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Meet Harars two best guides*… Abdul and Hailu

Q&A with [in Ben's humble opinion] the best two guides working in Harar today.



Africa Specialist
Published on

07 Nov 2022

Updated on

05 Apr 2023

Ben Haliu

* "In my humble opinion"... I must emphasise, this is based on personal experience rather than recommendations they have received from others online and in guide books (Bradt Guide, Lonely Planet). Apologies to anyone unfairly missing from my short list of two people.

When it comes to guiding, the way most visits to Ethiopia’s famed historical circuit work – is that you pick up a guide at the start (usually in Addis) and then travel through the different areas of your tour with that same person. This is optimal for many reasons… you get to know them, they get to know you – and furthermore, the story of the historical backdrop that links all the places you visit is related to you coherently, chronologically and without duplication.

If you have a different guide for each different area you miss out on all of the above. But there are some places where local knowledge and insight into specific cultures is so important that the reverse is true. And Harar is unequivocally one of them.

So here without further ado – is a short Q&A with Abdul and Hailu. Hopefully, by the time you’ve read the below, you’ll see why I think their local insight and expertise is unquestionably important for a tour or holiday to Harar.

Abdul 2

About Abdul

1. What is your name?

Abdul Abdi Ahmed Mohamed. But most people call me Abdul.

2. Where were you born

I was born in Harar – within Jugol, the walled city.

3. How long have you been guiding people in Harar?

I have been a tour guide for more than 40 years.

Hailu in his cowboy hat

About Hailu

1. What is your name?

Hailu Gashaw Tesfaye.

2. Where were you born

I was born in Harar.

3. How long have you been guiding people in Harar?

I started to guide when I was just 17.

4. I noticed you wearing a cool cowboy hat… is there a story behind it?

It protects me against the sun and I love it. I also collect different hats and some antique stuff.

About your job

6. What do you think are the best two restaurants in Harar?

Abdul: Well err… pause… I’m sorry about this but Harar is not strong on this front. Now we really only have two options... one is the Ras Hotel, and one is this restaurant Fresh Touch – where we are making this interview right now.

Hailu: I agree, Ras Hotel, but also Hirut restaurant - these are the best the city has to offer, but as Harar only has a few restaurants, I suggest my guests follow the approach of 'when in Rome' and visit more local restaurants... 95% of them are happy with my suggestion!
I love cooking and so also do a special dedicated food tour.

5 Do you have a favourite accommodation option?

Hailu: I suggest staying at a traditional cultural guesthouse that is located within the old city so you can feel like a local. I also feel the price of the big hotels does not always reflect the service you get..... My future business plan is a very good hotel & restaurant - I have been dreaming of this for a long time :-) !

Abdul: As a tour guide, I know all the hotels very well of course, but I do advise people to first consider the traditional guesthouses.

6 Have you guided any unusual visitors?

Abdul: Yes, as far back as 1990 I guided a French film crew who came to make a film called Faranji (which means foreigner in Amharic) about the french poet Artur Rimbaud who lived in Harar – Tim Roth was the lead actor.

<< At this point we broke off the interview – as this was a shoot directed by Bruno a friend of my father… and as a result Abdul will no doubt have spent much time with my dad… it's a small world.>>

Since then I have worked with many other documentary crews from around the world – but Faranji was really important – it really helped me develop my French… I now guide both English and French visitors.

Hailu: Yes, I got the chance to meet Andrew Zimmern the American chef who does the bizarre food show, Mark Wiens who has his food YouTube channel and David Attenborough. They are all nice people and because they are less known in Africa, they are comfortable here.

I have also worked with many documentary crews including the BBC, Discovery Chanel, Planet Earth, Human Planet and CCTV.

Traditional House Harar
A traditional house in Harar
Shopping In Harar
Abdul taking Ben's mother shopping

About Harar

7. Someone told me that Harar was the Muslim capital of Ethiopia – is this correct? And if so – do the people from different religions live happily together?

Abdul: Yes, Harar is the 4th holiest city in Islam… Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and then Harar. We all live together, Christians and Muslims and never have problems – we respect each other. As you have seen in the main square there is a church and then just behind there is a mosque – a Friday mosque called Juba mosque. And just behind the main mosque, there is a catholic church.

Hailu: Yes, despite what is going on politically elsewhere, Harar is called the city of peace and it still works.

8. As you know Far and Wild Travel also offers tours to South Omo where taking photographs of people is a sensitive matter and must be agreed upon beforehand. Is it possible to take photographs freely in Harar?

Abdul: Yes, it is fine to take photographs… people are relaxed about this. Sometimes a photographer wants to give money to a subject, but I advise them against it.

Ben: That’s a very interesting point – why do you advise against it?

Abdul: Because it is a slippery slope – turning photos into a commodity will erode almost everything that is great about my customers' visits to Harar. It would compromise all the genuine interactions with local people that make Harar such a friendly and memorable experience.

9. Harar is famous for its walled city Jugol and for the Hyena feeding tradition – what are the other things that you can recommend for people to do in the area around Harar – for example, other villages of historical interest.. also I heard about some standing stones?

Abdul: Most people I guide are here for two days, so we usually keep our focus on Harar and the walled city. However, with more time there are many other suggestions. The area around Harar has many prehistoric rock art sites thought to date back over 5,000 years ago… most are not well publicised to protect them from vandalism, but I know the places and they are definitely very interesting to visit.

Also, I must point out Dire Dawa – Ethiopia’s second city – and the arrival point by air for most people visiting Harar – which is a very pleasant town. Visiting its grand central train station the “Chemin de Fer Djibouto-Ethiopien” is like stepping back 100 years – I always try to take my clients here if they have time.

Hailu: All of the above, but also, there is the camel market of Babila which takes place on Monday & Thursday. It is full of colour and you see other animals there too like goat, sheep and ox. The Dakerta rock formations are surrounded by beautiful landscapes and are a good place to go hiking, and there is an elephant sanctuary you can visit too.

For those looking for something more adventurous, you can go camping in a stone village called Koromi which is even older than Harar by 200 years or so.

Read our blog to find out more about the Hyena Men of Harar.

10. Walking around Harar city and Jugol, I saw lots of used plastic bottles lying in the street/road. Do you have any ideas about how this plastic waste could be managed better in the town?

Abdul: This matter is a big problem here for us. I think it is the same where you come from also? I do not know the answer, but for certain like everywhere in the world we must soon do something.

Hailu: The good news is that the idea of recycling is starting to take place and people have started to make a living out of it. I was given free training on how to recycle so that I have that option during the low season and which will make Harar more eco-friendly.

LASTLY… specifically to Abdul, I heard that sometimes people call you the ‘Mayor of Harar’ – you are clearly a well-known figure in the town… have you ever considered running for political office as the REAL Mayor of Harar?

Abdul: Laughs… no no, I’ve been doing my job a long time, but I still love it. I want to stay a guide.

Abdul Leading The Way
Abdul leads the way
Hailu Leans Against A Door
Hailu with a traditional door

Looking for more information on Harar? Take a look at Ben's tale of his visit to the walled city.

If you’d like the Far and Wild team to organise a Harar Tour for you – then get in touch using our contact form and be sure to mention Abdul or Hailu if you’d like us specifically to request their services. We can help advise on which guide you might be more suited to, it is all about getting the perfect fit!


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