Best places to visit in Ethiopia
The “Land of Thirteen Months” is Ethiopia. It is a magical nation with deep historical religious significance, spiritual foundations, and a captivating tale to tell. The breathtaking religious building that attracts tourists to this beautiful nation is the only thing that can compare to the splendor of the untamed mountains. It is a place where the Ark of the Covenant mythology coexists peacefully with historic Islamic mosques. Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa, with its roaring waterfalls and bustling, modern metropolis, is a sight to behold. The top ten most amazing sites to visit in Ethiopia are listed below.
1. Bale Mountains National Park
Located 400km southeast of Addis Ababa, Bale Mountains National Park contains a spectacularly diverse landscape. The high altitude, afro-montane Sanetti Plateau rises to over 4,000m and includes the highest peak in the southern Ethiopia highlands. This undulating plateau is marked by numerous glacial lakes and swamps and surrounded by higher volcanic ridges and peaks. The southern slopes are covered by the lush and largely unexplored Harenna Forest.
Bale Mountains National Park is the ultimate destination for hikers, wildlife watchers, culture and nature enthusiasts, bird watchers and more! Explore one of the highest parks in Africa by horseback, go fishing or experience an authentic community trying local coffee and honey! One of the best sites to spot the rare and endangered Ethiopian Wolf is on the spectacular Sanetti Plateau as the sun rises.
2. Simien Mountains
The stunning Simien Mountains are located in the highlands of northern Ethiopia. With its magnificent rock-hewn cathedrals and medieval castles, this area is a gem that transports you back in time. These magnificent mountains, which have a rich cultural history, appeared to have been hand-shaped by nature. People now come to explore the craggy peaks and seemingly infinite panoramas as well as learn about the old holy sites. In addition, the Simien Mountains are home to a special ecosystem that is in danger of extinction, with exotic and rare animals like the Gelada baboon, Walia ibex, and Ethiopian wolf.
3. Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela
There are eleven medieval churches close to the tiny village of Lalibela, all of which were carved from enormous volcanic rock slabs. King Lalibela directed the construction of the churches in the 12th century. As a result of Muslim victories throughout the region, he had a vision of a “New Jerusalem” for Christians who were unable to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For Coptic Christians, it continues to be a popular pilgrimage place today. The House of Saint George, also known as Biete Ghiorgis, is the most remarkable of the historic churches. This church is well known for its cross-shaped structure and network of ceremonial corridors and ditches that link it to the other churches. his UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly one of Ethiopia’s incredible places to visit and will leave you in awe of the faith that can move mountains.
4. The Holy City of Harar
Near the Somalian border in northeastern Ethiopia, the city of Harar is a significant center for Islamic culture. More than 100 mosques may be found in its walled city, which has been dubbed “Africa’s Mecca” and is regarded as the “fourth holy city of Islam.” The 16th century saw the construction of Harar as a means of defense against invading religious forces. Friendly Harari women wearing vibrantly colored dresses will welcome you as you move through the city’s cobbled and small alleyways.
The story of the fabled “hyena man of Harar” will be told quickly. The “hyena man” will address the hyenas in Harari by name at the Fallana Gate. They come up, one-by-one and take a piece of meat from a stick he has placed in his mouth. If you have the nerve, you can also take a turn hand-feeding these wildly beautiful, but dangerous African predators.
Nestled in the highlands of Northern Ethiopia, you’ll find the fabled city of Gondar. Once you have reached Ras Dashen, the highest peak in the spectacular Simien Mountains, you will be able to marvel at Gondar, the “Camelot of Africa”. The castle was the medieval home to Ethiopian Emperors and Princesses who led the country for nearly 1000 years. Once you have reached the main site, check out the Royal Enclosure which is home to the main attractions in the city.
Another site not to miss is Fasiladas’ Bath. This is where the annual Timkat celebration takes place. The water is blessed by the bishop and splashed on the crowd of pilgrims that come to renew their faith and to take part in the ceremony that replicates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. Whilst here don’t forget to visit Debre Berhan Selassie, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in all of Ethiopia.
6. Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is the fourth largest city in Africa and is the diplomatic home to the African Union. This vibrant city sits atop the Entoto Mountains and has both an African and international feel. Addis has a mystical aura that seems to act like a portal to the past. It’s a place where you can explore the beautiful orthodox churches and museums.
Make sure to check out the National Museum where you will find the 2.3 million-year-old fossilized hominid “Lucy”. Also visit the Merkato, which is the largest open-air market in Africa. Here you’ll have your senses awakened with the smell of pungent spices and roasting coffee.
At night, the city comes alive with a vibrant nightlife with restaurants serving exotic Ethiopian cuisine. Day trips from Addis should include the Entoto Mountains, the crater lakes at Debre Zeyit and the hot springs at Awash National Park. Pamper yourself by staying at the Sheraton Addis where you will be treated like royalty in one of Africa’s few 5-star resorts.
7. Blue Nile Falls
Close to the city of Bahir Dar you will find the incredible Blue Nile Falls. The locals call it Tis- Isat Falls (translated as “Smoke of Fire”) and it is the most impressive sight on either the Blue or White Nile. The falls stretch a quarter-mile wide during the flood season and drops into a gorge of more than 150 feet deep. You can see how the falls got their name because it throws up a never-ending mist that drenches sightseers from half a mile away. The rainbows produced are awe-inspiring and creates an Eden-like perennial rainforest of lush verdant foliage. You will not be alone in this paradise; the forest is home to a wide variety of monkeys and exotically coloured birds.
Head to Aksum and you will see more ancient history that you can imagine. Aksum is one of the oldest cities in all of Africa and is rich in legend and mystery. It is believed to be the home of the Queen of Sheba and the final resting place of the legendary Ark of the Covenant. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed into the church where the Ark is said to be, but you can still check out the ancient Aksumite obelisks found in the Northern Stelae Field. The largest obelisk was recently returned to Ethiopia by the Italian government where it sat for decades after it was taken to Italy during WWII. It’s ruins and ancient legends will fascinate any lover of history. In addition to legends of Sheba and the Ark, locals believe that the roughly hewn tomb of solid rock of King Bazen was actually Balthazar, and the magi carried news of Christ’s birth to Ethiopia.
9. Arba Minch
On the shores of Abaya Lake in Southern Ethiopia, Arba Minch is full of natural wonder and beauty. Arba Minch in Amharic means “forty springs,” and the area is rich in many tiny springs that bubble up from the ground. You can see many of them as you hike through Nechisar National Park.
The most incredible sight in Arba Minch is the cliff top holy spot of Abuna Yemata Church. This rock-hewn church is found only after a mildly challenging climb up the sheer cliff wall. It requires a bit of nerve and a lack of vertigo, but your effort will be greatly rewarded. Views from the church are remarkable and inside this ancient holy church, you will find beautiful and well-preserved frescoes that adorn two cupolas.
10. Danakil Depression
If you are up a really hot time, then make your way to Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression. The Depression overlaps the borders of Eritrea and Djibouti and is part of the great East African Rift Valley.
The Afar people call this northeastern part of Ethiopia home and against all odds, have not only existed for centuries but still have a thriving community. But beware, the climate is unforgiving and widely considered the hottest (average temp of 94F), driest (4 – 8 inches of annual rainfall) and lowest spot (400 feet below sea level) on the planet. Having said all that, this unearthly landscape is an incredible place to visit.
The lava lake at Erta Ale is one of only six lava lakes on Earth and will leave you in awe. The multi-coloured hydrothermal bubbling lakes and great salt pans will amaze you and have you question if you are still on Planet Earth. The site is also rich in fossils of ancient hominid. The famed fossil of “Lucy” was found in this area in 1974.
11. The People of the Lower Omo Valley
If you want a cultural experience that you will never forget, then plan a trip to the Lower Omo Valley. Here you can connect with one of more than a dozen indigenous peoples that live in the region.
The valley is dependent on the Omo River to live as it feeds the dry savannah that supports the local communities. Each of the villages has their own customs and language and have lived basically the same lifestyle for centuries. The Mursi and Hamar are proud people who adorn themselves in unusual body art and jewellery and cattle are vital to their existence. They are also very territorial and will fiercely defend their land and way of life. Even though the region is remote, many tour companies operate treks to the Lower Omo Valley and several of its villages. Just be prepared for a pricey and challenging trip–both logistically and physically.
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