Are you looking for a unique holiday experience on the African continent? Then Ethiopia is just the place for you. It’s the road less traveled in many ways with experiences that will invigorate your senses and keep the adventure quotient high. Ethiopia, often called the ‘Roof of Africa’ is ruggedly beautiful and has all the essential ingredients that make it a great holiday destination. Ethiopia holidays are understated but all those who have been to this landlocked haven can tell you about the treasure trove of activities, historical gems and soulful interactions you can encounter. It’s blessed with magnificent scenery, a wide array of wildlife and peerless history. So let’s find out about the must-visit places and must-do things during your Ethiopian sojourn.
1. Visit Rock-Hewn churches of Lalibela
Lalibela is dubbed as the ‘New Jerusalem’ as it is a pilgrimage place for Orthodox Christians. It is home to 11 ancient monolithic churches that were carved out of a single rock. Bete Giorgis (Saint George’s) is the most impressive one, with a roof that is in the shape of a cross. Bete Medhani Alem church is the largest monolithic church in the world. The churches are regarded as the unofficial 8th Wonder of the World and were declared a a World Heritage Site in 1978. The adventure enthusiasts can trek to this rugged beauty while history buffs can hire a vehicle to reach it. The journey is quite strenuous but is spiritually satisfying.
2. Trek the Simien Mountains National Park
If you are looking for adventure, then a trek to the Simien Mountains is a must-do. This national park was formed 40 million years ago and lies between 1,900 – 4,533m above sea level. The mountains are cut by deep valleys, gorges and have expansive planes bordering them. Twelve of the mountain peaks are of over 4000 meters. Mt Ras Dashen at 4,533 meters is Africa’s fourth highest mountain. You can hire a safari to go around the park or walk through it with an escort. Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to see large troops of Gelada, a baboon lookalike, a unique Walia ibex, Ethiopian wolves, amongst other animals that inhabit the region. The park thrives with birds too, with endemics like wattled Ibis, white-billed Starling, thick-billed raven and black-headed siskin, living in perfect harmony with nature. You can spend a few days exploring the area surrounding the national park and take a break from the history-heavy tone of the country.
3. Boat ride to Lake Tana monasteries
If your Ethiopian bucket list includes meditating in ancient monasteries, then a trip to Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, is a must. A boat ride from Bahri Dan town on the Lake Tana will take you back in time as you discover centuries-old island monasteries. These monasteries give you a peek into the historical treasures of Ethiopia, including mummified remains of the emperors. One of the oldest monasteries is Debre Marima, established more than 900 years ago. Another famous monastery is Ura Kidane Mihret, with intricate architecture and set in a breathtaking backdrop on the lush Zege Peninsula.
4. Trek to Danakil Depression
Considered as one of the hottest places on Earth, Danakil Depression is surreal in every sense. Located in the northeastern part of Ethiopia, it is a desert in the Afar region of Ethiopia. A trek to the geographical depression is a must-do for adventure lovers as it takes you through some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country. It is home to salt lakes, lava lakes, volcanoes and colorful acidic springs, making it some of the world’s most extraterrestrial landscapes. It is renowned for the active volcano, Erta Ale, the contrasting salt lakes Karum and Afdera, the kaleidoscopic panorama of the Dallol Crater and the expansive salt pans that are the primary source of livelihood for the locals. A trip to this region is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories of one of the most unique places on Earth. Just remember to carry a pair of good hiking shoes and hats to keep yourself protected from the harsh weather and rugged terrain.
5. Live the life of a local at Lower Omo Valley
If you want to have an unforgettable cultural experience, then a trip to the Lower Omo Valley is a must. Connect with the locals of the region and live the life of the ancient people of Ethiopia. This valley is dependent on the Omo River for its water supply and sustenance. Each village in the region has its own customs and traditions that remain unchanged for centuries. For instance, the Mursi and Hamar tribes adorn themselves with unique body art and jewelry and clay hair buns with Ostrich feathers. While people of Gurage Village have a custom of eating a traditional dish called Kocho, which is made out of a banana. A trip to Chencha is a must too, where the Dorze tribe is renowned for cotton weaving and bamboo-made bee-hive shaped houses. Spend a few days in Lower Omo Valley and experience ancient Ethiopia first hand.
Aksum is one of the main attractions in the historical circuit of Ethiopia. A small town in Northern parts of the country, Aksum is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited town in Sub-Saharan Africa. The heart of ancient Ethiopia, Aksum was the most powerful state between Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire. It is a haven for history buffs with huge ruins, dating between the 1st and the 13th Century AD, including giant stelae, royal tombs, monolithic obelisks and ruins of ancient castles. Start your trip at the famous Stelae Park that has 120 stone blocks, some of which stand tall at 33 meters. Each block is a monument dedicated to ancient emperors and has its own historical relevance. A visit to the Aksum museum is a must-do with relics from the Stelae Park and other gems that show how important Aksum was to the ancient rulers of the country. In addition, a visit to the Cathedral of Maryam Tsion is also important as it is the first church built in Ethiopia and has a small chapel known to be the home of the Ark of the Covenant. A trip to the Palace of the Queen of Sheba is worth it too.
Allamiro / CC BY-SA
Ethiopia is a must-visit destination in Africa with its unique cultural heritage, spectacular landscapes, thriving wildlife and rich history. So, visit Ethiopia and be enchanted by her mesmerizing past and experience her dynamic present.