Travelling to Ethiopia by land is an adventure you’ll never forget, no matter where you come from or how you do it.
Entering Ethiopia Overland
The overland route from South Africa through southern Africa and East Africa to Ethiopia is quite well trodden, and should present few problems, though the last section through northern Kenya still suffers from sporadic banditry. Be aware, though, that Ethiopian visas were still only being issued in Nairobi for Kenyan citizens and residents at the time of research. If you’re heading on to Cairo, things start to get more complicated after Ethiopia – the main complication goes by the name of Sudan. Tourist visas are notoriously hard to obtain (unless you employ the services of a Sudanese tour company), but transit visas, allowing a generous two weeks in Sudan, are pretty simple to get in Addis.
|To/From||From/To||Border Crossing Notes|
|Ethiopia||Djibouti||Border crossings at Gelille and Galafi|
|Ethiopia||Somaliland||Border crossing at Togo-Wuchale/Wajaale|
|Somaliland||Djibouti||Border crossing at Loyaada|
Note that no visas are obtainable at borders.
Border formalities are usually pretty painless crossing between Djibouti and Ethiopia, but you must have your visa prior to arriving as none are issued at the land border.
There are two current road routes linking Djibouti and Ethiopia: one via Dire Dawa and Gelille, and one via Awash and Galafi.
- The Gelille route is best for those without vehicles as daily buses link Djibouti City and Dire Dawa. The journey takes 10 to 12 hours, though it involves changing buses at the border. In Djibouti City, Société Bus Assajog buses depart at dawn from Ave Gamel Abdel Nasser; tickets cost DFr1500 to Gelille and should be purchased at least a day in advance to be sure of getting a seat; from Gelille, you'll need to buy an onward ticket to Dire Dawa (Birr185). In Dire Dawa, buy your ticket the day of travel at the Tibuuti Ee City office north of the ‘old town’ of Megala by Ashawa Market. Tickets cost Birr185 and buses depart around midnight from a spot north of this office.
- The road between Dire Dawa and Gelille was being upgraded at the time of writing and should be fully sealed in the next few years.
- In the meantime, although longer, the Galafi route is best for those driving as it’s sealed the entire way. For those coming from northern Ethiopia, this route can be accessed via a paved shortcut at Woldia.
- Those without vehicles can also travel via Galafi, although it’s not straightforward. In Djibouti City, you’ll have to take a minibus to Galafi, 5km from the border. From Galafi, you'll have to rely on the handful of morning minibuses to Logiya (Birr60, three hours) or hitch a lift with one of the many trucks heading into Ethiopia. Those using this route to leave Ethiopia can ride trucks directly to Djibouti City. We were quoted prices of Birr400 to Birr500 for the six-hour journey from Logiya, but there are many drivers and few passengers so negotiation is in order.
The rail line between Dire Dawa and Djibouti has been completed but passenger services were yet to begin at the time of writing. When completed, the line will connect Djibouti with Addis Ababa via Dire Dawa.
There are three traditional entry points from Eritrea into Ethiopia: Asmara to Adwa and Aksum via Adi Quala; Asmara to Adigrat via Senafe; and Assab to Addis Ababa via Serdo and Dessie. However, all these border crossings have been indefinitely closed since the 1998 war.
With relations on their current path, it seems sadly unlikely that the borders will be reopened anytime soon.
Currently, the only feasible way of crossing from Ethiopia to Eritrea is by plane, travelling via a third country. Travelling via Djibouti is the most obvious and cheapest way. A much more roundabout route is via Cairo in Egypt.
There are usually few problems crossing between Ethiopia and Kenya. The only feasible crossing is at Moyale, 772km south of Addis Ababa by road. Moyale has two incarnations, one on either side of the border.
- The northern, Ethiopian, version of Moyale is well connected to the north and Addis Ababa by bus, along a pretty good, but often potholed, section of sealed road. Though security is normally not a problem along the main north–south route and in and around Moyale, there are occasional flare-ups of tribal fighting in the area.
- Getting solid info on what the situation is like at the moment you want to cross can be a little tricky. Tour companies and government travel-advice websites will know when there has been serious and sustained fighting in the area, but for the everyday sort of clashes probably the best source of information is other travellers as well as Lonely Planet’s online Thorn Tree forum.
- The southern, Kenyan, side of Moyale is truly in the middle of nowhere: around 800km north of Nairobi. A daily bus connects Moyale with Marsabit from where transport is available onto Isiolo and then onward to Nairobi. Trucks servicing the same destinations pick up passengers near the main intersection.
- For those of you in your own vehicles, the road between Moyale and Marsabit is long but the completion of the paved road has eased things considerably. Thankfully the banditry problems of the past seem to be largely under control, although outbreaks of tribal fighting and banditry do still occur. While this normally takes place well away from the main Marsabit–Moyale road, serious tribal fighting has occurred in and around Moyale. Armed convoys are sometimes used along this route; although only in times of extreme tension. The Wajir route south is still not considered safe. Either way, be sure to check the security section before setting out from Moyale. Also make sure you fill up before leaving Ethiopia as petrol is half the price north of the border.
- The Ethiopian and Kenyan borders at Moyale are open daily. Kenyan three-month visas are painlessly produced at Kenyan immigration for the grand sum of US$50. It’s payable in US dollars (some have managed to pay in euros), but not Ethiopian birr. Transit visas cost US$20 (valid for seven days). Ethiopian immigration cannot issue Ethiopian visas; these must be obtained at an Ethiopian embassy prior to arrival at the border.
- If you’re heading south and have a serious 4WD, it’s possible to cross the border near Omorate alongside Lake Turkana. Currently the main route (a relative term since it’s rarely travelled) for overlanders is a vague sandy track branching off the Turmi road about 15km outside of Omorate. Drivers must come fully prepared for a tough trip with few facilities and most people recommend taking a guide. It’s about two days’ travel time to Loyangalani. Rainy-season travel is not possible.
- With the completion of the bridge across the Omo River at Omorate, the crossing west of the Omo River at Namoruputh is easier because the road is better. Kenyan immigration is in Todonyang, 7km after the border. Tribal conflicts remain common in this area, so check on the situation before trying either of these routes.
- There’s an Ethiopian immigration post in Omorate that can stamp you out; there’s still no Kenyan post to issue you a visa, so you must obtain one from the Kenyan embassy in Addis Ababa beforehand. Once you reach Nairobi you’ll have to get it stamped; immigration officials are used to this. Bring lots of fuel and a big sense of adventure!
You might brace yourself for adventure, but getting to Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, is very easy.
- Many buses and minibuses run along the good, paved road between Jijiga and the border town of Togo-Wuchale (Birr32, one to 1½ hours). Get stamped out at Ethiopian immigration (it’s the white building with a flag and satellite dish) before walking 100m over the causeway in no-man’s-land to the brightly signed Somaliland immigration office in the twin village of Wajaale. The visa must have been acquired or arranged prior to your arrival by a hotel or an agent in Hargeisa.
- Taxis run frequently from a muddy park next to immigration to Hargeisa (Birr140, two hours), about 90km to the southeast. The drivers will try to get you to pay extra for your bags, but you don’t need to.
The main border-crossing point with Sudan is the Metema crossing, 180km west of Gonder. The road between Gonder and Khartoum is now paved all the way. It’s imperative that you’ve obtained your Sudan visa in Addis Ababa (not an easy task) or elsewhere before heading this way.
- In Gonder minibuses leave daily for Metema (Birr105, three hours). There is also a direct bus from Addis (Birr375, two days).
- After reaching Metema walk across the border into the Sudanese town of Gallabat; please note that there were plans afoot in late 2016 to merge the two border posts into a single complex which should make things easier, although it was still only a plan at the time of writing. From Gallabat, transport can be found to Gedaref (three hours) and onward to Khartoum. If you set off very early and everything goes your way then you might make it from Gonder to Khartoum in a single day, but don't count on it. If you get stuck en route then try to stay overnight in Gedaref (better than Gallabat).
- At the time of research the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan at Jikawo was closed to foreigners, although it's often open for citizens of the two countries. If it ever reopens, expect buses to go from Gambela to the border town of Jikawo (Birr98, 4½ hours) . From there take a shared taxi to Adora (South Sudan).
- Another option, and one that locals in Gambela sometimes use, is to hang around the river in Gambela in the hope of securing passage on one of the small boats that occasionally travel to Akobe via the Baro River. We’ve never heard of any travellers doing this, but if you get the nod from immigration officials then it’s certainly going to be an interesting way to cross between Ethiopia and South Sudan.
- Whichever way you try to go check the security situation in South Sudan thoroughly beforehand as at the time of research there had been a lot of fighting in southeast South Sudan.