On my way back from Madagascar, I was able to build in layovers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Nairobi, Kenya. I have to be honest, I had really low expectations for Addis Ababa – everyone I had talked to said Ethiopia was beautiful but Addis was disappointing. My perspective was definitely a bit different, coming from the least developed country in the world, but I found Addis wonderful and I really, really encourage everyone to spend some time there!
Everyone I met was extremely kind and helpful, the city was full of art and green spaces, and obviously the food is some of the best in the world.
I was a bit nervous visiting Ethiopia as a solo female traveller, so I booked a tour through Addis Ethiopian Tours with Adisu Mekonen (firstname.lastname@example.org). Adisu works as a tour guide but also has a degree in public health and is saving to open a SRHR clinic in his home village. We had so much to talk about and he is such a nice and well travelled person – I really enjoyed spending the day with him!
The tour takes you to the main places any tourist would want to visit, the National Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Merkato, Ba’ata Mariam Church, St. George Cathedral and the view of Addis Ababa from Mount Entoto. We also had lunch at Taitu Hotel and THE BEST COFFEE I have ever, ever had at Tomoca Coffee. Tomoca is the first place I’d go on return to Addis, and I am not a coffee drinking. IT IS JUST THAT GOOD.
We went straight to the museums – first the National Museum, where we saw Lucy, a female skeleton over 3.2 MILLION years old. Lucy was discovered back in 1974, and got her name from the Beatle’s song, which was played over and over at a party to celebrate the discovery the night they found her.
Next was the Ethnological Museum, which is in an old palace which is now Addis Ababa University. I love seeing the university offices and some of the students – it was a great look past the tourist bubble. This was one of my favourite parts of the tour, which is funny because I’m not usually a museum person. However there was amazing art, so much information about the culture and practices of different groups in the country – and you can see the old palace living quarters. The most impactful display was one called “What She Wore,” where the actual clothing women were wearing when raped was displayed, along with their stories, to try to dispel the notion that what women wear has any impact on whether they face sexual violence.
We quickly drove through the Merkato, the largest market in Africa. I was fine skipping this as I’d been shopping at the market in Fort Daupin for months, knew what to expect, and honestly would not have enjoyed the attention of being a tourist walking through one. Adisu said he offers it because so many people ask to visit, but few of them actually enjoy it once there. These aren’t hand crafted goods being sold, but cheap household items in a crush of people. Worth a look if you’ve never experienced one, but otherwise it’s just what you’d expect, only huge.
Next was lunch at Taitu – I LOVED this. Taitu is Addis Ababa’s first hotel, and you can feel the history in the building. It’s a very cool space, well decorated, and the lunch buffet is vegan and SO DELICIOUS. I ate way too much food but it was hard to stop myself. There was a great little gift shop where I picked up some cute artwork, as well. I’d highly suggest a lunch here – all you can eat for about $4. I didn’t see the rooms, but they do not have good reviews on trip advisor so I’d probably give those a miss, however.
After lunch was coffee at Tomoca and I don’t have anything more to say about that except I truly think this is the best coffee in the world. It’s considered the best coffee in Addis Ababa, everyone knows about it and the place is always full. There’s no seating, but a few tables where you can stand and bask in the gift you’re giving your taste buds. Everyone seemed to be ordering Ethiopian style macchiatos, which is what I had, and it was amazing though it’s sad to think my coffee experience has peaked and nothing will ever be that good again. Tip: I didn’t buy coffee to bring home and I’ve regretted it every day since. Buy coffee to bring home.
From there we went to Mt Entoto, which had incredible views, and St. George’s Cathedral, a famous hexagonal church built in 1898 that has some pretty incredible artwork inside.
Addis was honestly such a joy to get to know. Ethiopia was not a place near the top of my travel list before, and this felt like an easy way to visit the country without investing too much time or effort. Instead I fell in love with it and now desperately want to go back, have more food and coffee, and visit Lalibela and Harar. But until then, my 24 hour layover tour was a fantastic introduction to an incredible country.