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., or the Ethiopian Consulate in New York. Also, visa services such as CIBT can take care of your needs quickly and efficiently. It is possible to obtain a visa on arrival at Bole International Airport; the process does not normally take very long, and may be less expensive. You will receive details on applying for a visa when the final tour invoice is issued.

MAPS AND COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can view maps of Ethiopia in the University of Texas series here. You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information here, and the CIA World Factbook background notes on Ethiopia here.

HEALTH: It is essential that you contact your own physician for the latest information on the regions you will be visiting.

Biting insects are not numerous, though mosquitoes and ticks do occur at some sites. The Centers for Disease Control strongly recommend a malaria preventive drug. Please be aware that chloroquine-resistant malaria is present in Ethiopia, as this will determine which anti-malaria drug you should take (mefloquine, Malarone, or doxycyline are three that your doctor might prescribe). The CDC also suggests up-to-date inoculations against tetanus, typhoid, and polio. It is also worth checking that you are adequately protected against hepatitis A. As some of these inoculations cannot be given concurrently, you should contact your doctor right away to obtain advice about when to start your treatment.

As of December 2009, certification of yellow fever vaccination is required. For additional information, see the CDC’s discussion of Yellow Fever vaccination for travel in Ethiopia.

You can review the latest CDC latest advisories here.

Tap water is best avoided. Bottled water is readily available but fairly expensive. Soda water, soft drinks, and beer are ubiquitous and reasonably cheap.

ALTITUDE: We spend two nights in a hotel at an elevation of 9,000 feet. On two consecutive days, we spend a few hours at 12,500 feet on the Sanetti Plateau. While our pace at this elevation is very slow, anyone with a history of cardio-vascular problems or altitude sickness should consult with a physician.

CLIMATE: Temperatures will vary, and it is difficult to predict what the weather will be like. Down in the Rift Valley and at Awash National Park it should be fairly hot and dry, with temperatures up to 95°F or higher. The highland areas can be pleasantly warm during the day but very cool at night, possibly reaching 32°F. Rain is possible in the highland region around the Bale Mountains. As we will be at altitudes of around 13,000 feet in this area, the weather can change very quickly, and good waterproof, windproof clothing is advisable. Gloves will be necessary when we are on the Sanetti Plateau.

PACE OF TOUR AND DAILY ROUTINE: The tour is not a particularly strenuous one, but does require a reasonable degree of physical fitness. Walks are usually no more than two hours long and often shorter than that. The longest walk, which takes about four hours with birding stops, is through some forest at Wondo Genet, where the path is good, but there is some uphill walking. In most places we drive to our birding sites and walk only a short distance from the vehicle. We also do a lot of birding in the grounds of the various hotels and lodges. In the Bale Mountains we reach altitudes of 12,000-13,000 feet, but we do not do any extensive walking at this altitude. On the days we visit the Sanetti Plateau, we walk downhill through the forest on our way back to Goba; with stops to look at birds, this normally takes two or three hours, but our coach travels with us, following us down, and can be boarded at any time.

There are some early starts on this tour, particularly on days when high afternoon temperatures are likely. On some days we have pre-breakfast walks, while on others we’ll have our breakfast in the field, with our guides preparing tea, coffee, scrambled eggs, etc. You should be prepared to start some days at 5:00 or 5:30 am (these early mornings should follow early evenings). Birding usually continues up to dark, and there will be a few days when we stay out after dark or go out again after dinner to look for owls and nightjars. Lunches are mainly in hotels, although on several days we’ll have a picnic or take simple but adequate packed lunches.

Please note that there are some long drives on this tour. Perhaps the most arduous is the journey to the Bale Mountains, which is mostly on a dirt road of varying quality. It is the poor quality of the road that makes this journey so long, and although the road is being improved, it is expected to take several years to complete. We will make a few stops along this road for birdwatching. The drive from Negelle to Yabello takes all day, with a very early start and birding stops on the way. Traveling from Yabello to Awassa takes about six hours.

Finally, please note that nothing ever happens quickly in Ethiopia. Service can be slow and patience is required.

ACCOMMODATION: The places we stay are a little basic in some respects. They are reasonably clean and usually have hot water, but maintenance can be lacking, so be prepared for leaky plumbing, no hot water, non-functioning lights, etc. At Debre Libanos, we’ll be staying in a new lodge right on the edge of the Jemma Gorge. We spend one night in Bilen Lodge with accommodation designed after local tribal huts, with comfortable beds and warmish solar-heated showers. We’ll be staying in another new lodge in Awash, right next to the Awash River Falls. At Lake Langano we will be staying in a recently renovated old hotel on the lakeshore. The hotel at Awassa is in the throes of substantial renovation by a South African hotel chain. Our hotel at Wondo Genet has seen better days but is clean and comfortable, and we’re guaranteed hot water here from the same geothermal source that warm the hot springs near the hotel; bring a swimming suit to use the springs during our stay. The hotel at Goba is old but clean and functional, though power outages can be a problem here. Our most basic accommodation is at Negelle. We spend two nights here in a hotel with simple rooms with an adjoining cold-water shower and sink; toilets are communal, of the Asian “squat” type. The new hotel at Yabello—a vast improvement on the lodgings we’ve used in the past—has rooms with private bathrooms and (if the power is on) hot water. Elsewhere we stay in relatively modern hotels.

It is important to note that many of the hotels have “wet room” showers lined with highly glazed tiles, which can be very slippery, requiring caution.

FOOD: Food generally comprises repeated variations on basic European dishes. There is very little variety at many places, though there has been general improvement recently in the quality of the food. Spaghetti is usually available—you may want to bring a shaker of Parmesan cheese. Some muesli or granola bars will make early starts easier. The leader will buy fruit when available. In a few places, the use of chili peppers can make the food a bit spicy; please let the leader know if this is a problem. Local food, including injera (a flat sourdough bread) and wot (spicy meat or vegetable stews), is available everywhere, and although most people try it once or twice, it does not seem to appeal widely to western palates, although it can be quite good in places.

Vegetarians are not well catered for, and often all that is available are the vegetables accompanying the main meal; the ever-present spaghetti and tomato sauce is a good fallback. Some places have excellent locally caught fish as an option.

Packed lunches from hotels are usually very poor, so the leader will obtain food in Addis before the tour for some of the picnic lunches, which usually include local cheese, canned ham and pate, tuna, etc. Excellent bread is widely available in Ethiopia.

DRESS: Informal throughout the tour.

TRANSPORT: Transportation is in a small Coaster coach for most of the tour, but we switch to 4x4 vehicles for the trip from Goba to Awassa. The leader will arrange a seating rotation. Note that there are some long drives on this trip.

SMOKING: Smoking is not allowed in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a non-smoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any site where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.

GENERAL INFORMATION AND CONDITIONS: Please take a moment to read the WINGS General Information and Conditions. This section contains important information about how we conduct tours, e.g., what is included in the tour price, refund and cancellation policies, pace of the tours, and other information that will help you prepare for the tour.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: A more complete General Information for Tours to Ethiopia will be sent to each registrant on receipt of their booking. Final information with instructions for meeting the group, hotel addresses, etc., will be mailed about three weeks before trip departure. Other news will be communicated as necessary. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Updated: December 2011