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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.

ENTERING ETHIOPIA: United States citizens will need a passport, valid for at least six months beyond your date of departure from Ethiopia and with at least one blank page for an entry stamp, as well as a tourist visa. Visas can be obtained from the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. or through a visa service, such as CIBT. Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest Ethiopian embassy. If required by the embassy or visa-granting entity, WINGS can provide a letter for you to use regarding your participation in the tour.

COUNTRY INFORMATION:  You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information for Ethiopia at, and the CIA World Factbook background notes on Ethiopia at

PACE OF TOUR: The tour is not a particularly strenuous one but does require a reasonable degree of physical fitness. The many early mornings make this a tiring tour as well, so a reasonable amount of stamina is required. Walks are usually no more than two hours long and often shorter than that. We do a lot of birding in the grounds of the various hotels and lodges. In the Bale Mountains we reach high altitudes (see below) but we do not do any extensive walking at this altitude. On the day we visit the Sanetti Plateau, we’ll walk downhill through forest on our way back to Goba. With lots of stops to look at birds this normally takes two or three hours but the vehicles travel with us, following us down and can be boarded at any time 

There are some very early starts on this tour because of the need to be on site at dawn in some places, especially when we expect high temperatures later in the day.  On some days we’ll go out before breakfast and take breakfast in the field with our assistants preparing tea, coffee, scrambled eggs etc. There may also be some early breakfasts at the hotel, if that can be arranged. You should therefore be prepared for some days starting with a departureat 05:30 or even 05:00 on a few days. There will be one day when we leave the hotel at 04:30. Days before an early start should end early. 

Lunches are typically taken either in hotels or restaurants but we do take picnic or packed lunches on several days. These are often simple with little variationbut adequate. 

Please note that there are some long drives on this tour.The quality of the roads in Ethiopia is improving all the time, thanks to a massive road-building program funded mainly by the Chinese. The drives from Goba to Negelle and from Negelle to Yabello each takes all day with very early starts and birding stops on the way. Travelling from Yabello to Awassa takes until mid-afternoon. This road is currently (2017/18) being rebuilt and we therefore have to travel on temporary service roads in many places which slow our journey and which are often very bumpy. We will try to factor in breaks where we can, including one for lunch en route, but be prepared for a difficult journey on this day. 

Because we spend a lot of time out in the field, toilet stops are often just in the bush and you need to be prepared for that. In addition, where we can stop for a toilet break at a village or town, toilets are usually of the Asian squat type and are rarely very clean.

HEALTH:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. 

They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Please contact your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure. 

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations for Ethiopia can be found on the CDC’s  Travel Health website at

Malaria:  Malaria, although present, is not that widespread in Ethiopia, especially at the time of our visit and some doctors feel it is not necessary to take any preventative. It is essential therefore that you take the latest advice available from your doctor or health center. 

Yellow Fever:  As with any destination within Africa, a Yellow fever inoculation is recommended although it is no longer required to show the certificate on arrival unless you are coming from countries with risk of Yellow Fever transmission. The CDC website linked above has a list of such countries.  Note that recent recommendations call for only a single yellow fever inoculation during one’s lifetime.  Please discuss this with your physician. 

Elevation:  Addis Ababa is around 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) and much of the tour is spent at elevations between that and 2,000 feet (600 meters). We spend two nights in the town of Goba where the hotel is at 9,000 feet (2,700 meters). From there we spend a few hours on two consecutive days at around 12,460 feet (3,800 meters) on the Sanetti Plateau. 

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

Miscellaneous:  Biting insects are not numerous although mosquitoes and ticks occur locally. A spray repellent should provide adequate protection. 

While most tap water might be safe to drink biologically, the high mineral content can be physically disruptive, especially at the Rift Valley lakes so it is best avoided. Bottled water is readily available. 

Mild stomach upsets are possible in Ethiopia and we strongly suggest bringing an adequate supply of a diarrhea treatment such as Imodium. Several packets of rehydration electrolyte powder can also be very useful as they replace the sugars and salts lost during bouts of diarrhea, and can hydrate better than water alone.

CLIMATE: Temperatures will vary and weather is difficult to predict, but generally hot temperatures can be expected. In the Rift Valley and at Awash National Park it should be fairly hot and dry with temperatures up to about 35°C (95°F)or higher. The highland areas can be pleasantly warm during the day but very cool at night, possibly reaching 0°C (32°F). Suitable clothing for the cold evenings and early mornings will be necessary. Rain is possible in the highland region around the Bale Mountains. As we’ll be at altitudes of up to 13,000 feet in this area the weather can change very quickly and good waterproof and windproof clothing is advisable. Bring a pair of gloves and perhaps a warm hat for our day on the Sanetti Plateau. 

ACCOMMODATION: The accommodation in Ethiopia does not compare with the well-appointed lodges and camps of Kenya, and most of the places we stay in are basic in some respects. Having said that things are improving all the time and accommodation is much better than it was when we first started running tours to Ethiopia in 1995. There can be problems with maintenance, so be prepared for leaky plumbing, lack of hot water, lights not working etc. At Debre Birhan we stay in a modern hotel in the town with all the usual facilities. For our first visit to Lake Langano and at Awassa we stay in recently renovated hotels on the lake shore. Both have good rooms with hot water. The hotel at Goba is old, but clean and functions well most of the time. Although it is showing its age, it remains (at the time of writing) the only place available. Power cuts can be a problem here, which can in turn affect the supply of hot water. Negelle now has a new guesthouse which we will be using – it has comfortable rooms each with en suite facilities although maintenance is a probelem. At Yabello we use a lodge set in good grounds outside of the town. Although there are major issues with lack of maintenance and the food is rather plan, this is a vast improvement on our previous lodging and it is worth the various accommodation inconveniences for the birding in the lodge grounds. On our return visit to Lake Langano we’ll spend two nights at Haro Lodge, a luxury lodge on the lake shore. At Nazaret we use a modern hotel in the town. We spend one night north of Awash in a small lodge which has simple accommodation units with comfortable beds and the (cold) water supply here can be intermittent. In Awash National Park we stay in a new lodge located right next to the Awash River Falls. Again the shower water here is not heated. 

Internet and Mobile Phone Access: Away from Addis Ababa, internet is very limited and, where available, using it is very slow. Ethiopia has good mobile phone coverage but you will need to check with your provider to ensure you can use your own mobile network there.  Obtaining a local sim card is not easy. 

FOOD: The food varies but generally consists of repeated bland variations of basic European dishes and is certainly not one of the highlights of the tour. That said things are improving each year. Because of the Italian influence they do make good spaghetti in Ethiopia and this is usually available as a choice at most places. Because of this you may find a tub of Parmesan cheese a very useful thing to bring. Some muesli or granola type bars might be useful for some of the early starts.The leader will buy fruit when available. In a few places, the use of chili can make the food a bit spicy. Please let the leader know if this is a problem for you. Local food – injera (a type of flat sough dough bread) and wot (spicy meat or vegetable stews) – are available everywhere we stay, although the quality does vary a lot. 

Vegetarians are not well catered to and often all that is on offer are just the vegetables accompanying the main meal although the ever-present spaghetti and tomato sauce is a good fall back. Some places have locally caught fish as an option as well, which can be excellent. Packed lunches taken from hotels are usually very poor and we dispense with them, relying instead on local cheese, tinned ham and pate, tuna etc, purchased by the leader before the tour starts. They make excellent bread in Ethiopia and this is usually widely available to go with the lunches. We’ll eat breakfast in the field on some days, these consisting of scrambled eggs, bread, jam, tea, coffee etc, cooked in the field. 

Drinks:  We keep a supply of bottled water on the tour vehicles at all times. Bottled water and/or a soft drink or beer is provided at meals, as is coffee or tea. Ethiopian wine is becoming much more widespread and is almost drinkable. All other drinks are the responsibility of the individual. You may find it useful to bring a small water canteen to decant water from the larger bottles on the vehicles. 

Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.

TRANSPORT: Transportation is in a small Coaster coach for some of the tour, but for the journey from Goba onwards, we switch to 4x4 vehicles, which we stay in until we return to Lake Langano several days later. On the Coaster, there is a one row of double seats and one of singles. The back seat is not suitable for travelling on and we tend to use that for storing day packs, etc. A few other seats over wheel arches are also not really very comfortable. Although this still gives us plenty of room, clients traveling on their own may not be able to have a double seat to themselves and should be prepared to share seating. We’ll be driving on paved and dirt roads of variable quality and please note that there are some long drives on this trip. 

Participants should be able and willing to ride in any seat in our tour vehicles. The leader will arrange a seating rotation for both the Coaster bus and the 4x4 vehicles. 

Updated: 29 November 2017