Travelirvana’s Top 5 things to do in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Arbore Tribe in Ethiopia
by Andy Robbins

Don’t you just want to go to places just because your tongue gets tied around the name of the place and when you finally learn how to pronounce it correctly, you have a bit of internal snobbery going on every time the name slips from your lips and, in fact, probably find reasons to say the name of the place in idle talk just so you can say it out loud (just like you do when you get a new boyfriend or girlfriend!). One of the reasons I started traveling the world was because Jennifer Garner was a bad a$$ in the TV Show Alias and she went to places like Aconcagua, Kuala Lumpur, Tegucigalpa and Addis Ababa and I wanted to be her – a girl who got to see the world and visit places where it was near impossible to pronounce the name – I just wanted to do it without having any of my teeth extracted!

Ethiopia is Country 79 for me.  Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia and it’s commercial and cultural hub. The African Union is based here and it is often referred to as “the political capital of Africa” for its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent.  What you don’t know until you get to Africa and see for yourself is that beauty abounds in Africa not only in the landscape but in the people as evidenced by the photo above of the Hamer Woman taken by Andy Robbins.

Below are my recommendations of what to see and do while in Addis Ababa whether it’s just business travel that brings you to Addis Ababa or perhaps you are flying into Ethiopia via Addis Ababa and before heading out to your next adventure, you want a taste of the Ethiopian city life. Either way, you are bound to be entertained or educated by these five things to do. (Notice how many times I wrote Addis Ababa…’s just so you can start practicing.)

  1. Eskista dancing at Yod Abyssinia

Culturally speaking, eskista dancing is a must do at Yod Abyssinia.  You get a real taste of what Ethiopian song and dance looks like here and its different from any other dance or song I’ve heard.  The biggest difference you will see on the dance floor from any other dance floor is the focus is not on the lower half of the body i.e. Miley Cyrus twerk style or the lovely Shakira (i.e. the hips) like westerners are used to but instead the upper body and, in particular, the shoulders.  In fact, in English it is referred to as shoulder dancing.  If you are willing to get up there on that stage and eskista dance like I did and/or your traveling companions are willing to do it, you will laugh at yourself or at them until you cry and as I always say “Laughing is like jogging for the soul”.

  1. Mercato

Onto the truest of true Africa – total chaos – otherwise known as the Mercato. The Mercato in Addis Ababa is the largest one in all of Africa.  Africa is HUGE as most of us know or should know so put that in perspective.  Enjoy it even when the gas fumes inundate your nostrils as you watch the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians rummaging through what some of us would consider trash or rubbish as here you can purchase just about anything in the world from veggies to mattresses even empty Penzoil containers. Enjoy the donkeys running through the streets. Yes donkeys on the loose everywhere! Enjoy bartering for things you didn’t even know you wanted or needed. Everything is for sale. Nothing is thrown away. You will love this cultural phenomenon but be smart and leave your purses and wallets and passports at your lodging or it could be the next thing you find for sale here.

  1. Red Terror Museum

Go meet Menberu at the Red Terror Museum who spent 7 years in a 10×10 cell with approximately 50 other men with no healthcare, no family and barely any food or water. Most of his cell mates died of starvation or cholera. He himself was tortured by binding his hands, hanging him upside down from a pole which was placed under his knees, with a sock shoved into his mouth all the while having the bottom of his feet whipped, his toenails ripped out with pliers and his toes broken. Learn why this happened to Menberu. Learn about the military dictatorship led by Mengusti and the summary executions of a million Ethiopians under his regime from 1977 to 1991. Learn where Mengusti is today. Learn who helped him and who, if anyone, tried to stop him. Learn this so we can do what needs to be done together so no one like my new friend Menberu ever has to tell a story like his again.

  1. Lunch or dinner at Addis Ababa Restaurant

A historical, authentic and tasty experience will be had at Addis Ababa Restaurant which is alleged to be the longest standing restaurant in the city in a building that is over 100 years old. The food was delicious but remember you must eat with one hand, never take two bites of the same handful and NEVER EVER set it back down if your lips or teeth have touched it. Drink up the atmosphere while drinking a Tej or some other authentic Ethiopian drink while there. You won’t regret this dining experience that I assure you.

  1. Cocktails/Live Music at the Monarch Hotel

Dress up or dress down, sit up or kick back, but do stop by and have a cocktail by the pool and listen to some really great live music on the patio at the Monarch Hotel. Go for happy hour, go after dinner or have dinner there as the food is fantastic. Most especially, gentlemen, enjoy some of the most beautiful women in the world here. I don’t know why but they flock to this establishment and I’m convinced I’ve never seen beauty like I did at the Monarch Hotel. Also, I highly recommend this hotel as a place to stay.  I did and the rooms are perfect and the price is affordable (depending on your budget) at approximately $70.00 USD/night for the equivalent of a 5 star hotel especially compared to the outlandish prices at the other high priced hotels a mile or two closer to the center. However, if music before 10:00 p.m. is a problem for you, then get a room at the back of the hotel. (And, if you have a minute, cross the street for dessert at Cupcake Delights Bakery.  Their cupcakes and red velvet cake deserve their own food group.)


Don’t wait until you get to town to get a SIM card. Immediately upon landing at Bole International Airport after you get through Customs, go directly to the Customs Office before exiting the baggage claim area to register your mobile phone. Otherwise, you cannot get an Ethiopian SIM card except illegally at a cost of $60 USD or 1500 birr.

Don’t waste time if you don’t have much of it going to Debre Zeyit n/k/a Bishoftu. I spent the most I’ve ever spent on a day tour at $120 USD (with the exception of my gorilla trek in Uganda) and, while the day trip had it’s entertaining moments and I am known for my #stateofperfecthappiness regardless of where I am; and, while it is probably a good weekend getaway for the wealthier locals, there are far more interesting and beautiful places to visit and things to do in Ethiopia.

Don’t take chew (slang for a narcotic called khat or qat in Arabic) thinking it’s akin to coffee. Among communities from the areas where the plant is native, khat chewing has a history as a social custom dating back thousands of years. While the tradition is to chew or brew tea out of this “flower of paradise” as it is said to bring about feelings of euphoria, it may actually be more akin to cocaine as it is allegedly addictive and can bring about manic tendencies and/or general malaise and/or psychological and social problems. While I’m not one to judge I can assure you of this, I have seen the effects first hand and would simply recommend that you know what you are taking before you take it and be careful about who you are taking it from.

Finally, don’t stop on the side of the road and buy caged birds from a total stranger like we did.  The intention was to set them free but I’m not sure the police agreed it was a good idea.  Can’t be sure what they thought in all honesty and won’t be unless and until I brush up on my Amharic that is.

Contact me with any questions or comments and then go Unlock the Travelirvana in you.



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