Right as the last bit of light descends below the horizon the Hyena man calls out. Calling the resident hyena’s by name and howling as if he is one of them. The medieval city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia is famous for being the city who became friends with these beasts. As the Hyena man calls out again, large figures begin to emerge from the shadows of Harar’s gates. One by one the Hyena’s begin to reveal themselves. The Hyena man then hands me a piece of meat hanging on a stick and tells me to put it in my mouth and feed the Hyena face to face. Doing so the Hyena starts to crawl closer and my mid races, this is Harar Ethiopia!
Getting to Harar, Ethiopia
Pretty much the only way to get to get here is by bus from Addis Ababa. The journey takes about ten hours and depending on what you decide to take will determine how comfortable of a journey it is.
I highly recommend taking one of the private bus companies like Sky Bus found near the Selassie Church in Addis. These buses are comfortable and usually air conditioned. Its faster (sometimes) to take the mini vans, but they are dangerous and very overcrowded.
Staying in a Traditional Adare House
Showing up to Harar you will realise that this is a very unique destination in Ethiopia. The walled city also has some of Ethiopia’s best accommodation. Many of the traditional Adare houses have been inhabited by the same families for centuries have opened their doors to tourists. Staying in an Adare house is a quintessential Harar experience.
Its easy to just show up in town and walk the streets looking for a house, this way you can shop around and pick the one that best suits you. Be sure to bargain hard as prices vary greatly!
The Medieval City of Harar
From the moment you lay eyes on the World Heritage listed city of Harar you will see what an incredible place it is. Reminiscing a city in Morocco rather than Ethiopia, this Islamic Medieval City oozes with character. Its crumbly white buildings open up to cobblestone squares with vibrant markets and colourfully dressed locals. Its also intensely exotic feeling making this easily one of East Africa’s best sights!
You can easily spend three or four days here visiting the nearby sights, shopping in the markets, feeding Hyenas or just relaxing in a traditional Adare Guesthouse. Its also a great stop over for anyone over landing to Somaliland and Djibouti.
Sights of Harar, Ethiopia
The Old town of Harar is the main reason most come here. White plastered Mosques made of mud, crumbly medieval walls, markets selling exotic goods and locals decked out in colourful East African clothing. Its incredibly picturesque and will keep any would be travel photographer busy.
There’s also several Museums and even a brewery you can visit in the Old Town, but for those who want to get a real feel for Harar, visiting a few of the traditional Adare homes is a must. Many are even now restaurants in which you can try traditional Harar food like raw camel kidney!
Markets in the Old City
The vibrant markets of Harar sell exotic spices, animal skins, butchered camel meat, antiques and most of all Khat. Khat is a mild euphoric leaf that is present almost everywhere in Harar. Not chewing this leaf with the locals is considered to be a crime by many people as residents are so fond of it.
If Khat is not on your list, the amazing markets here are enough to keep any traveler busy. The markets themselves are so easy to get lost in and make for an amazing experience.
Feeding the Hyena in Harar Ethiopia
Hara itself is an incredible sight, but one of the major draw for tourist to come here is seeing the wild Hyenas. Every night the dubbed Hyena Men take to the streets and call out to their Hyena counterparts. Locals leave scraps of meat out in front of their houses as well to lure in the friendly Hyena.
Its said that Hyena were terrorising Harar in the past (they are quite dangerous that is!), and the Harar people decided to befriend the beasts rather than kill them. Now for generations the Hyenas and people of Harar have lived peacefully together because of the scraps of meat left for them.
After watching the Hyena men call the beasts my guide, known as the Hyena whisperer, handed me a piece of meat on a frightfully short stick. He told me to place the stick in my mouth and feed the Hyena face to face. The Hyena came closer and closer before lunging towards me and gently pulling the meat off the stick, it felt as if I had kissed a Hyena.
After feeding a few more we wandered the dark streets only to be greeted by Hyena’s dotted all over the city. There is something eerie about these dangerous animals lurking in the streets at night, but they are friendly like a puppy.
Jijiga Camel Market
Leaving the walls of Harar you enter the desolate eastern desert that crosses to Somalia. This is one of Africa’s most barren and inhospitable regions. The people who call this region home are of Somali decent and the majority are from Somalia itself.
On the way to the Somalia Border is the town of Jijiga. Here a lively camel market happens every other day with camels and other black market goods smuggled from Somalia. In the early morning you can see the goat and cattle markets as well, but for me the Camels were more exciting.
Watching Somali’s haggle over camels and then walk off into the desert was well worth the trip out to Jijiga. To get here just hop on one of the mini vans in Harar’s main market.
Harar Ethiopia Information
Location: Harar, Ethiopia
Guide Book: Lonely Planet Ethiopia
Guest House: Anisa Abdella Guesthouse
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