As one of the oldest sites of human existence, Ethiopia is a country bursting with unique historical secrets. The second largest country in Africa has natural beauty, with her soaring mountains and rushing rivers, a spirit that sees her overcome any adversities and the survival of ancient tribal traditions, and a heart as big as her land mass. An incredible range of animals, some endangered, have chosen Ethiopia as their home, and one look at the diverse landscape immediately tells you why. Ethiopia may be one of Africa¬ís poorer countries, but she will richly reward you with a travel experience like no other.
Exquisite and exclusive to Ethiopia, Lalibela¬ís rock-hewn churches are cultural and structural delights not to be missed. Not only pleasing to the eye, these twelfth-century churches are also engineering marvels, using an artesian geological system that brings the water up to the top of the mountain ridge on which Lalibela rests. Many theories echo around these ancient churches as to the exact how, why and when of their origin. Absorb their wonder in person and either come to your own conclusions, or envelop yourself in the glorious mystery. In the immortal words of Francisco Alvares, one of the first Europeans to sight them in 1515, these monolithic churches are ¬ďthe ultimate in rock-church design.... One is amazed at the technical skill, the material resources and the continuity of effort which such vast undertakings imply.¬Ē
Ethiopia¬ís holiest city, former capital and once home to the Queen of Sheba, Axum¬ís assorted history will please every traveller. Marvel at the Lioness of Gobedra rock art. Be wowed by the 4th-century Ta`akha Maryam and 6th-century Dungur palaces. Soak in the holy splendor of this pilgrimage destination during the T`imk`et Festival (known as the Epiphany in western Christianity) on 7 January and the Festival of Maryam Zion in late November. Admire the town¬ís distinctive giant obelisks (stelae), some of which date from 500-2000 BC. Step inside St Mary of Zion church, allegedly holding the Ark of the Covenant. Most of all, revel in the fact that you stand in a city once the centre of one of the third century¬ís most powerful empires.
Blue Nile Falls
Admiring the Blue Nile Falls from afar, it becomes clear why the Amharic name for this magnificent waterfall is Tis Abay, meaning ¬ďsmoking water¬Ē. A pillar of cloud rises from Lake Tana below, almost otherworldly as Tis Abay¬ís awesome power rumbles through your body. Ecology fans will find much of interest around here: the Blue Nile Falls isolate Lake Tana¬ís ecology from the rest of the Nile, playing a vital role in the evolution of the precious endemic fauna of the lake. There¬ís something for history fans too: Ethiopia¬ís first stone bridge can be found at this site, built under Emperor Susenyos in 1626. Immerse yourself in Tis Abay¬ís natural beauty and all that this waterfall means to Ethiopia past and present.
Witness living ancient history in the Omo Valley, where over 200,000 tribal people still faithfully adhere to their ancestors¬í traditions. No two tribes are the same: while a Hamer man comes of age by leaping over a line of cattle, the Suri tribe uses cattle to define wealth. The diversity continues onto the magnificent tribal attire: the clay lip-plates of the Muris women, the mud-covered, blue-painted, feather adorned heads of the Turkana men. Long after you arrive back home, the variety of colour, culture and customs of the Omo Valley tribes will continue to move and inspire you. For those who love to spot wildlife, some fearsome creatures that can be found in the two national parks (the Omo, and the Mago) include the Bitis Arietans (venomous snake), crocodiles and hippopotamuses.
Mountains and Landscapes
This spectacular UNESCO protected site will not fail to take your breath away, especially from the top of Ras Dahan, the Simien Mountains¬í, and Ethiopia¬ís, highest point at 4,543m above sea level. Be awestruck in the landscape¬ís every direction, from the deep valleys to the jagged mountain peaks. Once again, wildlife lovers will get a thrill from Ethiopia¬ís animal range: over 20 large mammal species and over 130 bird species reside in the park. Amongst these, you can spot the gelada baboon, the carcal (a large cat) and the three metre wing-spanned lammergeiger (a bearded vulture). Endangered species can also be found, including the Ethiopian wolf and the walia ibex, a wild goat found nowhere else in the world. Some say the Simien mountains is considered to rival Colorado¬ís Grand Canyon; the only way to find out is to see them for yourself.
A visitor to Southern Ethiopia is lucky to be offered not only one, but two majestic and distinctive mountain ranges. Grassland areas, waist-high wildflowers and juniper trees make up much of the landscape of Bale Mountains National Park, along with dazzling alpine lakes and streams. The Harenna Forest covers almost half of the park, and offers gorgeous lichen-draped giant trees. More endemic animals live in the Bale Mountains than any other terrestrial habitat in the world. Just like the Simien mountains, the Ethiopian wolf makes his home here, as well as the mountain nyala (a spiral-horned antelope), the Bale monkey and the giant mole rat. Look down from the second highest point in Ethiopia, Tulu Dimtu at 4,377m above sea level, take a deep breath, and smile at all that Ethiopia¬ís unbelievable landscape has to offer.
Rift Valley Lakes
Running through the whole eastern side of Africa from north to south, the Rift Valley lakes are a must-see within any South Ethiopia tour. If the sheer scale of their distribution is not impressive enough, these lakes are some of the oldest, largest and deepest in the whole world. The lakes are as varied as South Ethiopia¬ís tribes, from the tranquility at Lake Awasa, to the aquatic sports at Lake Langano, to the lakes¬í best bird-watching spot at Lake Abijatta. Climb to the hill that divides Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo, and see why it is often labelled ¬ďthe bridge of heaven¬Ē. On the edge of the lakes, you may find the Ganjulle and Gujji tribes going about their daily lives, while in the lakes themselves, an army of crocodiles lurk alongside 800 cichlid species of fish. Whatever you are looking for, the Rift Valley Lakes can provide a special spot just for you.