Simien Mountains National Park

Ethiopia is an outstanding country

Mind-blowing scenery, fascinating people and highly localised wildlife await visitors to Ethiopia

Ethiopia is an outstanding example of a country about which widely-held, media-generated perceptions can be thrown right out of the window. In reality, extensive parts of the ruggedly beautiful ‘Roof of Africa’ are well-watered, verdant and fertile. As a destination, Ethiopia certainly has all the ingredients it takes to provide epic and transformative travel experiences.

Exciting and multifaceted, this land-locked north-eastern African country is possibly best known for its ‘Historical Route’ in its mostly mountainous, northern regions of Tigray and Amhara. Constructions people come to see there include awe- inspiring 12th century rock-cut Christian churches; island monasteries, impressive pre-Christian monolithic stelae and unexpected 17th century castles. Inextricably intertwined in the rich history of these regions is a strong spiritual element, which visitors can witness in the form of some truly impressive, annual ceremonies. (Christianity arrived in Ethiopia in the 4th century).

The Solomonic dynasty is said to have originated after a biblically described visit by the Queen of Sheba (Makeda) to King Solomon of Israel during the 10th century BC. She is said to have returned from Jerusalem to Ethiopia and given birth to their child, Baina-lehkem or Menelik I. The Solomonic dynasty assumed power in 1270 when Yekuno Amlak overthrew the Zagwe dynasty, a kingdom centred at Lalibela. The dynasty’s last ruler, Haile Selassie (Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael, referred to as Ras Teferi while he was Governor of Harar), a defining figure of Ethiopia’s history and of messianic significance to Rastafari movement, was deposed in September 1974.

Ethiopia has some of Africa’s most mind-blowing scenery, with highlights ranging from the vast Simien Mountains to the sweltering Danakil Depression, which, aside from being Africa’s lowest point, has a quarter of the continent’s active volcanoes. Several of the peaks in the mountainous highlands to the north (Simien Mountains) and to the south of the Ethiopian Rift Valley (Bale Zone in Oromia), exceed 4,000 metres in elevation. Adding to Ethiopia’s scenic highlights are its Rift Valley lakes and to the south of these, the Bale Mountains. To the north of the Rift Valley, near Bahir Dar (capital of the Amhara region), additional scenic highlights include the Blue Nile Falls; the Source of the Blue Nile and Lake Tana.

While some 75% of Ethiopia’s 102 million people are Oromo, Amhara, Somali and Tigrean, the country has some 80 ethnic groups. The extraordinary tribes of Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (Konso and South Omo) merit special mention: as expressed by our friend Philip Briggs in his Bradt Ethiopia Guide, these tribes – some of which number only a few thousand individuals - are currently still about as far away from ‘western civilization’ as one can get in Africa.

With the extensive highlands mostly varying between 1,290 – 3,000 meters above sea level, Ethiopia is in some ways almost an ‘ecological island’, with its distinctive assemblage of endemic mammals (39 species) and birds (18 species). Icons include the critically endangered Simien wolf (less than 450 remaining with none held in captivity) and the unmistakeable Gelada or ‘bleeding-heart’ monkey, the only primate which grazes. Birders will be in their element, with endemics such as Blue-winged goose and Streseman’s bush-crow not being too difficult to spot where they occur.

With such an abundance of rugged terrain, Ethiopia beckons hiking and trekking enthusiasts. Talk to us about fully equipped mule-trekking trips in the Simien and Bale Mountain National Parks, as well as community village walking holidays which incorporate well-managed home stays in the Tigray and Wollo regions. Whether you wish to take a private, bespoke tour or to join one of our set small group departures, most of which are planned so as to include attendance of significant cultural events, you will be taken care of by our excellent, professional guides and drivers. It is worth bearing in mind that while today there are some very comfortable lodges and hotels, the standard of accommodation in Ethiopia for the most part, does not yet match that in better-known Eastern African destinations such as Kenya and Tanzania.

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