Our Guide to
A fabled land
Ethiopia is home to an impressive history, diverse landscapes, fascinating wildlife and friendly people. Children are curious, women are beautiful and men are welcoming.
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’s landscapes will take you by surprise, from deep river gorges and high mountains to volcanic depressions, waterfalls and forests. It is the birthplace of coffee and the first region to officially adopt Christianity as its religion back in the 4th century.
One of Africa’s most iconic natural sights is Danakil Depression in the Afar region. It is one of the hottest places on earth too and strewn with volcanoes and salt lakes.
Scientists say this breathtaking landscape 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 1000 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.
Ethiopia holidays will take in the very best of the country, its sensational buzzing capital city, mystic mountains, fascinating religious history and ceremonies to the diversity of landscapes, wildness and unique wildlife.
Are you Ethiopia holiday ready?
More on Ethiopia Holidays
Facts and figures are not for everyone. So we will keep this brief and interesting, mixing up some statistics and our take on Ethiopia.
Where is it and what should one expect?
Ethiopia sits in the East and the region is known as the Horn of Africa. It is completely within the tropical latitudes and is quite compact with six neighbours including Kenya.
This is a spectacular country that is historically fascinating, culturally diverse and aesthetically beautiful thanks to its landscapes, wildlife and cultures. Keep in mind the three primary languages don’t include English, it’s Amharic, Tigrigna and Oromigna. Tourism is slowly growing and English is being spoken more and more. Tourism infrastructure is still in its infancy, so a holiday to Ethiopia will be full of adventure and excitement with comfort each day, just not over the top luxury.
What is Ethiopia known for?
Ethiopia certainly is not the first place most people think about when considering a holiday to Africa. Those who have heard of it know about its thirteen months to the year because it has its own calendar, its measure of hours to the day being different to ours. Many know Ethiopia for its festivals particularly Timket that honours the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan.
We know it for the outstanding coffee, gelada baboons and being a haven for vegetarians due to stunning and healthy home grown cuisine.
Ethiopia is also the birthplace of the Rastafarian movement – it wasn’t Jamaica! The spiritual homeland is Ethiopia. In Amharic, ‘Ras’ is a title like chief and ‘safari’ is the first name of Emperor Haile Selassie 1. If that’s not enough to convince you, have a look at the colours on the Ethiopian flag. Now do you believe us?
History of Ethiopia
The history of Ethiopia begins with a fascinating tale about Queen of Sheba, King Solomon of Jerusalem, their son Menelik and the coming and reposition of the Holy Ark of the Convent. What is known is Ethiopia had a powerful and rich kingdom with an extremely high level of civilisation back in the days it was called Abyssinia.
Ethiopia holidays are well defined with a historical circuit in the north that starts in Addis Ababa, passing through the four centres of Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela. By road it’s more than 2,500 kilometres so it’s best to fly with Ethiopian Airlines.
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).
Ethiopia holidays in the North
In the north of Ethiopia is the Simien Mountains, breaking up history with landscape and wildlife – particularly the fascinating Gelada Baboon, one of Ethiopia’s endemic species. Here the scenery will take your breath away and you can hike into the mountains to see some of nature’s beauty.
Geladas are also known as the sacred heart due to the naked patch of bright skin on their chests. Striking in appearance, these baboons are only found in the highlands and their primary source of food is grass.
Walia Ibex is another species only found in the Semien Mountains. This wild goat is easily spotted thanks to its striking colour and arching horns and is typically active early morning and late afternoon.
Ethiopia holidays in the South
The southern Ethiopia circuit takes in the Omo Valley, one of Africa’s last unspoiled wilderness areas. Unlike any other place, Lower Omo Valley has the largest diversity of ethnically different groups in Ethiopia and Africa, Mursi tribe, Karo tribe, Hammer tribe, The Surma, Bume-Nyangatom to name a few.
The 4,068 square kilometre Omo National Park is on the west bank of Omo River and home to a variety of wildlife. There are 306 species of birds, large herds of eland, buffalo plus elephants, giraffe, cheetah, lion, leopard and burchell’s zebra.
The Omo Valley is also a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its archaeological 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.
The Bale Mountains
This Mountain range covers 2,470 square kilometres of rolling beauty and home to various flora and fauna species. Bale National Park is the one place geared towards hiking and offers the most significant concentration of Ethiopia’s endemic animals – Abyssinian/Ethiopian wolf, Mountain Nyala and Menilek’s bushbuck.
The forest is home to different pig species plus lion, leopard, spotted hyena, African wild dog and more plus 16 endemic birds. The Ethiopian wolf is endemic and endangered and resembles a coyote. It is the only wolf species found in all of Africa.
Wolves live in packs of 3 to 13 adults usually. Mountain Nyala is a stunning antelope with grey and chestnut brown coat and white feature fur around the throat, neck, legs and across the nose. Found in high altitude woodland of Bale, it’s a large animal standing four feet at the shoulder. Males have curled horns whilst females have no horns.
Best time for Ethiopia holidays
Ethiopia can be visited throughout the year, the most popular months being October through to January. There is a wide variation to the climate because of the vast geographic differences. Bale mountain peaks receive snowfall whilst the Danakil Desert can have daytime temperatures of 50 degrees and higher.
The main impact of weather on travel is South Omo during rainy season when it’s almost inaccessible. Rains usually fall April and May and shorter rains in October.
Conservation in Ethiopia
Wildlife conservation movement hit Ethiopia in the 1960s and set the foundation for modern concepts of nature and resource conservation. Ethiopia supports a remarkable diversity of wildlife species that inhabit forests, lakes and high plateaus. Within these ecosystems Ethiopia has rare flora and fauna with 625 endemic plant species, 16 endemic bird species and 35 endemic mammal species found nowhere else in Africa or indeed the world. Conservation efforts have seen stability of gelada (grazing primates) populations, mountain gala, Ethiopian wolf and the Walia Ibex.
Ethiopia boasts extraordinary landscapes and unique cultural values that also need protection. There are more than 55 wildlife protected areas designated as national parks, sanctuaries, wildlife reserves, biosphere reserves and community conservation areas. Issues that face Ethiopia like other countries on the continent are human encroachment and activities like poaching, grazing, burning vegetation and increased pressure on natural resources.
From those who have ventured
Our group had a sensational time in Ethiopia and indeed East Africa seeing so much history, culture and breathtaking wilderness and wildlife.