Ethiopia is located not far from the equator, that most areas are a year-round destination with slight weather variations. It is therefore important to know the best time to go to Ethiopia. This is because the climatic variations offer both advantages and disadvantages to travelers.
As in most Eastern Africa countries, the best time to go to Ethiopia is the drier season, which spans from about September to May in most parts of the country.
The rainy season lasts from June through October in most of the country. The bulk of the rainfall occurs in July and August in short downpours that quit promptly, making travel even during these months possible. Rarely do travelers have to cancel their plans due to a full day of rain, and only on occasion in certain areas do the roads start to flood making them impassable.
The greater factor in climate changes is attributable to the varying topography of the country. The central highlands have a more temperate climate. The lower parts in the east and south have more of a hot and dry climate year-round. The western lowlands are more hot and wet, making this the more ‘tropical’ part of the country.
Perhaps one of the best, and certainly most colorful, times to travel in Ethiopia are during one of their well-known festivals. Hotels do fill up far in advance during these times as well as guides are booked up. We do recommend if you plan to travel during these times to book your trip further in advance
Much of Ethiopia sits over 1,500m high; days can be mild and nights cold – especially in the fog-shrouded highlands, which soar well over 3,000m.
The best time to visit Ethiopia is Sep-April, but particularly at either end of the rains – in April, when the land is dry and barren, or as it flourishes again in Sep-Oct. This green season is also best for highland wildlife.
Rains replenish the Omo Valley even sooner – so travel Nov-Mar or Jun-Sep. Generally, though, the rains cause little disruption; you’ll just find lusher landscapes and fewer tourists.
Climate across Ethiopia
The majority of its top tourist sites, including Addis Ababa, the main points along the northern circuit and Harar, have highland locations. Here daytime temperatures usually peak between 22˚C and 28˚C, and evenings are often as cool as to justify pulling on a jumper or sweatshirt.
At higher altitudes such as the Bale or Simien mountains, you may need thicker clothes. The lower-lying southern Rift Valley and South Omo are warmer, but only by a few degrees, and it is only in the northern Rift Valley – in cities such as Dire Dawa – that year-round temperatures can get seriously hot.
In addition, far from being unusually dry, Ethiopia typically has a relatively moist climate, with Addis Ababa, for instance, receiving about double the annual rainfall of London.
Most of this precipitation is highly seasonal, however, with most places receiving at least seventy percent of their annual allotment in the space of three to four months. In Addis Ababa and the northern and central highlands, this rainy season falls between June and late September, with the wettest months by far being July and August.
Further south, the rainy season tends to start and end a few weeks earlier, and South Omo is wettest between March and June – a period when the region’s rough and muddy roads can be seriously affected and travel is best avoided.
The Dry Season
From October to May, Ethiopia has its dry season. This is the best time to go to Ethiopia. At this time most travelers choose to come to Ethiopia and hence can be classified as its ‘peak season’. Occasionally there is some rainy weather, although this is usually nothing more than the odd light shower.
The period from December to February can be classified as Ethiopia’s ‘winter’ season when the overall climate is a little cooler than during the rest of the year. From March to May, temperatures are on the rise again. In Addis Ababa, May can often be the hottest month.
The Rainy Season
During the period from June to August, Ethiopia enjoys its summer monsoon season, when rainfall is at its heaviest and thunderstorms often occur. Whilst it is quite cloudy at this time of year, visitors can usually enjoy at least a couple of hours of sunshine each day, mostly in the morning.
Travel seasons in Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s peak tourist season, runs from the last week of September to January. There are festivals such as Meskel and Timkat that take place over the season being particularly. During the period, both visitors and the hotels are full and there is a spike in prices for the occasion.
This is also a great time to visit Ethiopia weather-wise. There is pleasant temperatures, blue skies and low rainfall in most parts of the country.
In practice, however, unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking, the upper slopes of the Bale or Simien mountains can be rather unpleasant in the rain. There is little obstacle to visiting Addis Ababa, the northern highlands and the Rift Valley at any time of year.
Even in July and August, rain tends to fall in short, dramatic storms that interfere with day-to-day travel less than might be expected. Also, at this time of year the countryside is magnificently green, popular sites such as Lalibela are far less busy with other tourists, and most hotels are willing to negotiate generous rates for walk-in clients.
Perhaps the optimum time to explore the northern circuit is September, when the rain has abated slightly, the tourist season has yet to kick off properly, and the green slopes are enhanced with blankets of yellow Meskel flowers.
Wildlife viewing is consistent throughout the year, but resident birds tend to be most colorful during the breeding season, which usually coincides with the rains, while the European winter months attract flocks of migrants from the north.
Best Time to Go to Ethiopia Month by Month
Ethiopia’s annual Christian celebration, Timkat, takes place around the middle of January. Although crowded with tourists and known for large gatherings, this is an amazing event to witness firsthand especially with the relatively mild temperatures.
If you’re planning on visiting Ethiopia any time over their winter period, which runs until February, you need to be aware that it can get cold in the highlands, especially at night.
The Simien Mountains and northern areas, around towns like Lalibela, start to get a little warmer from March and trekkers will find ideal conditions with the occasional shower never too problematic.
Regions around the Omo Valley in the southwest of Ethiopia are the first to experience the shorter belg rains in April. The wetter weather moves eastwards into Bale Mountains National Park and the Rift Valley Lakes during May and June.
The heavier and more permanent rains of the kiremt season really start to kick in around Simiens and Bale in July and August. It’s probably advisable to give them a miss around this time of year and opt for Omo and Mago National Parks instead.
Ethiopia’s rainy season can stretch into September although around October you’ll find the best time to visit Ethiopia tothe central highlands and northern circuit. You will find lush green landscapes featuring carpets of yellow meskel flowers as well as easier travelling conditions.
One of the best times to visit the South Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression on the Eritrean border are the months of November and December as temperatures are lower with little or no rainfall.
In general, avoid the rainy season from June to August and bear in mind lower temperatures the higher the altitude and hotter conditions the lower you go and the further east you travel.
Festivals and Events In Ethiopia
Lalibela, Addis Ababa and Gondar are the hotspots for this 1,000-year-old epiphany celebration. During this, religious processions carry replicas of the Ark of the Covenant. There is lively music, dancing and colourful robes – followed by feasting and a ceremonial bathing to mark Jesus’ baptism.
Many tours incorporate Timkat, which takes place from 19-21 January. If you’d prefer to travel in September, Meskel – which commemorates the finding of the True Cross – is a two-day celebration with bonfires and feasts. You will need to book well in advance for both.
Choosing The Best Time to Go to Ethiopia By Activity
Choosing the best month to travel may vary more by which particular destination you plan to visit on your Ethiopia safari tour. See below a brief summary by travel destinations to help you plan your trip.
Best time to tour the Historic Route
In general it is best to travel here in the months directly after the rainy season. So from October to March most people will visit these areas.
Some advantages to traveling here during the rainy season are encountering fewer tourists at the main sights (particularly in Lalibela) as well as seeing the landscapes when they are green and more impressive.
Traveling during rainy season will also give you discounts and most days you will do just fine with an umbrella in hand.
Best time to trek in the Simien Mountains
The best months to trek here are from September through November. The rainy season ends slightly sooner here than in the north and central parts of the country. The trekking views are stunning when everything is still green. Wildflowers are in full bloom in October and the area is still relatively dust free due to the moist grounds.
Best time to visit Omo Valley
The Omo Valley follows a rainy season pattern that is slightly earlier than the rest of the nation from April through June. It has a short second rainy season in October as well. The best times to visit this area are August to October, as well as from December to January.
Best time to visit Danakil Depression
The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places on Earth, with temperatures averaging up around 120 F most of the year. The ‘coolest’ time to visit the area is from November to early January. Any other time of year and you are likely to see temperatures above 120 F.