A magical country filled with wonder and awe, Ethiopia offers surreal experiences that are magical and hauntingly beautiful. Being an African country renowned as a top African destination, many people would think Ethiopian travel means going on a safari. But no, Ethiopia is not a safari country. It does have astounding wildlife with unique and endemic species but it there is more to it than meets the eye… Here’s what you can expect in Ethiopia:
Magnificent historical treasures
Ethiopia is easily one of the best countries to visit for a fascinating ancient architecture trip. From the gorgeous Lalibela churches to the famous Gondar castle, the Grat Beal Gebri Ruins to the intriguing Emir Nur Tomb, the country is laden with historical wonders that can dazzle any traveler.
With a rich history and a reputation for being the Cradle of Mankind, the oldest region of human settlement, Ethiopia boasts of an array of incredible ancient structures that are still preserved and even used up to this date.
Among the many historical sites to explore, the top 10 are:
- Bet Giyorgis Church
- Yeha Temple
- Gondar Castle
- Debre Birhan Selassie Church
- Atatami Kidus Mikael Church
- St. George’s Cathedral
- Grat Beal Gebri Ruins
- Ruins of Queen of Sheba’s Palace
- Axum City
- Awash Valley
The grandeur of Ethiopia’s landscape is beyond human comprehension. It ranges from deep depressions considered the lowest points of Earth to arid plains and vast lakes to craggy peaks and valleys to an advancing city in Addis Ababa. Truly, the country is blessed with a perfectly mapped out terrain.
Ethiopia is also a hiker’s paradise. It is home to 70% of the mountains of the entire African continent and not only does it guarantee a breathtaking vista, but it also rewards hikers unique animal sightings and never-to-forget adventures.
9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Endowed with an ethereal string of wonders in history, culture, and nature, Ethiopia is home to 9 UNESCO sites namely:
- Lalibela churches: The 11 medieval monolithic cave churches of this 13th-century “New Jerusalem” are up to this date a place of pilgrimage and devotion.
- Axum: Alternatively spelled Aksum, it features massive ruins that mark the location of the heart of ancient Ethiopia. You can see monolithic obelisks, giant stelae, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient castles there.
- Simien Mountains National Park: Often referred to as “God’s playground” because of its unique formations, Simiens Mountains NP is deemed a hiker’s paradise. It is home to exotic animals including Gelada baboons, Simien foxes, and Walia ibex. Indeed, Simien mountains provide one of the most spectacular sights in the world.
- Harar Jugol: Deemed the 4th holiest city of Islam, Harar features 82 mosques and 102 shrines. But beyond those ancient structures are townhouses that are too fascinating not to notice.
- Tiya: A mysterious site containing 36 monuments, including 32 carved stelae covered with symbols, most of which are difficult to decipher.
- Lower Omo Valley: An important world-record site which is most famous for being the place where many fossils have been found, including the Homo gracilis, which is part of the human evolution.
- Lower Awash Valley: Home of Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton known to be the oldest ever discovered hominid. Up to this date, Lucy can be visited at the National Museum of Ethiopia.
- Fassil Ghebi: A fortress-city known to be the residence of the Ethiopian emperor Fasilides and his successors in the 16th and 17th centuries. The walled city is filled with palaces, churches, monasteries and the unique building marked by Hindu and Arab influences.
- Konso Cultural Landscape: A living testimony of a cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years).
Yes, Ethiopia is not a safari destination. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is not endowed with incredible wildlife sightings. In fact, Ethiopia is home to some of Africa’s lesser-known wildlife and even some of the world’s most unique species. These animals include Gelada baboon, mountain nyala, Ethiopian wolf (otherwise known as Simien fox) and the Walia ibex which is a goat that’s found nowhere else in the world.
Ethiopia is also an exceptional spot for twitchers. It is blessed with 850 bird species, many of which are endemic to the country.
The best places to spot these rare species are in national parks such as:
- Awash National Park
- Abijatta Shalla Lakes National Park
- Mago National Park
- Bale Mountains National Park
- Simien Mountains National Park
- Neshisar National Park
- Yangudi National Park
- Omo National Park
An own time — literally.
One very unique thing about Ethiopia is its time. Following the Coptic-style calendar, Ethiopia has 13 months in a year — certainly something no other nation on Earth can top. With 12 months of 30 days and five or six epagomenal days that make up its thirteenth month, Ethiopia’s Tourism Department cleverly tagged Ethiopia as the nation offering 13 months of sunshine.
Fascinating, diverse culture
To say that Ethiopia’s culture is diverse is an understatement. Being multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-faceted country, Ethiopia boasts of a kaleidoscope of culture that is not only apparent in Omo Valley among Awash people and Oromo.
Going back to Ethiopia’s history, the Ethiopian people were able to protect their country from European colonizers which helped them keep their culture and traditions from becoming a mixture of another. Each ethnic group exhibits unique styles and traditions and if you visit them, you will surely be fascinated with how genuine their cultures are. In fact, these “old traditions” are still practiced until now. Truly, nowhere else on the planet is there such a variety of cultures within such a small area.
Takeaway: A trip back in time…
Going to Ethiopia will certainly feel like you just rode a time machine back to ancient times. Landscapes are unspoiled and truly breathtaking in all aspect; structures are preserved well and even used until now; and most of all, cultures are genuine and pure. What adds to the experience is that people in Ethiopia are very friendly, vibrant people. Plus, Ethiopian cuisine is to die for!
Ready to explore Ethiopia? Here are the most recommended tours: