Still marred by its turbulent history, tourists remain thin on the ground in Ethiopia. However, those venturing to this stunning corner of Africa will be pleasantly surprised.
One of the oldest Christian cultures in the world, Ethiopia is a warm and welcoming land defined by its rich cultural traditions, ancient ruins and ubiquitous natural beauty.
Most visitors start their Ethiopian odyssey in the capital, Addis Ababa, a lively city nestling in the lofty Entoto Mountains.
Renowned for its excellent coffee, brutalist architecture and wild contrasts, 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 famous 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 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.