Ethiopia, one of the most fascinating countries on the planet, has a vibe that isn’t replicated anywhere else in Africa -you’ll have to leave any preconceived notions at the door when you visit. It was the only country in Africa never to be colonized, has a highly-developed culture that dates back thousands of years, and was the birthplace of coffee. Here are 5 things that surprise foreigners about Ethiopia.
Getting great coffee in Ethiopia isn’t easy
Sure, you can find plenty of cool cafes in Addis that serve up excellent coffee, but if you want to experience the Ethiopian coffee ceremony that you might have seen on TV or heard about, you’ll need to venture out a bit further. Some of the best places to head for traditional Ethiopian coffee around the country are Harar, Yirgacheffe and Sidamo — the regions where most of Ethiopia’s coffee is grown. For more information on finding great Ethiopian coffee see our article: Ethiopian Coffee Culture: How, Where And Why To Drink It.
They get confused on the time
Trying to find the time in a cafe? This might not be the best place to do so. Many clocks in Ethiopia work differently and start when the sun rises (which is set as 12:00). It definitely takes some getting used to, so best to bring a watch or your cell phone.
How much they like the food
The food in Ethiopia is unlike anything else you might find in Africa. The cuisine has been perfecting itself for centuries and if you like flavor overload, you’re definitely going to be pleased when you try Ethiopian food. And while you might have had it in NYC or DC, it’s no comparison to how good it is in Ethiopia. OK, well, some people might not like the food, but if you call yourself a foodie we have money on you that you’ll like it.
The calendar is way off
Well, if you think the year is 2015 at least. The Ethiopian New Year was on September 12, 2015 for most people, but that date was the first day of 2008 for Ethiopians. The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months a year and is eight years behind the Gregorian calendar. Like the time, the calendar is something you have to be mindful of if you are staying in the country for awhile.
They are surprised to find castles
While many tourists come to Ethiopia and expect to find traditional villages and huts (yes there is that, too), their jaws drop when they head to Gondar and see a castle that looks like it was plopped right out of Europe. The castles of Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar are known as Ethiopia’s Camelot and were built in the 17th century.