Though Ethiopia’s reputation remains somewhat tarnished by its turbulent history, tourists are returning to the country in increasing numbers, keen to discover its wondrous landscapes, ancient religious sites and fascinating indigenous tribes.
One of the oldest Christian nations in the world, Ethiopia is a multicultural, multifaceted destination where the art of hospitality is alive and well: visitors are typically greeted with a steaming cup of coffee, which was first discovered in this very country.
Most visitors start their Ethiopian odyssey in the sprawling capital, Addis Ababa, a lively city nestling in the lofty Entoto Mountains. Renowned for its ubiquitous cafés, brutalist architecture and awful traffic jams, in Addis Ababa it is not uncommon to see smartly dressed businessmen walking down the same streets as local shepherds.
Few linger long in the Ethiopian capital, choosing instead to head north to Lalibela, a pilgrimage site famed for its ancient churches, which have quite literally been hewn out of a cliff. Lalibela is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia: other notables include the fairytale castles of Gondar, the walled city of Harar and the mysterious stelae of Aksum.
Ultimately, though, it’s Ethiopia’s epic landscapes that really capture the imagination; from the verdant peaks of the Simien Mountains to the sulphur fumaroles of the Danakil Depression, the scenery could inspire paintings, provoke poetry.
These wild environments sustain ancient tribes such as the Bodi, whose men live on a diet of blood and milk in a bid to become the region’s fattest man, and the Hamer, famous for their dangerous bull-jumping ceremony, which is considered a rite of passage for young men.
Ethiopia has come a long way since the famine of 1984 (which prompted Bob Geldof to write the fundraising hit Do They Know It’s Christmas?), but the country, though culturally rich, remains economically poor. Travelling around it can be hard going, but for those who ride it out, the rewards are immense.