Before I moved to Addis Ababa, I could count my visits to a spa on the unpolished toes of one calloused foot. Today, eight months later, my spa habit is fully formed. I’ve lost track of all the haircuts, styles, pedicures, and massages I’ve indulged in here.
How did this happen? How did I get hooked? I trace my habit to the things I discovered about spas and salons in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Fancy spas and salons are a requisite at all high-end hotels, but a more modest variety can be found every few blocks. Their signage is ubiquitous. These spaces are threads in the fabric of the day-to-day routine for local urbanites in Addis Ababa.
I’ve tried out the entire spectrum. I’m likely to run into fellow ferengi expats at the most popular upscale spas – Boston Day Spa (part of the Kuriftu luxury resort franchise) and Oasis Salon & Spa (owned by two Ethiopian sisters repatriated from Canada).
Lately, though, I’ve been frequenting the neighborhood spa called Mahi, just around the corner from my compound. Not a foreigner in sight. Here, I get a glimpse into the rituals of habesha women out to tame their textured hair. Cuticles are groomed, gossip and jokes are exchanged, and there’s no rush to get customers out the door.
The Price is Right
Even at the high end, spa services here are affordable enough for a frugal minimalist like me. Hour-long massages range from about 600 birr (~ US$30) at the most expensive spots in town, down to about 200 (~ US$10) at local spas like Mahi. Pedicures at Mahi go for 80 birr (~ US$4). See? It would be silly not to go for a pedicure every few weeks.
Services are often packaged together with use of a sauna and steam room. Moroccan bath, anyone? Those are popular here too. If you haven’t tried one, get naked and brace yourself for an exfoliating full-body scrub, performed by a gloved professional. Average price at a local spa is around 300 birr (~ US$15).
Addis Ababa has its share of daily aggravations – power cuts, traffic jams, brown smog, and slow-motion Internet, to name a few. The trick is to find ways to offset the stresses before they start to wear you down. My favorite coping mechanisms are to plan trips and to go to the spa.
The spa offers a chance to relax and take in a bit of local television, which I don’t have at home. Usually showing are Ethiopian soap operas and music videos. They’re a little entrancing — an instant mood booster. Just try watching this without smiling:
Spas Are For Everyone
For travelers looking for an authentic experience in Addis Ababa, don’t miss out on the local spas. It’s the perfect way to end a trip to Ethiopia. Your spine and feet will thank you for the special treatment after all the hiking, trekking, and long drives on bumpy roads that travel in Ethiopia entails. Men, here’s your chance to try a pedicure. Seriously. There’s a lot more to it than (optional) nail polish. Just be sure to leave a nice tip.
My Top Spas in Addis Ababa: