Ethiopia’s capital might not be a popular family holiday destination but if you do happen to find yourself there, it is quite a safe city, the people are extremely personable and there are plenty of family-friendly hotels where you can put your head down while you either transit onwards or finish up whatever business brings you to Ethiopia with kids. There's a good reason why this is not a well-trodden visitor path – there is not a lot to see and do in Addis Ababa with kids as a tourist and it really is a pit stop on your way elsewhere. With that in mind, finding the right accommodation is crucial since you are likely to be spending a lot of time there. Here are a few to consider.
If cost is no object, then this is one of the best place to stay with kids in Addis Ababa. The actual hotel looks a little tired for a prestige international chain, the rooms aren’t huge, you have to pay for wifi and the restaurants serve pretty average food, but the huge bonus here are the grounds. The property is large with two tennis courts, mini golf, a playground and a gorgeous, steaming thermal swimming pool which is like floating in a giant bath. It is so good that several expats have memberships to the hotel grounds and on weekends there are lots of other children to play with. Outside in the carpark there is a mini mart where you can get internationally branded baby products such as formula, nappies and other snacks for the kids and across the road is a very large park with play equipment.
The one big downside is that there are some embassies that call the Hilton Addis Ababa home such as the Australian and New Zealand. While this is convenient for diplomatic purposes, in times of political upheaval this might make the Hilton a bit of a sitting duck. There is security, but to be absolutely sure in turbulent political moments, it’s worth considering somewhere a little less conspicuous.
In the same vicinity as the Hilton is the Sheraton which has a far more luxurious and ritzy feel to it than the Hilton does with a price tag to match. It has a heated swimming pool with a dedicated toddler pool and a playground but, even better, it has a free (yes, free!) kids’ club where there is a climbing wall, pirate ship, soft serve ice cream and fairy floss. The main restaurant is at a more international fine dining standard than the Hilton but, again, none of this comes cheap.
You enter the Sheraton through a long and isolated driveway so in terms of security this is a bonus, but it does make it unlikely that you are going to be able to easily walk anywhere.
The Radisson Blu is a little cheaper than the Hilton and Sheraton and you will notice the difference in facilities. There are no grounds for the children to run around in. (There is a courtyard bar where kids can play quietly in the sun, but it is by no means a playground.) The rooms are clean but not too spacious and the restaurant serves up very average fare at above average prices. While there are baby cots available, this is a hotel that markets itself at business people, not families. So, for instance, the drop off and pick up points in front of the hotel are right on the street which means you have to hold very tight to little hands and keep a sharp eye on your luggage.
The big bonus if you are travelling in Ethiopia with a baby is that there is a TO.MO.CA. right on site – Ethiopia’s famed coffee chain – which will make the mornings just that little bit easier for parents to cope with. If you can afford a suite it also comes with a kitchenette which is extremely handy when travelling with babies and children.
The Radisson Blu is directly across the road from the back entrance to the Hilton for easy access to the mini mart and other facilities.
Addis Regency is a popular option for families who plan to do longer stays or are managing a more modest budget. It has a small, intimate feel about it so the staff are extremely friendly and the food in the restaurant – while not gourmet – is decent. Wifi is free, baby cots are free, the airport shuttle is very reliable and it is within walking distance of some restaurants and shops.
But you do get what you pay for. The rooms (although clean) feel more motel style than international hotel, television reception can be sketchy and not all the rooms have baths. There are no grounds either for the children to play outside.
For a more intimate and personalised stay, Oziopia is a bed and breakfast that originally started out catering to families specifically in Ethiopia to finalise international adoptions. Now they are open to all guests and offer not only breakfast but also local Ethiopian dinners. Staying here will give you a very good sense of middle class living conditions in Addis and you will get to experience things you might not see from a hotel (such as the traditional coffee ceremony in the video clip above). But if you are a family that prefers your anonymity and privacy and you think you will need all the extra services that come with a large hotel, this may not be right for you.
Addis Ababa is a safe city to walk around in terms of street crime (you can even go exploring at night within reason), but it is still a developing city so road safety is not the best. Streets and sidewalks are crowded and taxis rundown and old. Don't expect to be able to walk a stroller any kind of distance.
In these circumstances it's worth considering hiring a private driver who can transport you for the duration of your stay. Sine is a mother of one and does ad hoc driving for families around Addis Ababa. She drives a medium sized car equipped with seat belts (a rarity in Addis) so if you are able to bring your own child seats, you can be assured your kids will be safely strapped in and you will have a reliable person to meet you on arrival. She can be contacted via email here.
For more travel tips on visiting developing countries with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.