We flew to Addis Ababa on a morning Emirates flight from Dubai. Upon arrival at the Bole International Airport, we found our way to the visa on arrival desk, paid our US$ 25 visa fee, and cleared immigration quickly. There is a bank on the arrivals side of the immigration, but when we were there it was not functioning so it is very important to arrive with cash in hand.
Once in the arrivals hall we managed to find a working bank machine, but it would only give a maximum amount of 500 birr (US$ 25). This is because the machine only had 10 birr notes left, and I suspect the gap in the machine is only big enough to dispense 50 notes at a time. Luckily, a bank official arrived to refill the machine while we were standing there, allowing us to withdraw up to 5,000 birr (US$ 250). Apparently, it is very common for the ATMs to not be working or be out of cash, so ensure you have US$ or Euros with you on arrival for exchange if required.
We exited the airport and made the mistake of taking a yellow taxi. Unfortunately, the yellow taxis seem to have a monopoly at the airport and are known to greatly overcharge. We were quoted 400 (US$ 20) birr to our destination, which we were able to negotiate down to 280 (US$ 14) birr. Realistically, even with a “tourist tax”, the taxi ride should have only cost 150-200 birr (US$ 7.50-10), but we did not see any blue taxis or mini buses to secure a fairer price.
It was a bit of a challenge to find our hotel, the Atelefugne Hostel, as streets in Addis Ababa are not consistently named or organized. Often, taxi drivers will know streets by a different name than what the street signs say, and thus it is important to try and figure out nearby landmarks or have your destination marked out on a map before arrival. The Atelefugne Hostel had very basic rooms, but it was clean and had hot water and free WiFi available. The best part of the Atelefugne Hostel is that it is possible to book rooms online in advance (http://www.atelefugne.com/), which is rare for budget accommodation in Ethiopia. If you search around Addis Ababa on arrival it may be possible to find cheaper accommodation, but I always prefer to have my first night booked in advance and I was happy with Atelefugne Hostel for the night. The owner is also very friendly and helpful and she was provided us with valuable information for organizing our onward travel.
We had originally planned to take the bus to Bahar Dar, but I was very tired from work when we arrived in Addis Ababa and I decided that I would rather spend the money to fly. I had read that it was cheaper to buy flights from agents in Ethiopia rather than online, so Sara and I made our way to the Ethiopian Airways office near the National Theater where we had to wait nearly an hour to speak to an Ethiopian Air representative. Unfortunately, after all of this time and effort, we found out the flight was going to be $157 each, which was the same price as that available online.
As of December 2013, Ethiopian has three tiers of pricing for its domestic flights. If you are an Ethiopian, you get the cheapest price. If you fly into Ethiopia on an international flight with Ethiopian Air, you’ll receive approximately 30% off your domestic flights. If you fly in on a foreign airline (as we had on Emirates), you pay full fare. This was the system as of December 2013, but it seems like Ethiopian Airways is constantly changing their pricing structures so you will need to do your own due diligence prior to booking anything. If you plan to fly a lot domestically, it may be cheaper to fly into Ethiopia with Ethiopian, even if it costs a bit more than other flights, just for the 30% savings on domestic airfares.
By the time we finally had our flights sorted out it was dark outside so we decided to go back to the Atelefugne Hostel for dinner. We managed to catch a blue taxi and negotiate our ride back to the hotel for 100 birr (US$ 4). One of the nicer parts of Atelefugne Hostel is that it has an attached restaurant and bar which is frequented by locals and that is always a good sign as far as quality and price goes. I knew I was going to enjoy all of the food while in Ethiopia, but I was immediately surprised and impressed with just how cheap it was! Sara and I shared a large injera, large beer, and small beer for only 68 birr (less than US$ 3.50).
The next morning, we slept in late and had another wonderful meal Atelefugne Hostel for breakfast. Two egg sandwiches, a plate of scrambled eggs, and four coffees, only set us back 100 birr (US$ 5). Ethiopia is definitely a wonderful destination for budget backpackers and those who like to eat!
We then packed up our bags and negotiated a blue taxi to the airport for only 150 birr (US$ 7.50), proving that we had paid nearly double for the yellow taxi from the airport. At the airport, I was able to get us into the business class lounge with my Star Alliance Gold card, where they had very few amenities other than leather chairs, free WiFi, and a few juices and snacks. It was actually probably the worst Business Class Lounge I have ever been in, which is disappointing as I generally find Ethiopian to be a well run airline. The flight was uneventful and I enjoyed my first views of rural Ethiopia out the window.