Discover beautiful places or visit the cultural treasures. Ethiopia, with its cosmopolitan cities and quaint villages, is one of the world’s most fascinating destinations.

Addis Ababa

Ethiopia’s capital is located more or less in the dead center of the country and is the third highest capital in the world at 2,400 m. Its name means “New Flower” and it is a relatively modern city, founded in 1887 by Emperor Menelik II.

Addis Ababa is the fourth largest city in Africa and the diplomatic home of the African Union. This vibrant city sits atop the Entoto Mountains and has both an African and international feel. Addis has a mystical aura that seems to act as a portal to the past. It’s a place where you can explore the beautiful Orthodox churches and museums.

Be sure to visit the National Museum where you will find the 2.3 million year old fossilized hominid “Lucy”. Also visit the Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa. Here, your senses will be awakened by the smell of spices and roasting coffee.

At night, the city comes alive with a vibrant nightlife and restaurants serving exotic Ethiopian cuisine. Day trips from Addis include the Entoto Mountains, the crater lakes of Debre Zeyit and the hot springs of Awash National Park. Indulge yourself with a stay at the Sheraton Addis, where you will be treated like royalty at one of Africa’s few 5-star resorts.

Arba Minch

On the shores of Lake Abaya in southern Ethiopia, Arba Minch is full of natural wonders and beauty. Arba Minch means “forty springs” in Amharic, and the area is rich in tiny springs gushing from the ground.

You can see many of them as you hike through Nechisar National Park. The most incredible sight in Arba Minch is the clifftop sanctuary of the Abuna Yemata Church. This rock-hewn church can only be found after a slightly challenging climb up the sheer cliff face. It requires a bit of nerve and a lack of giddiness, but your efforts will be well rewarded.

The views from the church are remarkable, and inside this ancient holy church you will find beautiful and well-preserved frescoes adorning two domes.

Axum

Travel to Axum and you will see more ancient history than you can imagine. One of the oldest cities in all of Africa, Axum is rich in legend and mystery.

It is believed to be the home of the Queen of Sheba and the final resting place of the legendary Ark of the Covenant. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to enter the church where the Ark is said to be, but you can still view the ancient Aksumite obelisks found in the northern stelae field.

The largest obelisk was recently returned to Ethiopia by the Italian government, where it had stood for decades after being taken to Italy during World War II. Its ruins and ancient legends will fascinate any history buff.

In addition to the legends of Sheba and the Ark, locals believe that the rough-hewn rock tomb of King Bazen was actually Balthazar, and that the Magi brought the news of Christ’s birth to Ethiopia.

Awash National Park

This scenic national park is located in the arid acacia savannah of the Rift Valley, about 200 km from Addis Ababa.

A magnificent 150m deep gorge carved by the Awash River forms the southern boundary of the park, including a substantial waterfall. To the north, you’ll see the jagged edges of Mount Fantelle, a dormant volcano whose crater towers above the surrounding bush.

Other highlights include the Filwoha Hot Springs, which feed a series of beautiful translucent blue pools, and Lake Beseka. Although 80 species of mammals have been recorded in Awash, game viewing is less of an attraction than the scenery and birdlife.

Awash National Park is considered one of Ethiopia’s top birding destinations with over 450 species. These include the endemic Yellow-throated Serin and the Ethiopian Cliff Swallow.

Bale Mountains National Park

The Bale Mountains National Park is a protected area of approximately 2,200 km2 located approximately 400 km southeast of Addis Ababa. Its high mountains, sweeping valleys, dramatic escarpments and vast expanses of forest provide visitors with a variety of views unique to the Ethiopian highlands.

UNESCO has estimated that the loss of the Bale Mountains’ habitats would cause more mammal species to become extinct than if any other area of comparable size on Earth were to disappear.

Combine this with rare amphibian species, endemic birds and spectacular flora, and it is easy to see why the park has been designated a Biodiversity Hotspot by Conservation International.

Blue Nile Falls

Near the city of Bahir Dar you will find the incredible Blue Nile Falls. Locals call them Tis- Isat Falls (translated as “Smoke of Fire”) and they are the most impressive sight on either the Blue or White Nile.

The falls are a quarter of a mile wide during flood season and plunge into a gorge more than 150 feet deep. You can see how the falls got their name, as they throw up a never-ending mist that drenches viewers from half a mile away.

The rainbows produced are awe-inspiring and create an Eden-like perennial rainforest of lush green foliage. You will not be alone in this paradise; the forest is home to a variety of monkeys and exotic birds.

Gondar

Nestled in the highlands of northern Ethiopia, you’ll find the fabled city of Gondar. Once you reach Ras Dashen, the highest peak in the spectacular Simien Mountains, you will be able to marvel at Gondar, the “Camelot of Africa”.

The castle was the medieval home of the Ethiopian emperors and princesses who ruled the country for nearly 1000 years. Once you reach the main site, check out the Royal Enclosure, which houses the city’s main attractions.

Another site not to be missed is the Fasiladas’ Bath. This is where the annual celebration of Timkat takes place. The water is blessed by the Bishop and splashed over the crowds of pilgrims who come to renew their faith and participate in the ceremony that reenacts Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River.

While you’re here, don’t forget to visit Debre Berhan Selassie, which is considered one of the most beautiful churches in all of Ethiopia.

Danakil Depression

If you want to get really hot, make your way to Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression. The Depression straddles the borders of Eritrea and Djibouti and is part of the great East African Rift Valley.

The Afar people call this northeastern part of Ethiopia home and, against all odds, have not only survived for centuries, but are still a thriving community.

But beware, the climate is unforgiving and is widely considered to be the hottest (average temperature of 94°F/34.4°C), driest (4 – 8 inches/100 – 200 mls of rain) and lowest (400 feet below sea level/122 meters) place on the planet. Still, this unearthly landscape is an incredible place to visit.

The lava lake at Erta Ale is one of only six lava lakes on Earth and will leave you in awe. The multicolored hydrothermal bubbling lakes and large salt pans will amaze you and make you wonder if you are still on planet Earth. The site is also rich in fossils of ancient hominids. The famous “Lucy” fossil was found in this area in 1974.

The Holy City of Harar

Harar, a city in northeastern Ethiopia near the border with Somalia, is a major center of Islamic culture. Its walled city, dubbed “Africa’s Mecca,” is home to more than 100 mosques and is also considered the “fourth holy city of Islam.

Harar was built in the 16th century to protect the region from religious invaders. As you stroll through the city’s cobbled and narrow streets, you will be greeted by friendly Harari women in brightly colored dresses.

It won’t be long before they tell you about the legendary “Hyena Man of Harar”. At the Fallana Gate, the Hyena Man will call the hyenas of Harari by name. One by one, they come up and take a piece of meat from a stick he has in his mouth. If you are brave enough, you can take a turn feeding these beautiful but dangerous African predators by hand.

Jinka

Although Jinka is the administrative capital of the South Omo Zone, it exists in almost total isolation from the rest of the country and has a relaxed, rural feel.

Situated at an altitude of 1490m, it is quite temperate and its Saturday market attracts traders from all over the region.

Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

Near the small town of Lalibela are eleven medieval churches, all carved out of massive slabs of volcanic rock.

The churches were built in the 12th century at the behest of King Lalibela. He had a vision of a “New Jerusalem” for Christians who were prevented from making the pilgrimage to the Holy Land due to Muslim conquests in the region. Today it is still a popular pilgrimage site for Coptic Christians.

The most fascinating of the ancient churches is the House of St. George or Biete Ghiorgis. The 12th century “New Jerusalem” is often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. Lalibela has been a World Heritage Site since 1978.

Mago National Park

Located about 782 kilometers south of Addis Ababa and on the east bank of the Omo River, the 2,162-square-kilometer park is divided into two parts by the Mago River, a tributary of the Omo. To the west is the Tama Wildlife Reserve, with the Tama River forming the boundary between the two.

To the south is the Murle Controlled Hunting Area, marked by Lake Dipa, which stretches along the left bank of the lower Omo River. The park office is located 115 kilometers north of Omorate and 26 kilometers southwest of Jinka. The park has about 200 km of internal roads leading to the various attractions of the park. All roads to and from the park are dirt roads.

The main environments in and around Mago Park are the rivers and the receding forest, the wetlands along the lower Mago and around Lake Dipa, the various grasslands on the more level areas, and the scrub on the sides of the hills. Open grasslands cover about 9% of the park. The largest trees are found in the receding forest along the Omo, Mago and Neri Rivers.

The areas along the lower Omo River (within the park) are inhabited by a rich variety of ethnic groups, including the Aari, Banna, Bongoso, Hamer, Karo, Kwegu, Male and Mursi. Perhaps the park’s best known attraction are the Mursi, known for piercing their lips and inserting clay discs.

Nechisar National Park

This is one of the most beautiful game reserves in Africa. The park protects the white grasslands and parts of the Chamo and Abaya lakes.

The park and the lakes support a wide variety of wildlife including hippo, crocodile, Burchell’s zebra, waterbuck, Grant’s gazelle and as usual a wide variety of birds. The terrain also varies from savannah plains to riverine forest where vervet monkeys and baboons are common.

The People of the Lower Omo Valley

For an unforgettable cultural experience, plan a trip to the Lower Omo Valley. Here you can interact with one of more than a dozen indigenous peoples who live in the region.

The valley is dependent on the Omo River, which feeds the arid savannah that supports the local communities. Each of the villages has its own customs and language and has lived much the same way for centuries. The Mursi and Hamar are proud people who adorn themselves with unusual body art and jewelry, and cattle are vital to their existence.

They are also very territorial and will fiercely defend their land and way of life. Although the region is remote, many tour companies offer treks to the Lower Omo Valley and some of its villages. Just be prepared for an expensive and challenging trip, both logistically and physically.

hammer people

Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains National Park is an exotic setting with unique wildlife and breathtaking views of a landscape shaped by nature and traditional agriculture.

Gentle grass-covered highland ridges, scattered trees and the bizarre Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) are found on the high plateau which abruptly ends in 1000 – 2000 meter deep escarpments.

The edges of this plateau consist of sheer cliffs and deep, canyon-like gorges. The spectacular Jinbar Waterfall plunges 500m and can be viewed from a viewpoint just 15 minutes walk from the road.

Apart from the Walya ibex, many other species are found in the park, including the endemic Simien fox or Ethiopian wolf, several birds of prey, the endemic Gelada baboon, the Klippspringer and the bushbuck.

Turmi

This traditional town, not far from the Kenyan border, is located in the heart of the South Omo region and is an important transportation hub at the junction of three roads.

It is the main town of the Hamer people and is known throughout the Omo Valley for its colorful Monday market, one of the most important in Hamer country.

hammer people

Ethiopia basic facts

Overview

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and the second-oldest official Christian nation in the world after Armenia. Unique among African countries, Ethiopian maintained its freedom from colonial rule with the exception of a short-lived Italian occupation from 1936-41.

Geography

Ethiopia is located in the northeastern African region known as the Horn of Africa. It is the second most populous nation in Africa (after Nigeria), bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and Sudan and South Sudan to the west.

With a total area of 1,104,300 square kilometers, Ethiopia is slightly less than twice the size of Texas, USA (or as large as France and Spain combined). The country has a high central plateau, with some mountains reaching more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The Great Rift Valley splits the plateau diagonally. The western highlands receive summer rains; the lowlands and eastern highlands are hot and dry.

The climate can be described as tropical monsoon, but it varies greatly depending on the topography. Ethiopia’s lowest point is at the Denakil Depression, -125 m (-410 feet) below sea level; the highest point is Ras Dashen at 14,938 feet (4,553 m). Ethiopia’s entire coastline along the Red Sea was lost with the independence of Eritrea on May 24, 1993. The Blue Nile, the largest tributary of the Nile by volume, originates at Lake Tana in northwestern Ethiopia. Three major crops are believed to have originated in Ethiopia: coffee, sorghum, and the castor bean.

The geologically active Great Rift Valley is prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and frequent droughts. Volcanoes include Erta Ale (613 meters), which has caused frequent lava flows in recent years and is the most active volcano in the country; Dabbahu became active in 2005, causing evacuations; other historically active volcanoes include Alayta, Dalaffilla, Dallol, Dama Ali, Fentale, Kone, Manda Hararo, and Manda-Inakir.

Climate

The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. As a highland country, Ethiopia has a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator.

Most of the country’s major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000 – 2,500 metres (6,600 – 8,200 ft) above sea level, including historic capitals such as Lalibela, Gondar, Axum, and Addis Ababa – the highest capital city in Africa at 2,400 meters (8,000 feet).

Ethiopia has three different climate zones according to elevation:

Kolla (Tropical zone) – is below 1830 meters in elevation and has an average annual temperature of about 27 degree Celsius with annual rainfall about 510 millimeters. The Danakil Depression (Danakil Desert) is about 125 meters below sea level and the hottest region in Ethiopia where the temperature climbs up to 50 degree Celsius.

Woina dega (Subtropical zone) – includes the highlands areas of 1830 – 2440 meters in elevation. It has an average annual temperature of about 22 degree Celsius with annual rainfall between 510 and 1530 millimeters.

Dega (Cool zone) – is above 2440 meters in elevation with an average annual temperature of about 16 degree Celsius with annual rainfall between 1270 and 1280 millimeters.

Ethiopian seasons

Kiremt or Meher (summer) – June, July and August is the summer season. Heavy rain falls in these three months.

Tseday (spring)  September, October and November is the spring season sometime known as the harvest season.

Bega (winter) – December, January and February is the dry season with frost in morning especially in January.

Belg (Autumn) – March, April and May is the autumn season with occasional showers. May is the hottest month in Ethiopia.

Temperature

The average annual temperature in Addis Ababa is 16°C (61°F), with daily maximum temperatures averaging 20 – 25°C (68 – 77°F) throughout the year, and overnight lows averaging 5 – 10°C (41 – 50°F).

A light jacket is recommended for the evenings, though many Ethiopians prefer to dress conservatively and will wear a light jacket even during the day.

Population

Population: 108, 000, 00 (2020 est.), the second most populous country in Africa and the 13th in the world.

Ethnic groups

Oromo 34.9%, Amhara (Amara) 27.9%, Tigray (Tigrinya) 7.3%, Sidama 4.1%, Welaita 3%, Gurage 2.8%, Somali (Somalie) 2.7%, Hadiya 2.2%, Gamo 1.5%, Gedeo 1.3%, Silte 1.3%, Kefficho 1.2%, Afar (Affar) 0.6%, other 9.2% (2016 est.)

Religions

Orthodox 43.8%, Muslim 31.3%, Protestant 22.8%, Catholic 0.7%,  traditional 0.6%, other 1% (2016 est.)

Languages

Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, although English, Italian, French, and Arabic are widely spoken. In areas outside of the larger cities and towns, indigenous languages are likely to be spoken — of which there are eighty-three, with some 200 dialects. The most common of these are Orominya and Tigrinya.

Oromigna (official regional) 33.8%, Amarigna (Amharic) (official) 29.3%, Somaligna 6.2%, Tigrigna (official regional) 5.9%, Sidamigna 4%, Wolayitigna 2.2%, Guaragigna 2%, Affarigna 1.7%, Hadiyigna 1.7%, Gamogna 1.5%, Gedeogna 1.3%, Kafagna 1.1%, other 9.3%, English (official) (major foreign language taught in schools), Arabic (official) (2007 est.).

Time and calendar

Ethiopia uses the Ethiopian calendar, which dates back to the Coptic calendar 25 BC, and never adopted the Julian or Gregorian reforms. One Ethiopian year consists of twelve months, each lasting thirty days, plus a thirteenth month of five or six days (hence the “Thirteen Months of Sunshine” tourism slogan).

The Ethiopian new year begins on September 10 or 11 (in the Gregorian calendar), and has accumulated 7-8 years lag behind the Gregorian calendar: thus, for the first nine months of 2021, the year will be 2013 according to the Ethiopian calendar. On 11 September 2021, Ethiopia celebrated New Year’s Day (Enkutatesh) for 2013.

In Ethiopia, the 12-hour clock cycles do not begin at midnight and noon, but instead are offset six hours. Thus, Ethiopians refer to midnight (or noon) as 6 o’clock.

Daylight: Being relatively close to the Equator, there is an almost constant twelve hours of daylight. In Addis Ababa, the sunrise and sunset starts at around 06:30 and 18:45 respectively

Ethiopia Public Holidays

11-Sep Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year)
27-Sep Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)
29-Dec Ethiopian Christmas (Genna)
19-Jan Epiphany (Timiket)
1-Mar Adwa Victory Day
30-Apr Ethiopian Good Friday (Siklet)
2-May Ethiopian Easter Sunday (Fasika)
1-May International Labor Day (May Day)
5-May Patriots’ Day
28-May Derg Downfall Day (National Day)
CHAT