Hotel Review: Ghion Hotel, Addis Ababa

The Ghion Hotel is the most popular hotel in Addis Ababa for birders thanks to its beautiful grounds and garden so no wonder I was keen to stay here!  Full disclosure, non-birders may not like the hotel as it is rather dated and the wifi is very weak at best in some rooms, many rooms don’t have it at all and you need to go to the lobby.

We arrived in the evening just before dark after a long journey from Lake Langano so there was no chance to see the grounds that day.  Driving from the bus station, I was dismayed to see it had been raining, not good for birders!

The next morning, we could see a lot more!  Here is the entrance where the taxi will drop you off.

Restaurants are also accessible from this section.

This is the room we got which turned out to be a good location as I could get a wifi signal from just outside the door.

I haven’t seen a tv like this in years!

So the room is simple and definitely channeling the 60’s.  We weren’t here to sit around the room so it was ok.

Back to the lobby to organize a driver for birding Menagesha Forest with the manager who knew a driver, then on to dinner.

For dinner you can choose the buffet or order off the menu.  We went for menu items as we weren’t really that hungry.  Breakfast is included in the rate and also includes the buffet and freshly made omelets.

If the weather is nice, you can also eat outside.

Interesting decorations!

There are several shops in the lobby area.

They also have an Ethiopian style restaurant where we had lunch after returning from the Menagesha excursion.  We opted to sit outside to look for birds while we ate.

I ordered some local food just to try it, I think it was the 3rd item down from the English side.  It was like a curry served with injera.  It was OK, I wasn’t wild about the injera and the portion was huge so I couldn’t finish it all.

The views were great!

A few little birds were hopping around looking for food.

Now the main reason to choose the Ghion is to have access to the beautiful gardens so look for the next post to focus on birding the gardens!

The Ghion Hotel is available on most online booking sites or you can book direct.

Black-winged Lovebird (Agapornis taranta)

The Black-winged Lovebird (Agapornis taranta) also known as Abyssinian Lovebird is the largest of the lovebird genus, a group of small parrots. The adult male is easily identified by its red forehead, and the adult female by its all green head.

They are only found in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  Good places to look for them are Hara Langano Lodge, Menagesha Forest & even the city of Addis Ababa in flowering trees.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BLACK-WINGED LOVEBIRDS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

VIDEOS

I couldn’t find much on wild birds on Youtube but if you search “Abyssinian Lovebirds” there are lots of pet birds.

Bird Walk With Hakim At Hara Langano

For serious birders hoping to see as many species as possible, you really need to book Hara Langano’s resident bird guide, Hakim.  He is an expert on the the local birds and knows all the calls and can ID all the birds.  He helped me fill out my bird list, unfortunately my photos didn’t come out as well as I hoped.

We started quite early and headed out past a small village.  The weather was drizzly and gloomy and we were wearing rain ponchos.  We did attract a lot of attention and some kids kept following us around.

My husband, Ina meeting locals.

Hakim (red jacket), Ina and some locals.  We did cop some rain and were wearing ponchos to protect the cameras.

The tiny endemic Black-winged Lovebird came fairly close, just couldn’t get them in good light due to the weather.

Some of these photos are so dark I can’t identify the birds.  If you go, I hope you get better pics!

White-cheeked Turaco

Bare-faced Go-away Bird

Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike

Grey-headed Kingfisher

Von der Decken’s Hornbill

The next morning we had some time before we had to get the transport to the main road and hung out near the gate.  The weather was better and I was able to get some better pics, especially of the gorgeous little Black-cheeked Lovebirds!  Indulge me while I post some (finally) good pics!

Hakim had been booked by others in the lodge for a village walk but he came and sat with us while waiting for them to finish breakfast.  We set out on a short walk in the same direction as the day before.  Hakim soon caught up with his group in tow and was happy to point out some birds to all of us.

Bruce’s Green Pigeon

Not sure about this little guy

Hoopoe

Blue-breasted Bee-eater

Silvery-cheeked Hornbill

Violet-backed Starling

 

I saw a LOT more birds than I got photos of, my full list is on eBird.  I do highly recommend Hakim as a guide, I wouldn’t have seen half those birds without him!

White-cheeked Turaco (Tauraco leucotis)

The White-cheeked Turaco (Tauraco leucotis) is a species of bird in the family Musophagidae.  I saw a couple of them at Hara Langano Lodge in Ethiopia but I didn’t get very good photos of them.  There are better images in the links below.

They have a large range throughout Ethiopia and Eritrea but logisitically speaking, the Lake Langano area is the easiest place to see them.

LEARN MORE ABOUT WHITE-CHEEKED TURACOS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Turacos.org

VIDEOS

There wasn’t much available on wild birds so I have to use some videos of captive birds to show them in action.  The first one shows some cute chicks!

 

 

Lodge Review: Hara Langano Lodge, Ethiopia

I really have Trip Advisor to thank for finding this beautiful lodge.  We were originally going to stay at another place which had been the main birders lodge in this area but sadly burned down in the Oct 2016 riots.  So I went looking for somewhere else to stay in the area and the Hara Langano Lodge came highly recommended.

We arrived on time at Addis Ababa airport and quickly passed the formalities.  When we exited, there was no guide with a sign waiting so another hotel rep used his phone to call our driver.  The driver was on his way and we found him at the car park.  We had an interesting 3 hour drive to the lodge passing through the Ethiopian countryside and some small villages and markets.  They charged us $50 each for this transfer which was in a minibus and would have been shared with anyone else headed to the lodge that day but we were the only ones.

Leaving the main road, there is about 20 km drive to the lodge.

Bungalows like this one are scattered around the property with enough distance to feel private.

Entrance to the reception area which shares the building with the restaurant.

Fair warning!  Hippos do come into the property although they didn’t when we were there.

Our bungalow was near the reception and surrounded by trees – good for birders!  You can also request one closer to the lake if you prefer but they cost more.

The bungalows are tastefully furnished in a nice Ethiopian style.

Sitting on the porch we can still see the lake.

The restaurant – all meals are included.

That steak ala bismark was really good!

Desserts were really good too!

There are several places you can sit by the lake and watch birds or just relax. 

The resident birding guide is Hakim and he is absolutely brilliant!  He knows all the local bird calls and where to find most species.  He worked really hard to find my target birds.  The Black-winged Lovebirds coooperated and came pretty close.  The Yellow-fronted Parrots were only heard the last day in distant trees in the farmlands.  But the birding reports are yet to come so stay tuned for pics and more!

Hara Langano Lodge is a wonderful place and any birder would love it!  You can book with them on their website.  They can only accept cash at the lodge in either USD or Birr so plan ahead.

Planning A Birding Safari In Ethiopia

I have to admit that when “birding” and even “safari” is mentioned, Ethiopia is not the first African country to come to mind.  Most tourists come here for the ancient churches and culture.  However to those in the know, Ethiopia has 924 species of birds, 23 of which are endemic.

Ethiopia is the hub of one of Africa’s largest airlines and is very easy to get to with airline miles, especially for Star Alliance members.   If you have limited time and finances you will really have to make some tough decisions on how many parks to visit. It really helps if you know what species are your priority. For some people this may be raptors or trying to check off all the endemics. For me it’s always parrots first, then songbirds, then other birds and mammals.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

With so much on offer, you have to do lots of research online to find out your best chances of seeing the species you really want to see. I always check trip reports on Surfbirds and more recently added Cloudbirders to that. Xeno-canto has mapped locations where birders took sound clips of many species so that can pinpoint them even more.

I always check bird sightings on eBird, you can see my full guide on locating bird species .

I also look through trip reports by major birding companies such as Birdquest, VENT, Naturetrek, Rockjumper and more. The trip reports will show you which parks you need to concentrate on. Once you have this, you can start contacting birding tour operators or safari companies that are well-recommended for quotes.  If you are traveling on your own, it’s worthwhile to note when the birding groups will be in the area as they will have the best guides already reserved and you may not even find accommodation.

HOW I CHOSE MY ITINERARY

I was a bit nervous about visiting Ethiopia as there were some riots in Oct 2016 and the lodge I was planning to stay at, Bishangari had been burned to the ground.  I decided to keep the visit to the minimum I would need to see my two target parrots, the Yellow-fronted Parrot and Black-winged Lovebird.  Both were usually seen at Bishangari and hopefully also at the nearby lodge which we booked called Hara Langano.  Then I wanted to make a day trip to Menagesha Forest for another chance at the same two parrots and also have time to explore the gardens of the Ghion Hotel where most birders stay in Addis Ababa.  I was prioritizing parrots knowing that plenty of other bird species would be in the same habitats so chose these locations:

HARA LANGANO LODGE

Yellow-fronted parrot, Poicephalus flavifrons

Black-winged lovebird, Agapornis taranta

GHION HOTEL

Black-winged lovebird, Agapornis taranta plus many other endemics.

MENAGESHA FOREST

Same as Hara Langano.

Here is a map showing the locations.

 

HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR OWN BIRDING SAFARI

In Ethiopia, it’s very rare for tourists to self-drive cars and you will have to use some kind of transport with a driver included. These drivers probably won’t know anything about birds so you will also need a guide at each park/reserve you visit. There are usually guides hanging around national parks waiting for customers so this won’t be a problem. You may decide that it’s more convenient to just join an organized tour such as those whom I mentioned above if you can afford it.

When I booked Hara Langano Lodge, they offered minibus transport for $50 per person shared among whoever was traveling that day.  It turned out that we were the only ones.  For the return I planned to save money by using public transportation.

For the day trip to Menagesha, I planned to use a hired car and driver from the hotel and find a guide at the park.  This didn’t work out quite so well as we got lost trying to find the entrance to the park and ended up on the wrong side.  We did find some birds but not as many as if we had entered the park proper.

VISA FOR ETHIOPIA

Visas are issued on arrival to most nationalities on payment of a $50 fee in cash.  It was very straightforward and smooth, didn’t take long at all.

BEST SEASON TO TRAVEL

There’s a couple things to consider, the weather and potential crowds.  I always check the weather on Weather2Travel. In my case, since we were going to other places in Africa we went in the moderate rainy season (April/May 2017) but it wasn’t too bad.  Hara Langano was nice and we got a few evening showers in Addis Ababa.

 

If you have “must-see” bird species, always check eBird to make sure the birds are being seen that time of year by other birders.

BOTTOM LINE

Although Ethiopia isn’t the top birding destination in Africa, it is growing in popularity and becoming easier to access.  We had no major problems when we were there other than attracting some curious teenagers at the bus stop on the road to Addis.  This was the most challenging country to “wing it”  as outside the hotels hardly anyone spoke English and they aren’t used to seeing tourists not in groups.  We did get the target birds although the Yellow-fronted Parrot didn’t come out in the open to be photographed which was disappointing.  The Black-winged Lovebirds did make a few quality showings!

 

Getting To Ethiopia With Airline Miles

Most frequent flier programs place Ethiopia into the Africa zone. You can find some generic recommendations on how to get to East Africa here. I already have a blog with my recommendations for which programs to join if you are new to the world of miles and points.

The major gateway city for Ethiopia is Addis Ababa. Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out Wikipedia will show you all the airlines that fly into Addis Ababa.

ONE WORLD OPTIONS

The only One World member serving Addis Ababa is Qatar Airways via Doha. You can reach Doha from anywhere in the world where Qatar flies to.

STAR ALLIANCE OPTIONS

Ethiopia’s national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines is a member of Star Alliance so you can get just about anywhere in Africa via Addis Ababa.  If you are only connecting, even on a miles award ticket and you have an overnight connection, Ethiopian Airlines will give you a free Visa and accommodation with meals.

Other Star Alliance carriers serving Addis Ababa include Egypt Air via Cairo, Lufthansa via Frankfurt and Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.

From Europe you can use Egypt Air via Cairo, Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.

From Australia and New Zealand there are no direct flights, you need to get to Singapore or Bangkok, then you can pick up Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines or Turkish Airlines.

SKYTEAM OPTIONS

From North America you can use Kenya Airways via Europe.

From Europe once again Kenya Airways via Nairobi is the only option.

From Australia Skyteam isn’t the best option unless you travel via Dubai and pick up Kenya Airways from there.

NON-ALLIANCE OPTIONS

Emirates serves Addis Ababa from their hub in Dubai with connections world wide.

HOW MANY MILES WILL IT COST?

Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program. Examples are in my East Africa post.

Overview Of Our African Trip – April/May 2017

You gotta do a Godmother proud and we started off right in Etihad’s wonderful business class thanks to Virgin Velocity points.

Then we had a couple days layover in Dubai to shop and sightsee.

Next it was off to Entebbe, Uganda on Kenya Airways using Flying Blue miles.  We stayed at the Lake Heights Hotel and hired local drivers to take us to the Entebbe Botanical Gardens, a day trip to Mpanga Forest and a Shoebill Safari.

Then we flew to Addis Ababa & Lusaka on Ethiopian Airways, then to Windhoek on South African Airways courtesy of United Mileage Plus points.

In Ethiopia, we had a 2 night stay at Lake Langano at the Hara Langano Resort, then 2 nights in Addis Ababa at the Ghion Hotel with a day trip in hired car to Menagesha Forest.

In Zambia, we used public buses to get around and started off in Livingstone where we had a day trip to the Machile IBA to see the Black-cheeked Lovebirds, then to Mfuwe for an amazing safari in South Lungwa National Park.

Finally it was off to Namibia for a massive road trip to Etosha National Park, Kunene River, Huab Lodge and Omaruru for some independent birding.

We returned to Brisbane on Qatar Airways in business class thanks to AAdvantage miles with a connection to BNE on Qantas from Adelaide as QF don’t fly to Brisbane.

The whole thing looked something like this.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the birds of Africa and learn how to do this trip using miles and points!

Back From Africa, The Godmother Was Amazing!

Although I have had posts appearing each week automatically, actually we have been in Africa on the “Godmother of all African Adventures” so I have missed over a month’s worth of happenings in May.  Not to worry, I am sure there will be more good deals in June!

I had to deal with “stuff” like replacing my 4 year old laptop and transferring my life over to the new one and I haven’t really gone through the photos yet.

For the time being, I will maintain my reduced posting schedule of 4 posts a week until I get caught up at least.  The Africa series starts Monday and I plan to keep posting Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

We went to 4 countries – Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia and Namibia, each one amazing and totally unique!  We had layovers in Dubai and Doha while flying to and from Brisbane and flew business class in Etihad and Qatar Airways thanks to miles and points.

Did I outdo myself from the “Mother of All African Adventures”?

Here’s a teaser, see for yourself!