Most visitors to Ethiopia will be heading into the highlands to cover some of Ethiopia's "historical route". The wet season generally falls between March and September. It doesn't rain all day, every day by any means, but the roads may be more difficult to travel and some days will be a bit dark and gloomy. July and August can be quite wet, especially in the northern highlands. The best time to travel therefore would be from October - March when it's drier and sunnier. Note though, that this is also when night time temperatures drop to downright chilly, so bring layers. October is particularly nice for trekking. But if you are heading south to the Omo Valley, it's best to wait until November since they get their rains later. See more details about Ethiopia's weather and average temperatures..., and scroll below for best time to travel to each region.
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, despite the fact that 35% of the population is Muslim. Gena, Ethiopian Christmas, is celebrated on the 7th of January as Ethiopians follow the orthodox calendar. Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year, is celebrated on September 11. Be prepared to book your domestic flights and hotels well in advance of the two most colorful festivals, Meskel and Timkat. Ethiopians travel back to their home villages and towns to mark the big occasions.
- Timket (Timkat) The Feast of Epiphany -- 19 January
Music food and processions mark Ethiopia's biggest festival. The origin of the Feast of Epiphany dates back over 1000 years and once the ceremonials are over it's time to shake your hips and join in the vigorous dancing. The best places to enjoy the festival are Gondar, Lalibela and Addis Ababa. It is worth joining a tour, just to make sure you get a hotel room reserved. It's also good to have a guide who can tell you exactly what is going on during the processions. Check out Palace Travel, Wild Frontiers and Wilderness Travel for tours. Local Ethiopian tour operators can also help you.
- Meskel Finding of the True Cross -- 27 September
Meskel is an old Christian festival that has been celebrated in Ethiopia for over 1600 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, hence the celebrations. In Maskal square, in Addis Ababa, 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 move forward in unison to set alight the slender pyramid-shaped structure, topped with a cross made from daisies. The next day people go to the bonfire and use the ash make the sign of the cross on their foreheads.
Best Time to Visit the Northern Highlands (Historical Route)
October to March is the best time to plan a trip to Ethiopia's stunning historical sites. But even during the rainy parts of the year, you'll be fine with an umbrella. It doesn't rain all day long generally. If you're on a budget, the best deals are usually found during March and April. This is the short rainy season, and does not coincide with the European/US summer holidays.
Best Time to Trek in the Simien Mountains
The Simien Mountains are a vast mountain range in Ethiopia with many summits above 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The highest peak is Ras Dashen which stands at 4,543 meters (14,901 feet), making it the fourth highest mountain in Africa. Trekking here is fantastic, not only because of the scenery, gorges and streams, but also because you get a chance to see some unique, endemic wildlife like the gelada baboon and 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 the wildflowers are in bloom.
Best Time to Visit the Omo Valley
With more than 50 unique tribes living in the Omo River Region of south western Ethiopia, it's a fascinating destination for those interested in African culture. The remote location, which is barely accessible by 4 wheel-drive, has meant that traditional customs and beliefs are very much intact for most of these tribes. The best time to visit is during the dry season from August to October. This is also when some of the major harvest festivals take place, adding even more color to your trip.
Best Time to Visit the Danakil Depression
Danakil is one of the hottest places on earth, and temperatures easily reach 122 Fahrenheit (50 Celsius), so you want to get your timing right if you plan to visit. It's a fascinating destination where you can witness the age old tradition of salt caravans, the Afar culture, and of course a myriad of active volcanoes. If you've ever felt the urge to visit another planet, you'll love the extraordinary landscapes of the Danakil depression, check it out. To avoid the feeling that you will boil alive, the best time to visit is November to early January.