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The Cradle of Humankind
Ethiopia offers visitors an enchanting world of breathtaking scenery, rich historical heritage and extreme cultural diversity
Ethiopia is unique, offering:
- the only links to ancient Mediterranean civilizations in Sub-Saharan Africa
- an authentic African country which was never colonised
- as large a variety of wildlife as Kenya and Tanzania, including some incredibly rare endemics
- some of Africa’s most incredible architecture including rock-hewn churches and palaces
- stunning landscape, abundant wildlife
- one-of-a-kind cultural attractions for the adventurous holiday-goer
- colourful tribal groups – with unique lifestyles far from modern life
Ethiopia is the ideal country to visit over an eight- to ten-day break. However, to do it justice we recommend two to three weeks.
Bahir Dar in the north, on the edge of “the jewel of Ethiopia”, Lake Tana. From here there’s easy access to the Blue Nile Falls, the source of the Blue Nile, and historic monasteries around the shore and on islands in the lake.
The Ethiopia Rift Valley Lakes, among the deepest and oldest lakes in the world.
Rock-hewn churches – some of the most unusual and unique man-made structures in the world – can be admired at Lalibela. The town itself is worth a visit, with unusual circular two-storey stone houses at altitude. The mountainous vistas alone justify the trip.
Culture-junkies can get their fix in the Omo Valley. Here, numerous colourful Ethiopian tribes can be found on a road safari south of Addis Ababa, fully guided with visits to traditional villages and markets. A visit to a local national park will complete the trip.
The stunning Simien Mountains are home to the endemic Gelada monkeys. And the Bale Mountains are home to the world’s rarest canid – the Ethiopian wolf. Two key endemic species for wildlife enthusiasts – not to mention numerous other smaller endemic species.
The historical circuit is a mind-numbing experience that brings you to the roots of human existence – a fascinating way to learn about the start of humanity.
Lovers of history can tour the historical circuit. This includes looking at the 3.5 million year old humanoid fossil “Lucy”, the palace of the Queen of Sheba, the stunning rock-hewn churches and palaces of the north, among other highlights.
For wildlife enthusiasts, especially birders and those keen to view Ethiopia’s rare mammals, it’s a unique opportunity to tick off some endemics. Simien and Bale Mountains are key areas to visit!
The African Birding Club have named Bale Mountains National Park one of Africa’s top 5 birding hotspots. A 3 week visit could result in a list of over 500 species!
The tribe’s of the Omo Valley are unique in Africa and despite their ‘popularity’, those interested in different cultures will still be fascinated.
Other areas of special interest include the Danakil Depression, Awash NP, Gambella NP
20% of the country’s revenue comes from tourism alone. Visitors support the infantile industry. It is rewarding to know that by visiting you are improving economic situation of what is still one of the poorest countries in the world.
It’s not a traditional safari destination by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, it’s unique, inexpensive and offers some extraordinary experiences and diversions to seasoned African safari adventurers.
Best time to go to Ethiopia
- September to January – generally dry. Peak tourist season with festivals hiking prices at times. Pleasant temperatures, blue skies and low rainfall.
- October to January – a popular time when the rains are over, and land is still green and lush with beautiful flowers.
- February to March – getting warmer as dry season comes to an end. Simien Mountains at their best. Good quieter time to visit.
- April – a transition month, temperatures increase and heavy showers begin to get more frequent.
- May to late-September – rainy season with wettest months July and August. But in the south it starts and finishes a few weeks earlier, and South Omo is wettest March – June.
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.
- The temperate zone from 1,500 to 2,400 m with temperatures from 16°C to 30°C
- The hot zone lies 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.
How to get to Ethiopia
Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s oldest airline. It has the most extensive network of intra-African flights of any airline in the world. With brand new planes on routes out of Europe and the US, it serves most major Middle Eastern, European and North American cities as well as Bombay, Delhi, Bangkok, Tokyo and Beijing in Asia. Its Africa-wide network means that it’s easy to create some very creative and contrasting safaris. How about Chad and Ethiopia? Or Ethiopia and the Congo Rainforest Basin?
It is also possible to get there by land. The Nile Route is from Europe through Egypt and Sudan (not always possible) depending on the political situation. It is now finally possible to enter through Eritrea, but tourism permits are hard to acquire. Even if granted they are only to visit the capital, Asmara. From the south you can get to Ethiopia overland from Kenya, via Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Ethiopia has an incredible diversity of species with over 80 species of larger mammals and over 800 birds – with 7 and 20 endemics respectively (37 near-endemics). Some of these endemic species such as the Gelada “Baboon” (not actually a baboon but it’s own unique genus, Theropithecus), and the rare Walian Ibex live 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 never fail to impress. There are spectacular views of granite columns, towering escarpments and plummeting valleys. Hiking trips that will take you through traditional villages can be organised in the Simien Mountains.
Bale Mountain National Park is the best place to view the Bale Monkey. Plus, the even rarer Ethiopian Wolf which feeds on the (also endemic) Giant Mole Rat.
More about Ethiopia
Located in the Horn of Africa, it shares borders with Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea.
Lake Tana & the Historical North
Bahir Dar is situated on the edge of Lake Tana. The ancient Greeks described Lake Tana as a “copper-tinted lake … that is the jewel of Ethiopia”. And even today, the lake retains an ancient air, as papyrus boats continue to sail its dusky waters. Ancient churches and monasteries stand on 19 of the lake’s 37 islands. The precious remains of ancient Ethiopian emperors and the treasures of the Ethiopian church, and you can visit some of these.
Just 30 km south of the lake the Blue Nile Falls plummet 45 metres down a sheer rock face – a solid curtain of water that is truly impressive.
The Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant itself resides in Axum. According to the legend of Menalik (the Queen of Sheba’s son), the Ark lies within in the Church of St Mary at Zion. Only one living person may see it – the guardian of the ark. Any Ethiopian will assure you it is true! Also, in Axum visitors can view the tall, intricately carved, obelisks.
Lalibela is one of the holiest cities in Ethiopia. It’s famous for its 11 unique monolithic UNESCO churches cut out of the rocks dating back to the 13th century.
Gondar is famous for its romantic palaces and castles which incorporate local, Portuguese and Indian styles. In addition, the Debre Berhan Selassie Church has beautiful elaborate murals.
Set into the sandstone rock cliffs at Tigrai are some stunning rock-hewn churches, described as ‘the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people’. Archaeologists think that the churches date back earlier than Lalibela. And although they do not normally feature on the main tourist routes, there about 20 which can be visited. The spirituality of these functioning religious establishments is breathtaking.
The Tribes of the South
The tribes of the Omo Valley have been isolated for millennia from the rest of the world — all of whom have retained their own unique customs and traditions. They have developed unique ways to express themselves including expert body painting, hairstyles and personal adornments.
Wildlife and Scenery
Ethiopia is a land of huge contrasts, from the tops of the rugged Simien Mountains (4620 meters), the third highest mountains in Africa, to the depths of the Danakil Depression, at 120 meters below sea level — one of the lowest dry land points on earth. Add to this the splendor of the Great Rift Valley, white-water rivers, savannah teeming with game, giant waterfalls, dense and lush jungle…
With 14 major wildlife reserves, Ethiopia provides a microcosm of the entire sub-Saharan ecosystem. Birdlife here is abundant, and there are many endemic mammals from the rare Walia Ibex to the Ethiopian Wolf, from the Mountain Nyala to the Gelada “Baboon”. Ethiopia offers nature lovers a truly different experience from elsewhere in Africa.
Birding in Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s diverse ecosystem makes it one of the richest habitats in Africa for birds and mammals. With more than 860 species of birds, Ethiopia possesses about 10% of the world’s bird species, and about 40% of all African birds are found here. Among these, 16 species are found only in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a must for bird enthusiasts! Key ‘hotspots’ to visit include: Jemma River Gorge, the Sululta Plains, the Rift Valley lakes, Wondo Guenet Forest, and the magnificent Bale Mountains, where more than 10 of these endemic birds are found.
Ethiopia History Tour
A 7 day fly-in tour of the main historical circuit of northern Ethiopia. Our small group or privately guided trip showcases Ethiopia’s rich historical past.
Omo Valley Safari
An 11 day trip into the Omo Valley to visit the tribes and explore cultures of Southern Ethiopia in 3 World Heritage Sites and 2 National Parks
Wherever in the world you are, our Zambezi community is full of easy-going travel-minded friends who take their fun seriously. Come and join the adventure.
Ethiopia's hot spots
Addis Ababa, safari gateway to historical sites, obelisks of Axum, churches and Coptic monasteries in the Tigre, Lake Tana and Lalibela
Bahir Dar and Lake Tana are on the historic route - famed for 20 monastic churches and the source of the Blue Nile. Just a one hour flight from Addis Ababa
Bale National Park has wild alpine scenery that has around a dozen endemic birds living on the slopes, as well as the Ethiopian Wolf and a mountain nyala
The Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes provide a rich resource for people and animals
The 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are a World Heritage Site often described as the 8th wonder of the world - venue for famous church festivals.
The Simien Mountains are home to gelada baboons and located in one of Africaâ€™s largest mountain ranges and contains the country's highest peak Ras Dashen
The Omo valley has been described as a living museum with around 18 ethnic groups representing 4 of Africa's major linguistic groups