Omo Valley – How to visit the unique tribes of Ethiopia
Visiting raw and real African tribes was our big goal for our Africa trip and the Omo Valley in Ethiopia is one of the most accessible places to do that.
Not only that, you can also find the most unique and some of the last truly unchanged tribes in this area. Some which you have maybe only seen in National Geographic.
Our trip to the Omo Valley was a once in a lifetime experience and we can highly recommend it to everybody who plans a trip to Africa and especially to Ethiopia.
But as always when traveling, there is some planning needed. Therefore we wrote this Omo Valley guide to save you some time. 😉
What and where is the Omo Valley
The Omo Valley is an off the beaten path region in the South of Ethiopia, close to the South Sudanese and Kenyan border.
This dry savanna, with the Omo river cutting trough, is the melting pot of cultures and communities. The area is home to 80 different tribes speaking 47 different languages with a total population of about 200.000 tribe members.
How to get to the Omo Valley independently
There are two ways to get to the Omo Valley: Overland and by flight.
In our opinion is Jinka the best base in the Omo Valley to visit the tribes so let’s plan how to get there from Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia):
Ethiopian Airlines offers direct flights from Addis Ababa to Jinka. The flight duration is only 1 hour and 10 Minutes.
This is the definitely the fastest but also more expensive way to get to Jinka.
Hot Tip: Ethiopian Airlines offers a crazy discount of 66% on domestic flights when you fly into Ethiopia with them!
It will take two buses with a night in Arba Minch to get from Addis Ababa to Jinka:
1st connection: Addis Ababa Meskel Square to Arba Minch – 9 hours, about Birr145 ($4.30)
Sleep the night in Arba Minch.
2nd connection: Arba Minch to Jinka – 6 hours, about Birr110 ($3.30)
Which tribes can you see
As mentioned there are 80 tribes in the Omo Valley but the most interesting ones are the Mursi, Hamar, Banna and Karo.
All the tribes have their unique customs and represent some of the greatest genetic variance on the continent.
The Mursis have the distinguish big clay plate in their lower lip and are in our opinion the most unique tribes in the Omo Valley.
The Hamar Tribe is known for the bull jumping ceremony which initiates a boy into manhood. This ceremony is taking place during the harvest season.
The women of the Hamar Tribe are easy to recognise by the red clay in their hair and the deep scars which they love to show. Those scars are a proof of devotion to their husbands.
The Banna tribe lives close to Jinka which makes it pretty attractive to visit it.
The Karo Tribe is known for the beautiful body paintings which differ them from the other tribes of the Omo Valley.
How to visit the tribes in the Omo Valley
Because of the language barrier we highly recommend a guide to visit the tribes in the Omo Valley.
A guide with a 4×4 vehicle should cost around $100 – $120 dollars per day when booked in Jinka or Arba Minch.
The price may seem high but it includes the entry fee and the priceless help of the guide.
Especially for the Mursi Tribe is a guide necessary because they have the reputation to be aggressive sometimes. (We didn’t have any issues.)
For the Banna Tribe you can get a cheaper guide with a motorbike because they are so close to Jinka. For a guide to the Banna Tribe you should calculate about $30.
You can also book a full tour including transportation from Addis Ababa but this will be much more expensive and will cost about $200 per person per day.
The market days <- don’t miss out on them!
Market days are the days where people of different tribes gather to trade goods.
Try to see at least one market when you visit the Omo Valley.
These are the market days:
Dimaka – Saturday and Tuesday
Jinka – Saturday
Key Afer – Thursday
Konso – Friday and Monday
Turmi – Monday and Tuesday
When to visit the Omo Valley
The best time to visit the Omo Valley is from January to March because the weather is dry and many traditional ceremonies take place.
Avoid going there between April to June because this is the rainy season and some tribes are maybe not accessible because of the road conditions.
How many days should I plan for the Omo Valley?
Our trip took seven days (including the bus from and back to Addis Ababa) but in general we recommend about seven full days in the region.
Is it safe?
We personally didn’t have any issues but there are sometimes violent conflicts between certain tribes.
Please get some local information before visiting the area.
But this shouldn’t scare you because it’s an amazing experience which nobody should miss out on and during normal times it’s totally safe to visit the Omo Valley.
Safe trip! 🙂
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Do you plan to visit other parts of Ethiopia? If yes, have a look at our other guides.
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