Ethiopia has a proud and long history extending to the known beginnings of humankind. The fossils of our species’ earliest known ancestor was found in the Danakil Depression in north-east Ethiopia. The Axumite Kingdom was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world and has left behind the mystery of the great stellae found at Axum. In the late Middle Ages great religious civilizations flourished in many parts of the country, particularly at Lalibela where churches hewn out of massive monolithic rock testify not only to great faith but also to great architectural skills.
And in the former capital of Gondar many magnificent castles speak of the same legacy. All these would be enough to make Ethiopia a fascinating place to visit and travel through, but Ethiopia has so much more to offer. Here you can find virtually all the faces of African culture and its landscapes and much of its wildlife. You can travel through high meadow lands reminiscent of Europe or trek across even higher moorlands – in the Simien and Bale mountains – and see unique forms of Afro-Alpine plants, which here grow to an astonishing size. You can explore great rivers and lakes including Lake Tana, the source of the majestic Blue Nile whose valley is one of the world’s greatest, longest and deepest gorges. You can discover the savannahs and wetlands of our western region and visit the far south, which teems with wildlife and is home to fascinating ancient cultures.
In the great Rift Valley a necklace of beautiful lakes lies beneath the splendid panorama of the Bale Mountains. And in the and east, the walled city of Harar speaks of other old civilizations and great faiths, such as Islam. Many kilometers north of there lies the Danail Depression, one of the world’s most inhospitable but nonetheless dramatic landscapes which is also one of the hottest places on earth. Yet it is home to proud and independent Ethiopian people who have learned to live with their environment, even to benefit from it. Wherever you go on your journey through Ethiopia, as this book so amply illustrates, you will find many things to enjoy and marvel over, and you can at all times be sure of the warm hospitality of the Ethiopian people.
The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia extends its warm welcome and wholehearted support to visitors interested in our fabulous tourist attractions and to the investors needed as partners in the further development of our tourism resources.
Ethiopia is unique in many ways! It has its own alphabet, its own calendar, and a landscape that is unparalleled. The first civilization that we know much about was based in Axum and traded on the Red Sea with the Pharaohs of Egypt and later with the Romans and other Mediterranean powers. In the 4th century Christianity came to Ethiopia and an amazing period of church construction began which culminated in the incredible series of monolithic rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. Ethiopia has a magnificent cultural heritage, seven of which are included in the world cultural heritage list;
1. The Simene National Park (North Gondar Zone)
2. The Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (North Wollo Zone)
3. Castles of Gondar and other monuments of Gonder Style (Gondar)
4. Lower Valley of the Awash palaentological and prehistorical sites (Afar Region)
5. Tiya proto-historical and archeological sites, central Tigray (Tigray Region)
6. Axum historical and archeological sites, central Tigray (Tigray Region)
7. Valley of the Omo, palaenonotological and prehistoric sites (South Omo Zone)
The natural beauty of Ethiopia amazes a first-time visitor. Ethiopia is a land of rugged mountains (some 25 are over 4000 meters high) broad savannah, lakes and rivers. The unique Rift Valley is a remarkable region of volcanic lakes, with their famous collections of birdlife, great escarpments and stunning vistas. Tisisat, the Blue Nile falls, must rank as one of the greatest natural spectacles in Africa today. With 14 major wildlife reserves, Ethiopia provides a microcosm of the entire sub-Saharan ecosystem. Birdlife abounds, and indigenous animals from the rare Walia ibex to the shy wild ass, roam free just as nature intended. Ethiopia, after the rains, is a land decked with flowers and with many more native plants.
Tourists can get further information on many more natural, cultural, historical and archaeological tourist attractions; tour operators and hotels from the links below:
A Fascinating Destination not to be missed…
Ethiopia’s uniqueness makes it a fascinating destination for every kind of traveler, but in particular for the traveller who wants that bit more. Ethiopia’s historic sites are extremely wide-ranging and possibly the most extensive in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. Experts claim that such sites are only a fraction of what Ethiopia has to offer given that a further 95% remain to be discovered and excavated.
Archaeologists and anthropologists continually claim that the oldest hominid remains (Australopithecus ramidus, a new species, 4.4 million years old) were originally discovered here in the Afar region. More recent findings by Professor Tim White from the University of California, Berkeley, suggest that the earliest ape man lived in Ethiopia 5 million years ago (Daily Telegraph, Monday 18th January 1999).
Country and People
Country:- Ethiopia’s scenery is as diverse as its people and includes lakes, forests, savannah, depressions and deserts. In elevation it ranges from 120 metres below sea level in the harsh salt flats of the Danakil depression, to a 4624 meter peak in the Simien mountains. The Bale National Park in Oromia is the home of many endemic mammals and birds. For big game safaris the Omo and Mago National Parks situated in the Southern Region are strongly recommended.
People:- Ethiopia is home to more than 80 ethnic groups and a similar number of languages, the dominant religions being Christian and Muslim. However, one thing that unites all Ethiopians is their shared national independence having never truly been colonised, although occupied by Mussolini’s Fascists from 1935-1941. Consequently, Ethiopia has maintained what many refer to as its ‘Ethiopianness’, unlike many of its African neighbours now characterised by resonances of former colonial powers-
Travel to and in Ethiopia
Air – The national carrier is EAL (Ethiopian Airlines). Visitors are encouraged to use EAL for their international flights since priority is given to these clients when flying on the domestic circuit. Most travel between major towns and sites is easily accessible by air and prices are relatively cheap by international standards. EAL has an excellent safety record and is noted for its excellent service. In addition, British Mediterranean Airways now has regular flights from the UK to Ethiopia.
Road – In order to fully experience the vast array of Ethiopian scenery it is a good idea to travel by road. However, visitors must be aware that due to the nature of the terrain, road conditions in Ethiopia are poor. Consequently, travel by road can be time consuming and a four-wheel drive can be an advantage.
Climate and Clothing
Ethiopia has two seasons; the dry season prevailing from October through May, and the wet season, which runs from June to September. Light, summer clothes are suitable for daytime wear and a jacket or sweater is useful for the evening when the temperature is much cooler. Visitors to Ethiopia in the rainy season are reminded to pack suitable clothing if they intend to trek in the Simien or Bale mountains. Footwear for walking expeditions and visiting historic sites should be light but strong, thus sandals are not recommended.
Health and Health Precautions
On entering Ethiopia all visitors must be in possession of a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate. In addition, immunization against the following is strongly recommended: Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio.
Malaria can also be a big problem in Ethiopia so before leaving consult your doctor for a prescription for both chloroquine and paludrine. Insect repellent cream or spray is also extremely useful for mosquito bites.
The average temperature is about 25C and in the lower lying areas such as Awash, Omo and Mago parks it can be considerably higher. Visitors coming from cooler climates are advised to use protection against the sun.
Due to an increase in the number of reported cases of AIDS visitors are advised to take the necessary precautions in the event of any planned or unplanned sexual encounters.
The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera, a flat, circular pancake made of fermented dough. Various side dishes of meat, pulses and vegetables along with sauces which are generally spiced are also served with injera. The injera is either topped with these side servings or it can be torn off and used to pick up the sauces and fillings.
In Ethiopia it is traditional to eat with the right hand and water for washing one’s hands is usually brought to the table before the dish is served.
The top two 5 star hotels – Hilton Addis Ababa and the Sheraton Addis – are situated in Addis Ababa along with several other tourist class hotels. Outside of Addis Ababa the standards vary immensely with the Hotels in the north being generally better than the hotels in the south. Overall, rooms are very clean and comfortable with en suite toilet and shower.
Photos – Vistors should request permission before taking peoples photographs. Generally, there are no problems about photographs with the exception of some areas, particularly in Afar and in the Omo valley. In these regions people may ask for money. Photography in churches is allowed. Video photography in famous tourist attractions such as the Blue Nile Falls carry a charge. In some areas such as airports and around military camps photography may be prohibited altogether.
Visas – Visitors will require a visa. For visitors traveling from countries where there is no Ethiopian embassy, arrangements can be made with tour operators to collect a visa at the airport on arrival.
Electricity – Voltage is 220.
Tipping – Most hotels and restaurants have a service charge, however tipping is not taboo.
Taxis – There are no set taxi prices. All fares are subject to negotiation; therefore it is a good idea to agree on a price before starting a journey.
Useful Books and Guides –
1. The Lonely Planet Guide to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti
2. Bradt Guide to Ethiopia
3. Collins Birds of East Africa
4. Ethiopian Amharic Phrasebook – Lonely Planet
5. The Blue Nile – Alan Morehead
6. Spectrum Guide to Ethiopia (English and German editions)
Major Tourist Attractions
Ethiopia has a maginificent cultural heritage, seven of these are included in the world cultural heritage list:
1. The Simien National Park (North Gondar Zone)
2. The Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (North Wollo Zone)
3. Castles of Gondar and other monuments of Gonder Style (Gondar)
4. Lower Valley of the Awash palaentological and prehistoric sites (AfarRegion)
5. Tiya pre-historical and archaeological sites, central Tigray (Tigray Region)
6. Axum historical and archaeological sites, central Tigray (Tigray Region)
7. Valley of the Omo, palaentological and prehistoric sites (South Omo Zone)
The natural beauty of Ethiopia amazes the first-time visitor. Ethiopia is a land of rugged mountains (some are over 4000 meters high) broad savannah, lakes and rivers. The unique Rift Valley is a remarkable region of volcanic lakes, with their famous collections of birdlife, great escarpments and stunning vistas. Tisisat, the Blue Nile falls, must rank as one of the greatest natural spectacles in Africa today. With 14 major wildlife reserves, Ethiopia provides a microcosm of the entire subsaharan eco-system. Birdlife abounds and indigenous animals from the rare Walis Ibex to the shy wild ass roam free just as nature intended. Ethiopia, after the rains, is a land decked with flowers and with many more native plants than most countries in Africa. Among the many natural tourist attractions, only the principal ones are briefly given below.
The Simien Mountain National Park
The Simien mountain massif is one of the major highlands of Africa, rising to the highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen (4620m), which is the fourth highest peak in the continent. Although Simien is in Africa and not too far from the equator, snow and ice appear on the highest points and night temperatures often fall below zero.
The national park has three general botanical regions. The higher lands are mountain grasslands with fescue grasses as well as heathers, splendid Red Hot Pokers and Giant Lobelia. The park was created primarily to protect the Walia Ibex, and over 1000 are said to live in the park. Also in the park are families of the unique Gelada Baboon with its scarlet ‘bleeding heart on its chest,’ and the rare Simien fox. The Simien fox, although named after the mountains is rarely seen by the visitor. Over 50 species of birds have been reported in the Simien Mountains.
Access to the park is from Debark, 101km from Gonder, where riding and pack animals may be hired. This should be arranged in advance through your local tour operator or the Office of the Wildlife Conservation Department.
The Blue Nile Falls (Tisisat Falls)
The River Nile, the longest river in Africa, in Ethiopia. From Lake Tana, the Blue Nile, known locally as Abbay, flows from Ethiopia to meet the white Nile in Khartoum to form the great river that gives life to Egypt and the Sudan. It has been said that the Blue Nile contributes up to 80% of the Nile’s flow. Nowhere is it more spectacular than when it thunders over the Tisisat Falls near Bahar Dar. Here millions of gallons of water cascade over the cliff face and into a gorge, creating spectacular rainbows, in one of the most awe-inspiring displays in Africa, earning its name ‘Smoking Water’. The Blue Nile falls can easily be reached from Bahar Dar and the Scenic beauty of the Blue Nile Gorge, 225KM from Addis Ababa, can be enjoyed as part of an excursion from the capital.
Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile from where it starts its long journey to Khartoum and on to the Mediterranean. The 37 islands that are scattered about the surface of the Lake shelter fascinating churches and monastries, some of which have histories dating back to the 13th Century. However, it should be noted that most of the religious houses are not open to women. The most interesting islands are:
Birgida Mariam, Dega Estefanous, Dek, Narga, Tana Cherkos, Mitsele Fasiledes, Kebran and Debre Maryam. Kebran Gabriel is the principal monastery which can be visited by male tourists from Bahar Dar with its impressive Cathedral-like Building first built at the end of the 17th Century. Dega Estephanos, which is also closed to women, is on an island in the lake, and is reached by a very steep and winding path. Although the church is relatively new (only one hundred years old), it houses a Madonna painted in the 15th century. However, the treasury of the monastery is a prime attraction with the remains of several emperors, as well as their robes and jewels. On the banks of the lake are many more religious houses such as Ura Kidane Mehret and Narga Selassie, many of which are open to women.
Near Gorgora, at the northern end of the lake, the Susneyos palace is a forerunner of the magnificent palaces and castles of Gonder, and dates from the reign of Emperor Susneyos. In the same area the medieval church of Debre Sina Mariam is particularly important. A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in Bahir Dar. Along the lakeshore bird life, both local and migratory visitors, make this an ideal place for birdwatchers. Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasilidas island, which is especially famous as an important wetland. The whole of the lake Tana region and the Blue Nile Gorge have a wide variety of birds both endemic and visitors. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to rain forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.
The Sof Omar Cave
Sof Omar is one of the most spectacular and extensive underground cave systems in the world. Formed by the Wabi River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved out a new channel through limestone foothills, the Sof Omar systems is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty.
The cave which is now an important Islamic Shrine was named after the saintly Sheikh Sof Omar who took refuge here many centuries ago. The cave has a religious history that predates the arrival of the Muslims in Bale – a history calculated in thousands of years.
The Rift Valley
The Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is part of the famous East African Rift Valley, comprises numerous hot springs, beautiful lakes and a variety of wildlife. The valley is the result of two parallel faults in the earth’s surface, between which in distant geological time, the crust was weakened and the land subsided. Ethiopia is often referred to as the ‘water tower’ of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off the high tableland. The Great Rift Valley’s passage through Ethiopia is marked by a chain of seven lakes. Each of the seven lakes has its own special life and character and provides ideal habitats for the exuberant variety of flora and fauna that make the region a beautiful and exotic destination for tourists. Most of the lakes are suitable and safe for swimming and other water sports. Lakes Abiata and Shalla are ideal places for bird watchers. Most of the Rift Valley lakes are not fully exploited for tourists except lake Langano where tourist class hotels are built. The Rift Valley is also a site of numerous natural hot springs and the chemical contents of the hot springs are highly valued for their therapeutic purposes though at present they are not fully utilised. In short, the Rift Valley is endowed with many beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs, warm and pleasant climate and a variety of wildlife. It is considered as one of the most ideal areas for the development of international tourism in Ethiopia.
The Awash National Park
Lying in the lowlands at the east of Addis Ababa and striding the Awash River, the Awash National Park is one of the finest reserves in Ethiopia. The Awash river, one of the major rivers of the horn of Africa, waters important agricultural lands in the north of Ethiopia and eventually flows into the wilderness of the Danakil Depression. The dramatic Awash Falls, as the river tumbles into its gorge, is the sight not to be missed in the national park. Awash national park, surrounding the dormant volcano of Fantale, is a reserve of arid and semi-arid woodland and savannah, with riverain forests along the Awash river. Forty six species of animals have been identified here, including beisa oryx and Swayne’s heartbeest. The bird life is prolific especially along the river and in the nearby lake Basaka and there are fine endemic amongst the 392 species recorded. A special attraction is the beautiful clear pools of the Filwoha hot springs. Access to the park is best from the main Addis Assab highway, and there is a caravan lodge called Kereyu Lodge at the edged of the gorge.
The Omo National Park
One of the most beautiful national parks in Ethiopia, its 4068 km of wilderness bordered by the Omo river, is home to an amazing range of wildlife. 306 species of birds have been identified here, while large herds of eland, some buffalo, elephants, giraffe, cheetah, lion, leopard, Burchell’s zebra are not uncommon.
The park is not easily accessible, as the current means of access is via Omorate and the ferry to the north bank of the river. The park HQ is 75 km from Kibish settlement. However, a new airstrip is available close to the HQ and a pleasant campsite on the Mui River – plans are in hand for further major improvements.
The Mago National Park
Covering an area of 2162 km on the banks of the Omo River, the Mago National Park is relatively undeveloped for tourists. The broad grasslands teem with herds of buffalo, giraffe, elephants and kudu, while sometimes it is possible to find lions, leopards and Burchell’s zebra. The abundant bird life here is typical of dry grasslands and river banks.
The Gambala National Park
In these areas many interesting species of animals and birds can often be seen by the visitor. According to the wild life information office, Dowsett Forbs has identified 813 species of birds, 596 residents and 224 regular seasonal migrants in Ethiopia.