Ethiopia is truly the land of legend. It can rival Egypt with its historic cultural sites and combines these wonders with an array of modern age tribal culture and incredible landscapes. Ethiopia can be traveled as a destination in itself, combining culture with nature, but is also very suitable for longer multi-country trips combining the Cultural sites of Ethiopia with the safari destinations of Tanzania, Congo and Rwanda.
With so much history, both palaeoanthropology as well as cultural & religious history Ethiopia’s cities all have interesting sites to visit. Apart from the history, the unique landscapes and wildlife also offer a great sense of adventure for those looking for a more active holiday.
Axum, Ethiopia’s oldest city is still a mystery to be solved. Does the Ark of the Covenant that Moses carried from Mount Sinai really reside in Axum? Did the Queen of Sheba really call this her home? Axum has been occupied since approximately 100AD. The large stalea fields which served as a religious purpose pre-Christian times (in the Pagan times) are an interesting site to see.
Queen Sheba’s old castle and bath, the tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre, King Enzana’s Inscription are all found in Axum. All these historical sites are quite close together. If you have a full day to spend in Axum, a guided walking tour is a great way to see Axum and visit all these sites.
Gondar is believed to have been founded in 1635 by Emperor Fasilides. Thereafter many other Emperors and Empresses ruled this legendary city. Often called the Camelot of Africa, which you will understand once you visit the Royal Enclosure, where all the former Kings’ castles have been built. You need at least 2 hours to roam through the castles on a guided tour.
Fasilidada’s bath is also an impressive site. If you have the chance to visit during Timket, take a dip and be blesses by one of the priests. The Debre Behran Selassie Church is one not to be missed with its paintings dating back to the 17th Century. Apart from the castles and churches, Falasha village of Wolleka offers a glimpse of highland village life where you can learn about the history of Ethiopian Jewish population that once resided here.
Lalibela, named after King Lalibela who reigned the city between the 12th and 13th Century is spectacular to visit. Did you know that there are 11 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, all different from one another? All 11 churches are within walking distance from one another. Some clustered very close that you only need to go through a wall or tunnel to get to the other church. The architecture is remarkable! A full day and a half gives you enough time to leisurely visit the churches and have a free morning or afternoon to visit some curio shops or relax at your hotel. Lalibela has a small village feel to it and it is all about the churches. If you are looking to go further, there are also a few monasteries within 40km of Lalibela that you can visit and make a (half) day trip out of.
Situated on the Southern shore of Lake Tana, Bahir Dar offers a relaxing getaway from the mountains where one can spend afternoons cruising along the lake. For keen bird watchers, keep an eye out for the heralded white pelicans, lesser flamingos, lesser kestrels, wattled cranes, bush petronias, hornbills, kingfishers, paradise flycatchers, various parrots – to name just a few. Apart from the birds, the hippos aren’t too far away at the Outlet of the Blue Nile River where Lake Tana’s waters heads towards the Mediterranean. There are numerous monasteries one can visit on Lake Tana which include some walking on the peninsulas to get there.
The endless views of the Simien Mountains are incredible! The Simiens offer a wonderful break from churches and monasteries. Stroll in the Simiens for a day or more. LimaLimo Lodge is a wonderful getaway located conveniently just outside the park and the small town of Debark. There are several hikes close to the lodge if one does not feel like driving a full day in the National Park. Day trips into the park can be arranged where one can do a full day’s hike or several days’ hike. Keep an eye out for the walia ibex, gelada baboons, and the elusive Ethiopian wolf.
The Bale Mountains National Park is known for its wildlife, particularly the Ethiopian wolf and the mountain nyala. Like Simien Mountains, Bale mountains is a wonderful break away from the church visits and historical sites. Beautiful treks can be done, though these may not be very steep, keep in mind the altitude may make it slightly more difficult. If you prefer, you may decide to explore the park on horseback instead.
The Tigray Region
Rock-hewn churches hidden away in the landscape of mountains and rocks in this semi-desert wasteland gives Tigray a magical surreal feel to it. The TESFA community treks gives you the chance to experience the local lifestyle in the Tigray region. Trek the mountains, walk through the local villages, visit the local markets and explore these incredible churches. Life in Tigray is like reading a chapter from the bible, it sure does give you the feeling that you’re walking in a fairy tale.
The Danakil Depression
Hot, dry, camel caravans, semi-desert landscapes, volcanoes, surreal sulphurous mounds, and mirages. This is the picturesque of the Danakil. Being 100 meters below sea level, the Danakil Depression is one of the lowest places on earth and also one of the hottest place on the planet if you look at the average temperatures throughout the year.
Also known as the Afar triangle, where 3 tectonic plates are pushing away from each other, causing the land to sink even lower, there are some fascinating geological sites to explore in this area. At 613m high, the Erta Ale is Ethiopia’s only active volcano with the World’s oldest lava lake existing since 1906.
The yellow sulphur fields and springs of the Dallol area are also an impressive natural phenomenon to see. The Danakil environment is harsh, there aren’t any luxurious or very comfortable places to stay so do keep this in mind when considering visitng this area. Though you may be getting out of your comfort zone, it’s well worth the scenery!
Other Ethiopian highlights
Ethiopia has too many highlights to mention here in detail, others include: Harar, the Omo Valley, Addis Abeba and Gambela. If you would like to know more about any of these, please get in contact with us.
Capital city: Addis Ababa
Area: 1.14 million km2
Population: 100 million (estimated 2015/2016)
Languages: Amharic is the official working language of the federal government. Oromiffa and Tigrigna (from Tigray region) are also widely spoken. English is taught in schools and is the main business language.
The Ethiopian highlands have a temperate climate, ranging from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F). In the lowlands it is usually hot, and temperature often reach 45°C (113°F). Rainfall ranges from 200 mm to 2000 mm.
With the varied topography in Ethiopia, the seasons and rainfall patterns vary throughout the country. The driest and hottest parts of Ethiopia are the Northern and Central parts whereas the highlands have the most rainfall. There are two main seasons in Ethiopia: the dry season from October to May, and the wet season from June to September. However, others claim there are 3 to 4 seasons in Ethiopia as follows:
Belg season: Between March and May. Where you have the lighter rains. This is an important time for farmers as they plant crops
Kimrept seaon: From June to September. This is a period of heavier rains, however most days have some sunshine.
Sidday season: From September to November. This is when the rainfall decreases and there’s more sunshine. Two major holidays are celebrated during this season; finding the true cross of Meskel and Timket or Epiphany.
Begga season: From December to February is the summer season. Though the days may be hot, the nights can cool down to single digits. Spring (Sidday) and summer (Begga) season are often seen as one season as this is the drier period in Ethiopia.
Covering 1,104,300 square km (approx. 426,372 square miles), Ethiopia is a big country. Internal flights are relatively cheap. If you book your International flight with Ethiopia Airways and send us your flight details, then we can book all your internal flights at a 50% discounted price.
With direct internal flights from Addis Abeba to Bahir Dar, Mekele, Dire Dawa, and Axum itineraries can be combined with road transfers and flights to break up the long drives.