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Is Ethiopia safe? Essential security advice for a safe trip

by Pilar Dujan | July 23, 2019
Fasil Ghebi in the Ethiopian city of Gondar

Oftentimes, when you’re planning to visit a previously unknown country, you start to wonder about how your trip is going to unfold. Ethiopia is no exception. If you’re asking yourself “Is Ethiopia safe?”, you don’t need to wonder anymore: all your questions will be answered here.

Before you arrive, you should know that for most countries it's mandatory to apply for an Ethiopia Visa before traveling. Read our guide on the Ethiopia entry requirements for more information about all the steps you need to follow, the necessary documentation and more. 

Is it safe to travel to Ethiopia?

The answer to “Is Ethiopia safe?”, fortunately, is yes: Ethiopia is considered a safe country, especially for tourists. It’s very unlikely you’ll encounter any issues while exploring the things to see in Ethiopia.

To avoid starting your trip on the wrong note, be careful with your luggage: don’t lose sight of it at any time and be very careful if someone offers to put your bags on the roof of a bus. If you can, it’s always best to keep it with you.

Also, you should carry copies of all your important documentation and keep the originals inside a safe in your accommodation of choice. 

You should also know that it’s illegal to photograph public and military sites, buildings and personnel. This extends to the Presidential Palace. 

Be especially careful when visiting crowded public places, especially at night. Avoid displaying your valuables and keep your eyes open and you will be okay. Remember to not bring all your money with you.

Moreover, it’s advisable to avoid walking alone at night, particularly in urban areas. Traveling alone entirely is best avoided in case there’s a power outage or a shutdown of cell phone coverage or internet connectivity.

Lastly, you should be aware of the existence of shiftas or bandits, who may be on the prowl in remote areas. For example, in the Ogaden desert in the southeast, near the Kenyan border or the Awash-Mille road at night. Even though tourists are rarely a target, it’s always better to be well-informed when you travel to a new destination.

Mountains in Ethiopia

Is Addis Ababa safe?

Yes, Addis Ababa and other major cities in Ethiopia are safe. However, small thefts and pickpocketing do happen, so be alert. It is known that criminal gangs use distraction techniques, such as begging or faking a disease, so be alert if someone offers or asks for assistance. 

If there are any signs of political unrest, keep your distance. Avoid all manifestations in case they turn violent. 

Even though the answer to “is Addis Ababa safe?” is truly yes, just like in every other major city in the world, some areas are safer than others. You should practice increased caution while in:

  • Bole Medhanealem
  • Bole Atlas
  • Meskel Square
  • Merkato
  • Entoto
  • Yeka Hills

Is Ethiopia safe entirely or are there areas to avoid?

Most of Ethiopia is free of problems but, as in most countries, there are some areas that are best to avoid. They include:

  • The border with Eritrea and the Tigray region. The border between the Tigray and Afar regions of Ethiopia should also be avoided.
  • The Amhara region 
  • The Gambella and Benishangul Gumuz regions
  • Specific areas of the Oromia region
  • Southern Ethiopia, including the Southern Nations and National People (SNNP) Region and the border shared with Somalia. 
  • The bordering areas shared with Sudan and South Sudan

It is always a good idea to review the latest security reports that are usually issued by all governments to make sure that you’re traveling through safe places.

Is Ethiopia safe? Driving and road conditions

Different driving standards and poor road conditions can be an inconvenience for inexperienced drivers, so it’s best to avoid it and hire an experienced driver. The roads can be especially dangerous at night: they are poorly lit and most roads lack the appropriate signage. 

An important piece of information is that if you’re in a car accident, it’s illegal in Ethiopia to move your car before a police officer arrives. If that happens, just stay in place, avoid confrontation and wait for law enforcement. 

If you choose or must drive by yourself, make sure you keep the gas tank full in remote areas and carry a first-aid kit: the health facilities in Ethiopia are scarce and ill-equipped. 

Ethiopia road aerial view

Is Ethiopia safe to visit for female tourists?

Yes, Ethiopia is safe for women travelers. However, Ethiopian society is conservative, and women are expected to dress according to their customs. This is especially important if your travel itinerary includes religious sites. 

Is Ethiopia safe for members of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Sadly, no. Same-sex relations are illegal in Ethiopia, with penalties of up to 15 years of jail. Public displays of affection should be avoided at all costs. 

Ethiopia is a conservative society, and you should take that into account when picking which clothes to pack and when figuring out how to act amongst Ethiopians. 

Is it safe to travel to Ethiopia in terms of natural dangers?

There is a chance you might encounter extreme weather in Ethiopia. Some regions are prone to droughts or, on the contrary, to flash floods. This is most likely to happen if you travel during the rainy season (from July to September).

If you run into any types of issues, follow the instructions of local authorities and make sure your documentation is safely guarded.