Ethiopia basic facts

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and the second-oldest official Christian nation in the world after Armenia. Unique among African countries, Ethiopian maintained its freedom from colonial rule with the exception of a short-lived Italian occupation from 1936-41.

Ethiopia basic facts


Ethiopia is in the northeast African region known as the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa (after Nigeria), bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and Sudan and South Sudan to the west.

With a total area of 1,104,300 sq km, Ethiopia is slightly less than twice the size of Texas, USA (or as large as France and Spain combined). The country has a high central plateau, with some mountains reaching more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The Great Rift Valley splits the plateau diagonally. The western highlands get summer rainfall; the lowlands and eastern highlands are hot and dry.

The climate can be described as tropical monsoon but it varies greatly depending on the topography. Ethiopia’s lowest point is at the Denakil Depression, -125 m (-410 feet) below sea level; the highest point is Ras Dashen standing at 4,553 meter (14,938 feet). Ethiopia’s entire coastline along the Red Sea was lost with the independence of Eritrea on 24 May 1993. The Blue Nile, the chief headstream of the Nile by water volume, starts at Lake Tana in northwest Ethiopia. Three major crops are believed to have originated in Ethiopia: coffee, grain sorghum, and the castor bean.

Geologically active, the Great Rift Valley is susceptible to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and frequent droughts. Volcanoes include Erta Ale (elev. 613 meter), which has caused frequent lava flows in recent years, is the country’s most active volcano; Dabbahu became active in 2005, causing evacuations; other historically active volcanoes include Alayta, Dalaffilla, Dallol, Dama Ali, Fentale, Kone, Manda Hararo, and Manda-Inakir.


The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. As a highland country, Ethiopia has a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator.

Most of the country’s major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000 – 2,500 metres (6,600 – 8,200 ft) above sea level, including historic capitals such as Lalibela, Gondar, Axum, and Addis Ababa – the highest capital city in Africa at 2,400 meters (8,000 feet).

Ethiopia has three different climate zones according to elevation:

Kolla (Tropical zone) – is below 1830 meters in elevation and has an average annual temperature of about 27 degree Celsius with annual rainfall about 510 millimeters. The Danakil Depression (Danakil Desert) is about 125 meters below sea level and the hottest region in Ethiopia where the temperature climbs up to 50 degree Celsius.

Woina dega (Subtropical zone) – includes the highlands areas of 1830 – 2440 meters in elevation. It has an average annual temperature of about 22 degree Celsius with annual rainfall between 510 and 1530 millimeters.

Dega (Cool zone) – is above 2440 meters in elevation with an average annual temperature of about 16 degree Celsius with annual rainfall between 1270 and 1280 millimeters.

Ethiopian seasons

Kiremt or Meher (summer) – June, July and August is the summer season. Heavy rain falls in these three months.

Tseday (spring)  September, October and November is the spring season sometime known as the harvest season.

Bega (winter) – December, January and February is the dry season with frost in morning especially in January.

Belg (Autumn) – March, April and May is the autumn season with occasional showers. May is the hottest month in Ethiopia.


The average annual temperature in Addis Ababa is 16°C (61°F), with daily maximum temperatures averaging 20 – 25°C (68 – 77°F) throughout the year, and overnight lows averaging 5 – 10°C (41 – 50°F).

A light jacket is recommended for the evenings, though many Ethiopians prefer to dress conservatively and will wear a light jacket even during the day.


Population: 108, 000, 00 (2020 est.), the second most populous country in Africa and the 13th in the world.

Ethnic groups

Oromo 34.9%, Amhara (Amara) 27.9%, Tigray (Tigrinya) 7.3%, Sidama 4.1%, Welaita 3%, Gurage 2.8%, Somali (Somalie) 2.7%, Hadiya 2.2%, Gamo 1.5%, Gedeo 1.3%, Silte 1.3%, Kefficho 1.2%, Afar (Affar) 0.6%, other 9.2% (2016 est.)


Orthodox 43.8%, Muslim 31.3%, Protestant 22.8%, Catholic 0.7%,  traditional 0.6%, other 1% (2016 est.)


Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, although English, Italian, French, and Arabic are widely spoken. In areas outside of the larger cities and towns, indigenous languages are likely to be spoken — of which there are eighty-three, with some 200 dialects. The most common of these are Orominya and Tigrinya.

Oromigna (official regional) 33.8%, Amarigna (Amharic) (official) 29.3%, Somaligna 6.2%, Tigrigna (official regional) 5.9%, Sidamigna 4%, Wolayitigna 2.2%, Guaragigna 2%, Affarigna 1.7%, Hadiyigna 1.7%, Gamogna 1.5%, Gedeogna 1.3%, Kafagna 1.1%, other 9.3%, English (official) (major foreign language taught in schools), Arabic (official) (2007 est.).

Time and calendar

Ethiopia uses the Ethiopian calendar, which dates back to the Coptic calendar 25 BC, and never adopted the Julian or Gregorian reforms. One Ethiopian year consists of twelve months, each lasting thirty days, plus a thirteenth month of five or six days (hence the “Thirteen Months of Sunshine” tourism slogan).

The Ethiopian new year begins on September 10 or 11 (in the Gregorian calendar), and has accumulated 7-8 years lag behind the Gregorian calendar: thus, for the first nine months of 2021, the year will be 2013 according to the Ethiopian calendar. On 11 September 2021, Ethiopia celebrated New Year’s Day (Enkutatesh) for 2013.

In Ethiopia, the 12-hour clock cycles do not begin at midnight and noon, but instead are offset six hours. Thus, Ethiopians refer to midnight (or noon) as 6 o’clock.

Daylight: Being relatively close to the Equator, there is an almost constant twelve hours of daylight. In Addis Ababa, the sunrise and sunset starts at around 06:30 and 18:45 respectively

Ethiopia Public Holidays

11-Sep Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year)
27-Sep Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)
29-Dec Ethiopian Christmas (Genna)
19-Jan Epiphany (Timiket)
1-Mar Adwa Victory Day
30-Apr Ethiopian Good Friday (Siklet)
2-May Ethiopian Easter Sunday (Fasika)
1-May International Labor Day (May Day)
5-May Patriots’ Day
28-May Derg Downfall Day (National Day)


The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr, made up of 100 cents. Notes are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 200 birr. There are five different coins: 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 cents.

Currency regulations

There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency imported into Ethiopia, but it must be declared on arrival, using a currency declaration form. Foreign currency may be changed only at authorized banks and hotels.

The currency declaration form will be required by Customs on departure. Visitors may change back any excess birr into foreign currency at the airport before departure, but you must, in addition to the currency declaration form, bring with you all receipts for exchange transactions.

Traveler Visa

All visitors, except Kenya and Djibouti nationals, are required to obtain entry visas. Since 2002, tourists from 33 countries (listed below) are able to obtain entry visas upon their arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, and at the airport in Dire Dawa.

As of September 2020, the fees for visa-upon-arrival is US$52 for 30 days Tourist Visa and USD$72 for 90 days Tourist Visa. The procedure is relatively quick and painless; just look for a door with a sign “Visa” on the left hand before the immigration counters. Please check the latest visa fee structure before your departure from the official government website – Ethiopian Immigration Nationality and Vital Events Agency.

Nationals of the following countries can get up to three months tourist visas upon their arrival at Bole International Airport: all African Union member states, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand United Kingdom, United States. Kenya and Djibouti nationals are exempted – allowed entering without visa.

Travelers are advised to check latest travel policy and additional information from Ethiopia Embassy websites.


Ethiopia uses 220 volts and 50 Hz. It is best to bring your own round, two-prong adapter and transformer if necessary.

Hotel standards

Five stars / Luxory hotels

In a five star hotel customers can expect a luxurious hotel offering the highest degree of personal service with so much elegance and style rooms equipped with quality linens, VCR, CD stereo, Jacuzzi tub and in-room video.

There can also be multiple restaurants on site with extensive, gourmet menus, and room-service which is available 24/7. Additionally, customers can also expect a fitness center; valet parking,  concierge service, wifi, and airport shuttle.

Four stars / High class hotels

In a four star hotel, the customer can expect a formal, large hotel, with top-notch service. It is not uncommon to see a four star hotel located in places where there are other hotels of the same caliber clustered nearby.

Four stars hotels are strategically located close to shopping malls and places full of entertainment. Customers can expect beautifully furnished rooms, restaurants, valet parking, fitness center, and concierge and service room service which is above average.

Furthermore Four Star Hotel’s expectations at this level include a degree of luxury as well as quality in the furnishings, decor and equipment, in every area of the hotel. Bedrooms will also usually offer more space than at the lower star levels, and well designed, coordinated furnishings and decor. The en-suite bathrooms will have both bath and fixed shower.

There will be a high enough ratio of qualified staff to guests to provide services like porter age, 24-hour room service, laundry and dry-cleaning. The restaurant will demonstrate a high level of technical skill, producing dishes to the highest international standards.

Three stars / Middle class hotels

Moderately priced; has daily maid service, room service, and may have dry-cleaning and internet access. Mostly located near a major expressway, business center and/or shop-ping area. They offer nice, spacious rooms and decorative lobbies.

On-site restaurants may be average in size but will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. Valet and room service, a small fitness center and a pool are often available in this category of hotels.

Two stars / Budget hotels

A two star hotel is often part of a hotel chain that offers consistent quality and limited amenities.

A customer can expect a small or medium room size which is furnished with phone and TV. Although a two star hotel may not have the convenience of room service, customers can still expect a small restaurant onsite

One star / Low budget hotels

Inexpensive; may not have maid service or room service. Customers can expect a small hotel which is often operated by the owner with a personal atmosphere and basic accommodation services which do not include restaurant service but it is usually within a walking distance.

One star hotel is usually located near public transportation and major intersections.