Saturday, January 18, 2014

Addis Ababa city center

There is no city center in Addis Ababa as we know it in most of the European or US cities. Addis Ababa is very widespread city consisting of subcities, satellites, neighborhoods and districts. Every subcity will have at least one place that can be called center offering shops, market, pubs, cafes and restaurants. Otherwise, the main city Addis Ababa has few interesting areas that concentrate people and businesses and we describe them in What to see in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Birr and money exchange (ATMs)

Money exchange

Only the banks change money in Ethiopia. Bring your passport and currency you want to exchange for Birr. EUR, USD or GBP are the safe choices, but the banks will exchange few other currencies.


There are some ATMs with the Visa card logo that allow card withdrawals from foreign accounts. However, when we tried one of them, the transaction was declined although the ATM featured the Visa logo. Please note that not all the banks have ATMs, but you can find international ATMs by the larger hotels and in the shopping malls. It is forbidden to import or export more than 200 Birr in and out of Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa airport (Bole International Airport)

Bole International Airport is the main airport of Addis Ababa and the Ethiopia airline hub.

Visa on arrival

Before claiming your luggage, you will walk past the Ethiopia visa on arrival line. Most of the EU countries nationals excluding Hungary are able to obtain their visa on arrival to the Bole International Airport (Addis Ababa airport). Have the exact amount of 20$ or 17€ ready for a payment.

Money exchange / ATMs

There are two or three banks available at the airport, at least one of them is opened during late night hours (e.g. flight from Istanbul at 1 am in the morning). You can easily change your USD or EUR, only one official exchange rate exists for eeach currency valid for the whole country. There are no ATMs at the airport.

Getting from the airport to Addis Ababa (and it subcities)

Walk outside of the airport building and continue down to the parking lot. Walk by the private cars to the larger crowd of the taxi drivers. Do not take yellow taxis that are more expensive than the blue taxis. Don't forget to haggle and ask multiple taxi drivers to get the price range. There will be some that will often offer lower price or ask you how much you want to pay. Expect to pay more, if coming late at night. Sample price: 150 Birr Airport-Addis Ababa city center.

How to get around Addis Ababa (Public Transport)

Public Transportation in Addis Ababa

There are yellow-red city-run buses, but they are usually crowded. Buying a ticket is bit complicated as you need to buy it before entering vehicle from a conductor leaning out of window. People usually swarm him and you will stand no chance. Ticket costs about 2.80 Birr.


White-blue (or just white) minibuses are the most convenient way to get around as their intervals are good and there are plenty of minibus connections and common places of change - the hubs. Minibuses run on their arranged routes, but you can get on and off at any point en route. The price is always 3.80 Birr for most of the trips, but you will rarely get your 20 cents back. Some longer trips could cost up to 7 Birr (e.g. Lafto-Mercato), incomplete routes (e.g. getting on or off after start or before end) can cost from 1.50 to 3 Birr. Minibus trips can be slower during peak hours as the traffic usually comes to halt at the intersections or around construction. Be prepared that some minibuses may take more people than they have seats, so it might feel crowded.

Getting on and getting off

To get on at one of the terminuses or hubs, just locate the departure point for your route or listen for the destination shouts of the conductors. To get on anywhere by the route just signal with your hand that you would like a minibus to stop. To get off a minibus, say "wouradzh aleh" and listen for a conductor to tell a driver the same thing.

Paying to a conductor

Every minibus has a conductor that will shout where the minibus is going and will later ask for money. Always tell your destination (usually referred to by a district/neighborhood name or landmark or the terminus) and have your money ready, preferrably small notes (ones, fives or tens).

Hubs and transfers

Minibuses have multiple hubs, where they converge or their routes intersect. One of the largest one is so called Mexico. Here you can find your connection to almost any part of Addis Ababa and its subcities. Other large hubs are Piazza and Meskel square. The map of the minibus routes is included as well as a sketch of the different departure points of the minibuses at Mexico (where the train construction confuses the changes).


Blue taxis offer more personalized service at higher prices. Price is always a contract price, so you will need to haggle (tell them to give you normal price, not the "ferenji price"). Try asking for half a price a taxi driver first states or at least 100 Birr less. Find places, where there are more taxis parked and go from car to car doing a price research. Some sample prices: Piazza (center)-Lafto (20 min. trip) 150 Birr, Bole Airport-Lafto (20 min. trip) 150 Birr. If you have luggage, taxi drivers will usually put it on the roof rack of their car, that is to be expected.

Bajajs (Tuk tuks, motorized rickshaws)

These small vehicles can take you around only in their respective neighborhoods/districts as they are banned from larger roads (e.g. Ring road). The prices vary, but if there are multiple passengers they charge 1.50 Birr. If you want to have a bajaj for yourself, expect to pay 30 Birr. Don't be shy and haggle as you would do with a taxi driver.

Addis Ababa light rail

There is light railway (or tram system) under construction as of January 2014. The construction works are all around city as the light railway partially replaces the train network that Addis no longer has. Light railway system in Addis Ababa is to be finished and launched in 2016.