Ethiopia is arguably the most fascinating country in Africa. It simply has everything, from safaris to mountain ranges, and from beautiful scenery to ancient monuments, so for most people a stopover of at least a few days in Ethiopia is not uncommon. But when you have accustomed yourself to the unique Ethiopian timekeeping, the mysterious Amharic language, and the unusual customs of Ethiopian cuisine, you need to ask yourself which are the main sites that should be getting your attention?
Below, I am going to list my top 5 places to visit in Ethiopia. I hope you can give me some suggestions for more places to visit in case I ever return to this amazing country!
5. Lake Tana is the source of the River Nile and is the largest lake in Ethiopia. It was formed by volcanic activity and has a number of islands, many of which contain ancient monasteries. These monasteries are believed to have been built over earlier religious sites and include the 14th-century Debre Maryam, the 18th-century Narga Selassie, Tana Qirqos (said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant before it was moved to Axum), and Ura Kidane Mehret, known for its resplendent regalia. Check out my experience in the monasteries of Laka Tana!
4. The obelisks of Axum are around 1,700 years old and have become a symbol of the Ethiopian people’s identity. The largest number are in the Northern Stelae Park, ranging up to the 33-metre-long Great Stele, believed to have fallen and broken during construction. The Obelisk of Axum (24m high) was removed by the Italian army in 1937, and returned to Ethiopia in 2005. This stele was already broken into pieces before being shipped. The stelae are believed to mark graves and would have had cast metal discs affixed to their sides, which are also carved with architectural designs.
3. The Simien Mountains National Park is located in the Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, and its territory covers Ras Dashan, which is the highest point in Ethiopia. It is home to a number of endangered species, including the Ethiopian wolf and the walia ibex (a wild goat found nowhere else in the world). The gelada baboon and the caracal, also occur within the Simien Mountains. More than 50 species of birds inhabit the park, including the impressive bearded vulture, which has a whopping 10ft wingspan. The Simien Mountains is arguably the finest place to trek in Ethiopia!
2. The Blue Nile Falls is a picturesque waterfall on the Blue Nile river. It is known as “Tis Abay” in the Amharic language, meaning “smoking water”. It is situated on the upper course of the river, about 30km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The falls are estimated to be between 37 and 45 metres high, and isolate the ecology of Lake Tana from the rest of the Nile, and this isolation has played a role in the evolution of the endemic fauna of the lake – so no Nile crocodiles (although watch out for the hippos!)! Read more about my visit to the Falls!
1. Lalibela is a rural town and is known around the world for its churches carved from the living rock, which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. UNESCO identifies 11 churches that are assembled in four groups. The churches are also a significant engineering feat, given that they are all associated with water (which fills the wells next to many of the churches) exploiting an artesian geological system that brings the water up to the top of the mountain ridge on which the city rests.