The Highlights of Ethiopia
Our pick #1
Simien Mountains National Park
The UNESCO-listed Simien Mountains offer some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Ethiopia, with deep valleys, jagged cliffs and windswept plateaus, carved out of millions of years of erosion. Home to the country’s highest peak, Ras Dashan, it is also a trekkers paradise, attracting adventurous travellers from around the world. Much like the Bale Mountains, the Simiens are home to endemic species found nowhere else, including the Ethiopian wolf and Walia ibex. A few days spent camping in the Simiens is the perfect way to explore this part of the country.
Our pick #2
As the capital and largest city in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa offers a wealth of cultural and historic attractions. Visitors to the National Museum can discover Lucy, one of the oldest human skeletons ever found. Other sights of interest include the octagonal St George’s Cathedral and the historic Menelik Palace, which now serves as the official residence of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. And no visit to the capital would be complete without a stroll through the Addis Ababa Mercato – one of the largest markets in the whole of Africa.
Our pick #3
The Danakil Depression
The Danakil Depression is a geological junction, where three tectonic plates are literally pulling the continents of Africa and Asia apart. Rifting and volcanic activity is common here and the depression is one of the hottest and most lifeless places on Earth. Famous for its beautiful sulfur lakes and natural hot springs, the Danakil Depression is also known as the ‘cradle of humankind’, with hominid skeletons dating back as far as 3 million years being found here. This inhospitable environment is not for everyone but there is nowhere else quite like it in the world.
Our pick #4
Bahir Dar & Lake Tana
Sitting on the shore of Lake Tana, Bahir Dar is a popular destination for travellers to Ethiopia. The city is known for its wide avenues, lined with palm trees and for the nearby Blue Nile Falls – an impressive cascade. The Blue Nile is one of the two main tributaries of the River Nile, and Lake Tana marks the source of this 1,600km long ribbon of water. A boat trip on the lake to take in the point where the lake begins its outflow into the Blue Nile is a great day out, and lucky visitors will be able to see hippos lazing in the water near the shore.
Our pick #5
Bale Mountains National Park
Forming part of the Ethiopian Highlands, the Bale Mountains National Park is a pristine wilderness that simply must form a part of any trip to the country. Covering more than 2,000 square miles, the national park is home to a plethora of rare wildlife. Many of these species, including the endangered Ethiopian wolf and the Mountain nyala, are found only in Ethiopia. Despite this, the open plateaus of the mountains make these rare animals relatively easy to spot – though a pair of binoculars and a good camera is a must!
Our pick #6
The walled city of Harar has a rich history, originally settled in the Middle Ages. The sixteenth century was Harar’s Golden Age, when it became a crucial trading hub for coffee, weaving and basketry. Today the markets are still alive with this vibrant culture and the narrow streets of the city are an enchanting place to explore. After dark the city is known for something even more special. The Harar Hyena Men have fostered close bonds with wild Spotted Hyenas for generations, feeding these animals in return for the Hyenas not attacking livestock. Visitors can watch as the creatures become as docile as domestic dogs and the Hyena Men treat them as such. A sight like no other!
Our pick #7
King Lalibela ruled Ethiopia from 1181 until 1221 and during this time he constructed 11 incredible rock-hewn churches in his capital, Roha, now named after the former ruler. The most famous of these is the Church of Saint George, where the roof is decorated in the form of a Greek cross. All 11 churches are still standing today, and each offers amazing architecture – Lalibela has become an important Christian pilgrimage site as a result. The town is fairly small, and a visitor can easily cover all of the main sites in a day.
Our pick #8
As the former capital of the Ethiopian Empire, Gondar is most famous for its plethora of royal castles and its rich military history. Little surprise that Gondar has earned a nickname as the ‘Camelot of Africa’. It was here in the Second World War that Mussolini’s Italian forces made their final stand against the British in 1941, after the fall of Addis Ababa. History buffs will love exploring the city, from the Debre Berham Selassie Church to the 17th century King Fasilides Baths. The palace here sits in a now drained swimming pool and was once a favoured holiday home for Ethiopian royalty.
Our pick #9
Another former capital, this time of the Axumite Empire, which covered modern-day Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Arabian Peninsula until its collapse in the 10th century. Axum is one of Ethiopia’s most northern towns, located in the stunning setting of the Adwa Mountains. The main attractions in Axum are its steles. These ancient obelisks date back around 1,700 years and are believed to mark the locations of Ethiopian royal tombs, though there is a degree of mystery surrounding the steles. Some of them are now collapsed but others remain standing, towering over the landscape at 25 metres tall. Years of graverobbing and pillaging have removed many of the clues about the history of this site and it is believed that many more undiscovered graves lie in the area.
Our pick #10
Arba Minch is a city in southern Ethiopia and the African Rift Valley, which lies on the shore of Lake Chamo. The fertile lands surrounding the city mean it is a great place for growing crops, and fruits including mango, banana, orange and pineapple grow here in abundance. The lake is also full of fish, making a boat trip on its water a brilliant way to spot hippos and gigantic Nile crocodiles which lurk within. In fact, crocodiles are so abundant in the lake that it is known locally as the ‘Crocodile market’. Arba Minch itself is actually two cities in one, the dual settlements of Shecha and Sikela offering different experiences. Smaller Shecha is considered more residential and peaceful than it’s larger, more chaotic sibling down the hill.
For further information to help plan your trip to Ethiopia, see the following:
Best Time to Visit - the climate and seasons in Ethiopia
Top Travel Tips - covering everything from money to health, food to shopping
Tourist Visas - know what visa you need prior to travel