Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most beautiful countries and its landscapes are epic in both scale and beauty. Here is a place where you can trek more than 3000m above sea level (the Simien and Bale mountains) or visit the lowest place on the African continent, the Danakil Depression. In between, there are lush highlands and stirring deserts, vertiginous canyons and sweeping savannah, vast lakes and high plateaus. If you look hard enough, you’ll also find landmarks of great significance, from the source of the Blue Nile to, again, the mesmerisingly desolate Danakil Depression, peppered with an astonishing 25% of Africa’s active volcanoes.
Peoples with Proud Traditions
When it comes to human cultures, Ethiopia has an embarrassment of riches. There are the Surmi, Afar, Mursi, Karo, Hamer, Nuer and Anuak, whose ancient customs and traditions have remained almost entirely intact. Venturing into these communities and staying among them is akin to receiving a privileged initiation into a forgotten world. A highlight of any trip here is witnessing one of the many festivals that are an integral part of the traditional culture, from age-old ceremonies marking rites of passage to Christian celebrations of singular passion, the impact upon those who witness such events can provide travel memories to last a lifetime.
Ethiopia, the only African country to have escaped European colonialism, has retained much of its cultural identity and its story is one of Africa’s most fascinating. It all begins with Lucy, one of our most celebrated ancient ancestors, moves effortlessly into the realm of ancient Aksum with its oblelisks and echoes of the Queen of Sheba, and then takes on power and passion as Christianity, with mysterious echoes of Ancient Israel, takes centre stage. And unlike so many other places in Africa, the ancients here left behind some extraordinary monuments to faith and power which serve as focal points for so many wonderful journeys.
Simien Mountains National Park
Rock-hewn Churches of Tigray
The 120-odd churches are as intriguing as the landscape is beautiful. Very different from the more famous monolithic (carved out of the ground and only left attached to the earth at the base) churches of Lalibela, the Tigrayan churches are carved from cliff faces, built into pre-existing caves, or constructed high atop some improbable perch getting to some of them may not be for the faint-hearted, but getting there is almost always half the fun. And beyond a few famous churches, you’ll likely get to explore on your own, even in the high season.
Bale Mountains National Park
Up in the hills are deep gorges, alpine lakes, rushing streams, several waterfalls, lava flows and views that go on almost forever. It would probably be as popular as the Simien Mountains if it wasn’t located in such a remote corner of the country. For hikers, nature lovers, birders and wildlife watchers, the Bale Mountains National Park is a must.