Ethiopia lies north of the Equator and constitutes most of the Horn of Africa. Given its position and its topography, its general climate ranges from tropical in the lowlands to temperate and cool in the highlands. As a very loose rule, the best time to travel northern Ethiopia is during its dry season, which runs from September through to March, while best times in the south are November to March and June to September. However, depending on interest, there’s no reason why you can’t travel the country at any time of the year.
Like many sub-Saharan countries, Ethiopia’s seasonal rains are largely dictated by the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a weather front that oscillates back and forth across the Equator. The long rains or Kiremt occur in the northern highlands in July and August, and the central highlands in June and September. The shorter rains or Belg occur in the south between March and May, and variously in the northern and central highlands between February and May. As the ITCZ moves south, another set of very short rains called the Bega briefly waters much of central and south-west Ethiopia. The further west you travel, the wetter it gets.
Ethiopia’s range of altitudes make for a series of climatic zones. The main three are the coldish and less than temperate Dega, the warm and wet Weyna, and the drier and warmer Kolla. More extreme zones include the low-desert Bereha and the afro-alpine Worch. Travellers on the historical northern circuit will inevitably experience Dega and Weyna, and occassionally, depending on whether they venture into the Simien Mountains, Worch. The same is true of the Southern Circuit’s Bale Mountains. Those travelling the lowlands in the southwest are more likely to experience Kolla, while the few that visit the deserts of the east, the northeast, and the southeast, will encounter Bereha.
An All Year-round Destination
Given its varying altitudes, topographical features and associated micro-climates, it is perfectly possible to travel in Ethiopia throughout the year. The north is huge, its west much wetter than its east, and its altitude is more of an influence on temperature and rainfall than elsewhere, all of which allows for a degree of cherry picking, whatever the season. Depending on interest and destination, the south, meanwhile, can be visited during its off-seasons, especially in areas of low rainfall, and if your interest is green season wildlife behaviour. Relatively dry throughout the year, the Omo Valley can be visited most of the year, while the Bale Mountains experiences a single rainy season, and therefore offers better travel between November and February.