Top places to go in Ethiopia: Travel in varying terrains
Located in Africa’s Horn, Ethiopia is a fascinating country to explore, and as Richard Hand discovered Ethiopia tours are an excellent way to make sure a visitor gets the most out of his or her trip to this sometimes wild, yet exciting country.
To say there is one particular area or feature that must be visited or seen in Ethiopia is impossible, because it is more like a list of places and one has to choose. This can be a barren, untamed country but that in itself is its beauty and the Ethiopian government has recognized that by establishing a number of national parks. Access to some of these parks can be trying for a visitor, which is why it is best to be part of a tour rather than attempting to see areas independently.
Snow-capped Mountains near the Equator
In what is known as the North Gondar Zone, the Simien Mountain range is a designated national park that has the highest peak in the country, and the fourth highest in Africa, snow-capped Ras Dejen. The ruggedness of the area makes it most suitable to reach atop pack animals that are available in the nearby town of Debark.
Visitors will be rewarded with masses of flowers growing on the highlands, such as giant lobelia, red hot pokers and heathers. Bird life is abundant and the highly protected Walia Ibex calls this home, as well as the Gelada Baboon that is easily identifiable with what looks like a bleeding heart pattern on its chest.
- photo – MauritsV
While in this region, a visit to the nearby city of Gondar, 748 kilometers (465 miles) from Addis Ababa, proves why Ethiopia is an archaeological haven with its medieval castles and churches, many still in relatively good condition. The city was founded in 1635 by Emperor Fasilidas and was the country’s capital until Emperor Tewodros II (1855-1868).
Parks Worth the Effort
A much more accessible park is The Awash National Park named after one of the main rivers that flows through the country. Unlike the high grounds of Simien Mountain Park, this one has forested lowlands along the river that quickly gives way to arid woodlands and then savannah. The majestic Awash Falls are a feature of this park, along with an array of animals within its confines, such as the Beisa Oryx and Swayne’s Heartbeest, as well as being a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Another park named after a river is the expansive Omo National Park in the southern part of the country, but this one is best reached with a ferry ride from Omorate, although there is now an airstrip in proximity. However one reaches this park, the journey is well worth it with herds of eland, lions, leopards, giraffes, cheetahs, zebras and elephants, not to forget an extensive number of bird species.
Also on the Omo River and about half the size of the previous park is Mago National Park with a similar array of wildlife on its grassy terrain, However, this park is largely undeveloped for visitors as is Gambala National Park.
In the Tigray region are a number of fascinating archaeological sites, and in the northern holy town of Axum are the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s palace, and it is also in this area that paleontologists believe the earliest ape man lived some 5 million years ago.
Almost due south of Axum is the holy town of Lalibela, 642 kilometers (400 miles) from Addis Ababa, where there is a collection of rock-hewn churches dating back to the 12th century or perhaps much earlier. These eleven monolithic churches are sometimes referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Vacationing by The Nile
Traveling west of Lalibela is the city of Bahir Dar situated on Ethiopia’s largest lake, Lake Tana, which is also the source of the Blue Nile. Near the city are the mighty Blue Nile Falls, also known as Tisisat Falls, as the longest river in Africa continues north on its journey to meet the White Nile in Khartoum and then on to Egypt before entering the Mediterranean Sea. Sailing or cruise expeditions can be arranged in Bahir Dar to explore the multitude of islands that have churches and monasteries dating back to the 13th century, although many are restricted to men. The variety of bird species on the lake will keep any birdwatcher entertained for hours.
The Great Rift Valley
Part of East Africa’s Rift cuts into Ethiopia in an area south of the country’s centrally located capital, and instantly dispels any notion of the nation being a parched, dry land. Seven lakes are found in this region with each one having unique flora and fauna. Lake Langano, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Addis Ababa, is popular with its various hotels and beaches, and the lakes are safe for swimming with a number of therapeutic hot springs in the region.