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Summary: Located in Eastern Africa between Sudan and Somalia, Ethiopia is a landlocked country that is primarily high plateau split by a central mountain range and the Great Rift Valley with the source of the Blue Nile in the western quarter of the country. The Ethiopian monarchy almost completely avoided colonial settlement until a 1974 junta, but the recent democratic government has been working to develop enterprises in the economy based primarily on agriculture.

Capital: Addis Ababa
Time Zone: UTC+3
Population: 67,851,281
Languages: Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromigna, Guaragigna, Somali, Arabic, English
Power: 220V, 50 Hz
Currency: Ethiopian Birr - Currently 1 ETB = 0.1100 USD $
Climate: Ethiopia has a tropical monsoon climate with wide topographic-induced variation, and a rainy season from June to September.

Addis Ababa: At 8,000 feet in altitude, Addis Ababa has a great view of the surrounding landscape and was founded in 1887. Included in the sights to see are the Ethnographic Museum, Saint George's Cathedral, and the National Museum, home to the remains of Lucy, a 3.5 million old fossilized skeleton. Maskal Square is a nice place to start a walk around the core, and the Merkato, one of the largest bazaars in Africa.

Aksum: The holy city of Aksum, or Axum, is in the north of Ethiopia and is an important stop on any trip to the region. The water source Mai Shum, thought to be Queen Sheba's bath, to the Park of the Stelae, where massive obelisks were carved and lie, are both intriguing. The most sacred is the compound dedicated to Saint Mary of Zion said to hold the Ark of the Covenant and having a small museum collection of religion artifacts with a church dating from the 1960s, another from the 17th century, and the ruins of a third from the year 372.

Lalibela: On the way north to Aksum, about 200 miles north of Addis Ababa, is Lalibela, an area populated with 11 churches dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Most of the churches are cut down into the living ground or out of single pieces of rock, the largest of which, Medhane Alem, is 100 feet by 77 feet and 37 feet in height. Visit over a weekend to see the Saturday market, and then a Sunday service at one of the churches.


Safe Travel: The border with Eritrea in the north is closed and that area should be avoided, the western border with Somalia below Djibouti can be risky, similarly, the south of the country is less policed and should be explored with caution. Both urban and rural areas should be traveled with a low profile and a high degree of awareness.

Local Customs: Although most locals dress conservatively, casual dress is accepted by the locals, who are fairly easygoing, although you should avoid garish clothes and behavior in general. Ask permission before taking someone's picture.

Banking: Banks are open weekdays and closed for lunch, and the US dollar is most easily exchanged. Although credit cards can rarely be used, traveler's checks can be used in larger establishments.

When To Visit: Kiddus Yohannes, the Ethiopian New Year on September 11, and Meskel, the Christian festival marking the finding of the true cross on September 27 and punctuated with bonfires, help to make September a good month to travel.

Food: The most common Ethiopian dishes are injera, a spongy bread made from sorghum or wheat, and different types of wat, or soups often cooked with chicken, vegetables and pepper. Coffee and tella, a beer made from maize or barley, are two of the most common drinks around.

Tipping: Check your bill and follow standard tipping rules for an additional 10% is a service charge hasn't already been included.

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