Fall in Euro may not mean rise in travel to Europe

May 30, 2012

Euro Decined againt dollar

The US dollar is currently trading at a four-month high against the Euro, making a trip to Europe this summer seem like a smart move. But some travel industry insiders say the robust greenback may not necessarily translate into more Americans crossing the pond for their next vacation, thanks mainly to rising airfares.

Travel website Kayak says US-European fares are up 11 per cent over last summer, which would negate the lure of more affordable accommodation – a 100 euro hotel room will set a US traveler back around $125, as opposed to $132 in August 2010.

Supporting this theory, a spokesperson for Kayak told USA Today that users of its website were searching less for summer flights to European destinations and more for flights to US cities.

Marian Marbury, president of travel specialists Adventures in Good Company, echoed this sentiment, telling the newspaper that interest in its European trips was down, with “more than one person” backing away after seeing a $1,200-plus fare.

According to a spokesperson for travel website Priceline, European summer airfares “are at a 10-year high”. And although economic unrest in Greece has lead to a drop in prices, summer hotel rates have yet to fall significantly, even in struggling Ireland, Italy and Portugal.

US tourists could also be deterred from traveling to the UK this year, thanks to a hike in prices due to this year’s Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. The dollar was trading at around $1.57 to the pound earlier this week.

According to USA Today, US Department of Commerce figures show a year-on-year increase in European departures of 3 per cent for the second half of 2011, confirming that travel to Europe has picked up slightly since the rise of the dollar.

The Ethiopian town that’s home to the world’s greatest runners

May 21, 2012

What do Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba, Derartu Tulu and Fatuma Roba have in common, apart from being Olympic gold medal-winning runners? They all come from Bekoji in Ethiopia – and they were all trained by one man.

Outside the blue hut is a plaque with a beautifully calligraphed set of rules and regulations – athletes must train hard, respect each other, work as a team and honour their homeland. At the top of the plaque three flags have pride of place: Ethiopia, the local region of Oromia and the Olympics. This is the office of Sentayehu Eshetu, known to everybody as Coach. To be honest, it’s more run-down garden shed than office. Inside, it is dark and dusty, but the late afternoon sun lights up a series of photographs of athletes on the wall. All have won at least one gold medal at middle- or long-distance running. Amazingly, six of the champions originate from this tiny town of Bekoji, and have been coached by Coach.

If Sentayehu Eshetu is not the world’s greatest coach, he is surely the greatest discoverer of running talent. In London this summer, two of the 54-year-old’s most successful former prodigies, Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, will defend Olympic golds at 5,000m and 10,000m. Then there’s his first champion, Derartu Tulu, who won the Olympic 10,000m in Barcelona in 1992 and eight years later in Sydney, and Fatuma Roba, who won the Olympic marathon in 1996 in Atlanta; and the latest generation of champions – Tirunesh’s sister Genzebe, only 21 and already world indoor champion at 1500m, and Kenenisa’s younger brother Tariku who won the 3000m gold at the World Indoor Championships.

Coach is a small man with a big smile. He talks quietly and is not one for hyperbole. When I suggest he has a magical touch, he looks alarmed. “No! No magic,” he says intensely. “I don’t do any magic. It’s the weather and the fact that everything is helping them.” He must have something special? “They listen well and work hard. And eat well. You know barley? They eat barley.” He grins and says I should eat more barley.

Bekoji is 170 miles south of the capital, Addis Ababa. There are plenty of donkeys and horses and goats and cows on the road, but few cars. Coach says around 17,000 people live in the town of Bekoji; there are 25 car owners and he knows all of them. The landscape looks arid but is incredibly fertile. Everything grows here – oil seeds, coffee, tea, spices, sugar cane, cotton, cereals. The centre of Bekoji sits 10,500 feet above sea level and has an average temperature of 66 degrees. Its inhabitants are proud of its climate and special air. On arriving, I find it hard to breathe, but when I do manage to gulp some in, I quickly realise how crisp and pure it is. If you can run here, they say, you can run anywhere.

We head off across the red ochre soil, which blows up yet another mini dust storm, past the corrugated shacks and rubble and randomly parked lorries, and head for Bekoji stadium. It’s not as grand as it sounds. There is one primitive stand, a grassy bank for people to sit on and a straggly football pitch in the middle. This is where Coach takes his youngsters, between the ages of 12 and 20, through their paces five times a week.

There must be more to your success than feeding the runners barley, I say to Coach. “I give full attention to my team and I’m always on time, and I will do anything it takes to make them a champion. I tell them what they should do, and if they follow that, they run very well.” Coach never ran himself. His sport was football. He taught PE and played in central defence. These days he hobbles more than runs. He shows me the knackered knee that did for his football ambitions.

Until now, the rest of the world has remained oblivious to Coach’s achievements, but for the past four years a documentary film crew has recorded in Bekoji and has produced a lovely film called Town Of Runners. It’s no exaggeration – any day at sunrise you will see groups of teenagers or adults running up the hill. Most will be on their way to the two-hour daily training session with Coach. Within an hour the sky goes from red to white to perfect blue. By 8am, the sun is burning through in the 80s.

Coach is thinking about why so many great runners come from here – determination, physical strength from working the land, huge lungs, role models, perfect body shape. (Many of the most successful distance runners have been small, light and immensely strong, with a superhuman capacity to endure – the biopic of Ethiopia‘s most famous runner, Haile Gebrselassie, who comes from down the road in Asella, is called Endurance.) Running is a means of escape and transcendence in Ethiopia – Coach’s best runners will go to “finishing school” in Addis Ababa and that is just the start of their journey. Every day, Coach says, parents will ask him to train their children. “Kids want to run to make their parents happy, and the parents want them to run so they don’t have to work the land. They say, come and take my son or daughter.”

It must be heartbreaking telling them that they are not going to make it, I say. He shakes his head. If they have any natural ability, he insists, you can never write them off. Athletes come through unexpectedly – and fail unexpectedly. He tells me about Zegeue Shifarawu Abebe, the young man who takes training with him. “He used to train with Kenenisa, and we thought he was the better runner; that he was the one who was going to win Olympic medals.” For whatever reason, Zegeue never made it, and now he’s out every morning coaching tomorrow’s champions.

The Ethiopian running dynasty:  What is the secret to its success? 

About a month ago, we did a post questioning whether we were about to witness the end of the Ethiopian era of long distance running dominance.  The jury is still out on that one, though a world record for Meseret Defar in Oslo in the 5000 m seems to suggest that even in Kenenisa Bekele is not going to continue his dominance, the women athletes will probably reign for a good few years yet.
The next question is why are the Ethiopian athletes so successful?  Usually, when one asks about African runners dominating in middle and long distance running, we think of the Kenyans, because there seem to be infinite numbers of them and they win just about every major marathon in the world.  On the track though, it’s a different story.  Since 1993, Ethiopians have won all but one of the World and Olympic 10 000 m titles.  The athletes in question are Haile Gebrselassie and the afore-mentioned Bekele, who now share 5 out of the last 6 world titles and all three of the Olympic titles (Trivial pursuit fact – the only man other than these two to have won a title in the last 12 years is Charles Kamathi of Kenya, who won in Edmonton in 2001).
In addition to this dominance on the track, they have also dominated the Cross Country scene, with Bekele winning 5 out of 5 long races and 5 out 5 short races at the World Cross Country championships between 2002 and 2006.
Yet they clearly don’t have the depth that the Kenyans do.  I was speaking with a colleague at the Sports Science Institute here in Cape Town.  He is Kenyan and is in South Africa to try to set up a relationship with the University of Kenyatta so that we can do some research on the Kenyan runners.  He tells me that a typical track meeting in Kenya will have not one, but ten 10000 m races!  Each one has 30 participants, and every single one runs under 30 minutes!  Think about that – 300 runners all running under 30 minutes at EACH meeting!  Astonishing depth.  And he says to me that the Ethiopians have nothing like this level of depth, but that they use their talent more effectively.
So this post is not about the reasons for East African running success – that is a post for the future, when we will look at just what it is that makes these guys so good – is it training, is it genes, is it diet, is it lifestyle (it’s probably all of them, but we’ll cover that in the future).  And one really important thing to realise is that the Kenyans who are most successful are a mere stone’s throw away from the Ethiopians who are successful.  If you looked at a map of where the best runners come from in both countries, you could draw a circle around the border between them and you’d pretty much have the catchment area.  So if the reasons for the dominance of both Kenya and Ethiopia are physical and physiological, then one would be able to treat them almost the same, because they are very similar in that regard.  But for now, we concentrate on the Ethiopians and ask how it is that they have managed to dominant where it counts even though they have a smaller talent pool than the Kenyans.  And I believe that there are two key reasons why they do:

  1. Administration and policy, which has created a more narrow focus and restraint than in Kenya
  2. Training differences

Victoria Falls-Africa

May 16, 2012


Victoria Falls (also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates to “the smoke that thunders” in the language of the Kololo Tribe, which were present in the 1800s) is possibly the largest single-entity waterfall in the world. David Livingstone, the first European to see the falls, named it in honor of Queen Victoria in 1855. I had read that he was so awestruck by the sight of the falls that he said, “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

Victoria Falls is a spectacular waterfall located in southern Africa on the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Zambezi River serves as the fall’s water source. With the collective height and width of the falls, it is attributed as the largest sheet of falling water in the world. The name Victoria Falls was given by the Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone.

Victoria Falls is accessed through Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It is recommended that whichever city serves as the entry point that visitors take advantage of the complete natural wonder experience and cross over to border to see what Victoria Falls has to offer from the differing perspective.

There are two unique and distinctive views of the falls. One of the best ways to see the falls is to take a helicopter or microlite tour over the falls, which provides a breathtaking and spectacular aerial view of the falls and surrounding area. Whether you elect to take a helicopter, microlite or both up into the air you will have a fair chance of seeing elephants, hippos or other wildlife while taking in the awe inspiring view of the falls. Although there are no guarantees, witnessing wildlife along the way will enhance your natural wonders. There are basically two seasons for the Victoria Falls area.

The rainy season runs from late November to early April and the remaining months account for the dry season. One would imagine that the rainy season with more water would make the falls more spectacular; however the additional water makes it impossible to see the base of the falls. The dry season provides an opportunity for the islets and rocky face to become more visible which makes for a more scenic view.

These exotic waterfalls offer many attractions to the tourists like water surfing, river rafting and river boarding. The Victoria Falls along with the nearby landscapes have been declared as the world heritage site. It is really a captivating destination where you can seriously enjoy a couple of days and make your vacations memorable.

Marriott International continues its investment into the African continent

May 16, 2012

Marriott International, Inc. (NYSE:MAR) continues its investment into the African continent by following up the proposed 209-room Accra Marriott Hotel, with the announcement of two new hotels in Ethiopia.   The two properties are a Marriott Executive Apartments for extended stay travellers and a quality tier Courtyard by Marriott branded hotel. Both will be located in Addis Ababa and are scheduled to open in 2013 and 2015 respectively. The Courtyard by Marriott alone is expected to bring US$ 65million into the local economy over five years.
This marks Marriott International’s first foray into Ethiopia, after a number of similar announcements throughout the continent and is a sign of the company’s confidence in the growing African market.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Addis Ababa, Alex Kyriakidis, President and Managing Director of Marriott International Middle East and Africa, said that there is a direct correlation between a country’s ability to grow and the entrance of hotel providers into the market. “Hotels bring new untapped revenue into the market by boosting tourism numbers and dollars, building infrastructure and creating jobs, which all resonate throughout the economy as a whole.”
Marriott International has projected that by 2018, the new Courtyard by Marriott branded hotel’s total revenue will be ETB 242 million (US$ 13 million) per year – equating to ETB 1 billion (US$ 65million) injected into the economy over five years from only one 209- room hotel.
“The fundamental demand generators that drive our industry are alive and well on this continent,” Kyriakidis said. “Marriott International’s investment into this region represents the economic realisation for the need for hotels – countries need to invest in infrastructure, accommodation and airports to create jobs to grow the economy.
“By adding these two properties to its growing investment in Africa, Marriott International is demonstrating its confidence in the market – that it will grow and that the economy will move forward at a staggering pace.”
Tourism is the fourth largest foreign exchange earner in Ghana and the government recently implemented a Strategic Tourism Development Plan. The plan aims to highlight the importance of the sector to private companies and government agencies involved in the development of infrastructure to improve skills in the industry and to identify opportunities and programme developments necessary for the sector.
Demand for hotel rooms has also increased since the announcement of the discovery of oil off the Ghanaian coast and the subsequent granting of oilfield licenses
“All of these factors ensure we have a very high confidence in the Accra market,” Kyriakidis said. “There is an excellent supply of local talent and strong interest from Ghanaians overseas to return to work in International companies in Accra. The quality of graduates from the Accra based universities is also excellent.”
Marriott International is focusing its growth on Ethiopia, Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria and Rwanda, with a number of new properties scheduled to open over the next five years. “We are thrilled by the robust expansion of our African hotel portfolio,” said Kyriakidis.

ATM Locator | Visa ATMs | Find Bank Cash Machines in Ethiopia

May 11, 2012


By Getachew Teklu

ATMs/Cash Machines – are found throughout Addis Ababa. Dashen Bank is a principal member of both VISA and MasterCard International and has deployed 55 ATMs in Addis Ababa and around the major cities like Bahirdar, Gondar, Mekelle, Awassa, Dessies, Nazreth, Dire Dawa and Harar. Some of the ATMs found at D.H. Geda Tower (next to Friendship City Center) accept both VISA and MasterCard, Dembel City Center (quite hidden, use the main entrance, than to the left, at the window), Edna Mall , in some hotels (Hilton, Sheraton, Intercontinental, Wabi Shebelle Hotel, Ethiopia Hotel, Semein Hotel, Harmony Hotel). Also near the National Museum (Lucy Gazebo Restaurant), ground floor of Getu Commercial center just at the entrance and some branches of Dashen Bank. Please note that not all cards are accepted everywhere,   CBE ATMs are now internationalized and have touch screen technology. HILTON is best place to change/get money. It has 4 ATMs (outside near Hair Salons) and inside on ground floor two banks, Nib and United, have Foreign exchange  bureaus that are very quick for changing your hard currency cash.  Cash on Credit Cards at Dashen Bank and Sheraton but at 6% and US$500 max per day. Traveler’s cheques are difficult to cash in Addis Ababa.

There is ATM at airport near at Immigration area next to banks. Since January 2011 there is ATM available in the Bole airport at the left side of the customs exit.

Foreign Currency Exchange

Foreign currency can be exchanged at any commercial bank, including branches located at larger hotels and at the airports. Exchange rates are the same everywhere. Foreign currencies that will give you the best exchange rates are US dollar, euro and pound sterling. Recommended to bring are US dollars, as some banks will not accept other currencies. Note that it is illegal to change money on the black market.

Exchange of birr back to foreign currency is only allowed for visitors holding onward ticket from Ethiopia.


Availability of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) is limited to larger cities such as Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Gonder and Mekele. The ATMs accept international Visa cards but they don’t work with Cirrus and Plus systems and also don’t accept MasterCard. Some ATMs in Addis Ababa dispense cash in both US dollar and birr.

Credit Cards

Credit cards can be used in some places like hotels, airline offices or travel agencies in the capital Addis Ababa, but, with some exceptions, not outside of the city. Some banks will give you cash advance on a credit card. Most accepted cards are Visa and MasterCard and typically merchants add additional 3-5% to the bill when using them.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks can be cashed in banks, but are difficult to exchange outside of Addis Ababa. Best rates are offered for checks in US dollars or pounds sterling.

Banking Hours

Usual banking hours are 8:00am to 3:00pm, Monday – Thursday, Fri 8:00am to 11:00pm and 1:30pm to 3:00pm on Fridays and 8:30am to 11:00am on Saturdays.

For ATM locator visit http://visa.via.infonow.net/locator/global/

For additional travel and tour information about Ethiopia visit www.admastravel.com


Traveller’s Guide: Ethiopia

May 2, 2012

BY Stuart Butler

There is a place, in the searing deserts of north-east Ethiopia, where you can watch a new version of planet Earth being created. In 2005, over a period of just 10 days, a 60km-long, 8m-wide crack opened in the Earth’s surface. Scientists who witnessed it were astonished. Here, they told the world, were the labour pains indicating the birth of a new ocean and the beginning of an event that in a mere 10 million years would rip Africa in two.

The fact that Ethiopia is reshaping our planet should come as no surprise. After all, this corner of East Africa is often cited as the cradle of humanity. It was here that ancient hominids first stood upright. But Ethiopia’s contribution to Earth’s history extends much further; this is a country that has helped shape much of our culture. It is home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, an even older Jewish one, and it is where the first Muslims found shelter when persecuted in their Arabian homeland. Ethiopia is also where the Ark of the Covenant, the biblical chest carried by Moses from Mount Sinai, can supposedly be found, inside a chapel in Axum.

Going back even further, Ethiopia is where the Queen of Sheba is said to have had her palace and where she gave birth to a son, fathered by King Solomon, who became the ancestor of all Ethiopian emperors right up to Haile Selassie.

Unfortunately, despite its illustrious past, years of famine and war have kept mass tourism at bay. But things are changing, and nowadays Ethiopia is safe, stable and surprisingly easy to visit. Indeed, Cox & Kings (0845 564 8275; coxandkings.co.uk) reported that its Ethiopia group tour was the best-selling escorted tour in its Africa brochure last year. The 14-day “Ethiopian Odyssey” starts at £2,889 per person, including flights.

Most visitors focus on the northern highlands, with good reason. Homeland of the Christian Amhara and Tigrayan peoples, the north’s soaring mountain plateaux offer a treasure trove of historical sites, tiny monasteries older than any European cathedral, and rock-carved churches filled with medieval art. The main tourist sites in the north are Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, whose surface is pockmarked with tiny forested islands hiding 16th-century monasteries. Then there’s Gonder, the former imperial capital, which has some of Africa’s finest castles and palaces.

Axum has one of the greatest collections of archaeological sites in sub-Saharan Africa. And the final stop on most people’s itinerary is Lalibela, the so-called New Jerusalem. Rainbow Tours (020-7666 1250; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers an 11-day “Classic Ethiopia Historical Tour” costing from £2,895, including flights.

The north also has some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in Africa, with the 4,000m-high Simien Mountains the most popular hiking area. For more offbeat trekking, the northern Tigray region and the area around Lalibela offer fantastic walking, and diversions include monasteries atop needles of rock. Exodus (0845 287 7613; exodus.co.uk) offers a 15-day “Simien Mountains Trek” from £2,149, with flights.

Heading south from the capital, Addis Ababa, you’ll find a land torn open by the Rift Valley, sprinkled with muddy lakes and home to a mind-boggling array of tribal peoples. Then there’s the little-visited west, among whose evergreen coffee plantations lies adventure – and none bigger than the search for the lost gold mines of King Solomon.

Finally, in the east, where Islam dominates, is the fear-inspiring Danakil Desert– with its fiercely independent tribes – widely seen as the world’s hottest, most ferocious place. Yet it wasn’t always like this: Ethiopians say that, long ago, the Danakil was a vast field of pure gold. True or not, it’s likely that, a long time hence, the Danakil will be at the bottom of a brand new ocean formed after Ethiopia tears Africa into two, and once again reshapes the world.


You might not guess it, but the small and dusty town of Axum (Aksum) was once one of the most important towns in Africa. Its influence stretched over a vast swathe of north-east Africa and southern Arabia. Today, there are still reminders of those glory days; a handful of stelae – one of them pictured right – and a clutch of tombs and mausoleums. But even with these physical remains we still know little about ancient Axum. Who constructed these stelae, and why? Are there really secret hoards of treasure hidden in sealed tombs? (It’s certainly true that there are passageways and tombs under Axum that archaeologists have yet to open.) Was Axum really once the capital of the Queen of Sheba? And, most intriguingly, does the small chapel at the centre of the town contain the Ark of the Covenant?

Ace Cultural Tours (01223 841 055; aceculturaltours.co.uk). offers a 14-day group trip, calling at Axum, for £2,950, with flights.


The legends say that, 1,000 years ago, a poisoned man was carried to heaven by the angels and shown a breathtaking city of rock-hewn churches. He was then commanded by God to return to Earth and recreate what he had seen.

The result was Lalibela. Easily the No 1 attraction in Ethiopia, and one of the architectural wonders of Africa, the dozen churches, hewn out of rust- red rock, are the high point of an ancient Ethiopian building tradition. You can explore them quite freely, but note two things: you will be expected to take off your shoes, and the carpets covering the floors are often alive with fleas.

Lalibela is a living, breathing religious site, and to be here during one of the major Christian holidays, when thousands of white-robed pilgrims pour into town, is to witness Christianity at its rawest and most powerful. Explore Tailormade (0844 875 1890; explore. co.uk/tailormade) offers an 11-day “Ancient Kingdoms” tour that includes Lalibela, Axum, Gonder and some well-kept secrets. From £2,275, with flights.

Omo Valley

In the remote south of the country is a side of Ethiopia that stands in utter contrast to the cool, Christian highlands. The Omo Valley is the Africa of Hollywood films; wild and sometimes untamed, it’s home to a plethora of tribal groups, including the bull-jumping Hamer people, the Beshadar and the fascinating Mursi, whose women wear huge lip plates and whose men still live a life of cattle rustling and tribal fighting.

Last century, tourism in these parts was unheard of, but today, the Omo Valley has become one of the Ethiopian tourist boards’ biggest selling points.

Getting to the southern Omo Valley, where the greatest concentration of tribal villages can be found, is an adventure, and, because of a paucity of public transport, even hard-core backpackers end up using a tour company.

Wild Frontiers (020-7736 3968; wildfrontiers.co.uk) has a 13-day “Journey through the Omo Valley” from £2,170 without flights, or £2,695 inclusive. The tour includes crater lakes in Langano, visits to indigenous villages and boat trips on Lake Chamo.

Lonely Planet’s Ethiopia & Eritrea guide is available now, price £16.99 (shop.lonelyplanet.com)

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