Why Ethiopia many have asked? For us, this fabled land is home to far too much history, diverse landscapes and fascinating wildlife to ignore. This completely land locked country truly has the most beautiful people. Children are curious, women are stunning and men are warm and welcoming. The landscapes will take you by surprise, from deep river gorges and high mountains to volcanic depressions and forests. It is the birthplace of coffee and the first region to officially adopt Christianity as its religion back in the 4th century. Remnants of this history are evident in beautiful areas with monasteries along Lake Tana and rock hewn churches in Lalibela. Finally, Ethiopia is literally stuck in the past because it has a different calendar, adding a leap day every four years and beginning its new year in August. So an Ethiopia holiday is only for those who can appreciate the simple things, arriving with an open mind and leaving with a new found appreciation.
Our Ethiopia African safari holiday packages and Ethiopia Tours take in the very best the country has to offer, from its sensational buzzing capital city, mystic mountains with fascinating religious history to the diversity of wilderness and unique wildlife.
With an area of 1,112,000 square kilometres, Ethiopia is as large as France and Spain combined. The population is more than 90 million, the second most populated country in Africa. There are 83 languages spoken with 200 dialects and the three main ones are Amharic, Tigrigna and Oromigna. 90% of the population earns a living from the land as subsistence farmers.
Welcome to Ethiopia’s capital city. Founded in 1886, this wonderfully vibrant, culturally rich and divinely devoted city now buzzes with energy and offers visitors insight into its history through museums, galleries and the largest market in Africa called ‘Mercato’ where you can barter for a bargain. Addis as it’s affectionately referred to is the third highest capital city in the world and surrounded by captivating landscapes of the Entoto mountains. It’s a buzzing city and you can seek out bartering experiences in the largest market in Africa known as ‘Mercato’. As the gateway to any Ethiopia holiday, we always recommend at least one night here. Did you know that The Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis is one of the largest churches in the country and the resting place for the royal family and leaders gone by?
Bahir Dar & Lake Tana
Not quite a beach resort, but this region does offer a relaxed vibe with Bahir Dar located along the southern strech of Lake Tana. Lake Tana is the biggest lake in Ethiopia and more importantly, the true source of the Nile. There is much to see and do in the area from boat tours in the lake, visits to island monasteries and the opportunity to get close to the Blue Nile Falls, 400 metres wide and some 45 metres tall. Our personal favourite here is Ura Kidane Mihret, one of the most famous monasteries for its sensationally painted interior and impressive collection of religious artefacts.
Part of the mystic north, Lalibela is the ‘African Jerusalem’, perched high on a mountain top adding to its mystery. Here, there are eleven rock-hewn and absolutely spectacular churches to explore, each with a very unique architectural style. For the most breathtaking view, we recommend you head to Bet Giyorgis, a monolithic cross shaped church. The entire city of Lalibela is best described as a sculpture dedicated to the glory of God… someone said that to us once and from first hand experience it is so true.
Gondar (also spelt Gonder) is truly a royal and ancient historical city of Ethiopia. Founded by Emperor Fasilidas in the 16th century, Gondar was the very first capital of the Abyssinian Empire. A visit to the Castel Compound of Gondar, known as Fasil Ghebbi is a must along with Debre Birhan Selassie Church. This church is significant and a special experience as 100 angel faces look down on you. The ruins of Qusquam Palace in which James Bruice once resided offers another glimpse into Ethiopia’s past. If you decide to travel in January or late September, you can experience religious ceremonies of Timket (the historial bath pool is filled at Fasiladas Bath Timket for blessing and baptism of pilgrims) and Meskel, the country’s most mesmerising Orthodox Christian festival.
This is one of the last ‘greatest civilisations of antiquity’ which has actually been formally recognised and thus worth a visit on your Ethiopia holiday. It is a mysterious town known for being the home of Queen of Sheba and resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Amongst the uniquely carved and ancient steles, you will find many other archeological riches from the Axumite Empire.
Within its namesake national park, this is Ethiopia’s most popular hiking destination. Simien is the steepest mountain and the highest peak in the country is Ras Dashen some 4,543 metres above sea level. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a must visit. Simien Mountains are home to three sensational, endemic mammals including the Walia Ibex, the Gelada Baboon and the Red Fox.
Remote, little visited Bale Mountains National Park is impressive in epic proportions. Travsersing a somewhat ethereal lunar landscape of the Sanetti plateau you’ll need thick skin to drive here along Africa’s highest all weather road, even with your guide, avoiding giant rocks, pot holes and puddles. It’s then time to switchback down the steep 1,500 metre escarpment into the lushness of Harenna Forest. You are a world away from churches and castles here and closer to a lost world than you may ever consider imaginable! The forest is like a fairyland with gnarled trees, enormous canopy and damp mossy floors. The national park is home to an impressive number of endemic species and the densest concentration of large mammals in the country. Our favourite animal in the area to spot if you can is the Ethiopian wolf, also the world’s rarest canid and Africa’s most endangered carnivore alongside the wilddog.
The Omo Valley
Forming the heart of the colourful south, the Omo Valley has kept multiple cultures and traditions alive for generations. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its archeological and geological importance. Expect diverse ecosystems along the lower valley, stunning Omo river which is the source of life binding the different tribes with nature and the nearby Jinka, home to the South Omo Research Centre and Ethnological Museum. East of Jinka is Key Afer, the biggest and most colourful market where the Tseay, Ari and Bana people trade.
In the far north of the country, Tigray is the most ancient dating back more than 3 milleniums. It forms part of the country’s historical circuit, home to the Yeha Temple, the oldest monument and over one hundred rock hewn churches between the towns of Adigrat and Mekelle. Filled with treasures like the prayer cross of the first bishop of Ethiopia, the Abraha Atsbha and Wukro Cherkos are the most accessible. One for males only is the notable Tigray 6th century Debre Damo which is nestled on a cliff that is only accessible by rope (and for men).
You could say that Ethiopia almost sags under the weight of its cultural treasures not to mention the UNESCO World Heritage site Lalibela. One of the oldest Christian nations, the late 12th century Gebre Mesqel Lalibela created 13 churches all carved out of solid rock and each one is still incredibly impressive nine centuries on. There is actually an Ethiopia Historical Circuit and it’s well worth travelling for insight into the country’s religions, stories and sagas.
Ethiopia boasts some of the most spectacular and challenging treks through beautiful terrains. Treks are organised for your safety and comfort, with teams including guides, porters and mules who take the load of luggage and provisions. The Simien Mountains offer world famous treks with nature and you get close to troops of Gelada Baboons, Walia Ibex and the Simien Fox. Bale Mountain’s lush fairytale forests are great for both walking and horseriding.
A country renowned for its coffee, we can take you through the highlands of Ethiopia where you’ll learn about the legendary story of goat herder Kaldi, explore the historical kingdom of Kafa and experience first hand a traditional coffee ceremony. Drive through the almost sacred coffee ground, Yirga Cheffe and taste high quality coffee in the Sidamo region. Rest in bungalows on a coffee plantation, drink coffee in Jimma and take a boat trip to the monastries of Bahir Dar’s Lake Tana where you’ll encounter the shade grown coffee that is specially cultivated by monks. Finally, explore the ancient root of this modern industry and see first hand why Ethiopian coffee is up there with the best. Great news is you can bring it back into country so long as you declare it.
Landscape of Danakil
One of Africa’s most iconic natural sights is Danakil Depression in the Afar region. It is one of the hottest places on earth and strewn with volcanoes and salt lakes. This isn’t a place to travel solo, so we arrange your transportation and guide to ensure a safe and memorable experience to this martian like landscape. It is what they call a tectonic triple-junction where the spreading ridges of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden emerge on land meeting Africa’s Great Rift Valley and the result is a breathtaking landscape that, scientists say, will one day (millions of years from now) be a new ocean that splits the African continent in half. If you brave this place, you are one of just 500 in a year who see it. The living landscape of brilliant oranges, blues and yellows will shimmer before you and captivate you. Don’t linger too long here as the sulphur can become intoxicating not to mention the 40 + heat that has risen a few times beyond 60.
Being a country of such religious significance, there are some fantastic highlights in the calendar year. From traditional Orthodox ceremonies like night prayers to priest and choir sessions to Muslim celebrations like the birth of Mohammed, Ramadan and Eid Al Adha there is something for everyone. The Sof Omar Caves boasts a Sheik Hussein Shrine in the Bale Mountains and a special event here in September sees hundreds of pilgrims gather. Our favourite is Fiche New Year for Sidama people (Hawassa) who have a 13 month calendar based on astrology. So the date changes each year yet the celebrations don’t so you can expect to see sensational dances, horsemen in costume, whilst listening to mesmerising song and savouring Ethiopian food.
Hyena feeding in Harar
One of the most unique wildlife experiences is available in Harar, Ethiopia and that is feeding hyenas at night. Many are too scared, others too mortified from a conservation perspective, but this unique wildlife activity has been conducted for years in Harar. The city of Harar itself is extremely interesting and the 4th most holy city for muslims. It holds great history and is a must see on any Ethiopia holiday.
Along with Hebrew, Amharic is one of the oldest written languages in the world and difficult to learn. Having said that, we know first hand how grateful the locals are when they hear you trying to communicate in their language. Just learn the basics so your first words are in Amharic, after that you can get by with English thanks to the help of our local guides. Hello: Salam; How are you: Salamnu; I am good: Indem-ne-nay; Thank you: Amah-Sigah-Nalu; Please & You are welcome: Manalk.
A neo-classical treasure, Addis Sheraton if the most glamourous hotel in the country and as iconic in Africa as Raffles is in the Western World. Located on a hilltop means this stunner has city views plus its sumptuous manicured gardens. Of course it is large, some 293 rooms with a variety of categories from deluxe to executive suite. Be impressed by the main area and facilities with multiple restaurants, boutique shops and our favourite, a pool complete with underwater music system and Vagas-fountain show. Keep an eye out for the pastry trolley too as it rolls by.
A little gem in the Langano region committed to community-based conservation, this is an Ethiopia holiday must. The lodge is nestled under the canopy of Lake Langano’s forest and you will stay in small ensuite cottages with private verandahs that take in the stunning forest and lakeshore vistas. The main area is lovely with lounge, dining and bar area. The surrounding forest is home to colobus monkeys, some 300 bird species, 7 of which are endemic. Activities are plentiful with walking, fishing, swimming and horseriding available. Or simply laze in a hammock on the lake.
Owner run and managed by Enrica and Silvio Rizzotti, this is a little touch of Italian style in the heart of Ethiopia’s Tigre amidst imposing peaks of the Gheralta range. The setting is truly outstanding and so too is the hospitality with friendly smiles the moment you arrive. With just twelve rooms this is intimate Ethiopia, all built with local stone, wood and thatch in a traditional Tigrayan style. This is a great base to explore the rock-hewn churches in the province.
Kuriftu Bahir Dar
Nestled on the shores of Lake Tana, this fantastic resort gives guests reprieve from the fast frenetic pace of Addis Ababa. Accommodation here is in suites that are spacious with ensuite bathrooms. The resort itself has an impressive swimming pool and sun deck, great restaurant and uninterrupted lake views. Fill your day simply relaxing or exploring the myriad of natural and historic attractions surrounding you. There is an onsite Spa where you can spoil yourself with an indulgent massage or treatment.
Bale Mountain Lodge
Resting inside the national park, this awesome forest lodge has set the benchmark for the country when it comes to eco-luxury style. There are just eight rooms, each one stand alone for great privacy. You come here for the pristine environment, one of the world’s most stunning cloud forests with access to the Rift Valley and endemic Ethiopian Wolf. Rooms are comfortable with bedroom, fire place and ensuite bathroom. The main building is like a quintessential mountain chalet with lounge, dining, bar, fireplaces throughout, spa, pool and a great terrace area. Activities range from guided walks in the immediate forest vicinity plus nearby Sanetti Plateau, game drives, cultural and historic excursions.
An owner run gem in a fantastic location with incredible views, expect friendly service, good accommodation and access to some of Ethiopia’s most iconic historical sites. There are only ten rooms so it will be an intimate and comfortable stay as you enjoy bedroom, ensuite bathroom, private patio with panoramic views and even free wifi. The main area is really casual with dining and lounge area. You are just fifteen minutes away from rock hewn churches where you can lose yourself for hours in the history and beauty with one of our local guides.
Soaring with eagles, this lodge sits some 3,300 metres above sea level, the highest in Africa with a jaw-droppingly beautiful setting. Base yourself here to explore Simien scenery plus the opportunity to get close to Ethiopia’s Gelada baboon that reside in the area. There are twenty rooms and additional suites yet it’s important to note the standard rooms have a more intimate feel, better position and views. The main area boasts bar, lounge and dining areas all centred around log fires.
Ethiopia was a great surprise to the family, fascinating history and culture. Not the level of luxury experienced elsewhere but worthwhile for anyone wanting off the beaten track. Some great landscapes too.
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