I’m Tamara, a travel writer and tour operator. I’ve recently launched Exclusive Ethiopia, providing trips around Ethiopia designed to your preferences and your budget. Whether you want a bespoke and personally guided holiday or a down-to-earth camping trip, we can provide it. Ask Me Anything about taking a trip with Exclusive Ethiopia – or about Ethiopia itself!

Tamara Britten
Jul 11, 2018

Exclusive Ethiopia was a meeting of minds between my co-founder, Mulugeta Ababu, and myself. Mulie is registered with the Ethiopian Government’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and holds two diplomas from Lion Ethiopia – Ethiopian History and Tour Guiding & Tour Operation – and has studied to be a deacon in the Ethiopian Orthodox church, making him an authority on the religious and historical sites of this fascinating country. Having met by chance when I was on holiday in Ethiopia, we quickly saw that together we could create something unique. After months of emails, I returned to Ethiopia and we set about building our business. We drove all over the country checking out sites we believe visitors to the country would be interested in, inspecting hotels and restaurants, and designing our company. We launched our website in March this year: www.exclusiveethiopia.com.

Ethiopia is living history. Known as the Cradle of Mankind for its archaeological findings, Ethiopia can trace its history back millions of years. Colorful legends and fables entwine with historical facts, giving the country a history that’s rich, vivid and intriguing. Add to this surreal landscapes, unusual tribes, breath-taking churches and eccentric festivals, and you have a country unlike any other.

Highlights of Ethiopia include the rock-hewn churches of the north, the tribes of the Omo Valley, the mountains with endemic species of mammals, and the surreal bubbling sulfur of the Danakil Depression. Based on a person’s interests, we design a trip that will fulfill their dreams.

I got into this in a circuitous and long-winded way. Having been traveling the world for many years, picking up jobs as I went along, I decided to combine my love of travel with my MA in creative writing and write a guidebook to Kenya. Karibu Kenya saw me setting off around Kenya writing about every place I visited. The project took two years and I covered every nook and cranny of the country. The book was endorsed by the Kenya Tourist Board and books flew off the shelves. This led to my being commissioned to write on Kenya for a number of local and international publications, and several in-flight magazines. Karibu Kenya morphed into a holiday bookings website in partnership with the award-winning Gamewatchers Safaris: www.karibukenya.co.uk. Karibu Kenya won a LUX travel award… and then I went to Ethiopia.

Me and Danakil.png

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What are 5 essential gadgets or accessories you always carry in your travel bag?
Jul 13, 3:00PM EDT0

My laptop, of course - I can't function without it! Then a penknife - although I've lost several of these over the years from having forgotten to pack them in my check-in bag and having had them confiscated at airports. A book - I never leave the house without one. Sunglasses (obviously!) And a this is a new one for me - a head torch: I was given one by a lady who had just climbed Erte Ale Volcano when I was heading towards it and it proved invaluable.

Jul 14, 4:43AM EDT0
What are the prominent souvenirs that one can collect in Ethiopia?
Jul 13, 2:49PM EDT0

There are so many! Merkato, in Addis, is one of the largest markets in Africa and has a wealth of things to buy, and every town all over the country has a market with local crafts and curios. I particularly enjoyed the spice market in Harar, the Islamic walled town to the east of Ethiopia. My favourite souvenirs that I've bought so far have been elegant woven scarfs, spices, coffee, an Ethiopian Orthadox cross, a wooden replica of a church window and an imposing wood-carving of a Hamar lady.

Last edited @ Jul 14, 4:44AM EDT.
Jul 14, 4:37AM EDT0
Are there any offbeat cities or districts in Ethiopia where travellers need special permission?
Jul 13, 2:27PM EDT0

To enter Afar Region on the Eritrea border you need to travel with police escorts. In this region are the Danakil Depression, Erte Ale Volcano and the gleaming salt lakes - all of which visitors like to visit. However, now that Ethiopia and Eritrea have made peace, I'm hoping that the region will become more accessible.

Jul 14, 4:32AM EDT0
How different or similar is Ethiopia from other African countries? What makes it special for travellers?
Jul 13, 11:32AM EDT0

All African countries are different, and Ethiopia is more different than most! That might sound like a truism - but what are the similarities between Nigeria and Kenya, or Namibia and Egypt? This is a continent where every country is unique. However, Ethiopia has its own history, religion, calendar, tribes and cultural events - and that makes it distinct, even in a continent of such extraordinary richness.

Jul 13, 11:40AM EDT0
What is your idea of a perfect travel and how do you ensure that you provide the similar experience to your clients as well?
Jul 13, 11:09AM EDT0

That's a tough one because I'm a backpacker at heart. I like to do everything for myself: the bookings, the flights, the buses, where to stay, where to eat, what to see etc. But obviously that's not what my clients want or they wouldn't have contacted me!

So I use what I learned on my travels, combined with the expertise of the people I've chosen as ground handlers for Karibu Kenya and Exclusive Ethiopia, to create the best travel itineraries. I discuss with each client what they want to see, how they want to travel, and what they want to spend, and I put an itinerary together for them that I believe will give them the best experience.

Last edited @ Jul 14, 4:45AM EDT.
Jul 13, 11:25AM EDT0

Ethiopia has some unique ceremonies; which have been a few you have personally witnessed at what was your experience of them?

Jul 13, 2:56AM EDT0

The two festivals that made most impression on me couldn't have been more different.

The first festival I saw in Ethiopia was Timkat - Ethiopian Epiphany. This is a huge occasion in the Ethiopian Orthadox calendar; it's celebrated all over the country and goes on for several days. I saw it in Addis, Lalibela and Bahir Dar, and in a number of rural villages too. Processions of people in white carry copies of the Arc of the Covenant through their towns, accompanied by music, dancing and revelry. It was exciting, beautiful and fun, and everywhere it was a little bit different. Local moonshine was a significant part of the proceedings, especially in the evenings!

I also saw a bull jumping ceremony with the Hamar people in the Omo Valley. This was dusty, noisy and full of life. The Hamar people were dressed to the nines, slick with ochre and feathers, and utterly absorbed. A man has to prove his readiness for marriage by running over the backs of a chain of bulls. What surprised me most about this was that the young man doesn't have to have a bride in mind - he's just proving that he's ready and, assuming he manages the feat, his father will then choose him a wife. During the ceremony, women also prove their readiness for marriage by encouraging the men to whip them - "Harder, they say. I barely felt that! Call yourself a man but you whip so gently!" All the while, blood was streaming down their backs from the welts of the whips. 

Ethiopia is a country of extremes!

Last edited @ Jul 13, 11:12AM EDT.
Jul 13, 11:08AM EDT0

How safe is it to travel in Ethiopia, are there areas we should avoid?

Jul 13, 1:29AM EDT0

I've felt safe throughout my many visits, and have never felt threatened. However, there has been unrest in Ethiopia's recent history and it's always good to keep an eye on the current situation. I check regularly with my team on the ground to keep up to date with the areas that they cover.

That said, I'm optimistic about recent developments - the newly appointed prime minister and the end of the war with Eritrea seem extremely hopeful to me. 

Jul 13, 11:08AM EDT0
How long would you be living in Ethiopia? Do you plan to explore a different country after this?
Jul 12, 9:43PM EDT0

I actually live in Nairobi, Kenya. But I visit Ethiopia often, and speak daily to my business partner - co-founder of Exclusive Ethiopia - Mulugeta Ababu, who is based in Addis Ababa. I plan to focus on Ethiopia for a year or so before starting something new. But then - who knows?! I'm open to new experiences and new countries. Let's see what happens.

Jul 13, 11:09AM EDT0
How long does it take to really establish a site like one of yours?
Jul 12, 7:56PM EDT0

I suppose it's always true that the first one is the hardest.  I travelled around Kenya for two years, gathering the content for Karibu Kenya, and it took me another couple of years to put it all together, write the book, design the website, and - most importantly - form an agreement with the fabulous Gamewatchers Safaris who do the ground handling for the website. 

Exclusive Ethiopia took much less time, mainly because I knew what I was looking for when I travelled around the country, my estimable website designer understood what I wanted, and Mulie was ready and waiting to do the ground handling.

Perhaps the next one will be quicker still - but I can't compromise on finding the right content, doing the research, writing it up clearly, and finding the right person/company to do ground handling - so I don't think I'll ever rush a website out.

Jul 13, 11:11AM EDT0
What are three things a writer can do now to improve his or her writing?
Jul 12, 3:01AM EDT0

I was recently given this piece of advice - and although it's aimed at fiction writing rather than travel writing, I think it holds true for all writing: be clear, edit ruthlessly and keep the story moving.

Jul 12, 4:11AM EDT0
What should travel writers keep in mind when considering their own travel website?
Jul 12, 2:51AM EDT0

I think it depends on what you're portraying - or selling. If you want a blog-style website, with updates and insights, keep it light and entertaining. If you're selling yourself as a writer, keep the text clear and discerning - and try to show that you've seen the place in a way no one has before you. If you're attracting interest in your products - guidebooks, magazines, holidays - focus on them and highlight the benefits of each. Also, and I'm loathe to say this because I'm a writer not a photographer, photos really help. They draw the reader in and, if they're enticed by the picture, they'll naturally want to read about it.

Jul 12, 1:32PM EDT0
What’s the most difficult part about being a travel writer?
Jul 12, 12:57AM EDT0

I never thought I'd say this, but keeping up to date with the changes in the industry is tough. I write about a hotel, and they add a spa, or a boat trip, and suddenly my piece is out of date. I love travelling and I'm constantly checking up on places that I cover, but it's impossible to be everywhere at once. But I do believe the benefits hugely outweigh the challenges! I love being constantly on the move, and always having something to write about.

Jul 12, 1:36PM EDT0
What type of service and travel or tour experience do you offer to someone in the bespoke tour?
Jul 11, 11:27PM EDT0

Most importantly, we give you a professional guide who travels with you throughout the trip. He or she will not only tell you the background and details of everything you're seeing - the religious or historical significance of each site, and the myths and legends around each place - but he/she will also oversee all your travel arrangements during the trip. This ensures that every flight, transfer and hotel check-in goes seamlessly, and let's you relax and enjoy the holiday. 

Jul 12, 4:59AM EDT0
What advice do you have for aspiring travel writers trying to break in? It seems there are fewer paying publications these days and it’s harder to find work.
Jul 11, 10:56PM EDT0

I'm not sure I'm the right person to ask about this. I set off on my own project - a guidebook to Kenya - and my book attracted attention so magazines and publications began contacting me for commissions.

So perhaps this is my advice: start with a blog or a regular feature, with an unusual angle or style, that showcases your writing. You need to display your ability to research and come up with pertinent facts, and write them in an interesting manner. Then take it from there. Most importantly you have to travel. If you've seen a place, a festival or an incident, you've got a story. If you're sitting at home waiting to be commissioned, you haven't.

Jul 12, 3:07PM EDT0

Ethiopia sounds fascinating, is it a good travel choice for families with children under 12 years of age? 

Jul 11, 5:41AM EDT0

Absolutely it's fascinating! In terms of children's activities, there aren't many playgrounds, or sites designated to kids. However, if your children are interested in history, and like stories, there's so much here to keep them entertained. Imagine exploring the ruins of the Queen of Sheba's palace, or clambering around the caravans shipped to Ethiopia from England by the last emporor Haile Selassie, or exploring the alleys of the walled city of Harar where there are no cars. The tribes in the south, too, are very inclusive - I loved learning how they make bread out of banana root and weave on a loom -; in the tribal villages you and your kids can try everything. Then there's walking, trekking, climbing, boat trips, game drives and more. If you let me know what your children are interested in, I'll design a trip that will keep them entranced.

Last edited @ Jul 13, 3:02AM EDT.
Jul 12, 1:50PM EDT0
What’s your favorite travel book and why?
Jul 11, 5:37AM EDT0

This question has made me think more than most! I read constantly, and vociferously, all and everything. My preference is fiction, so I'm going to choose travel writers who give all the colour and adventure that fiction writers do. And I'm going to name authors, not books (sorry!)...  For travel: Bill Bryson has to be my favourite as he makes me laugh while bringing a place to life. For politically aware books that bring a sensitivity to the current world situation: John Pilger, Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy, Michela Wrong. For fiction writers who bring a place to life there are too many to mention, but here are a few: Ernest Hemingway, Wole Soyinka, Louis de Bernieres, Amitav Ghosh, Orhan Pamuk, Richard Flannigan, Maguib Mahfouz, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Yvonne Adhiambo Owour, Ama Ata Aidoo. I'm sure I've missed hundreds, and for this I apologise.

Jul 12, 3:51PM EDT0
Some of the travellers who have travelled to Ethiopia before says it's nothing like they have seen before? What makes Ethiopia unique?
Jul 11, 2:32AM EDT0

Fun facts about Ethiopia: the Ethiopian calendar has 13 months; 12 months of 30 days and one month of five days, giving rise to the oft sited maximim - the country with 13 months of sunshine. Ethiopia's altitude varies from 100m below sea level to over 4,600m above sea level - and, in accordance with this, the climate is extreme, varying from 50 degrees to below zero. Oral tradition relates that Itiyopis, great grandson of Noah, founded Ethiopia; and their great line of emporors - all the way to Haile Selassie - stems from the union between Ethiopia's Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Biblical fame. Ethiopian Christmas is on 7th January and New Year is 11th September.

But there's much more to Ethiopia than just fun facts. Ethiopia has churches cut into rocks, built well before the age of machinery; it's almost impossible to imagine people chipping away at the rocks with such insight and creativity at that time. The festivals are ancient and full of colour, and the people celebrate them with verve and excitement. Whether it's Timkat - Ethiopian Epiphany - in late January, or a bull jumping ceremony of the Hamar people at undisclosed moments, you'll be spellbound by their originality and flair. And of course the myths and legends add colour to everything that you see here, bringing all the ancient sites to life.

Last edited @ Jul 13, 11:32AM EDT.
Jul 12, 2:39PM EDT0
Do you have a travel bucket list and do you think its possible to ever satisfy it?
Jul 11, 1:48AM EDT0

Goodness! My travel bucket list is huge! I greatly doubt I'll do it all, but it's fun to try!

Jul 11, 5:11AM EDT0

Do you keep a travel journal and if yes what was your first travel memory in it?

Jul 11, 1:34AM EDT0

My travel journal dates back to my gap year, when I was 18. My first stop was Thailand and I was totally overwhelmed by the spices and heat and colour - I think that's where I fell in love with travelling. Funnily enough, I returned to Thailand later and lived there for a while, eventually opening my own beach bar on Haadrin Beach, Koh Pha Ngan

Jul 11, 5:14AM EDT0
How are you different from other tour operators?
Jul 10, 9:05PM EDT0

We consider each person's request individually - take into account their interests and budget - and create personally designed itineraries for them. Unlike tourists coming to Kenya, many of whom know a fair bit about the country and have a good idea of what they want to do there, visitors to Ethiopia often don't know much about Ethiopia. So we take time to discuss the options with them and put together a package, or several packages to choose from, designed with their specific interests in mind.

Jul 11, 11:54AM EDT0
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