Harar in Ethiopia ends up sticking in your mind. It’s a World Heritage City and it’s a crazy place. It’s also in the middle of nowhere if truth be told. Getting there isn’t the easiest thing you’ll ever do in life, believe me. But for the love of travel and with no real reason why, I headed off to go backpacking in Harar which is in the eastern highlands of Ethiopia. Rather than make it an actual top 5, here are the things to see and do there.
Getting to Harar
Most of you will come to Harar from one of two places: Dire Dawa or Addis Ababa. I randomly met a guy in a petrol station in Addis Ababa one day and that night I end up on a mini-bus to Harar! That’s how crazy it all was. That coupled with the knowledge that in Harar you can feed live hyenas and it’s also a World Heritage site within the old city walls meant I was up for it. All sounds good. Until you board a mini-bus at 8.30 pm which then preceeds to take 15 hours to get to Harar.
It wasn’t just the time, it was the journey. We broke down, we got a smashed windscreen, we stopped for 4 hours to do nothing, we got stopped by police, we went the wrong way and my legs were cramped. I’d have to say that my experience on buses in Ethiopia were the most horrendous bus experiences I have ever had. All of that faded into insignificance when I arrived in Harar. Oh the magic of it all…
One of the towns we passed through on the death mini-bus to Harar.
One of 82: The Juma Mosque in Harar, Ethiopia. While standing outside the Juma Mosque, I met a local lad called Edom Mulugeta. Who by complete coincidence is probably the best local tour guide to Harar you can get, Edom (who speaks about 4 languages) handed me his business card and is mentioned on the Lonely Planet website. Edom is a great guide, trustable and worth paying a tip too.
1. Old City Walls
Walk at leisure round the old city walls of Harar. Locals get on with their daily life while you take it all in. Coloured walls, cobbled stones and a pedestrian area make this as pretty a town as you may ever come across.
The colourful old city walls of Harar in Ethiopia.
2. The Rainbow House
Built by the Indians, this is an elaborate house turned museum. It’s worth heading inside to as they have information boards in English and on the top floor an exquisite view.
Outside the Indian designed Rainbow House in Harar, Ethiopia.
It somehow doesn’t quite fit into Africa this place, but you will enjoy it. Price – 20 Birr entrance fee.
Inside the Rainbow House in Harar, Ethiopia
3. Juma Mosque
Harar houses 82 Mosques in total and is deemed the fourth most holy city in the Islam World. Fourth only to Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem. I visited a few, the biggest of which was the Juma Mosque. In most cases you can’t go inside. If you do, dress sensibly and take your shoes and socks off.
The impressive minty coloured Juma Mosque in Harar, Ethiopia.
4. Rowda Guest House
I didn’t stay in the Rowda Guest House, but you can. It costs 300 Birr per night (around $16 US) and you’ll get to spend the night in one of the old cities dwelling houses. During the day you can go inside and you are supposed to pay a 20 Birr donation to the lady that owns it. It’s basically just an old school Ethiopian style house, but well decorated inside.
Inside the Rowda Guest House in Harar, Ethiopia.
5. Street Markets
Harar is full of street markets, mostly selling fruit, vegetables, spices and coffee. I recommend walking all around the market areas. I didn’t actually buy anything but I enjoyed the walk. The amount of spices and vegetables around in incredible.
Spices in the markets of Harar, Ethiopia.
6. Local Coffee
Ethiopia produces a lot of exportable goods, coffee is one of them. For as little as 40 cents you can sit down in a coffee house and have a relaxing cup. This was a Godsend for me after my gruelling long mini-bus ride from Addis Ababa.
7. Chew the Khat (Chat or Qat)
Up in these highlands, the Ethiopians of Harar and the surrounding area love to chew Khat (pronounced “chat” and also spelt Qat). Khat is basically locally grown leaves that you chew all day long.
Ethiopian Khat – you can get it easily and cheaply in Harar and chew to your heart’s content!
Does it get you high? Maybe, though I only had a small bit of it. The taste of it will linger forever though, as it helped me through the horrendous bus journeys and was the only taste in my mouth around the hyena feeding time (which is why you should read number 8 below…).
8. Relax with a Beer or Wine
Another thing you should do in Harar is chill out and have a beer or wine. I loved the range of Ethiopian beer and if you wander into the local bars you will be the only foreigner about and will be able to chat away to the locals. Most beers are around 10-14 Birr so less than $1 US. For beers in Harar, try the local stuff – Harar Beer with a red and white label.
Have a Harar Beer and relax!
9. Ride an Ethiopian Tuk Tuk
You might have been on tuk tuks in Thailand and Cambodia, but here in Ethiopia the drivers are even crazier and the tuks tuks are all blue and white here in Harar. Worth a ride for the experience.
One of the funky blue and white tuk tuks in Harar, Ethiopia.
10. Hyena Feeding
Yes, last but certainly not least and probably the highlight of your visit to Harar is the hyena feeding experience. In short, hyenas turn up at dusk on the edge of the city and wait around to be fed. As a nifty tourist attraction, backpackers and tourists alike can feed them mouth to mouth, hand to mouth and even be jumped by a hyena. This activity was my highlight from Harar and completely recommended, but be warned – health and safety is non existent. This may not be for the faint hearted.
Inside the Old City of Harar:
In the Old Market in Harar:
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