Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, so what better place to taste it than the capital Addis Ababa? A last minute long weekend took us to the capital, and having grown up in Africa, I always feel at home no matter which part I travel to. Addis Ababa was no different.
As the home of the African Union, UN Headquarters and hundreds of NGO’s, it makes for a very laid back and surprisingly cosmopolitan city. And we found people to be genuinely warm, friendly and relaxed wherever we went. We connected with an old friend to show us the real city and hired a fantastic driver to take us around.
The hotel you want to stay at is the Grande Dame of them all, the Sheraton Addis. The walled in grounds are a luxurious retreat from the bustling city. It is a gorgeous, luxurious old colonial hotel that has a number of restaurants and a nightclub you can visit even if you aren’t staying there.
The first thing we did was head out for our first typical Ethiopian lunch and homegrown coffee at Kategna, one of the popular local eateries. It’s a stylish place with friendly staff who advised us to order the vegetarian plate which has a range of different dishes served on injera, a sour dough bread that you scoop the food up with. Loved it. After the strong, delicious coffee, we also sampled the local light beer of which there are a few.
Our coffee shop tour started with the first ever store in Addis Ababa, the downtown branch of Tomoca. It is like taking a trip to a bygone era and there are no seats as people mill about at counters, chatting and drinking the local favourite, a macchiato.
We followed that up with a branch of Alem Bunna and Yeshi Buna another two well known chains in the city, a more modern branch of Tomoca (also with standing counters) and Kaldi’s the local Starbucks look-alike. I think the original Tomoca is still my favourite, and we bought bags of beans home which were ridiculously cheap when compared with western chains like Starbucks.
There isn’t much to shop for in Addis and although we did visit a few small boutique stores, I would say the best thing to do is get your hands on as many different brands of coffee as you can pack. It’s super cheap and delicious and your friends and family will thank you.
There are a number of museums and churches you can visit, but one activity definitely worth doing is Entoto Hill as it takes you over 3000 meters above sea level. You’ll pass stall after stall selling local clothing and crafts on the way up to the complex at the top, housing a museum, church and original palace. The museum is basic but interesting and the rest is worth a short stroll. If you’re up there on a good day, you’ll have a great view back over the city and the air is cool and fresh.
Addis Ababa wasn’t top of our travel list this year but we’re very pleased we went. There may not be as much to see or do as other capital cities, but it’s worth at least a long-weekend visit (and much longer if you head into the countryside) because the coffee and the people are every bit as warm and wonderful as each other.
Stay: Sheraton Addis
Eat & Drink: Tomoca, Kategna, Ristorante Belvedere (Italian)
See: Entoto Hill