48 Hours in Ethiopia: A journey of discovery and delights

Monday October 23 2023

Nothing beats a peaceful row on Lake Bishoftu, in the company of water birds. PHOTO | SYDNEY KITHOME | NMG


Before I narrate my Ethiopian adventures, here’s a valuable tip for visitors: Change your currency to the birr. While at it, avoid tempting offers from black market money changers, as it could lead to legal trouble.Still, while the dollar is widely accepted, transactions can become problematic. On my arrival, one taxi driver, sensing my first-timer status, insisted on payment in dollars at a greatly inflated rate.

I was in Ethiopia for a tourism conference, and it took place the 1,024-room Ethiopian Skylight Hotel.

On the second night, we ventured out, heading to a restaurant that promised a taste of home. Union Cocktail Bar, located near Mesqel Square, offered a stunning view of Addis Ababa's bus station.

Situated within the compound housing the Addis Ababa Museum, this popular establishment is frequented by diplomats and expatriates from various African nations.

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The trip to the restaurant, however, felt a bit sketchy due to the unfinished road but, once inside, it exuded charm.


Portraits of African greats and founding fathers adorned the walls. While not many places cater to Kenyan tastes, Union provides staples like ugali and 'nyama choma'.

I savoured the tastiest buttered Nile perch, which lifted my spirits, much like my visit to a local tannery, where I indulged in my appreciation for leather goods.

Unlike Kenya, where industrial zones are designated, most Ethiopian buildings serve mixed purposes, accommodating both industry and residences.

Driving around, it was impossible to ignore the Roman-style roadworks that line the city's streets. One such road led me to a coffee shop and bakery that has captured the hearts of locals. Koba is undoubtedly the city's coolest hangout, attracting a young and lively crowd. Beyond serving full meals from a comprehensive menu, Koba is a confluence of pastry expertise drawn from Australia, India, Portugal and the UK.

Then I went horse riding at the Entoto Park and I fell off a horse. The mishap occurred when one of the ponies galloped off, unseating my inexperienced self. This was the highlight of my visit to Entoto Park. I spent most of my time at the stables, even though I had the opportunity to try a high ropes challenge, archery target practice, and pedal bike circuits. After a day filled with excitement, I indulged in a spa experience that left me feeling utterly rejuvenated.

An authentic Ethiopian meal, followed by a cup of traditionally brewed coffee, sealed a perfect day.

My transfer from Entoto to Bishoftu, 40 kilometres from Addis Ababa, was uneventful. My arrival in Bishoftu, just before dusk, offered a glimpse of the lake from which the town derived its name.

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Bishoftu, on the western edge of the Rift Valley, and the primary airbase of the Ethiopian Air Force, is renowned for its crater lakes and boutique resorts.

One of seven lakes, Bishoftu lived up to its name, which translates into "sweetness" or "baked." Encircled by steep crater rims, the closed-system lake provided picturesque views.

As I prepared to depart, I had a chance to explore the bustling Bole Airport. The "Habesha Kemis/Kemise" or the "dress of the Habesha" is a great gift but without time to forage the market, the best souvenir I found was coffee.

While the airport boasts several lounges and duty-free shopping outlets, most of them accept only dollars and euros. Fortunately, after some searching, I discovered one store that accepted the remainder of my local currency.

Visiting Ethiopia without exploring the Addis Museum and the African Union (AU) Headquarters seemed incomplete, so I have marked a return visit as a must-do.