Harar is an ancient Muslim walled city located on the southeast corner of Ethiopia about 526 km from the capital, Addis Ababa. It is known for its perfect climate, which is warm but not hot and cool but not cold.
A Christian explorer by the name of Richard Burton was the first European to visit this ancient land in 1852. At that time, he had to dress and look Muslim and had to know Arabic.
He arrived disguised as a Yemeni surrounded by security because outsiders were not allowed to step foot in the city. Today, that has changed.
Things to Do
Inside the gate of Harar, visitors will find narrow streets crowded with blankets filled with piles of aged onions and chilies.
It has the feel of antiquity, but it is blended with modern coffee shops where you can order a cappuccino or a café to sample local cuisine. Museums offer a chance to experience the history and culture of Harar.
Along with taking in the old city, the nearby Bale Mountains National Park offers an ideal destination for hikers, nature enthusiasts, and provides an opportunity for bird watchers to spot some rare finds.
The park also offers horseback tours to one of the highest peaks, and a chance to visit an authentic community and sample some local coffee and honey. Wildlife watchers also have the opportunity to spot the rare and endangered Ethiopian Wolf on the Sanetti Plateau as the sun rises.
Where to Stay
Visitors can have handful of hotels to choose from including: Belayneh Hotel, Harar Ras Hotel, and the Heritage Plaza Hotel.
Even the hotel experience is a little different in this part of the world, for it is not unusual to see a cockroach or two. Plus there are times when a water shortage can affect your stay.
For an authentic experience, Harar’s old city also features several traditional Adare houses which are now operated as guesthouses. In Western vernacular, we’d call them a bed and breakfast, though that too is different with separate areas for the men and women to sit.
Even with some of the modern additions to this old city, it is a place out of time. According to UNESCO, Harar is considered the fourth holy city of Islam and has 82 mosques, and 102 shrines. Three of the mosques date back to the 10th century.