Dangers & Annoyances
Violent crime in Addis Ababa is fortunately rare, particularly where visitors are concerned. However, petty theft and confidence tricks are problematic.
The Merkato has the worst reputation for pickpockets abound – targeting not just faranjis (white foreigners) but Ethiopians as well. You are advised to leave hand luggage and jewellery in your hotel if you plan on visiting the Merkato.
Other spots where you should be vigilant include Piazza, where many foreigners get pickpocketed or mugged; Meskal Sq; minibus stands; outside larger hotels; and Churchill Ave, where adult gangs have been known to hang around the National Theatre. Common gang ploys are to feign a fight or argument and, when one man appeals to you for help, the other helps himself to your pockets.
Don’t let any of this scare you, though – Addis is very safe compared with many other African capitals. On a personal note, in all the time this author has spent in Addis he has never once felt even remotely threatened.
One scam that still seems to be snagging tourists is the ‘siren scam’. It takes various forms, including offering you a ‘cultural show’ or a traditional coffee ceremony. Approaches are made to couples or groups, as well as to single males. Most commonly, the person approaching you is a young, well-dressed Ethiopian male, often claiming to be a student.
The venue is usually somebody’s living room, where a hostess will promptly dish out copious quantities of tej (honey wine) and, perhaps, traditional dancers and musicians will perform. Suddenly the ‘entertainment’ comes to an end and an amount upwards of Birr1500 is demanded.
If you end up in a situation like this, offer to pay for anything you’ve consumed (a litre of quality tej shouldn’t be more than Birr65), and if it’s not accepted, threaten to call the police. The area around the hotels in the Piazza and Churchill Ave seem to be prime hunting grounds for potential victims.
An old ploy at the Merkato is for someone to step blindly into you, while another gently lifts your belongings in the subsequent confusion. A less subtle tactic now being used involves one person diving at your feet and holding your legs while another pilfers your pockets.
Another increasingly popular scam involves the delightful technique of a passer-by ‘accidentally’ spitting on you. He then makes a big fuss trying to wipe it off and in the process he (or an accomplice) relieves you of your wallet.
Another one involves someone waving a packet of tissues in your face pretending to sell it to you. As you’re distracted the accomplices pilfer the contents of your pocket or bag. Still, at least you’ll have some tissues with which to wipe off the spit!
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Red Cross Ambulance Service||917|
In Ethiopia (and Addis is no exception), homosexuality is severely condemned – traditionally, religiously and legally – and remains a topic of absolute taboo. Don’t underestimate the strength of feeling. Reports of gays being beaten up or worse aren’t uncommon. To give you an idea of how widespread such feelings are, a 2007 study found that 97% of Ethiopians thought homosexuality was not something society should accept. Needless to say, Addis has no openly gay or lesbian bars or other establishments.
In Amharic, the word bushti (homosexual) is a very offensive insult, implying immorality and depravity. One traveller wrote to us to report expulsion from a hotel and serious threats just for coming under suspicion. If a hotel only offers double beds, rather than twins, you and your companion will pay more or may even be refused occupancy.
Women may have an easier time: even the idea of a lesbian relationship is beyond the permitted imaginings of many Ethiopians! Behave discreetly, and you will be assumed to be just friends.
Note that the Ethiopian penal code officially prohibits homosexual acts, with penalties of between 10 days’ and 10 years’ imprisonment for various ‘crimes’. Although gay locals obviously exist, they behave with extreme discretion and caution. Gay travellers are advised to do likewise.
Every midrange and top-end hotel and an ever-increasing number of budget hotels in Addis has good wireless internet or a computer or two for guest use. There are also numerous internet cafes, but due to the fact that these places close, reopen and change their name at the speed of a megabyte we have refrained from naming specific cafes here. If you’re in a hotel without internet then ask at reception for the nearest internet cafe.
You will have no trouble finding a bank in Addis to change cash, and most Dashen Bank branches have ATMs that accept foreign Visa and MasterCard (but not Plus or Cirrus).
United Bank At the Hilton Hotel.
Travellers cheques can be changed at bigger bank branches in Addis, but with some reluctance.
Banks 8.30am-11am and 1.30-3.30pm Monday to Friday, 8.30-11am Saturday
Cafes 6am-9pm or 10pm
Government offices 8.30-11am and 1.30-3.30pm Monday to Friday, 8.30-11am Saturday
Internet cafes 8am-8pm Monday to Saturday, limited hours Sunday
Post offices 8.30-11am and 1.30-3.30pm Monday to Friday, 8.30-11am Saturday
Restaurants 7am-10pm; upmarket restaurants generally open noon-3pm and 6-10pm daily
Shops 8am-1pm and 2-5.30pm Monday to Saturday
Telecommunications office 8.30-11am and 1.30-3.30pm Monday to Friday, 8.30-11am Saturday
Travel with Children
Ethiopia is not Africa's most child-friendly destination and nowhere is that more true than in Addis. Although many hotels will happily accommodate children, either by putting in extra beds or offering a dedicated family room, child-friendly attractions or activities are almost non-existent – the swimming pools at the luxury hotels are about all the city can muster.
Intrepid travellers with disabilities do visit Ethiopia, although the country can be something of an obstacle course and you'll end up relying on the goodwill of others rather than dedicated facilities in order to get around.
In Addis Ababa a few hotels have lifts; at least two (the Sheraton and Hilton hotels) have facilities for wheelchair-users. Kerb ramps on streets are nonexistent, and potholes and uneven streets are a hazard.