Lalibela, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of A.Davey via Flickr.

I leave for Ethiopia in just a few days and I feel completely unprepared.

I booked the flights for this trip back in the spring when I stumbled upon a ridiculously low airfare on Qatar Airways to Addis Ababa (less than $700 – cheaper than flying to Europe!). But I held off on really planning anything for the trip until just last month and since I finalized plans, life has been so hectic that I have barely had time to give the trip a second thought.

I first started thinking about visiting Ethiopia last year as I wondered whether I would be able to visit Mali and Burkina Faso as planned due to Ebola and a military coup. I wish I had more time as there is so much I would love to see. However, I was quite deliberate in how I planned this itinerary, wanting to get a good variety of experiences while traveling on a budget. Ethiopia is a huge country so to get to other major sites like Axum and Gonder requires either extremely long drives or short flights whose prices add up quickly. So here is what I came up with:

Friday, November 20: I leave Chicago for Addis Ababa via Doha, Qatar, arriving past midnight on Saturday night.

Sunday: This morning is the Great Ethiopian Run – a 10K race that is the largest road race in all of Africa with something like 40,000 runners. This sounded too cool to pass up, so I will be attempting to run it just hours after arriving in Addis Ababa in the middle of the night. As crazy as that may sound, I did just run a marathon a couple weeks ago, so hopefully even with the high altitude in Addis, I will be ok. I have no designs on finishing in any certain time – even if I have to walk a bit, that’s fine. I just want to be part of something really cool.

Sunday evening, I will be taking a food tour with Addis Eats, a company I discovered on Twitter as I was tweeting about Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode in Ethiopia. As it turns out, Addis Eats worked with Bourdain on the episode, so I am pretty excited about the chance to learn about Ethiopian food from their guides and get an early heads up on what I can and can’t eat (due to my celiac disease) while I am in the country.

Monday: This morning I head to Awash National Park, just a few hours outside of Addis. There’s no big game to see here, but I should be able to spot lots of smaller animals and a lot of birds – as well as a big waterfall. If anything, it should give me a chance to relax a bit after a hectic first day.

Tuesday: On to Harar! While Ethiopia is predominantly Christian, Harar is known as one of the holiest Muslim cities and is home to more than 90 mosques. It is also home to hyenas and a popular activity for visitors is to watch the nightly hyena feeding just outside the city gates.

Wednesday: Today will be a long drive back to Addis Ababa from Harar – luckily in a private car, not by public bus!

Thursday: This morning I fly to Lalibela and immediately set off on a three-day trek with Tesfa Tours, a community-based tour organization. This first afternoon will take me to a guest house at Ad Medhanealem, where I will spend the night.

Friday: A long day of trekking up to the top of Abuna Yoseph (one of the highest peaks in Ethiopia at 4300 meters) and back down to spend the night at Agew Beret.

Saturday: My last day of trekking will take me back to Lalibela for the night.

Sunday: I have a full day guided tour of the churches at Lalibela. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and pretty much the biggest “must-see” when visiting Ethiopia.

Monday: I fly back to Addis Ababa midday and will have the rest of the day to explore before heading to the airport around midnight to fly home to Chicago.

It’s an ambitious and exhausting itinerary, but then again I have never been one to take relaxing vacations.

Have you been to Ethiopia? What do you think of my plans?


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