Although Ethiopia may not be as famous for tourism as the Santorini’s or Sardinia’s of the world, it still brings about one million annually tourists each year. Apart from the antiquated wonders spread throughout the country, many tourists travel to Ethiopia to create memorable moments and bask in the rich cultural history of the country. Often though, we find that tourists aren’t sure when to visit. In our opinion, the best time to visit Ethiopia is between October and June during the dry season. If you plan to visit Ethiopia soon, this article is for you. Read on to find out about Ethiopia’s temperatures, weather, and when to plan your trip.
Brief Overview of Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa split by the Great Rift Valley. It is one of only two African nations not to be colonized by Western powers. Ethiopia has the second-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the largest cave in the continent called Sof Omar Caves, and the largest continuous mountain ranges in Africa named the Ethiopian Highlands.
Each year, almost one million tourists visit Ethiopia. Visitors come to enjoy the ecologically diverse nation, see some of Ethiopia’s endemic species on a safari, or enjoy the local cuisine. As far as cuisine goes, Ethiopian coffee and unique spices like berbere, mitmita, and Shiro powder have increased in mainstream popularity over the years. Coffee is even said to have originated in Ethiopia!
Others visit the ancient museums to explore Ethiopia’s rich cultural and historical heritage. Whatever your reason for visiting Ethiopia is, you are certain to have a great experience.
Weather in Ethiopia
The predominant climate type in Ethiopia is the tropical monsoon. Although the tropical monsoon climate is dominant, there are topography-induced variations. For instance, the Ethiopian Highlands covers most of the countryside and it is considerably cooler than other regions.
There are two main seasons in Ethiopia: dry season and rainy season. Rainfall occurs most months of the year, but the dry season averages seven hours of sun daily. That said, you’ll still experience sunny spots during the wet months. Let’s talk about the seasons in Ethiopia, so you can plan your trip to fit your favourite weather.
Seasons in Ethiopia
Beating drums. Religious chants. Ethiopian Epiphany Celebrations. These are glimpses of Ethiopia’s spiritual side, and what you may very well experience if you visit in January. January a lovely month where the celebrations of Christmas and other festivals drown out the harsh, lull weather conditions. Hazy, dry winds blow in from the Sahara.
Average air temperatures are usually moderate (18 to 25oC) with very little rainfall if any. Restaurants, bars, and clubs are open to visitors in January and landmarks are a dime a dozen.
If you love visiting the Mountains, February is probably the best time to visit Ethiopia for you. The dry seasons make climbing mountains much more convenient than risking falling in the rain. What’s more, air temperatures average about 20 to 22oC, so it’s not too sunny out there. After a cooler January, safari expeditions begin to pick up as the wildlife return to Afromontane habitats and tropical rainforests. February is a great time to visit the Gambella National Park, which is home to Africa’s second-largest mammal migration.
Temperatures get hotter in March. Averaging around the higher twenties, museum trips and ecotourism are common among tourists during the day. At night, restaurants and clubs make sure the cities never sleep. If you’re into celebrating culture, you may find March as the best time to visit Ethiopia. Locals commemorate the conquest of an invading Italian army in the 19th century at the Battle of Adwa. The bull-jumping ceremony among the Hamer locals also takes place.
April ushers in the long rainy season, and there is a considerable decline in the number of visitors compared to March. Although there a few days of heavy downpour, the weather suits the holiday mood with more sunny days than cloudy ones.
May is a month wherein Ethiopia celebrates its past. The nation seemingly grinds to a halt to celebrate the Ethiopian Patriots’ Victory Day on May 5. Weather conditions are moderate, with the rain becoming more frequent. There is the occasional sunny day though, and you may want to check with the local meteorologist or get weather forecasts before stepping out for one of the numerous festivals or taking a trip to the National Parks.
The month of May is also a great time to explore Ethiopian landmarks like the Omo River and the Danakil Depression.
The rainy season goes into full swing in June. As a result, tourism typically declines compared to the first five months of the year.
June might be a good time to visit Ethiopia if you want to enjoy your trip alone without running into hordes of tourists. You should be sure you want to step out though, as trails can be muddy for those seeking a trekking experience and roads may be difficult to navigate. The weather is chilly, and it is advisable to pack layers of clothes and a warm jacket to stay warm.
July & August
These are the peak months within the rainy season. In July and August, heavy rainfall is common for 20 to 25 days with temperatures less than 16oC. This does nothing to deter locals from celebrating their rich cultural heritage though, as the Fiche Chamballala, a New Year celebration among the Sidamas, rolls by in July. The Festival dates back 2,000 years.
In August, Northern Ethiopians celebrate the Ashenda Festival, which is a festival to honour the death and rise to heaven of the Virgin Mary. To mark the end of the rainy season, the Buhe holiday occurs in the hinterlands. The rain in August is the heaviest throughout the year, so if you visit be sure to keep your umbrella and rain gear with you everywhere you go.
In September, the rain begins to slow down and the large queues at tourist attractions return. As the rainy season gradually gives way, the fields become carpeted in endemic yellow daisies which are popularly called Adey Abeba among locals. These daisies grow for only two months in a year. Ethiopian New Year and Meskel Festivals take place on September 11 and September 27, respectively, and are very popular among Ethiopians. At sunset on these special days, people light bonfires called demeras to celebrate. Expats are invited to participate and learn about the festival rites.
October sees a return of average day temperatures to the higher twenties. Days are sunnier, and tourists are back at the National Parks for safari cruises. Cloudy days are few and far between, so the weather should be favourable for your outdoor trips. Relaxation hotspots like restaurants, clubs, bars, and parks are also much more populated in October than in the previous six months. If you prefer to enjoy your experience alone, then October is probably not the best time to visit Ethiopia.
November & December
November and December are special months to visit Ethiopia, although it is considerably hot. In November, the entry of the Ark of the Covenant holding the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments into Ethiopia is celebrated at St Mary’s Church of Axum. Thousands of others, including foreigners, participate in the 10km Great Ethiopian Run which takes place in late November. Haile Gebreselassie, one of Africa’s greatest runners, founded the run.
December is the best time to visit Ethiopia if you’re interested in seeing landmarks such as the Danakil Depression. The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places on Earth with a colourful landscape. Although it is uncomfortable staying around the Depression, the weather in Northern Ethiopia is strangely cooler than it is throughout the rest of the dry season. December is also ideal for hiking and trekking up the Bale Mountains, as rain hardly makes its way into the weather forecasts for December.
Ethiopia’s favourable climate makes it great to visit at most times of the year. The people are warm and welcoming, the inner cities are super conducive for safari and mountain trips, and the relaxation spots are some of the best in Eastern Africa. Visiting Ethiopia will guarantee you an awesome experience, but finding the best time to visit Ethiopia is key to enjoying your stay there. Overall, we’d recommend going sometime during the dry season – between October and June.