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Ethiopia

A land of unlikely contrasts, unique fauna, spectacular cultures and jaw-dropping scenery.

Tailor-Made Holidays
To Ethiopia

Landlocked within the horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a nation of remarkable diversity with an ancient Christian heritage, surprising wildlife, vibrant cultures and jaw-dropping scenery.

The country is bordered to the north by Eritrea, to the east by Somalia and Djibouti, to the west by Sudan and South Sudan and to the south by Kenya.

Formerly known as Abyssinia, Ethiopia appears to be one of the earliest cradles of mankind and has produced some of our oldest hominid skeletal remains, including those of “Lucy” which date back 3.2 million years and are on display in the National Museum of the capital, Addis Ababa.

With 3.3 million people, Addis Ababa has the largest share of Ethiopia’s 102 million population. Much of the country is surprisingly fertile with many grains such as teff, wheat, barley, corn and millet grown and exported through the port in Djibouti.

Ethiopia is justifiably famous for its fascinating ancient history and tribal cultures.  The spectacular rock-hewn churches of Lalibela dating back to the 12th Century, the ruins of Axum and the impressive monasteries in Bahir Dar are among its best known archaeological sites.

Ethiopia is special within Africa for having truly dramatic mountain scenery: indeed, the Simien Mountains are often referred to as the “The Roof of Africa”. With such breathtaking highland vistas and endemic fauna and flora, Ethiopia contains landscapes and wildlife not often associated with Africa.

Among its most striking species are the graceful Ethiopian wolf, ground-dwelling gelada baboon, sure-footed Walia ibex, majestic lammergeier and magnificent mountain nyala. The avifauna of Ethiopia totals 924 species, of which 23 are endemic and three are rare or accidental. The birdlife is particularly remarkable for its tameness, as birds are rarely persecuted and thus will allow close approach by humans.

Ethiopia also boasts lush primary cloud forests to the south, and vast lakes and more typical African savanna along the Great Rift Valley. All told, Ethiopia is certainly a destination to be savoured.

An image caption based on something written in the destination intro. E.g. wonderful shot of an inquisitive young Gorilla in Nyungwe park

Photography by Reef & Rainforest

Best Time To Visit Ethiopia

October to April is the driest period. This is also when the wintering Palearctic birds are present and the settled weather makes for optimal wildlife viewing. However, during the wetter months there is a mixture of brief tropical rainstorms and sustained periods of clear blue skies, providing beautiful light and lush greenery for fabulous photography.

Ethiopia Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

Approximately 7.5 hours directly from London to Addis Ababa.

Time Zone

GMT +3

Language

Amharic

Population

102 million

Highlights

What To See

Lake Langano

Located around 200 km south of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley, Lake Langano is a must stop for birdwatchers travelling through Ethiopia. The Lake itself is said to be free of Bilharzia, making it a popular spot for swimming and water sports amongst locals.

Due to its high mineral and sulpher content though it has a milky brown colour and is less diverse in terms of waterbirds than Lake Awassa and Lake Abijatta. However its wooded surrroundings are an important refuge for a wide range of endemic, resident and migratory bird species. Species such as Hemprich’s and Von Der Decken’s hornbills, white-cheeked turaco, little and blue-cheeked bee-eaters, Nubian woodpecker, superb starling, yellow-fronted and African orange-bellied parrots, banded barbet and bare-faced go-away bird are all regualry spotted. While mammals include hippos in the lake and guereza black-and-white colobus, African civets and occassional aardvarks in the woodland.

Lalibela

Lalibela’s incredible rock hewn churches represent a masterpiece of archaeological work in the 12th Century must surely be Ethiopia’s top historical attraction.

Located in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, Lalibela is one of the most important pilgrim sites for followers of the Orthodox Church in the country. Named after King Lalibela whose vision was to create a New Jerusalem, the twelve monolithic rock hewn churches at the site have been remarkably sculpted out of the hard volcanic rock and sandstone by hand. This was all completed during the 12th and 13th Centuries and other churches have been skilfully built into the side of caves and mountains and some even have connecting tunnels. Bet Medhane Alem (the largest) and St George’s churches are two of the most impressive and the site is listed as a World Heritage Site and often referred to as a wonder of the world.

Inside the churches you may see priests at work and have the opportunity to see the Lalibela holy crosses and religious artefacts stored inside.

Omo Valley

The Omo Valley in the far south of Ethiopia is a remote and wild region of the country with a typical East African ecosystem with rolling grasslands, riverine forests and plenty of wildlife. However it is the fascinating tribes that live in the valley and region that are what makes a visit to the Omo Valley so unique.

There are more than 16 different ethnic tribes living in the region and all have their own unique belief systems, customs, rituals, dress and way of life that is far removed from the modern world. It has often been said that the tribes of the Omo Valley have some of the oldest and most fascinating cultures in the world and the people here still live integrated as part of the ecosystem. Many of the villages here are now open to visits which have to be carefully and sensitively organised and there are only a handful of small and basic lodges.

It is best to visit the area when it’s dry in September and early October, December and January and May and June.

 

Gondar

This northern city was the former Capital of Ethiopia during the time of the Ethiopian Empire until 1855 and is steeped in history. Located in a low bowl among rolling hills, on the Lesser Angereb River Gondar also acts as the gateway to the Simien Mountains further to the north and Lake Tana to the south.

Gondar’s past was one of high wealth and it is famed for its castles and palaces built in the 16th and 17th Century within the impressive Royal Enclosure (Fasil Ghebbi) which still stands strong today thanks to the work of UNESCO.

Gondar is also celebrated for the intricate artworks of the Debre Berhan Selassie Church, the only church here to have survived from the 17th Century. This incredible stone and thatch church is also built inside a walled enclosure. On entering the church, it is difficult to know where to look, with every interior wall beautifully painted with biblical scenes, Saints and 135 Cherubs covering the ceiling. The city is today still an important religious centre for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is rich in both ancient and modern history and culture.

 

Lake Awassa

Situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley about 300 km south of Addis Ababa, Awassa is one of Ethiopia’s most attractive lakes, supporting a wide variety of water birds and hippos. With a surface area of 129 square kilometres and fringed by wetlands, woodlands and numerous small villages, Lake Awassa also has a very large population of Nile tilapia fish which in 1950 gave rise to a commercial fish market on the lake shore. The market today attracts hundreds of hopeful marabou storks which show no fear of people, thus affording excellent photographic opportunities. There is plenty of other birdlife on the lake, with the wooded edges providing good habitat for species such as red-throated wryneck and vervet monkey.

Simien Mountains

Found in the north of Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains form a rugged range created by volcanic eruptions 20 million years ago and reaching altitudes of over 4,000 metres. Since then they have been transformed by erosion and 2,000 years of agriculture to arrive at their present day appearance. The mountains were designated a National Park in 1969 to preserve a series of spectacular escarpments, sheer cliffs, deep gorges and grassy ridges and plateaus which support some of Ethiopia’s best Afro-montane flora and fauna communities.

The Simien’s most famous resident is the gelada baboon, one of the most expressive and charismatic primates in Africa. Oddly, it grazes the grassy mountain tops in herds up to 200 strong. The endemic Walia ibex is another denizen of these highlands, as are the leopard and the highly endangered Ethiopian wolf. Birdlife is hard to miss in the Simien Mountains, with birds of prey particularly well represented and the aptly named thick-billed raven another highlight. The majestic mountains are hugely popular for hikers and there are some sensational ridge-top walks, waterfalls and stunning panoramas to enjoy.

Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is Africa’s fourth-largest city and its diplomatic capital. Founded more than a century ago, its name means “new flower” in Amharic. At an elevation of 2,400m (7,874 ft), it’s the third highest capital in the world and the climate is pleasantly cool. The city mixes past and present, the streets a mishmash of expensive cars and old Russian (Lada model) taxis, along with donkeys, sheep, and goats. Traditional mud houses stand not far from austere fascist architecture and private-sector banks. Located on a well-watered plateau surrounded by hills and mountains, in the geographic centre of the country, it serves as one of the best places to sample Ethiopian food, and has some wonderful museums and places to stay. However, t is also a capital city that many foreign visitors try to transit out of as quickly as possible due to its high amount of traffic. The city is served by Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, where a new terminal opened in 2003.

The highland climate regions are characterized by dry winters, and Mid-November to January is the dry season in Addis Ababa. During this season the daily maximum temperatures are usually not more than 23 °C (73 °F), and the night-time minimum temperatures can drop to freezing. The short rainy season is from February to May.

Notable buildings include St George’s Cathedral founded in 1896 (also home to a museum), Holy Trinity Cathedral (once the largest Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral and the location of Sylvia Pankhurst’s tomb) as well as the burial place of Emperor Haile Selassie and the Imperial family, and those who fought the Italians during the World War II.

It is where the African Union has its headquarters and where its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was based. It also hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), as well as various other continental and international organizations. Addis Ababa is therefore often referred to as “the political capital of Africa” for its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent.

Addis Ababa has a distinct architectural style. Unlike many African cities, it was not built as a colonial settlement. This means that the city does not show a European style of architecture. However, this changed with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936. The Piazza district in the city center is the most evident indicator of Italian influence, with buildings that are very much Italian and many Italian restaurants, as well as small cafes, and European-style shopping centers.

Bale Mountains

Located 400km southeast of Addis Ababa, the Bale Mountains National Park contains a spectacularly diverse landscape containing high altitude moorlands, rugged peaks, lush cloud forest, tumbling mountain streams and rolling grasslands. The afro-montane Sanetti Plateau in the Park rises to over 4,000m in altitude and includes the highest peak in the Southern Ethiopia highlands, Mount Tullu Dimtu. This wild and windswept plateau features numerous glacial lakes and swamps and is surrounded by higher volcanic ridges and peaks. The southern slopes of the Park are covered by the lush and largely unexplored Harenna Forest. The Bale Mountains National Park is perhaps the ultimate destination in Ethiopia for wildlife watchers, birders, nature enthusiasts and hikers due to its fantastic diversity of flora and fauna and breath-taking landscapes.

Visitors can also explore this park, one of the highest in Africa, on foot, vehicle and also by horseback and besides enjoying the wildlife also learn how honey and the local wild coffee is harvested by the communities.

The Afro-alpine Sanetti Plateau is the most unusual of the park’s habitats and is only made accessible by the highest all weather road in Africa. This rocky moorland environment with its rushing boulder strewn highland streams and bogs could almost resemble the Highlands of Scotland, if it was not for the giant lobelias and kniphofia (red hot poker) and numerous giant mole rats. This almost moon like landscape is the domain of the beautiful Ethiopian wolf and as many 120 – 180 of these critically endangered canids can be found here. Despite their rarity, they are surprisingly easy to observe as they conveniently hunt the abundant and endemic mole rats during the middle of the day and out in the open.

The plateau actually supports one of the highest densities of rodents in Africa and this abundant food source attracts many birds of prey in addition to the raptors. Other high altitude avian specialities here include the blue-winged goose, wattled ibis, spot-breasted lapwing, rouget’s and Ethiopian black –headed siskin. Lower down lush forests of juniper-hagenia produce a wonderful moss and lichen rich habitat for the elegant mountain nyala and secretive Abyssinian long-eared owl. While lower still, the boggy Gaysay Grasslands at the northern entrance to the park attract herds of warthog, bohor reedbuck and olive baboons as well as the occasional serval.

Bale’s most intriguing habitat of all though is perhaps its misty Harenna Forest on the southern slopes. This huge area of mostly primary forest supports a tremendous biodiversity and many new species to science have even been discovered here in recent years. The dense forest hides Menelik’s bushbucks, giant forest hogs, bushpigs and even a rare population of Abyssinian black-maned lions. The Bale monkey, an endemic relative of the vervet monkey has evolved to feed on the abundant bamboo within the Forest and is found nowhere else on earth. There is also outstanding birdlife to be seen here with white-cheeked turacos, Abyssinian catbirds, African emerald cuckoos, crowned eagles and Abyssinian orioles in addition to many localised reptiles (including the Bale two-horned chameleon), amphibians and butterflies.

The Bale Mountains is also one of the few locations in the world where truly wild coffee plants can still be found growing in remote shaded corners of the Harenna Forest. This National Park really is a treasure to Ethiopia.

Featured

Wildlife Holidays

Accommodation

Featured Places To Stay

Haile Resort Lake Awassa

With Lake Awassa right on the doorstep, this stunning resort is a highlight when...

Simien Lodge

The highest lodge in Africa, situated at 3260 m above sea level close to the Sim...

Maribela Hotel

One of the most comfortable and traditional hotels in Lalibela, overlooking a dr...

Sora Lodge

A small, family run lodge with authentic Tukul hut rooms and superb evening suns...

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Destination Map

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Ethiopia: 8.980603, 38.757761

Your Very Own

Ethiopia Specialist

Ian Loyd

Area Specialist

Ethiopia combines well with countries such as Tanzania for a more typical African big game safaris. It also works well for those interested in Africa’s great apes, having excellent flight connections with Uganda and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). One can also add Madagascar for lemurs, rainforests and stunning beaches fringed by coral reefs: Ethiopian Airways now has direct flights from Addis Ababa to the Big Red Island.

If you have any questions regarding travel to Ethiopia, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965