Ethiopia was probably the most intense travel experience I’ve had to date. Time spent here will give you a daily dose of excitement, and an unquenchable thirst to uncover more of this enticing country. This is a place that will keep you on your toes, from the beginning of your trip until the very end. Here is a list of 12 unique things to experience in Ethiopia and why you need to visit!
1. Legal Drugs: Chat
I’ll start this list off with a bang by introducing you to one of the most unique things to experience in Ethiopia: khat (pronounced CHAT). You’ll see it everywhere. Men in cafes with bags of what appears to be leaves? Yep, that’s chat.
It’s a moderate stimulant, that offers you an energetic kick similar to caffeine, with some slightly euphoric feelings. Essentially, you chew the leaves, and after a considerable amount, you’ll feel happy and more talkative. It’s no wonder why it’s a popular social activity. You’ll frequently see people peeling and chewing the leaves with friends while chatting (pun intended) the afternoon away.
Don’t worry it’s totally legal, and it comes in plant form. There aren’t really any side effects unless you eat a ridiculous amount. At about 100 Birr a bag (about $3 USD) I’d say, go ahead and give it a try.
2. No Utensils
As someone who eats pizza with a fork and knife, this one was a huge culture shock. Ethiopian people eat their food without the use of any utensils except their hands. Pasta and meat are no exception to this rule.
3. The Food
Of course a country that has such unique eating etiquette, will also have very unique dishes. Instead of utensils, food is served on a sour, crepe-like food called injera, in which you’ll tear pieces off and use it to fold your food into.
Injera can be served with many things, from raw meats, to breakfast omelettes, to veggie dishes, or even pasta.
Ethiopian food is colorful, flavorful and made for sharing. You just won’t find food like this anywhere else.
4. It’s The World’s Oldest Christian Country
Ethiopia converted to Christianity in the 4th century. You will see evidence of this everywhere you go, and the majority are still highly religious today.
Ethiopia has their own completely unique take on religious architecture and artwork. You’ll find old monasteries in unique locations all around the country, some inside caves too! It’s truly fascinating to see how religion developed here and shaped this country, far away from most other Christian countries.
5. Home to the Hottest Inhabited Place on Earth
The Danakil Depression is a place that can’t be described, it must be experienced. If you aren’t afraid of the heat, a visit to this place will have you feeling like you’ve left the planet, except, there are people here!
This is the hottest inhabited place on Earth, that some tribal people still call their home. You’ll see first hand how they’ve adapted to their surroundings and use the resources of this harsh land to survive. The unique landscapes found here have been shaped by the extreme climate.
6. They’ve Got Style
I don’t remember visiting a country where I was more impressed by how people looked. Each region has different customary clothing styles, to make it even more interesting. In Tigray, the women have fabulously long braided hair, and lots of gold hoops in their ears. In Oromia, you’ll find wonderfully beaded detail in their clothing and hair, from head to toe.
Women throughout the country also commonly have face tattoos, each with different meanings behind them.
7. Coffee Ceremonies
You can’t come to Ethiopia and not have a cup of coffee. Besides being well prepared, high quality coffee, their coffee drinking ritual is something special.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to a coffee ceremony, you’ll witness this special custom that is done in preparation to drinking coffee with company. You can also see the way they hand roast the coffee beans over open fire.
8. Rare Endemic Animals
Ethiopia is home to many endemic species, many of which are endangered or very rare. In the highlands, you can find the Gelada “bleeding heart” baboon. If you are lucky you will find one of the 500 Walia ibex still living in The Simien Mountains. In Bale National Park, you could spot the super rare and endangered Ethiopian wolf or even a black lion (Scar, is that you?!).
Even if you don’t venture into the wilderness, you will see wildlife. It’s not uncommon to spot an ostrich while driving. In Harar, locals have befriended and often feed wild Hyenas in town.
9. Celebrate Two Christmases Instead of One
Ok, they don’t actually celebrate Christmas twice. But their Christmas is in January, about 3 weeks after the Western Christmas. If you celebrate back home, and make it to Ethiopia in time you can have 2 Christmases within a month. Plus, their Christmas celebration is completely different from ours. See it for yourself!
A couple weeks after Ethiopian Christmas is Timkat, which translates to “baptism” to mark the day Jesus was baptized. This is the biggest Ethiopian holiday, besides Easter. This celebration lasts 3 days and there are major celebrations and activities across the country.
Ethiopians will dress their best, and celebrate starting from morning until late night. They celebrate life for these 3 days with dancing, singing and parades. It’s a very happy time to be there.
It’s one of the most unique things you can experience in Ethiopia.
11. They’ve Got Serious Dance Moves
Some of my best memories from Ethiopia were the dance parties. The customary dancing style here is probably not what you know, but something truly unique to Ethiopia. Sometimes I felt speechless at how good everyone seems to be at dancing.
It was intimidating but don’t be shy, try it out! All Ethiopians love to dance and are happy to show you their moves, even if you only get it half right.
12. The Music
Lastly, you can’t have a dance party without the music, and the music scene here is rife and alive. I remember during Timkat when everyone in the street was dancing and singing an Ethiopian prayer song. It was amazing. The vibe was electric, and although you can’t understand a word, you can feel the energy.
13. (Bonus) the Ahmaric Language
Trying to read Ahmaric for me is on par with trying to read ancient hieroglyphics. The characters that make up their alphabet are really unique to Ethiopia. Sometimes, I felt like I was looking at interpretive art when trying to read it.
There are many truly unique things to experience in Ethiopia and a trip here is one that will expose you to so many new experiences. This is definitely a country like no other.
Did anything on this list surprise you? Let me know in the comments!