Places in Ethiopia

Ethiopia things to see and do

Tourist offices

Ethiopian Tourism Commission

Meskel Square, PO Box 2183 , Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: (11) 551 7470.
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 0830-1230 and 1330-1730.
www.tourismethiopia.gov.et

Things to see and do

Babille Elephant Sanctuary

Tracking elephants on foot is the major highlight of a trip here, though the sanctuary is also home to plentiful birdlife, gazelle, and rarely-seen lions, leopards and cheetahs. It's an easy daytrip from Harar. Guides (mandatory) are hired at the sanctuary gate.

Danakil Depression

Surreal and otherworldly, the Danakil Depression is one of the lowest, and hottest, places on earth coming in at 100m (328 ft) below sea-level and with temperatures regularly topping 50°C (122°F). For those hardy enough, this geological wonderland is a magical place of Dali-esque landscapes featuring vistas of swirling orange twisted rock and lava lakes. Tours can be arranged from Addis Ababa or Mekele.

Harar

The walled city of Harar is a labyrinth of dusty alleyways lined by mud-brick buildings. Once the commercial hub between Arabia and Africa; the legendary tales of Harar led both Richard Burton and the French poet Rimbaud here. Today Harar oozes a lost-in-time ambience that enchants all who visit. The hyena feeding ritual which takes place every evening, by the city walls, just adds to this town's otherworldly appeal.

Konso Villages

Despite modernity's slow encroachment, the Konso people have stayed true to their cultural heritage, proudly preserving their unique maze-like village architecture and way of life. Some of the top places to visit in the region are the town of Konso itself and the villages of Busso and Machekie.

Lake Chamo Crocodile Market

The name is a local in-joke; the crocodiles of Lake Chamo aren't for sale and are very much alive and well, sunning themselves on the banks of the lake and gliding through the water. Afternoon boat trips upon the lake, where you get to see these massive creatures up close and personal (and maybe some hippos too) are a must-do in Arba Minch.

Lake Tana

The starting point for the Blue Nile, Lake Tana is one of Ethiopia's most fascinating places. Fishermen glide across the shimmering lake surface in traditional papyrus boats while the islands are home to priest communities and their ancient, thatched monasteries decorated with dazzling biblical murals.

Lalibela Region Village Trekking

The hill country surrounding Lalibela is home to a trekking network that allows hikers a cultural insight into village life in Ethiopia, as well as taking in the natural scenic beauty and little seen churches of the region. Treks are well-organised and community-run lodges provide accommodation along the routes.

Lower Omo Valley

The lower Omo Valley is home to 16 culturally distinct tribes including the Hamer (famed for their ornate hairstyles) and the Mursi (known for the lip plates female tribe members wear). Market days - when people from all tribes flock to the region's towns - are a colourful and fascinating experience. The region can be travelled through independently if you have time and patience but most people choose to go by 4WD tour from Addis Ababa.

Royal Enclosure of Gondar

Africa's own fairytale-style castles are testament to the wealth and whimsy of Emperor Fasiladas who made Gonder his grand capital in the 17th century. Now abandoned, and sinking into ruin, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is an enthralling peek into the pageantry of the past.

Simien Mountains

For nature-lovers - and anyone who simply loves a grand view - Ethiopia's Simien Mountains are a must do. Trekking along the escarpment, surrounded by jagged pinnacles, with the great slash of the Great Rift Valley tumbling down before you is one of the finest panoramas on the continent. This is also the home of the Gelada 'bleeding heart' baboons and coming face-to-face with a troop of them while ambling along is one of the highlights of trekking here.

Tigray Monasteries

Carved out of rock, and perched precariously across cliff faces, the remote churches and monasteries of the Tigray region are a fascinating look into religious life. The scenery here is ruggedly beautiful and some of the monasteries - reached by ladders and ropes - are not for the faint-of-heart to access. Others though, are easily reached by anyone with decent fitness. Tours can be arranged from Aksum, or a combination of public transport and short hikes can get patient independent travellers to many of the sights.

Addis Ababa

Ethiopia's sprawling and dusty capital is a place where 4WDs still have to stop for shepherds herding their sheep across the road. Although considerably scruffy, this highlands city, located at an altitude of 2,440m (8005 ft) hides a multitude of charms. Both the Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum (where 'Lucy' is interred) are fascinating, while St George's Cathedral and Museum showcases the pomp and finery of Ethiopia's orthodox faith.

Aksum

Aksum is a place where myth and mystery are part of daily life. According to local lore this was once home to the Queen of Sheba and, today, the Ark of Covenant's final resting place. The Aksumite Obelisks of the Northern Stelae Field are the main attraction but you can also peek across the wall within the St Mary of Zion Church Complex to see the chapel where the Ark is supposedly kept.

Bale Mountains

The Bale Mountains offers hikers and horse-trekkers high-altitude mountain scenery passing through remote villages, high grasslands and dense forest, with wildlife spotting potential. The hiking/horse-trekking circuit is well-organised with a series of lodge accommodation along the way.

Blue Nile Falls

Hydroelectricity projects may have taken a lot of the 'oomph' out of this waterfall but it's still a gorgeous sight. The best time to visit is August and September when the falls really are flowing at full steam. The Blue Nile Falls are an easy day trip from Bahir Dar.

Lalibela

Ethiopia's biggest highlight, this massive complex of churches, hewn out of rose-pink rock, is a feat of 12th-century ingenuity and sheer willpower. Walking into one of the rock churches amid the eerily-beautiful chanting of a priest ceremony will be one of your abiding memories of the country.

Swimming

Lake Langano has a resort offering windsurfing and waterskiing. Natural springs in the Awash National Park and at Sodere Filwoha create pools highly valued for their therapeutic purposes, though they are not fully utilised.

Edited by Jane Duru
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