Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, is not the biggest city in Africa, but it is home to the biggest open air market on the entire continent!
The Addis Mercato as its known, the term coming directly from Italian, is a giant sprawling market that’s home to anything and all things Ethiopian that you’d ever want to purchase.
Donkeys and other livestock run around freely, buses and trucks load and unload countless bundles of supplies, and shoppers comb the streets looking for the best deals on exactly what they're looking for. For market lovers, the atmosphere couldn’t be better.
So what’s there to do when you visit the Mercato in Addis? First thing is to go shopping.
Though it can be hectic and difficult to navigate, if you just take your time and walk around, you’ll discover some things that you might want to purchase. If you’re looking for specific things to buy, it can definitely be helpful to go with a local Ethiopian friend or guide who has experience.
The market is incredibly sprawling, but luckily there’s a somewhat organized system of sections that sell similar products (that is if you know the sections). For instance kitchen ware is all grouped together, fresh ingredients, or kids toys, are all in the same general area.
The market is especially well-known for its supply of Ethiopian garments of the traditional variety, Ethiopian souvenirs and religious relics, and coffee beans and supplies.
When I was at Addis Mercato, I bought a small jebena, one of the clay coffee pots used to make traditional Ethiopian coffee.
Along with shopping, the Addis Mercato also offers a wonderful glimpse into the busy hectic life of a market vendor and worker in Ethiopia.
If you enjoy people watching, observing culture, or shooting street photography, the market is a must visit when you’re in town.
One of the things I enjoyed watching were the men that distribute all the products to stores. I’ve seen plenty of people carrying things on their heads, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such insanely massive loads being carried on heads while pushing through narrow alleys.
You’ll see just about everything you can imagine, from stacks of new mattresses to huge cooking pots to containers of oil, all piled high on someone’s head.
Just like any busy place in the world, you should always be mindful of what you carry and take safety precautions.
Don’t bring wads of cash, and do be careful of your camera and your pockets. That being said, if there is an attempt at robbery, it will likely be in a secretive manner, such as a slick pickpocket.
Overall, when I spent some time walking around the market, I felt alright, and I was happy to see quite a lot of security guards and police patrolling the paths and lanes.
Visiting the Addis Mercato is a wonderful overdose of both culture and busy market life. It’s a great place to find bargains in Ethiopia, but also just to wander and observe the excitement.