We just returned from two weeks in Africa and I thought I'd share the train experience from Addis Abeba to Djibouti.
- We purchased the train tickets through a travel agency because the only available information online was that international tickets had to be purchased 24 hours before, which we couldn't make. THIS IS WRONG, once at the station, you'll see that international tickets could be purchased up until 17 hours prior to departure.
- We arranged the ride to Furi-Lebu Station through the same agency. You get a ticket coupon that has to be switched to a real ticket at the station one hour before departure (according to the information on coupon). In reality people showed up 15-20min prior and had no problem retrieving their tickets. Note that you do the switching in the ticket office at the right corner of the station building, not the main entrance.
- Once at the entrance officers will thoroughly unpack and go through your belongings and divide you up depending on if you are traveling domestic or international.
- You get stamped out from Ethiopia at the station. The immigration officers at the Lebu station didn't recognize our e-visas and didn't want to stamp us out at first but after 30mim of negotiation they finally agreed to stamp us out "at our own risk" (we only had single-entry visas Ethiopia meaning we would've ended up in no-man's land if not accepted to Djibouti).
- The train consisted of about 10 wagons (seat, hard sleeper, soft sleeper, restaurant car). The restaurant car was in the middle, dividing the first half which was for domestic passengers and second half which were for passengers to Djibouti. In the Djibouti half we had about 20 passengers from Addis, 2-3 were in the hard sleeper wagon and rest in the regular seat wagon. Ignore the wagon and seating number on the ticket - they don't match and nobody cared anyways.
- Train attendants were all local whereas all staff with safety duty (driver, train manager etc) were Chinese.
- The restaurant car offered only water and biscuits. MAKE SURE TO BRING YOUR OWN FOOD! Even though the train makes a longer stop at Dire Dawa, the station works like in China, ie you can only exit the station from the train, not go to the station building and even if you did manage, you won't find any vendors open catering six departures a week.
- Hot water not available on train, although after some negotiation with the train captain he arranged for the train attendant to cook water a boiler that circulated around the train.
- The train kept a constant speed of about 80-90km/h although it seemed to have numerous signal failures as the emergency brakes came into action once every now and then.
- AC worked well throughout the train.
- Train arrived at Dire Dawa 35min ahead of schedule meaning we had a 50min stop there. At Dire Dawa, the train staff moved all passengers to our wagon and passengers boarding were also told to board here. Once we departed the attendants opened up the other wagons up until the restaurant car.
- Be aware that kat is legal in both Ethiopia and Djibouti and because it costs about ten times more in Djibouti, there's serious courier traffic between Dire Dawa and Djibouti. Each passenger is allowed to bring 1kg in the country and our wagon had approximately 90-100kg of kat after we left Dire Dawa (ie about 100 people boarddd in Dire Dawa).
- The border crossing was rather painless. As you are already stamped out of Ethiopia, the train continues directly into Djibouti where immigration officers collected all the passports and were returned about 30min prior to arrival in Djibouti.
- Upon arrival in Djibouti, all passports are checked again when entering the station and then we had to stand in queue to get our visas checked before standing in a third queue to get our bags checked. These three checks took about an hour all in all.
- While taking pictures in Ethiopia was not a problem what so ever, in Djibouti my friend and I got our pictures of the station deleted by the guards/military...
- Taxi ride from Nagad to central Djibouti city costs around 2,000 Franc.