When to visit Ethiopia
The best time to visit Ethiopia is probably during the dry season. But Ethiopia's festivals are a huge draw, so regardless of the weather I would also recommend planning a trip around Meskel or Timkat (see details below). If you're on a budget, you may want to visit in the "low season" to get the best deals. Details on Ethiopia's varied climate, major festivals, optimal trekking time, and best time to visit the Danakil Depression, Omo Valley and Northern Highlands (historical route), follows below.
Timket (Timkat) The Feast of Epiphany -- 19 January
Music, food and processions mark Ethiopia's biggest festival. The origin of the Feast of Epiphany dates back over 1000 years and once the ceremonials are over it's time to shake your hips and join in the vigorous dancing. The best places to enjoy the festival are Gondar, Lalibela and Addis Ababa. It is worth joining a tour, just to make sure you get a hotel room reserved. It's also good to have a guide who can tell you exactly what is going on during the processions.
Meskel Finding of the True Cross -- 27 September
Meskel is an old Christian festival that has been celebrated in Ethiopia for over 1600 years. It commemorates the discovery of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Some pieces of the cross are thought to have been brought to Ethiopia, hence the celebrations. In Maskal square, in Addis Ababa, a colorful procession of priests, deacons and choir singers walk around a huge pyre, bearing ceremonial crosses and wooden torches decorated with olive leaves. The torch-bearers move forward in unison to set alight the slender pyramid-shaped structure, topped with a cross made from daisies. The next day people go to the bonfire and use the ash make the sign of the cross on their foreheads.
Great Ethiopian Run (November-the date is movable)
The Great Ethiopian Run is one of the biggest and the best-known running event in Africa with an estimated 36000 participants every year. So far so many high profile athletes like Haile Gebrselassie , Kenenisa Bekele , Paula Radcliffe, Tirunesh Dibaba, Brehane Adere, and Gebregziabeher Gebremariam have already taken part in it. The race is organized by the Great Ethiopian Run and it takes place on November 24, 2013 in Addis Ababa at an altitude of 2500m or 8200 feet above sea level. This year more than 37,000 participants are expected to take part in the race, including around 500 elite athletes. The race will be launched by double Olympic gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie and other well-known Ethiopian elite athletes. Such run is the best when it is combined with other tours types of Ethiopia.
Best Time to Visit the Historical Route (Northern Highlands)
October to March is the best time to plan a trip to Ethiopia's stunning historical sites. But even during the rainy parts of the year, you'll be fine with an umbrella. It doesn't rain all day long generally. Whole year round will be possible to visit such areas.
Best Time to Trek in the Simien Mountains
September to November: The Simien Mountains are a vast mountain range in Ethiopia with many summits above 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The highest peak is Ras Dashen which stands at 4,543 meters (14,901 feet), making it the fourth highest mountain in Africa. Trekking here is fantastic, not only because of the scenery, gorges and streams, but also because you get a chance to see some unique, endemic wildlife like the gelada baboon and Walia Ibex. The best time to trek is from September to November, when it's dry, green and relatively dust free. October in particular can be spectacular because the wildflowers are in bloom. On top of that, it is also possible to visit the park from December to February.
Best time to Visit Bale Mountains (…the land of endemism.)
November to March: The Bale Mountains are best visited from November to March when the days are generally clear, warm and dry – but beware as nights are often below freezing. Temperatures during this time can drop to as low as -15oC at night (but typically drop to around -5oC) and rise to as high as 25oC during the day (but only when the wind calms down). At this time of year, trekking conditions are more pleasant and the breathtaking views of Harenna forest escarpment from the Afroalpine plateau are clear and vast.
Best Time to Visit the Omo Valley
August to October & November to late February: With more than 50 unique tribes living in the Omo River Region of south western Ethiopia, it's a fascinating destination for those interested in African culture. The remote location, which is barely accessible by 4 wheel-drive, has meant that traditional customs and beliefs are very much intact for most of these tribes. The best time to visit is during the dry season from August to October. This is also when some of the major harvest festivals take place, adding even more color to your trip. November to late February is also a good time to visit the region.
Best Time to Visit the Danakil Depression
November to late February: Danakil is one of the hottest places on earth, and temperatures easily reach 122 Fahrenheit (50 Celsius), so you want to get your timing right if you plan to visit. It's a fascinating destination where you can witness the age old tradition of salt caravans, the Afar culture, and of course a myriad of active volcanoes. If you've ever felt the urge to visit another planet, you'll love the extraordinary landscapes of the Danakil depression. To avoid the feeling that you will boil alive, the best time to visit is November to late February.