Ethiopia has recently been having some serious political strife, so the East African country may seem to be a strange suggestion given the current climate. While there are parts of the country that currently are not particularly safe for the ordinary tourist, including much of the surrounding area around Addis Ababa and the legendary Gonder, the ancient city of Harar has been relatively free of problems. Harar is not necessarily the first city that one thinks of when considering a trip to East Africa, however, given the sights and day-to-day activities, travelers would benefit from considering it. Ethiopia has been a patchwork of different ethnic groups and religions for centuries, and Harar is no exception, however, the character of the city is overwhelmingly Islamic with over 110 mosques populating the city. The city has been referred to, at times, as the fourth holiest city in Islam, and was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. While Islam is intertwined with the history of the city, today Harar is mixture of Christians and Muslims, just like the rest of the country. The original ethnic inhabitants of the city, the Harari, only make up ten percent of the city, however, they still maintain the Harari language which is distinct from official language of Ethiopia, Amharic.
Ironically, despite the historically religious character of the city, Harar is home to one of the most famous breweries in Ethiopia, unsurprisingly named the Harar Brewery. While the brewery was recently sold to Heineken in 2011, much like many other breweries in Ethiopia, it still continues to produce both a pale lager and a stout, with the city’s distinctive gate on the label. Harar is far more famous, however, for its coffee, which is one of the oldest varieties in the world. The coffee cherries are still dried in the sun and then hulled and separated by hand, extracting some of the most flavorful beans in the world. While the coffee is exported around the world, the sure way to have it fresh is to have it in Harar.
In addition to the famous gate and mosques, tourists can see the famous house of French poet Arthur Rimbaud which features unique wooden architecture. One of the main tourist draws in Harar is the feeding of the Hyenas, a practice that developed in the 1960s by a farmer who did so to stop the hyenas from attacking his animals. The hyenas had actually been feeding of the refuse created by the city for centuries, basically serving a sanitation function. Today, there are only a few “hyena men” who still feed the animals, and nightly they put on a spectacle where they feed the animals and invite some of the braver tourists to feed the hyenas themselves.
Harar is about ten hours from Addis Ababa by bus, however, both the bus ticket and hotels are relatively inexpensive, even when compared to those in the capital. These buses, however, depart before daybreak from either city, and it is not uncommon to see a hyena before boarding the bus to depart after an adventure!