If you’re looking for somewhere very different for your next holiday, why not consider the beautiful east African country of Ethiopia? Known as the “Roof of Africa”, the history, landscapes, diverse cultures – not to mention the coffee – will leave you wanting more.
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Perhaps the best reason to visit Ethiopia is the fact that it’s on so few travellers’ “bucket lists”. Ethiopia is definitely one of the most under-rated destinations that over delivers when it comes to history, diversity of culture, wildlife and much more.
The only African country to have escaped the scourge of colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries, Ethiopia has some of the richest tribal cultures anywhere in Africa, with traditions that have remained in tact to this day. It’s also far from the parched desert that many of us think of – contrary to popular belief, much of Ethiopia is well watered and abundant, and its landscapes are diverse. It is after all, the source of the Blue Nile.
In this blog, we’ll look at why Ethiopia is well and truly on our bucket list for the future and why we think it should be on yours – too.
Off The Beaten Path
With so many destinations marketed as “away from the crowds” it can be difficult to work out which ones really are that. Ethiopia straddles the divide between being a destination that is still off the cards for many travellers, yet it’s relatively easy to arrange a trip here – the options for Ethiopia tours and Ethiopia holidays are plentiful on a range of budgets.
Ethiopia is a relatively safe country to travel in, but there are areas you should avoid – particularly those close to the border with Sudan and the Ogaden desert part of the country. It’s important to check your latest government travel advisories before travelling to Ethiopia – you can find the UK one here. We also recommend hiring a guide or going to Ethiopia as part of an organised trip to get the best out of the experience – as areas can be hard to access and tourism infrastructure can be limited.
It also goes without saying to make sure you buy good and comprehensive travel insurance before setting off on your trip – we use and recommend World Nomads.
If you think of African wildlife you might think of the ‘Big 5’ in Kenya or Tanzania, but Ethiopia has its own unique wildlife offering which is less known but no less jaw-dropping.
The Ethiopian Wolf prowls the Simein Montains, there are gelada monkeys and other primates, elephants, crocodiles and hyena. The birdwatching in Ethiopia is some of the best anywhere in the Africa with over 50 endemic species here. The wattled ibis, blue-winged goose and yellow fronted parrot are all birds you’ll want to keep an eye out for. If birding is your thing, you can consider one of the dedicated bird watching tours that are on offer to Ethiopia.
Perhaps best of all, you’re rarely have to form a queue to see Ethiopia’s wildlife – unlike the established safari parks in other African countries, here you’ll have far fewer fellow visitors to jostle for camera space with.
Another big draw to Ethiopia is the history. The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in the north of the country were built between the 7th and 13th centuries, and still function as churches for the orthodox Christian community here. Come and visit this world heritage site during one of the many festivals to see Lalibela come to life.
Another world heritage city, Harar will transport you to to the feeling of being in a Middle Eastern Souq, with its winding alleys and tracks – 368 in all – squeezed into just 1km. Harar flourished under trade from India, and the trading imprint is still clear to see in the many merchants’ houses, mosques and shrines that were built in the 16th century.
Gondar, in the north west of the country is another very special place for history and culture lovers. With Medieval palaces galore. Once the seat of Ethopian Emporers, Gondar is home to the walled Fasil Ghebbi fortress and palace compound, you could wander here for days gazing at murals and architecture inspired from around the world.
Ethnic Groups & Nomadic Cultures
The Omo valley, Ethiopia, is home to one of the highest concentrations of different ethnic groups (there are 16) and tribes today in Africa. Many herd cattle and historically crossed this region of Africa, today they are restricted to the lower Omo Valley due to the increase in commercialisation and agriculture – and such groups are highly sensitive.
To witness some of the tribal cultures in this region, a visit to one of market towns in the Omo valley will show you some of the diversity here. If you decide to travel in this region make sure you decide to travel with a company who employ responsible travel practices and respect the cultures you will be seeing, preferably one that hires local guides. Overtourism remains one of the biggest threats to tribal cultures.
Ethiopia might not be best known for its landscapes, but any visitor here is in for a treat. The Simien Mountains are one of the most beautiful ranges in Africa. The Ethiopian highlands are separated by the Rift Valley, spanning from the Red Sea and running across Africa.
In Ethiopia you’ll find mountain peaks, deserts, savannahs and even rainforests, with fertile plains and valleys in between. The terrain makes for perfect trekking as well as wildlife watching – whether you head out for a 1 day walk or one week trek, there are plenty of options.
Visit the Rift Valley lakes with the option to stay at some of Ethiopia’s best resort hotels. The lakes are beautiful and an easy drive south from Ethiopia’s capital – Addis Ababa, not to mention a comfortable altitude compared to the peaks.
These are just a taster of what Ethiopia has to offer – with friendly and welcoming locals, a laid back lifestyle as well as some great food, there’s really something for most people here in Ethiopia. Travel is possible on most budgets – and although you can backpack around by yourself, we highly recommend getting a guide to learn the most about this wonderful country’s fascinating history and culture. Whether you travel to Ethiopia for a week or a month, we are sure you will come home with many great memories and be sure to return soon!
Have we inspired you to visit Ethiopia? Let us know in the comments below!