Tuesday, January 18, 2011


sunset from the Old City

Situated south of the Churcher Mountain range in the east of Ethiopia, some 350kms from the border with Djibouti, lies the town/small city of Harar. P. loved it here and tells me not to miss out on this gem, whilst Drew, an Australian backpacker i meet in Lalibela tells me he was looking forward to a few days here, but left town after 24 hours through boredom. We’re all different with different interests and tastes, but i kinda love this place.

I arrive by Skybus from Addis (Birr 278) after an eight and a half hour journey.

Harar self identifies as “a living museum” on its travel brochures, whilst Lonely Planet – Africa calls it “

Harar is undoubtedly an unique place. The old walled city covers just 1 square kilometre but is filled with some 368 alleyways and 87 mosques and shrines. This is a very Moslem part of the country. There is a very Arabesque feel to the place, but more colourful than one might expect, with the local women covered with floating multi-coloured hues. The scents and aromas seeping through from the herbs and spices even overcome more urinary smells from deeper recesses. Unfortunately my photos do little justice to the place.

Somewhat uniquely i am referred to as a “feranjo” rather than the more regular “feranji” – making for a not unpleasant change.

French poet, dromomaniac, hash monster and bon viveur Arthur Rimbaud relocated here in 1884, and became a close personal friend to Haile Selasie’s father – the Governor of Harar. There is a museum in the walled city commemorating Rimbaud’s life and works.

the Rimbaud museum

There are several young men offering you city guides, but they are not too persistent. The locals are friendly and open, and it is the first place in Ethiopia where they are not always asking you for money, even for showing you around and helping you out! The women are very beautiful, with unfeasibly high cheek bones, kohled eyes and stunning flirtatious smiles. Most are far too shy to be photographed – such a pity!

in front of the old city

The Harar Beer factory does tours in the morning, sells souvenirs and has a quality restaurant and beer garden. Nits at the North East edge of town (rickshaw Birr5 – 10). They boast the only export beer in Ethiopia – with New York and London popular clients. I know nada about beer, but i take a sup and the dark ale tastes quite good: rich with just a slight chemical edge in the after-taste.

The nightly feeding session of the hyenas is a must-see. Click here for more information.

During my stay i get to witness the Business Expo 2011 which runs for a week during January. There is live music and a few treats to be had.

There are a couple of day excursions to do out of Harar.

Between 17and 19 kms out lies the Argoban village of Koromi (Koremi). It’s meant to be really interesting, perched high on a cliff, but quotes range between Birr 500 – 1000 for transport. As i am heading to Lower Omo valley i pass up on this option.

Babille lies 31km out of town. Walk 4kms further out of Babille aand you enter Dakhata valley, known as the Valley of Marvels. Read all about it by clicking here.

The city is plagued by water shortages and it turned off for hours every day.
There is a Darshen Bank with international Visa and even Mastercard ATM.

Places to Stay:

My first hotel is the Belayneh – at Birr 175 one of my more expensive stays. The bed is comfy, has a TV (but only two local stations) and a balcony which overlooks the market. The water even when present is not hot despite the enormous water-heater in the bathroom.

The Harar Ras hotel is the opposite end of town by the only set of traffic lights in town. It is a government run place, but at Birr102 with an attached bathroom is a bit better value even if the mattresses are ridiculously soft. Unfortunately they are expanding at the moment and work begins at 8am. The full set breakfast (eggs, toast and fruit juice) is good if a bit pricey at Birr30. They also have a useful 24 hour bar.

Places to Eat:

I really like both the coffee and the Danish breakfast at the large blue Ali Bal Cafe. It’s located on the first roundabout through the Main Gate.

The Barbeque (chicken, beef and goat) at the Harar Beer factory is excellent if somewhat out of town. Combine it with a morning tour perhaps?

The pizzas are good at Fresh Touch, but not much else. Equally good pizza are available at Harar Ras hotel.

The Cozy Cafe in New Town does a fair breakfast, but when i visit at night has virtually no food to offer despite their comprehensive menu.

I check out the Hirut restaurant, a famous local eatery to try kwanta (quanta) firfir, a local dish containing raw beef marinated in chilli and lemon. The meat tastes quite good, but the injera stuffed with injera overdose makes me queasy. Going local is not always sensible for me – when will i learn?

Getting Around

Bajajs both shared (Birr1 – 3) and private (Birr5 – 10) are readily available around town. The taxis are old Peugeots and they look amazing, although i don’t use them myself. Mini buses to a wide variety of destinations depart from just outside the gate to the Old City.
local taxis

outside the Old City


  1. my dad was born here lots of year ago...when (sadly)the Italians where in Ethiopia. He left the country after few months of his birth and never went back again. But me, I was there twice. First in 2006. Less than 24h. Didn't like it at all. I found it weird and dirty and strange. But, fortunately I was back in June 2010 for 3 days with some Ethiopia friends I worked with...and after being for 6 months in Ethiopia traveling all over the country. I loved it. The city has a great history. A special vibe. But I was lucky because I had the chance to be there with local people knowing better the Ethiopian culture...otherwise I am not sure I would have like it. The road to go there shows wonderful landscape....I wish to go back, maybe with my dad

  2. And by the way it was my second time for kchat, after wolkite. They say the one from harar is special one. I loved it. For me tasted like licorice so I kept taking it more and more...and I could not sleep for 15 hours ;-)