Dire Dawa Travel Guide

Discover the best places to visit, things to do, food to eat, and where to stay in Dire Dawa, Eastern Ethiopia. Plan your trip with our week-long itinerary, travel tips, and cultural insights.

Introduction to Dire Dawa

Dire Dawa is a vibrant city located in Eastern Ethiopia, at the foot of the Chercher Mountains. Known as the “Gateway to Harar”, it serves as a stopover for tourists visiting the ancient walled city of Harar. Since it is an important railway junction, many travelers also pass through Dire Dawa on their way to other parts of Ethiopia.

The city is home to a diverse population, with many Somali, Harari, and Oromo people living together. This ethnically rich heritage is reflected in the city’s cultural attractions, local markets, and food culture.

Dire Dawa is a great destination for adventure seekers, nature lovers, culture enthusiasts, and history buffs looking to explore Ethiopia off the beaten path. In this guide, we have compiled a list of the best places to visit, things to do, and where to stay in Dire Dawa.

List of Places to Visit in Dire Dawa

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

  • Dire Dawa Railway Station: The railway station in Dire Dawa is one of the biggest in East Africa and was an essential component of Ethiopia’s trade and transport system. The station is an architectural masterpiece, built in the style known as British railway architecture, and is now a national monument.
  • Kezira Compound: This compound is a living museum, showcasing Harari architecture, culture, and traditions. Visitors can explore the Harari house, attend cultural performances, and shop for local handicrafts.
  • Dessie and Sofi Public Park: A scenic park with a statue of Emperor Haile Selassie I and a memorial to the Ethiopian patriots who lost their lives during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The park has a beautiful view of the city and the surrounding mountains.
  • Ethnographic Museum: This museum is run by the Dire Dawa University and has a collection of cultural artifacts and exhibits from the various ethnic groups in the region. Visitors can learn about traditional clothing, jewelry, and musical instruments.

Natural Attractions of Dire Dawa: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

  • Chercher Mountains: A range of mountains that surround Dire Dawa, creating a natural barrier between the city and the lowlands. Visitors can hike the mountains, explore caves, and enjoy scenic views of the city and the surrounding countryside.
  • Dire Dawa Wildlife Sanctuary: A natural reserve that houses a diverse range of wildlife, including baboons, monkeys, and hyenas. Visitors can also see rare bird species, such as the Abyssinian Roller and the Northern Carmine Bee-Eater.
  • Awash National Park: A protected area located near Dire Dawa, with a landscape of rocky mountains, savanna, and the Awash River. The park offers various activities, such as game drives, bird watching, and guided hikes.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Dire Dawa

  • Chercher Mountains Hike: A challenging hike that takes you to the summit of one of the mountains in the Chercher range. The hike takes around six hours round trip and offers panoramic views of the city.
  • Dire Dawa Mountain Bike Trail: A scenic bike trail that starts at Kezira Compound and takes you through the countryside to the Dire Dawa Wildlife Sanctuary. The trail is challenging but suitable for experienced mountain bikers.

Best Things to Do in Dire Dawa: Activities and Tours

  • Explore Harar: Take a day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Harar, located just an hour’s drive from Dire Dawa. Explore the colorful markets, visit traditional coffee shops, and see the unique architecture of this ancient walled city.
  • Visit a Local Market: Dire Dawa has several local markets, such as the Kezira Market and the Chat Market, where you can experience the bustling energy and vibrant culture of the city.
  • Attend a Cultural Performance: Watch a traditional dance or music performance at one of the many cultural centers in Dire Dawa, such as the Harar Jugol Cultural Center.
  • Attend a Coffee Ceremony: Ethiopia is famous for its coffee culture, and Dire Dawa is no exception. Attend a traditional coffee ceremony, where you can witness the roasting, grinding, and brewing of Ethiopian coffee.
  • Try the Local Food: Dire Dawa has a unique food culture, influenced by Somali, Harari, and Oromo cuisine. Sample local dishes such as Kitcha Fitfit, a bread salad with spices, and Fuul, a spicy bean stew.
  • Relax at a Hammam: Dire Dawa has several traditional Turkish-style steam baths or Hammams, where you can relax and unwind.

Week-Long Itinerary for Dire Dawa

Day Activity
1 Arrive in Dire Dawa and check into your hotel
2 Explore the city’s historical and cultural landmarks, such as the Ethnographic Museum, Kezira Compound, and Dire Dawa Railway Station
3 Go on a day trip to Harar and explore the city’s markets, coffee shops, and ancient architecture
4 Hike or bike the Chercher Mountains and enjoy scenic views of the city and the surrounding countryside
5 Visit the Dire Dawa Wildlife Sanctuary and see baboons, monkeys, and rare bird species
6 Attend a cultural performance or coffee ceremony and try the local food
7 Relax at a Hammam or take a day trip to Awash National Park

Food and Drink Scene of Dire Dawa

Must-Try Dishes

  • Kitcha Fitfit: A traditional dish made with shredded bread, berbere spices, and yogurt.
  • Fuul: A spicy bean stew served with Injera, a type of Ethiopian bread made from teff flour.
  • Zilzil Tibs: Grilled beef or lamb sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and spices.
  • Samboosa: A savory pastry filled with meat or vegetables.
  • Bariis Iskudhexkaris: A rice and pasta dish cooked with meat and vegetables, similar to a biryani.

Local Beverages

  • Ethiopian Coffee: Ethiopia is known for producing some of the best coffee in the world. Try a traditional coffee ceremony, where coffee beans are roasted, ground, and brewed in front of you.
  • Tej: A traditional Ethiopian honey wine made from fermented honey and gesho plant leaves.
  • Tellam: A refreshing drink made from boiled barley, sugar, and spices.
  • Khat: A plant with stimulant effects that is widely consumed in East Africa.

Where to Stay in Dire Dawa: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

  • Ras Hotel: A luxury hotel located in the heart of Dir Dawa, with a swimming pool, restaurant, and bar.
  • Ethio-Djibouti Railways Hotel: A historic hotel located near the railway station, with spacious rooms and colonial-style architecture.
  • Tsehai Hotel: A budget-friendly hotel with clean rooms and a central location.
  • Harmony Hotel: A modern hotel with comfortable rooms and a rooftop restaurant.

What to Buy in Dire Dawa: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

  • Harari handicrafts: Shop for woven baskets, pottery, and traditional jewelry made by Harari artisans.
  • Spices: Ethiopia is known for its spices, such as berbere, a spicy blend of chili peppers, ginger, and other spices.
  • Coffee: Bring home some of Ethiopia’s famous coffee, either in its roasted bean form or ground.
  • Khat: Although not legal in many countries, khat is a widely consumed stimulant in East Africa and is available for purchase in Dire Dawa.
  • Traditional Clothing: Shop for colorful textiles and clothing made by local artisans.

Local Culture and Customs of Dire Dawa

  • Islamic Culture: Dire Dawa has a strong Islamic influence, with many mosques and a significant Muslim population. Visitors should be respectful of local customs and dress modestly when visiting religious sites.
  • Khat Consumption: Khat is a commonly consumed stimulant in Ethiopia and other parts of East Africa. Although legal in Ethiopia, it is illegal in many other countries. Visitors should be aware of the effects of the drug and the laws regarding its consumption in their home countries.
  • Hospitality: Ethiopians are known for their hospitality and welcoming nature. Visitors to Dire Dawa should expect to be invited into homes for meals or coffee ceremonies, and it is considered impolite to refuse.

Best Time to Visit Dire Dawa

The best time to visit Dire Dawa is from October to March, when the weather is relatively dry and mild. This is also the peak tourist season, so be prepared for higher prices and more crowds. The rainy season lasts from June to September, which can make outdoor activities challenging. April to May is the hottest time of the year, with temperatures reaching up to 38°C (100°F).

Do’s and Don’ts of Dire Dawa


  • Take off your shoes: When entering someone’s home or a mosque, it is customary to remove your shoes.
  • Learn some basic Amharic: Although English is widely spoken in Ethiopia, learning some basic Amharic phrases can help you better communicate with locals and show your respect for their culture.
  • Try the local food: Ethiopian cuisine is diverse and delicious, with many unique dishes to try.
  • Respect local customs: Ethiopia has a rich culture and traditions that should be respected by visitors.


  • Take photographs without asking: It is considered impolite to take a photo of someone without their permission.
  • Eat with your left hand: In Ethiopian culture, the left hand is considered unclean, so always eat with your right hand.
  • Expose too much skin: Although Ethiopia is a relatively conservative society, it is considered impolite to expose too much skin, especially for women.

Safety and Health

Safety in Dire Dawa

Dire Dawa is considered a safe city for tourists, with low levels of crime. However, visitors should be aware of pickpockets and petty theft and take the necessary precautions, such as hiding valuables and not carrying large sums of cash.

Health in Dire Dawa

Travelers to Ethiopia should be up to date with their vaccinations and take precautions to avoid contracting illnesses such as malaria, typhoid, and cholera. Visitors should drink only bottled or filtered water and avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.

Getting to Dire Dawa: Transportation Options and Logistics

Dire Dawa has good transportation links, with its airport and railway station connecting it to other major cities in Ethiopia and neighboring countries.

Airports Near Dire Dawa

  • Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport: Located in Djibouti, about 120 km (75 miles) from Dire Dawa. Direct flights are available to several African and Middle Eastern cities, with connecting flights to Europe and Asia.
  • Addis Ababa Bole International Airport: The largest airport in Ethiopia, located in the capital city of Addis Ababa, about 500 km (310 miles) from Dire Dawa. Direct flights are available to several international destinations, with connecting flights to other African cities.

Bus Stations Near Dire Dawa

  • Dire Dawa Bus Station: Located in the center of the city, with regular bus services to other major cities in Ethiopia, such as Harar and Addis Ababa.
  • Ticho Ticho Bus Station: Located on the outskirts of the city, with bus services to other towns and cities in the region.

Other Options

  • Train: Ethiopia has a comprehensive railway network, with Dire Dawa serving as an important junction. Trains run daily from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa, with first and second-class seating options.
  • Car Rental: Several car rental companies operate in Ethiopia, with the option of self-driving or hiring a driver.

How to Get Around in Dire Dawa

Dire Dawa is a relatively small city that can be easily explored on foot or by taking a taxi, tuk-tuk, or minibus. Taxis and tuk-tuks are available throughout the city, but it is advisable to negotiate the fare before boarding.

Where to Go Next from Dire Dawa: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

  • Harar: The ancient walled city of Harar is located just an hour’s drive from Dire Dawa and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Awash National Park: Located about 110 km (68 miles) from Dire Dawa, this national park offers a unique landscape of rocky mountains, savanna, and the Awash River.
  • Babile Elephant Sanctuary: Located about 135 km (84 miles) from Dire Dawa, this sanctuary is home to a small number of African elephants and offers guided hikes and wildlife viewing opportunities.


Dire Dawa is a fascinating city that offers a unique blend of culture, history, and outdoor adventure. Whether you’re exploring the city’s cultural landmarks, hiking the Chercher Mountains, or trying the local food and drink, Dire Dawa is sure to leave a lasting impression. With this comprehensive guide, you can plan your trip with confidence and make the most of your visit to this vibrant Ethiopian city.