Ethiopia - Tribes of Omo Valley

Tribes of Omo Valley

It took half a day to get from Mekele to Arba Minch via Addis Ababa. 
We planned to visit the tribes located around the Omo Valley. The route started in Arba Minch and ended in Jinka. Unfortunately, according to schedule of all agences, the trip began and ended in Arba Minch. Therefore we paid for 5 days, but the last day ended before 14.00, because the guide and driver had to come back from Jinka to Arba Minch. Generally we started between 5.00-7.00 in the morning and we finished the excursions at 17.00-18.00. The event was expensive, we had to rent 4WD car. The cheaper option was minibus and motorbike if you traveled single. 

At the very first day we wanted to check a few agencies and select the best one. The first agence was located at the airport. We asked about the details of the excursion and costs. The price was too high so we said 'thank you'. The employees of the agences started to follow us. They were waiting outside the hotel. When we went to the other agencies, they followed us and discouraged the employees to present us the offer. Sometimes it was heated argument in local language. They were polite with us. When I said ' go away', they only smiled and kept following us. In fact it was stalking. 

Finally we hired a freelancer guide who was recommended by tourist from Austria. The deal was done at 10 pm. We were extremely tired from long flight, negotiations with travel agencies and stalking. Our goal was to visit not tourist oriented villages. We paid 140 USD per day and there were extra costs: 5-10 birr per photo and 150-300 birr entrance fee to village (not every village was paid). In 2018 renting a minivan with driver and a guide cost 90-110 USD. The 4WD car cost 120-150 USD. The 4WD car can reach remote area. We paid high price but local guides were included in the price. 

Ramel Hotel was our accommodation in Arba Minch. We paid 550 birr for triple room with a bathroom and without breakfast.

In the very early morning the guide, driver and 4WD car were waiting for us. But there were other people as well - the stalkers. They made the guide to pay some money. Next day I asked him why he did. He answered: 

- I did not want to mess with the local mafia.

Nevertheless, I think that Gech is a very good guide. He organized accommodation in very decent and competitively priced hotels. He talked about the customs of individual tribes, bargained on behalf of us. He took pictures with our smartphone. The tribes want a photo fee: 5 birr from the head, mother and child 10 birr. He tried to show us the ordinary life of the tribes, not a show for tourists. I recommend Gacha, mail: Gech32 (at) 

Anyway we were extremely unlucky to visit first travel agency controlled by local mafia. Luckily we said goodbye to Arba Minch and began our excursion.

Generally there are three options:

1. relatively the cheapest one, described above. You need half a day to find the best options and barging is welcomed. However, I do not recommend it because of the stalking I mentioned  above. In my opinion it is high risk of being stalked. 

2. organize excursion before arrival. You can write an email to Gech or another recommended guide on the web. You may negotiate terms and costs by emails. This option, in my opinion, is very sensible. At the airport your guide and transport is waiting for you. You don't waste your time for organisation issues. 

3. The most expensive option is a package tour. The tour is organised from Addis Ababa. You are picked up from international airport in the capitol and the end of the excursion is at the airport too. The tour last 1-2 weeks and at least 2 days you travel to / from the capital from / to Omo Valley. Agency provides attractions on the way.

In my opinion, few tribes are enough for ordinary people. What tribes to visit? Collect some information to make up your mid. I recommend great blog about Omo Valley

It is in Polish but you can use translator. 

If start your Omo Valley travel in Arba Minch or Jinka, it is enough 4-5 days to complete the Omo Valley. 

I visited the following tribes:

  • Konso tribe. 
The first day we went to the village of Konso. The journey took several hours. On the way we passed hills, valleys, farmers working in the field with very basic tools. We passed by herds of cows and sheeps. In the middle of the road Tawny Eagle ate  dik-dik antelope. You can watch it on a film:

Children waited for tourist at the side of the road. Some of them only wanted plastic bottles, sweets and pens. The other ones made a show for tourist to get some money. You can watch it on the movie:

Villages are very primitive. Farmers use very simple wooden tools to work on farms. I had impression to move 150 years back in time. 

Finally, we reached the village of the Konso tribe. Houses are famous of double thatched roofs. We had to pay entrance fee of 20 birr per person. The photos were included in the price. We visited one primitive hut, chicken farm on a tree, primitive store house. Generally it was interesting and cool except hord of children following us and asking for sweets, pens, copybooks and money.  We gave away 'thousand' of sweets and pens but they wanted more and more. The similar situations were at most of villages. 

I recommend Konso villages. I liked architecture and women dressing style. There are two ways of visiting Konso tribes:

- open-air museum with model houses and a museum

- an ordinary village, certainly not as spectacular as a settlement prepared for tourists, but will allow you to see the ordinary life of members of the Konso tribe.
  • Ari tribe.
Small and non-touristic village of Ari tribe is our next destination. We came through the Rift Valley. The view is splendid. 

Inhabitants were not get used to travelers at the village. Even children were very shy. They followed us but in distance.  A chief of the village told us about habits and everyday life. We visited his hut. One lady produced pottery and we watched her jobs. She did not try to sell us anything. People were very friendly and had casual clothes (t shirts, shorts). We paid admission fee 200 birr (for 3 people). Pictures were included in the fee. The village of Ari tribe was perfect to watch ordinary life of Omo Valley tribes. 

We went back to to Jince and were accommodated in Nasa hotel. The standard wase great. 3-bed room with a bathroom and no breakfast cost 700 birr.

  • Mursi tribe

We set off at 5 in the morning. It took us 3 hours to reach Mursi tribe. The tribe is the most popular in Omo Valley and it is expensive to visit it. We had to pay 275 birr / person + 54 birr-car entrance fee to the national park. At the park's checkpoints, we had to pay 150 birr for armed scout assistanse. He was supposed to protect us from potentially aggressive Mursi. However the Mursi people were very friendly, they greeted us with smile. The probably thought: ' Money is coming"

The entrance fee to a village cost 200 birr per person. The village was very simple, dozen very simple thatched huts. Mursi are nomads. They moved with cattles from one place to the other.

The villagers had just got up. We were the first tourists that day. They painted their faces and body, put on traditional clothes in hurry. In half an hour they were ready to make show for tourist and collect money for photos. We paid from 5 to 10 birr for each photo. Ladies and children encouraged us to take pictures with them. Gentlemen stand proudly and waited for the tourists. They did not wait long.  Every girl wanted to have at least one photo with tall and handsome men. The women are famous of wearing discs in their lower lips. The largest discs had 20 centimeters. In addition, they put on dresses made of cow's skin and decorated their heads with horns and pieces of hooves The Mursi tribe had business approach to tourist. They were not aggressive. It is generally recommend to visit the tribe in the morning. Mursi are often drunk in the afternoon and it makes them aggressive.
Write down Mursi tribe on your a must list.

  • Tsemay tribe and Weyto Market
A Weyto market is shopping hub for Tsemay people but not some people from Kenya make shopping there as well.  Unfortunately, most local people did not allow us to make them photos. I have been able to persuade two people to take paid photos. We visited local pub in the market. We drank bottled beer and chat with the owner of the bar and customers. It is very nice and cheerful. I tried local drinks: local hooch (not good), a beer made of millet (disgusting) and mead, not bad. I tried traditional and famous Ethiopian chat - nothing special. We had been first foreigners in the history of pub. 

It was very long day and our accomodation was in Turmi. I don't recommend the hotel. It was terrible standard.
  • Daasanach
We were going to Daasanach tribe. We had a choice of a commercial village located behind the Omo River and less touristic right in front of the river. According to our strategy, we choose the second one. Unfortunately, tourists had already visited the village. When we got off the car, Daasanach people approach to us and said: photo, birr, money. We paid 150 birr entrance fee and 5 birr for every photo.

  • Bull jumping - Hamar

A bull jumping ceremony was number one attraction and it was very popular in Omo Valley. All tourist, about 70 people, was watching the ceremony but it was not a show for foreigners. Bull jumping is a unique ceremony that initiates a boy into manhood. The ceremony is a custom of Hamar tribe in Omo Valley, Ethiopia. The ceremony is not only bull jumping. There are a few stages: 

  1. face and body painting.
  2. ladies dance and drink. Some of them were very drunk.
  3. women related to the boy (bull jumper) are whipped by maza (assistants of the bull jumper)
  4. the boy runs forth and back across the backs of a row of bulls four times. 

Women gather in the village, drink moonshine and dance in a circle. Dancing and alcohol made them to be in ecstasy. They approach Maza holding whips and demanded to be flogged. The boys were not keen to whip the women's backs. The wounds and blood that appears on the women's body symbolically show the loyalty to the hero of the ceremony. They also hoped to be supported by bull jumper in case of any problems in the future.

The last and most important stage of the ceremony was a bull jumping. The boy runed forth and back across the backs of a row of bulls four times. Symbolically it  made him to be a man. 

How may 10-year-old child attend the manhood ceremony? The boy's parents are relatively well-being residents of the village. They found a good match for their son. The boy had to become a man to signed marriage contract. The couple will get married in ten years.

Please watch a movie from the ceremony. You can see all stages of the bull jumping ceremony on it:

Bull jumping is very expensive. We paid 800 birr per person, all included. I recommend bull jumping ceremony. It must be a priority on your a must list.

We spent a night in Hamar's village. In the evening all inhabitants and travelers sat around the campfire, chatting, dancing and drinking Polish vodka.  It was very nice evening.  We spent the night in a hut, sleeping on the skin of a cow. It was very long night. It was uncomfortable and I had feeling that bugs crawled on me.  

  • Karo
 Karo tribe is one of the smallest tribes in Omo Valley. We visited the tribe located nearby Omo river. Karo people are educated well and most of them speak English. It is very expensive to visit the village. We paid entrance fee -
300 birr per person and every photo cost 5 birr. The tribe is famous of face and body painting. They decorate the body during the celebration and for a tourist show. On daily basis they wear casual t-shirts, dresses and shorts. 

Houses of Omo Valley tribes are very simple. Nomads (eg. Mursi) live in very small and primitive straw huts. Konso people are farmers and their houses are advanced and bigger. Advanced house means one big room, virtually divided for kitchen, bedroom and storeroom.

Tribes have no electricity and tap water. Women and children collect water from rivers or wells and sometimes carry heavy water containers a few kilometers to their houses. Please watch the footage about it: 

We visited several bazaars at Omo Valley. It is not only a shopping site for local people. They spend time chatting, visiting local bars and selling/buying items. Local people put on smart dress to visit a market place. It is good opportunity to see a many people from different tribes at the bazaar.