Dire Dawa is the second largest city in Ethiopia with 420,000 people.
Dire Dawa (which means “empty plain”) is one of two chartered cities in eastern Ethiopia (the other being the capital, Addis Ababa). Dire Dawa was founded in 1902 after the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway reached the area. The railroad could not reach the city of Harar at its higher elevation, so Dire Dawa was built nearby. It is a major hub for many ethnic groups in Ethiopia, especially the Afar, Oromo, and Somali.
The city is an industrial centre on the Dechatu River, and home to several markets. It lies at the foot of a ring of cliffs that has been described as "somewhat like a cluster of tea-leaves in the bottom of a slop-basin".
Dire Dawa is connected to Addis Ababa and the historical city of Harar by road, but fly or take train from Addis to get in to Dire Dawa.
There are three bus companies operating services linking Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The cheapest, least comfortable and slowest is the government local bus service. This can take anything from twelve to fifteen hours. The most expensive is the Sky bus service, a luxury Chinese coach with toilets and a movie system, which takes around ten hours. The Salem bus is a reasonable middle option, which is much quicker than the local service but still a bus rather than a coach. Tickets for government buses are bought in the main bus station. Sky bus tickets are sold from a discrete office in the Cornell area of town. Salem bus tickets are purchased at the Samrat Hotel opposite the Ras.
Harar is the other major destination. Small mini buses leave whenever they are full from the main bus station and take about an hour. It rarely takes longer than fifteen minutes for a minibus to be ready to leave.
There are no longer any train services in Ethiopia. Formerly there were services from Djibouti to Addis Ababa via Dire Dawa. Train services between Ethiopia and Djibouti City have started first trials on newly reconstructed Ethiopian railways since September 6th, 2013.
If you don't want to share with the general public it is perfectly acceptable to contract an individual bajaj to yourself and agree a fee for the service. There is no standard rate for this and what you pay will depend on your bargaining skills!
Most of the residents of the city chew the narcotic leaves known as "Chat" (aka qat, khat, catha edulis). In the afternoon, in many places, Dire Dawans sit in circle and consume chat, with several cups of coffee. During this time there could be a heated discussion. Avoid political topics, especially with the Ethiopian Somalis or Somali refugees. Other than that, you could have an interesting experience with the lightly narcotic drug. CAUTION:- "Chat" is illegal in the US and EU. Do not try to take it to Europe or the USA.
Twice yearly there is a religious ceremony at the nearby city of Kulubi (30 birr by minibus, 1 hour). It is a mass gathering with many small stalls selling clothes, sugar cane etc. Hotel prices in Dire Dawa double or triple for the three day period.
There are two shops in town selling Harar coffe: Green and Gold is one. Almo is the other. Souvenirs, electronics, and clothes.
The market near the river has traditional african spices, incense, and fruits such as guava, sour sop and custard apple.
Water, Harar beer, Tella(traditional beer).
Basic accommodations are in abundance.
Generally safe. However, you need to pay attention to your belongings. Your backpacks, camera and other shiny tourist items can attract pickpockets and con artists. (Recently, due to increasing immigration of Somalians, and a tension that may have created with locals the city is being heavily policed.)
Avoid political discussions, especially in regards to Somalia.