Ethiopia is like nowhere else on the planet, a beautiful country blessed with a peerless history, fabulous wildlife and some of Africa's most soulful peoples.
Ethiopia is one of Africa's most beautiful countries and its landscapes are epic in both scale and beauty. Here is a place where you can trek more than 3000m above sea level (the Simien and Bale mountains) or visit the lowest place on the African continent, the Danakil Depression. In between, there are lush highlands and stirring deserts, vertiginous canyons and sweeping savannah, vast lakes and high plateaus. If you look hard enough, you'll also find landmarks of great significance, from the source of the Blue Nile to, again, the mesmerizingly desolate Danakil Depression, peppered with an astonishing 25% of Africa’s active volcanoes.
Ethiopia, the only African country to have escaped European colonialism, has retained much of its cultural identity and its story is one of Africa's most fascinating. It all begins with Lucy, one of our most celebrated ancient ancestors, moves effortlessly into the realm of ancient Aksum with its oblelisks and echoes of the Queen of Sheba, and then takes on power and passion as Christianity, with mysterious echoes of Ancient Israel, takes centre stage. And unlike so many other places in Africa, the ancients here left behind some extraordinary monuments to faith and power which serve as focal points for so many wonderful journeys.
Welcome to Africa's most underrated wildlife destination. The Ethiopian wolf, that charismatic canid from the high country around the Simein Mountains, Menz-Guassa and Bale Mountains, is the ultimate prize, the sighting of a lifetime. There are gelada monkeys across the high northern plateau as well as other primates, while watching the extravagantly horned and sure-footed walia ibex cling to a rocky precipice is one of the great sights in nature. The birdwatching, too, ranks among the best in Africa. And there are elephants at Babille, crocodiles in Nechisar and the hyenas of Harar. It's quite a line-up, one that could add a whole new dimension to your trip.
Peoples with Proud Traditions
When it comes to human cultures, Ethiopia has an embarrassment of riches. There are the Surmi, Afar, Mursi, Karo, Hamer, Nuer and Anuak, whose ancient customs and traditions have remained almost entirely intact. Venturing into these communities and staying among them is akin to receiving a privileged initiation into a forgotten world. A highlight of any trip here is witnessing one of the many festivals that are an integral part of the traditional culture, from age-old ceremonies marking rites of passage to Christian celebrations of singular passion, the impact upon those who witness such events can provide travel memories to last a lifetime.
The region is a nature lover’s dream. Ethiopia offers superb wildlife-viewing opportunities. A variety of charismatic species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world, can easily be approached under the supervision of a knowledgeable guide.
Bale Mountains National Park You’re almost guaranteed to see Ethiopian wolves here.
Babille Elephant Sanctuary Bush-whack through thick, thorny brush for an up-close elephant encounter.
Nechisar National Park There are some zebra and other big mammals here, but it’s the massive gathering of crocodiles that attracts the crowds.
Simien Mountains National Park Get up close and personal with gelada monkeys, walia ibex, and there's a possibility of seeing the Ethiopian wolf.
Harar Join the feeding frenzy - you'll never get this close to hyenas!
Gambela National Park Migrating herds of antelope a million strong, but hard going to get there.
Awash National Park Populations of predators hard to see but great birding.
Ethiopia is a major birdwatching destination, and you never have to venture too far to get some shiny feathers in front of your binoculars. Twitchers also benefit from a relatively well-organised network of guides and tours.
Gibe Sheleko National Park All the classic highland species can be spotted in this park.
Bale Mountains National ParkOffers easy access to both highland and lowland habitats and their associated species, including nine Ethiopian endemics.
Rift Valley Lakes The string of large lakes, from Ziway to Chamo, are surprisingly diverse, leading to a great variety of possible encounters over many days.
Yabelo Wildlife Sanctuary The locally endemic Ethiopian bush crow and white-tailed swallow are the major drawcards here.
Kafa Biosphere Reserve More than 300 species inhabit some of the west's densest forests.
Awash National Park More than 460 bird species have been recorded in this important way station for migratory species.
Omo National Park Newly accessible birding hotspot with (at last count) 312 species.
Gambela National Park Some of the birds here are seen nowhere else in Ethiopia, but getting here is a challenge.
History & Culture
Ethiopia offers a wealth of attractions for culture buffs, from centuries old rock-hewn churches to atmospheric, historical towns and grand castles.
Ethnological Museum One of the best if its kind in Africa, this museum in Addis Ababa gives a great insight into the many different Ethiopian peoples and their rich cultures.
Harar The labyrinthine, walled old city is a pleasure to explore, and close encounters with wild hyenas add to its magic.
Aksum The cradle of Ethiopia's storied ancient history and the heartbeat of the country's Christian faith.
Lalibela Subterranean churches, gorgeously carved into the rock, rarely fail to wow visitors.
Gonder The various ruined castles in and around the city are exceptionally evocative.
Rock-hewn Churches of Tigray The story of Ethiopian Christianity's power and passion is told here in the most unlikely of places.
The Stelae Fields Around Dilla Mysterious stelae signposts to the past in the country's south.
Visitors are often overwhelmed by the sense of devotion that emanates from the incredibly colourful festivals held throughout the region. Some are so impressive that it’s worth timing your trip around them.
Meskel One of Ethiopia’s most colourful festivals, Meskel (best experienced in Addis) is famous for its cross-topped bonfires and elaborately dressed clergy.
Great Ethiopian Run Join thousands of joggers in Africa’s biggest running race in Addis Ababa.
Jumping of the Bulls This coming-of-age ceremony is usually a highlight of visitors’ time in Ethiopia for anyone lucky enough to see one.
Timkat Ethiopia’s most important holiday celebrates Jesus’ baptism with a lot of splashing of water and parading of replica Arks of the Covenant. Gonder, Addis and Aksum are fine places to join the celebrations.
Leddet During Leddet (Christmas) the faithful attend all-night church services, often moving from one church to another. Priests don their full regalia. Addis is the epicentre for this one.
Trekking & Hiking
For an unforgettable taste of Ethiopia, grab your kit, lace up your boots and head into the landscape that covers all the geological highs and lows.
Simien Mountains National Park This very popular park holds some of the most stunning mountain scenery in Africa and trekking is easily organised. Bale Mountains The combination of wildlife, scenery and quality facilities makes this a fantastic wilderness destination. Menagesha National Forest Follow the trails through this wildlife-filled forest. Lalibela & Tigray The community trekking programs in these areas offer both lovely scenery and a chance to get to know the locals. Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area This seldom-visited spot protects one of the most pristine high-alpine habitats in Ethiopia.
The Horn of Africa is brimming with natural wonders, from geological oddities to powerfully majestic mountains. Ethiopia has countless places to ready your wide-angle lens for some shutter-blowing compositions.
Danakil Depression Unique in the world, the sub-sea-level volcanic landscape here is eerily beautiful.
Simien Mountains NationalPark Huge cliffs, oddly formed mountains and unusual Afro-alpine habitat create one of the most stunning spots in Africa.
Bale Mountains National Park The Saneti Plateau is a barren, high-altitude landscape with top-notch vistas.
Abiata-Shala Lakes National Park Great crater lakes, hot springs and flamingos aplenty.
Lac Abbé Spikelike calcareous chimneys make for apocalyptic landscapes.
Lac AssalThe great salt lake and black volcanic terrain of Lac Assal are extremely photogenic.
An anthropologist’s dream, Ethiopia is home to numerous ethnic groups, each with their own language and customs. The 200 dialects spoken in Ethiopia give an indication of the country’s incredible diversity.
Kibish and southwest Omo Valley Meet the fierce Surmi people, who are known for their white body paintings.
Itang Mingle with the ritually scarred Nuer and Anuak peoples around Gambela.
Lower Omo Valley This awesome region is home to 16 ethnic groups, many of which have not strayed far from their ancient cultures.
Konso Villages The fortresslike villages here, built of stone and sticks, and terraced fields are World Heritage listed.
Danakil Depression The Afar residing in this scorching hot desert still walk their camel caravans to the highlands to sell salt.
Dorze The woven houses are just one of the many fascinating things about this proud culture.