The colourful colonial era buildings throughout Dire Dawa are a stark contrast to the traditional, circular shacks found across Ethiopia.
The fourth-most populous city in Ethiopia, Dire Dawa, which translates to empty plain in reference to its location in one the most arid regions in the country - the city is known for its ornate squares and strong cultural diversity.
The less pleasing, rubbish-strewn Dechatu Wadi river divides the city of Dire Dawa into two halves: Kezira and Megala.
Kezira is the European-influenced half of the city and known for hosting the once great Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia. Locals enjoy coffee under the shade of one of the many tree-lined cafés dotted across streets of the town.
To the east of the Dechatu Wadi river is the other quarter of Dire Dawa, Megala. This old town has several mosques and large Muslim cemeteries. The famous Kafira market, known for its vast size and bazaar-like atmosphere, is a real treat for the senses.
Things to do in Dire Dawa
Get lost in the Kafira Market
A vast labyrinth in the heart of Megala, the Kafira Market is a traditional open-air marketplace, stocking everything from grains to spices, clothes to electronics – only be sure not get lost in the maze of winding, zigzagging streets.
The sight of camel trains plodding in from the dusty plains and the Gharis (two-wheeled carts drawn by a horse) strolling around the alleys creates a captivating environment that will take you back to the medieval times.
Have some ‘Khat‘
The mild narcotic plant khat native to the region is famous among the locals. Known for its stimulating effect, khat is a big cash crop for Ethiopians and is grown in abundance around the hills of Dire Dawa.
For those wanting to know what the fuss is all about, Chattara market is the best place to get hold of the “green gold”.
Just don’t get alarmed by the occasional “Inka, Inka, Inka, ferenji” shout, (the sellers offering you khat) – it's just part of the Chattara hustle.
Visit the Ethiopia-Djibouti Rail yard
Considered the birthplace of the city, the Ethio-Djibouti Railyard is a century-old station and workshop that is home to the remains of the once great Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia.
Amid the rusty remains of long-forgetting steam locomotives is Haile Selassie’s carriage, the private train the Emperor used to escape to Djibouti following the 1935 invasion by the Italians.
Travelling to Dire Dawa
The city has an international and domestic airport, so it is easily accessible. There is an extensive network of buses and other public transport for getting around, and if you book with us all of this will be arranged for you.
An oasis of colourful and creative architecture, Dire Dawa is well worth a visit if you have extra time to spend in Ethiopia. If you're heading to Harar to feed the hyenas, you'll pass through Dire Dawa on your way to and from.
Our Most Popular Trips
Historic North and Luxury Lodges
Experience Ethiopia's northern circuit in style. Explore the incredible highland scenery, visit ancient monuments, discover unique cultural traditions, and break up your journey at luxury lodges set amongst incredible backdrops.…
- 12 Days
Historic North Circuit
Explore the Simien Mountains from a luxury lodge perched high in the escarpment, discover the architectural remains of ancient civilisations, and watch the sun set over the sandstone cliffs of Tigray. The Historic North Circuit is a flagship itinerary in…
- 12 Days
Historic North Circuit and Community Trekking
Fusing history, culture, landscapes and wildlife along a perfectly paced circuit, this trip is a synthesis of the very best experiences on offer in Ethiopia’s northern highlands. Explorations of the ancient cities Axum, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lalibela are broken…
- 12 Days
Historic Towns of Ethiopia
Every city in Ethiopia has a story to tell. In under 10 days, discover some of Ethiopia's most important towns, each different from the last in so many ways.…
- 9 Days
Simien Mountains and Northern History
This trip packs in a myriad of history, culture and some of the best scenery in Africa. Explore the palaces of Gondar, the world-famous rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, and the sweeping plateaus of the Simien Mountains. Leave enough time either…
- 7 Days
Highlights of the North and South
The classic northern trail extends south into the Omo Valley, passing through the Rift Valley Lakes and highland peaks of the Bale Mountains. A once in a lifetime adventure combining the very best that Ethiopia has to offer.…
- 20 Days
This classic route is perfect if you're looking for an introduction to Ethiopia, but don't have a lot of time. The focus is on the historic cities, monuments, and culture of northern Ethiopia, with plenty of wildlife and vistas along…
- 6 Days