For many people, the best time to visit Ethiopia is during the dry season (October - February), when the weather is at its most pleasant. There are exceptions to this rule, however - especially if you're interested in experiencing Ethiopia's cultural festivals, some of which are held during the rainy season. If you're on a budget, traveling during the low season is also a good way to save money.
Although Ethiopia's climate varies greatly depending on the region you're planning on visiting, the wet season generally lasts from June to September, with light rains beginning as early as March. June and July are the wettest months, particularly in the Northern Highlands. Weatherwise, therefore, the best time to travel is from October to February, when the climate is both dry and sunny. At this time of year, nighttime temperatures can drop dramatically, so it's important to pack plenty of layers.
If you're planning on heading south to the Omo Valley, you need to be aware that there are two distinct rainy seasons in this region.
Best Time to Visit the Northern Highlands
The October to February dry season is the best time to plan a trip to the ancient rock-cut churches of Ethiopia's stunning Northern Highlands. However, even during the wet season, rains rarely last all day. If you're looking to save money, consider booking a trip in March or April, when the rains are light and prices for accommodation and tours are generally lower. Usually, it's best to avoid traveling in June and July, when the rains in this region are at their most extreme.
Best Time to Trek the Simien Mountains
The Simien Mountains are a vast mountain range whose highest peak stands at 14,901 feet/ 4,543 meters, making it one of the highest mountains in Africa. Trekking here is fantastic, not only because of the scenery, gorges, and streams but also because you get a chance to look for endemic wildlife like the gelada baboon and the walia ibex. The best time to trek is from September to November, when it's dry, green and relatively dust free. October, in particular, can be spectacular because this is when the mountain wildflowers are in full bloom.
Best Time to Visit the Omo Valley
With more than 50 tribes living in the Omo River region of southwestern Ethiopia, it's a fascinating destination for those interested in African culture. The remote location, which is barely accessible by 4 wheel-drive, means that traditional customs and beliefs are very much intact for most of these tribes. This region has two rainy seasons - one lasting from March to June, and a shorter one in November. Access is often impossible during these times, so planning your trip for the dry season is essential.
Best Time to Visit the Danakil Depression
Danakil is one of the hottest places on earth, with daytime temperatures easily reaching 122℉/ 50℃. It's a fascinating destination where you can witness the age-old tradition of salt caravans, experience Afar culture, and marvel at a myriad of active volcanoes. If you've ever felt the urge to visit another planet, you'll love the extraordinary landscapes of this region. To avoid feeling like you're boiling alive, however, make sure to visit during the cooler months of November to March.
Best Time for Experiencing Ethiopia's Festivals
Ethiopian festivals are certainly worth planning a trip around. Mostly religious, festivals generally last several days. Orthodox Christian festivals are the most prominent and visible in Ethiopia and are celebrated according to the Ethiopian calendar. For example, Ethiopian Christmas (known as Ganna) is celebrated on January 7th, rather than December 25th. Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year, is celebrated on September 11th. If you're keen to experience Ethiopian festivities at their most colorful, consider planning your trip around Meskel or Timket - but be prepared to book your domestic flights and hotels well in advance.
Timket: The Feast of Epiphany, January 19th
Ethiopia's biggest festival celebrates the baptism of Jesus. The festival lasts for three days, and includes a procession of the church's tabot, or consecrated replica of the Arc of the Covenant; and ritual re-enactments of the baptism. When the more solemn aspects of the festival are over, participants enjoy feasting, music, and dancing. The best places to enjoy the festival are Gondar, Lalibela and Addis Ababa. It is worth joining a tour, just to make sure that you are able to reserve accommodation.
It's also good to have a guide who can tell you exactly what is going on during the processions. Check out Wild Frontiers and Wilderness Travel for tours; or book with a local Ethiopian tour operator.
Meskel: Finding of the True Cross, September 27th
Meskel is an old Christian festival that has been celebrated in Ethiopia for over 1,600 years. It commemorates the discovery of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Some pieces of the cross are thought to have been brought to Ethiopia. The best place to celebrate the festival is in Addis Ababa's Meskel Square, where a colorful procession of priests, deacons, and choir singers walk around a huge pyre, bearing ceremonial crosses and wooden torches decorated with olive leaves. The torch-bearers set the pyre alight, and the next day people go to the bonfire and use the ash to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads before spending the rest of the day feasting.
This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald