"Independent" travel quandary
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Oct 16, 2012 5:42 PM Last Post By: simril
Aug 20, 2012 6:56 PM
"Independent" travel quandaryWhen I travel, it's important that I can go where I want, when I want, even if I have to pay a premium to do so. To that end, I always want to drive myself. I've been just about anywhere a person can go in one continent in my own vehicles, and covered much of four other continents in rental vehicles.
It seems that is not to be in Ethiopia, partly because of the difficulty of renting a self-drive vehicle, but more because (I'm told) an Ethiopian license is required, which in turn requires Ethiopian residency. I've also seen many times that driving in Ethiopia is "difficult", but this does not concern me, as I believe there are few driving challenges that cannot be effectively dealt with by just GOING SLOW.
Anyway, the choices that I THINK I'm limited to are:
1. Hiring a 4x4 vehicle with driver. The ultimate in flexibility, and I don't mind the expense, but this would involve being cooped up in a vehicle with a guy I've never met before for two+ weeks. I'd probably get pretty tired of him in a day or so - and vice versa, of course, although it's his JOB to put up with me :).
2. Public transport. Crowded, slow, doesn't stop where and when I want, and makes impulsive side trips very difficult.
I know all you inveterate travelers will think I'm spoiled, but that's only partly true. I'm perfectly happy to drive myself, and to sleep in the vehicle, too, day after day.
Anyway, I'd greatly appreciate any suggestions from those with Ethiopia experience as to how I could make option (1) more open, or make option (2) more flexible.
I know this is a long post, but from what I've read I believe this is one of the main issues with tourist travel in Ethiopia, and merits some discussion.
Edited by: simril
Aug 20, 2012 9:08 PM
1You forgot the other obvious option, which is to bring your own vehicle via Kenya or Egypt and Sudan. This is often done by motorcyclists and 4x4 drivers. It takes a certain amount of stubborn determination, a fair bit of money, plus time.
Best sources of information: horizonsunlimited.com and sahara-overland.com. The later offers Chris Scott's definitive book as well.
Hope that's helpful.
Aug 21, 2012 1:16 AM
Aug 22, 2012 12:46 AM
3I don't know if you'd want to tackle some of Ethiopia's roads by yourself to be honest. At least on the northern 'historic' route, it's very mountainous. Some of the turns are so sharp and the drops so sheer you'd need to be a pretty great driver to handle it
Aug 22, 2012 1:45 AM
Aug 22, 2012 1:53 AM
5oops - should have asked some more SPECIFIC questions also:
- Is self-driving a hire car permitted - have heard it is ok for 7 days?
- is self-drive dangerous re security? in which areas?
- Understand local buses are very slow & dont travel at night - ie Addis to Lalibela is 2 days! - are they an option?
- Have heard domestic flights are much cheaper when booked in person in Addis, vs booked ahead via the internet - true?
- Are there flights to the south? to Arba Minch or where?
- Given all of the above, what method/combination of travel would suit Independent travelers (with time limits sadly....)
Aug 23, 2012 11:34 AM
6One thing that you have going for you is that you are more flexible that the OP so that gives you some options.
This is no law that prohibits self-drive, but you need to secure an Ethiopian drivers license. There no law/exception that allows a foreigner to drive an Ethiopian registered vehicle. If you have a foreign registered vehicle, you can drive that on a foreign license. Even if you have an Ethiopian driver’s license, the legitimist rental companies are just not geared to renting to individuals/tourists. They are more geared to renting to organizations.
As for driving in Ethiopia, especially Addis, it just is not fun. The first thing you must remember when driving in Addis is that Ethiopia is possibly the only country in the world that has a driver’s manual in brail. Driving here is a nightmare. I used to not mid it but now I when my schedule is busy, I hire a driver for my car.
Driving out of Addis is not much better. People will walk right in front of a car traveling 80 KM/hr. If you have an accident you can be held by the police, or have you passport taken, until the case is settled. Heaven forbid you hit a kill someone, mob rule often takes over.
The previous 3 paragraphs could be summed up with “forget about self drive.”
There is decent bus service in Ethiopia, Sky Bus and Selam Bus. Both have web sites.
If you buy Ethiopian Airline tickets in Ethiopia, they are much cheaper.
Flights south go to Arba Minch. From there you would have to hire a car to see the tribes.
If you want to hire a 4X4, you can get them for about $70 a day including driver and his per diem, but you pay for fuel. (However, drivers are not paid much so if you buy his meals, which are cheap, he will be your friend for life. If you pay for his room at the budget hotel, he will get a good night’s rest instead of sleeping in his car and it will afford him the opportunity to take a shower. ) To find the budget cars, go to the Commercial College near National Theater, which is a 5 minute walk from the Ras Hotel.
On the side street, there will be plenty of cars and drivers looking for work. Look for a newer car, check to make sure it has seat belts, make sure it has 2 spares, extra fuel tanks on top and make sure the driver speaks good English and give the car a general once over.
Make sure they understand that the car starts the trip full of fuel (paid by them) and finishes the trip full, (paid by you). Never let the driver fuel the car when you are not present. Last but not least, don’t believe anyone that tells you a 4X4 is more than the equivalent of $70/day.
Aug 23, 2012 10:13 PM
Aug 25, 2012 12:27 PM
8Ethiopiawanderer - Really great response. Thanks very much! A couple of thoughts...
- I find it hard to believe that Ethiopian drivers are any better than I am, at least regarding how they handle the roads. Where they may have an advantage is in dealing with the people and animals on the road. Maybe they'll just have a better feel for those kinds of things.
- Unlike many tourists, I'm only time-constrained in a rather loose way. That is, I'm fine with flying in on a one-way ticket and just seeing how things play out. This makes me wonder about something: I know there are minibuses that run back and forth between cities. If they are anything like the minibuses in other African countries I've been to, they are full to the point of people almost hanging out the windows. What if, however, I just hired a minibus to take me by myself (or maybe a couple other tourists if I could round them up) from AA to Bahir Dar? I/We could do it in a day, easily, we wouldn't be crammed in, and we could stop at places along the way. I could pay for the fuel, pay for the driver's day, and then he could just go back to cramming the vehicle with locals for the trip back to AA the next day.
When I get to BD, I spend a day there and spend part of it finding someone to take me to Gondar. Just repeat the process all the way around the loop.
If yes, and you were doing it, how would you go about finding minibus drivers willing to change their business model for a day?
Sep 19, 2012 8:25 AM
Sorry, I missed your post of 8/25. I hope that you have not arrived yet. Your assumption about Ethiopian drivers is correct, they are used to expecting things that western drivers would never think happen. As I posted above, driving in Ethiopia is just not fun.
About renting a minibus, from Addis to BD you might want to hire a vehicle as I outlined above from the commercial college area. There are vans there also but they also charge about $70 a day. The rational is that while they can not got off road, they do hold more passengers (usually around 12). From BD onward, the negotiating may get difficult as you may have problems finding someone that speaks English and is reasonable on price.
Sep 19, 2012 6:15 PM
I really appreciate your responses. I gave some thought to your earlier post about vehicles/drivers near the Commercial College, and I think I'm going to try that. $70 for a 4x4 and driver of course sounds very cheap to a Westerner, but one tourist-oriented establishment I contacted wanted $106, and independents charging 2/3 as much makes sense.
I found the College on Google Earth and nothing jumps out at me as an obvious place for drivers to be lurking, but I'll just go there and then start circling. Hopefully, they will see me before I see them!
I'm just gonna fly into Addis and hope for the best. Adds to the adventure and, if the CC idea doesn't work out, I suppose I can always find a more formal business and pay through the nose for last-minute arrangements.
Do you think the CC guys own their own vehicles, or are they just drivers hired by others?
BTW, have you been to Gambella?
Thanks again for your help. If anything germane occurs to you, I am all eyes.
Sep 20, 2012 9:18 AM
Oct 16, 2012 4:52 AM
12you are getting good advice here which i cant improve on.
One little point - when we say the Commercial College it is actually the road on the south side of the campus which is lined with minibuses/4x4 for hire.. see new 2012 Bradt Guide - page 136 map; square C3 the unamed road that goes from the word Galaxy to Elleni Sq. They all sit on the west side of that road...
OR if no map...get to RAS HOTEL on lower Churchill (officially Gambia St) come out of Ras, turn right along Churchill, take first right and follow it till it hits the said car hire road . Good luck
Oct 16, 2012 5:42 PM
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