Great Ethiopian Run November
Festival of Maryam Zion November
The most vibrant and busy time to visit, with Ethiopia’s most colourful festivals, and the weather is usually cool and dry.
Leddet (6 to 7 January) is a dramatic throwback to a time when Christmas still had real meaning. The faithful attend all-night services, often moving from one church to another. Aksum and Lalibela are among the best places to experience Leddet, as is Addis Ababa.
Timkat (Epiphany, celebrating Christ’s baptism)
This three-day festival is the most colourful of the year. Join the thousands of white-robed faithful in Gonder as they sing and dance behind a solemn procession of regalia-draped priests. Other good places to be for Timkat are Addis Ababa and Aksum.
The heart of the dry season is the easiest time to travel around the country and it's a good time for trekking and wildlife-watching.
Herds of migrating white-eared kob and Nile lechwe over a million strong move through Gambela National Park – magic if you can make it into this, one of Africa's more challenging parks to access.
The Simien Mountains are at their best – now is your chance to scale up Ras Dashen (or Ras Dejen), Ethiopia’s highest peak, and snap pictures of gelada monkeys.
The end of the high season. Days are warm and dry, and there’s excellent wildlife watching around waterholes in the national parks.
In the Lower Omo Valley, witness a young man run across the backs of cattle to be initiated into the responsibilities of manhood, while, in a show of solidarity and stoic allegiance, women volunteer to be whipped with slender canes. Between late January and early April.
A transition month. Increasing temperatures in the Ethiopian lowlands are mitigated by heavy showers. It’s still a pleasant travel time, before the heavier rains and the increasing heat of the following months.
Fasika (Orthodox Easter)
Fasika marks the end of a vegetarian fast of 55 days. Stay up on the night of Easter Saturday in Lalibela to see hundreds of white-robed pilgrims crowd the courtyards of the churches and pray under the moonlight.
From Thursday evening before Good Friday, the faithful fast until the Easter service, which ends at 3am on Easter Sunday. Held in March or April.
Pessimists decry the beginning of the rainy season, but the region is green and lush. If you’re planning to visit the Lower Omo Valley, avoid this month, as many roads are impassable.
Heavy rains make travel difficult wherever the paved roads end, but even where getting around isn't a problem, paved roads can be slick and treacherous and the best views are often obscured by clouds.
Pretty much a carbon copy of June – heavy rains can make getting around either difficult or dangerous, or both, and visibility can be poor.
The big annual rains continue to batter Ethiopia. Getting around is difficult. The hot season sends lowland temperatures in the three countries up to 45°C. Avoid visiting now.
The rains usually continue well into September; when they stop and you can see the horizon, Ethiopia is lush. By late September, rains may have subsided.
Kiddus Yohannes (New Year’s Day)
At Ethiopian New Year (11 September), new clothes are traditionally bought for the occasion, particularly for children, and relatives and friends are visited.
Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)
Starting on 27 September, this two-day festival is the most colourful after Timkat. Bonfires are built, topped by a cross to which flowers, most commonly the Meskel daisy, are tied. Priests don their full regalia. Addis Ababa, Gonder and Aksum are good places to be.
Mid-October, just after the rains, is a great time to visit. The countryside glows green, the wildflowers are in bloom and there are few visitors.
On the first Sunday following Meskel, the Oromo people celebrate Irecha on the shores of Lake Hora. Devotees gather around ancient fig trees to smear perfume, butter and katickala (a distilled drink) on the trunks and share ceremonial meals of roasted meat, coffee and alcohol.
A great time to visit; expect plenty of wildlife in the national parks, and migratory birds begin arriving in great numbers.
Festival of Maryam Zion
This vibrant festival is held only in Aksum. In the days leading up to the event on 30 November, thousands of pilgrims head towards Aksum. Celebrations start in front of the Northern Stelae Field, where the monarchs of the Orthodox church line the steps.
Great Ethiopian Run
This 10km race takes over Addis Ababa on the last or second-to-last Sunday of November and attracts over 20,000 runners. Whether running or watching, it’s a fun time and it’s a great chance to see some of East Africa’s elite athletes in action.
The weather is mostly dry throughout the region and it’s a fine time for wildlife watching. Temperatures are also at their best – warm but not stifling. This is a great time to explore the Danakil Depression.
Calling all birders! Some 200 species of Palaearctic migrants from Europe and Asia join the already abundant African resident and intra-African migrant populations.
Although not on the official religious holiday list, large numbers of Ethiopians make a pilgrimage to the venerated Kulubi Gabriel church, near Dire Dawa in the east (28 December).
This is an ideal month for trekking in the Bale or Simien Mountains. It’s dry and the skies are clear – perfect for capturing scenic landscapes.