Writerly indulgence is one thing, practical travel advice is another. So, if you're really hoping to go to Harar, here's some information that I hope will prove useful.
Getting to Harar
Flights leave regularly to Dire Dawa from Addis Ababa. We booked ahead of time with assistance from Eastern Travel and Tour. It was a bit of a challenge to work with an Addis-based agency while we were still in the U.S., due to time differences and perhaps just a touch of language barrier and the hair-raising experience of international wire-transfers (not recommended for the anxiety-ridden). However, you will get a much better price on tickets booked from within Ethiopia than you will on tickets booked from within the U.S. Like, hundreds of dollars better. If you can, wait until you get to Ethiopia to book your flights. It's easy and Ethiopian Airlines is a top-notch operation.
If you're flying from elsewhere in the country, check the handy-dandy Ethiopian Airlines flight schedule.
When you arrive in Dire Dawa, take a cab from the airport and tell the driver you want to take a bus to Harar. They'll take you to the gathering point for departing buses. You might need to wait for a bus to fill up before it departs. The drive takes 2 - 3 hours, depending on stops.
Accommodations in Harar
- Charm category: Rewda Waber Guesthouse and Zubeyda Waber Guesthouse, no question.
- View category: The Belayneh won't bowl anyone over with style, but the rooms are sizable and the views from the balconies are unbeatable.
Eats and drinks in Harar
- Tewodros Hotel: We're not sure exactly the name of what we ate here, other than "daily meat stew" but it was one of the best things we ate during the trip, which is saying something because food in Ethiopia is fantastic.
- Belayneh Hotel: Serviceable, and handy if you happen to be staying there. Bayinetu (a.k.a. "Fasting Food") is basically a bulletproof option, giving you a variety of vegetables, all deliciously prepared.
- Harar beer: So, the fourth holiest city in Islam produces, against all expectations, a great brew. Take advantage of it.
- Coffee: Harar is one of the top coffee-producing regions in the country, so it won't get fresher or better than this, maybe anywhere in the world.
Things to pack for Harar
A lot of these apply to Ethiopia generally, but these were our most treasured items while in town.
- Sunblock. Blazing sun, crispy skin. Lip balm with SPF is also a great idea.
- Light clothes. Again with the blazing sun. Ladies, it'd be polite of you to dress modestly here, so think light cottons, jerseys and linen. Long pants or skirts are a nice touch. Avoid tank tops and shorts.
- Flashlight. In case you end up walking back from feeding hyenas in the dark.
- Hand wipes. Hand sanitizer junkies, your gel won't be enough. Invest in some packs of wipes - you'll want them before, during and after eating. (Assuming you'll be eating Ethiopian food with injera as your utensil, which you absolutely should.)
Shopping in Harar
It's not a big city, so shopping as you wander is the way to go. Look for:
- Bold, bright textiles
- Black ceramics
Guides in Harar
Guides will be abundant - just ask at a hotel, or talk to someone who will inevitably ask if you want a guide. We met Girma at Tewodros Hotel, and he took us for a full-day excursion, for something like $25-30. He also arranged a bajaj to take us out the Hyena Man. Contact him at 0920833295.