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More about Ethiopia

More about Ethiopia

Travel advice from the British FCO on travelling in Ethiopia

East Africa has been hailed as the origin of mankind, and Ethiopia has a fascinating history as a result of this long occupation of the land. The north of the country is particularly rich in history, and the history circuit is a specific route from Addis Ababa through Bahir Dar, Gonder, Axum and Lalibela.

There are many things of interest to see, including 12th-century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, 17th-century castles of Gondar, 3000 year old stellaes of Axum and a mass epiphany at Timkat. This route is 3,000 km by road, but sufficient airport facilities mean that it is possible to travel it by air.

Also of interest are the various national parks, and although the game here is nowhere near the levels of Kenya or Tanzania, scenery is outstanding and a generous collection of endemic species make for some individuality - see the Simien Mountains or Bale National Park.

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Where is Ethiopia

Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa, and shares its borders with Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea.

What is in Ethiopia

Bahir Dar is situated on the edge of Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile. This lake was described by the ancient Greeks as a “copper-tinted lake…that is the jewel of Ethiopia”, and it retains an air of the ancient as papyrus boats sail on it. 30 km south of the lake on the outlet that is now the Blue Nile, the water falls over a 45 metre-high rock face in a curtain of water that is impressive and worth a look. These are the Blue Nile Falls, and are known as Ethiopia's premier waterfall.

It has around 37 islands on it, about 19 of which have, or have had, churches and monasteries on them. These establishments have the remains of ancient Ethiopian emperors and treasures of the Ethiopian church, which was founded in the 14th-century rule of Amda Tsion. Daga Istafanos has the mummified remains of five former Ethiopian emperors which can be visited, whilst Tana Chirkos has three Judaic sacrificial pillars on it that are claimed to support the legend that this island was used to store the Ark of Covenant for 800 years.

The Ark of the Covenant is rumoured to be stored at Axum, according to the legend of the Queen of Sheba’s son, Menalik. It is apparently stored in the Church of St Mary at Zion, but only one living person is allowed to see it; the guardian of the ark. It is a good story, however, and any Ethiopian will assure you it is true!

Set into the sandstone rock cliffs at Tigrai are some stunning rock-hewn churches that have been described as ‘the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people’. These do not feature primarily as tourist attractions, but there are about 20 which can be visited, and the spirituality of these functioning religious establishments is breathtaking. To witness these, the town of Lalibela is the best place to stay.

Ethiopia has a large range of altitudes which means that it has an enormous ecological diversity. The altitudes give three climatic zones; the cool zone is above 2,400 m, and the temperature range is from near freezing to 16°C, a more temperate zone from 1,500 to 2,400 m with temperatures from 16°C to 30°C and finally, a hot zone below 1,500 m with both tropical and arid conditions, where the daytime temperature can be anything from 27°C to 50°C.

These different climates give us deserts along the eastern border, tropical forests in the south and Afromontane in the northern and southwestern parts. The variety has resulted in a number of ecologically distinct areas that has helped encourage the evolution of endemic species in ecological isolation.

Some of these endemic species such as the Gelada Baboon and rare Simien Fox can be found in the largest chain of mountains in Africa; the Simien Mountains. These are also home to the colourful Amharic tribes. Even without the people and wildlife, however, the mountains can impress with just the spectacular views of granite columns, towering escarpments and plummeting valleys.

Other areas of special interest include the Omo Valley and the Bale National Park, as well as the Rift Valley Lakes, which have unique conditions that are a result of the way in which they were formed and evolved.

Why Ethiopia

The historical circuit is a mind-numbing experience that brings you to the roots of human existence, and is a fascinating way to learn about the start of it all. There is an opportunity to do a set trip in January 2009, which does a tour of the historical circuit that includes looking at the 3.5 million year old humanoid fossil “Lucy”, the endemic Gelada baboons, the palace of the Queen of Sheba, a stunning experience where Ephiphany is celebrated at the Queen of Sheba’s bath and the stunning rock-hewn churches, amongst many others.

For wildlife enthusiasts, especially birders, it is also a unique opportunity to those species that you will only find here.

With 20% of the country's revenue coming from tourism alone, supporting the infantile industry is one way of improving the economical situation of what is famously the poorest country in the world.

When to do Ethiopia

The normal rainy season is from mid-June to mid-September. This is preceded by intermittent showers from February to March, whilst the remainder of the year is generally dry. It is most popular from October to January, when the rains are over but the land is still green.

How to travel Ethiopia

Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s oldest airline, and it has the most extensive network of intra-African flights of any airline in the world. It serves most major Middle Eastern, European and North American cities as well as Bombay, Delhi, Bangkok, Tokyo and Beijing in Asia.

It is also possible to get there by land; the Nile Route is from Europe through Egypt and Sudan – it isn’t possible to enter through Eritrea. From the south you can get to Ethiopia from South Africa to Kenya via Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.

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