Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia is one of the country's two chartered cities.
Dire Dawa (which means "Place of Remedy") is one of two chartered cities in Ethiopia (the other being Addis Ababa, the capital). Dire Dawa was founded in 1902 after the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway reached the area. The railway could not reach the city of Harar at its higher elevation, so Dire Dawa was built nearby. It is a major hub for many ethnic groups in Ethiopia, especially the Afar, Oromo, and Somali.
The city is an industrial center on the Dechatu River, and home to several markets. It lies at the foot of a ring of cliffs that has been described as "somewhat like a cluster of tea-leaves in the bottom of a slop-basin". The entire chartered city has a population of 440,000 and the city proper has 277,000 residents (2015), making the latter the seventh largest city in Ethiopia.
- 1 Aba Tenna D. Yilma International Airport (DIR IATA). The second largest airport in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Airlines flies several times a day, as well as Air Djibouti and a few other smaller airlines of Middle Eastern countries. The unrecognized break-away Republic of Somaliland also has an airline that flies to Dire Dawa.
Dire Dawa is connected to Addis Ababa and the historical city of Harar by road, but fly or take train from Addis to get in to Dire Dawa.
There are three bus companies operating services linking Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The cheapest, least comfortable and slowest is the government local bus service. This can take 12-15 hours. The most expensive is the Sky bus service, a luxury Chinese coach with toilets and a movie system, which takes around ten hours. The Salem bus is a reasonable middle option, which is much quicker than the local service but still a bus rather than a coach. Tickets for government buses are bought in the main bus station. Sky bus tickets are sold from a discrete office in the Cornell area of town. Salem bus tickets are purchased at the Samrat Hotel opposite the Ras.
Harar is the other major destination. Small mini buses leave whenever they are full from the main bus station and take about an hour. It rarely takes longer than fifteen minutes for a minibus to be ready to leave.
It took the train 11 hours from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa (July 2019). Bring enough food and water for your trip as the train restaurant can run out of everything in the middle of the trip to Dire Dawa (and there are no shops nor restaurants at the station). The ticket costs 616 birr one-way (July 2019) and can be bought at a ticket office at La Gare lightrail stop (under the station), advisable a few days in advance. You will get a voucher which you should exchange for your ticket at the train station one hour before the departure. The train station is outside of the city - ask at the ticket office for directions, since many taxi drivers do not know how to find it. Taxi to the train station - 300 birr from Olympia.
- 2 Dire Dawa railway station. Almost 10 km outside the city centre, in the town of Melka Jebdu. Take a bajaj to Dire Dawa for around 250-300 birr.
The blue and white minibuses are in abundance in Dire Dawa, as are the small blue taxis. The best way to get around is to use the minibuses or to contract the blue taxis for the duration of your stay. Most Dire Dawa taxi drivers don't have a sense of time, if you tell your contracted taxi driver to pick you up or drop you of at a certain time, expect him to be late an hour or two.
- The French-built train station can give you a 19th-century feeling.
- At night and early in the morning, the Dechatu River Basin has a heart-warming sunset and sunrise scene.
- 1 Palace of Haile Selassie. A small palace built for former Emperor Haile Selassie. There have been talks to turn this into a museum, but no plans have materialized yet.
Most of the residents of the city chew the narcotic leaves known as "Chat" (aka qat, khat, catha edulis). In the afternoon, in many places, Dire Dawans sit in circle and consume khat, with several cups of coffee. During this time there could be a heated discussion. Avoid political topics, especially with the Ethiopian Somalis or Somali refugees. Other than that, you could have an interesting experience with the lightly narcotic drug.
Caution: "Khat" is illegal in most countries of the EU and the US.
Twice yearly (July and December) there is a religious ceremony at the nearby city of Kulubi (30 birr by minibus, 1 hour). It is a mass gathering with many small stalls selling clothes, sugar cane, etc. Hotel prices in Dire Dawa double or triple for the three-day period.
Souvenirs, electronics, and clothes.
There are two shops in town selling Harar coffee: Green and Gold is one. Almo is the other.
The market near the river has traditional African spices, incense, and fruits such as guava, sour sop and custard apple.
There are two ATMs in the city at Dashen Bank and Ogaden Bank.
- Paradiso restaurant found on the road to Harar near the edge of town is regarded as the best Italian in town. It is most famous for lasagna and the roasted goat meat with rice. The traditional Ethiopian dishes are also of high quality.
- African Village has good traditional food.
- Peacock Hotel has some nice ice cream and pool tables.
Basic accommodations are in abundance.
- Lemon Guest House (near African Village, opposite side of the road). A simple family-run guesthouse. No running water. 200 birr per night.
- 1 African Village. Near Tsehay (pronounced say hey) hotel. It offers traditional looking huts and has a communal courtyard for meeting other people. The prices are reasonable and based on the size of the room.
- 2 Hotel Blossom, ☏ .
- Ras Hotel. Close to downtown in Dire-Dawa is quite pricey for the offerings.
- 3 Samrat Hotel, ☏ .
Generally safe. However, you need to pay attention to your belongings. Your backpacks, camera and other shiny tourist items can attract pickpockets and con artists. Immigration of Somalis and a tension that may have created with locals has resulted in the city being heavily policed.
Avoid political discussions, especially in regards to Somalia.