What to expect

Useful information before you travel

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What to expect from a Tesfa Tours trip in Ethiopia

Seasons and weather

Ethiopia maybe in Africa but it is sometimes cold in the highlands (our sites range from 2,600 – 4,000 meters above sea level). Generally the sun is warm and the air is cool. Sometimes it rains:in the main rainy season there is a veritable monsoon-between July and September.

During this season many of the tourist sites around Lalibela are closed (16 July-24 Sept): the mud makes walking unpleasant even if it is not raining! However the Tigray sites remain open, and Geneta Mariam is kept available to guests.

There is a short rainy season, important to the farmers, with sporadic rain (often late in the afternoon and at night) between February and April. But this should not deter visitors. May and early June should be hot and dry, but sometimes the short rains come late and merge into the main rains (all part of global changes in weather patterns), but again this is still OK for visits.

Summary of the Seasons

(Global climate shifts mean there is no guarantee!)
October – January: Sunny and Dry
February – April: Sunny, risk of showers
May – June: Dry and Hot
July – September: Main rains – most sites near Lalibela are closed from 16 July – 24 Sept. However Tigray sites remain open.

What to pack

Clothing

Light cotton clothes are best for trekking, but remember it cools down in the shade so a thin long sleeved top or fleece is good to carry in the day pack. It will get cold at night, especially if there is a wind and so a jacket will be nice to put on top. In the higher mountains warmer clothing will be required for days and nights with even woolly hats and gloves useful and a good rain jacket is then important for wind and unexpected showers.

Also remember that Highland Ethiopians are conservative people, and if you are going into churches and their compounds, respectful clothing should be warn, covering your body to include at least shoulders and thighs.

Sun

The sun is also strong at altitude and so a good sunhat and sun cream are important. The air is dry too so lips often need lip-balm, and moisturising cream is a good idea. If winds are blowing it is even drier, and at the higher sites the effects are stronger.

Bedding

The communities provide freshly laundered and aired bedding for the lodges. However if you feel the cold you could bring a sleeping bag.

Water

All community sites will sell clean bottled water, as do shops in even small towns. Drink plenty.

Health

There is no malaria at the any of our sites, all being well above the 1,800 limit of the malarial mosquito. Although not as high, Lalibela, Gondar and Axum are also above the malarial cut-off point. More likely to be a problem are tummy bugs, often just from unfamiliar food. Some precautions are worth taking, for instance in local places I drink from the bottle not a glass, but there is no point becoming so concerned that it spoils a sense of fun. It is recommended to bring a basic medical kit. Chemists in Ethiopia sell many items (paracetamol, amoxicillin, etc cheaply) along with many generic versions of branded drugs however it may be a good idea to bring some medicines. We recommend you take proper medical advice some weeks before departure for Ethiopia.

Walking

This varies according to the trek, with some of the walks largely on the flat or with short or gentle gradients, but some walks do take all day (with stops). Other walks are more rugged and steeper and others yet take in peaks and are more challenging still.

Horses can be hired (as an extra) at some sites but not at the higher ones, where mules are more suitable (but not always possible to rent). The ‘horses’ will be tough local ponies, but not really suitable for heavy people (over 80kgs) and not comfortable for those with long legs (I myself am tall and 90kgs so I know!).

Amenities

All sites have a toilet (composting, urine separating toilet) and a shower (water warmed by sun only, but wonderful after a long walk). In addition to the sleeping rooms (we call the local style buildings ‘tukuls’) there is a dining tukul. In Tigray these amenities are all contained in one compound called a Hedemo.

Your Luggage

Porters and donkeys will be on hand to move your belongings from where you are dropped by car to each site and on to the rendezvous with the car. However please keep the amount to a reasonable limit (1 bag each, no more than 20kgs please), and please if possible pack in soft bags. If you have extra luggage we may be able to make arrangements.

Insurance

It is paramount to have proper travel insurance. This should cover medivac and emergency treatment. Tesfa ask for the details of your insurance policy prior to starting your trip: company name, policy number and the emergency telephone number they provide.

Summary of things to bring include

Torch, small towel, good fleece, wind/rain jacket, walking boots and sandals/flip flops, some snack food, spare batteries for equipment, medical kit, suncream, hat, lipbalm.

A Different Calendar

Ethiopia has its own unique calendar, which is seven years and nine months and 10 days behind the calendar that is used in most of the rest of the world.

The Calendar used in Europe and most of the rest of the world is a 12-month calendar, which counts the years since the birth of Christ. It is known as the Gregorian Calendar (GC) named after Pope Gregory XIII and replaced the previous Julian Calendar (JC) introduced in 46 BC by Julius Caesar in order to correct a small gain in time.

Lots of Festivals

The major annual festivals are:

– Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany) which falls on the 19th or 20th of January

– New Year (Enkutatash) which normally falls on the 11th or 12th of September.

– Easter (Fasika)

– Meskal – the Finding of the True Cross which falls on the 28th or 29th of September

– Gena (Christmas) – Gena is normally celebrated on the 7th or 8th of January

I was amazed at how much we did in 11 days and this has to be the best holiday ever. Back in London, I have some rich memories to keep me going over the winter, and for the rest of my life. Unusually I came back from holiday a couple of pounds lighter and quite a bit fitter that when I left. Thank you Tesfa, I don't know what else you could have done!'

Beatrice Parrish