Ethiopia is a fascinating country which is rich in history, culture and natural splendour. Ethiopia holidays take you to an ancient land where modern humans are believed to have emerged, being home to the remnants of past civilisations, as well as centuries-old extant tribal customs and religion, rewarding travellers with enthralling diversity.
Much of the fascination with Ethiopia lies in the various historical sites in the north of the country. The most famous is Lalibela, where the rock-hewn churches that were originally carved between the 12th and 13th centuries, “with the help of angels” are still in use today and are important places of pilgrimage for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians. Each of the 11 churches of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is unique and carved from a single piece of granite, with some connected by underground tunnels featuring interesting caverns and galleries hewn from the rock.
There is no shortage of places to visit when venturing to Ethiopia, starting with the holy city of Aksum, which is a true place of mystery. Acting as the centre of an important trading empire between the 1st and 7th centuries AD, Aksum had its own written language called Ge’ez. This popular location is also noted for its engineering works, including large stone stelae which mark the tombs of local rulers.
King Remhai’s stele is no longer raised but would have stood 33 metres tall, while King Ezana’s stele still stands today, measuring over 20 metres and weighing 160 tonnes. Some of the tombs under these stelae have been excavated but much is still to be discovered by archaeologists. Ethiopian Christians believe that the Church of St. Mary of Zion houses the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the tablet stones on which the Ten Commandments are inscribed and some contend that the city was the site of the court of the Queen of Sheba.
Founded in the mid-17th century and originally being Ethiopia’s capital for over two hundred years, Gondar is a city of castles and medieval architecture. The Royal Enclosure contains six castles including Fasiladas' Palace, complete with Fasiladas’ prayer room and four domed towers.
The finest church in Gondar is the Debre Birhan Selassie, featuring an impressive ceiling decorated with winged angel heads and wall paintings, which depict scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary. Gondar is also the gateway to the spectacular Simien Mountains, where you can discover endemic wildlife such as Walia ibex and gelada monkeys while enjoying incredible vistas of the mountains’ jagged peaks and deep valleys.
Alternatively, explore the city of Bahir Dar, which sits on the southern shore of Lake Tana, presenting palm-lined avenues and breathtaking views of the lake. Lake Tana has numerous islands with ancient churches and monasteries, where colourful frescoes of religious scenes and illustrated bibles can be seen. The Blue Nile Falls, locally known as the Tis Isat (“smoking water”), can be found close by, which is 45-metres-high.
Southern Ethiopia is culturally fascinating, boasting great scenic beauty in its various natural landscapes. There is a string of stunning lakes found in the Great Rift Valley, including Langano, which has a mountain backdrop and acts as a popular relaxation spot for water sports and bird watching. Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya, located in the Nechisar National Park, are also great natural landscapes to visit on Ethiopia trips.
Bale Mountains National Park features diverse scenery and ecosystems including grasslands, forests, alpine moorland and the Sanetti Plateau, which is home to the rare Ethiopian wolf. In the woodland and riverine forests of Mago National Park, kudu, dik-dik, waterbuck and even elephant can be found. Meanwhile, the park is home to the Mursi, one of the most distinctive tribes of southern Ethiopia, where women practise the old tradition of stretching their lower lips with clay plates. Other tribes include the pastoralist Hamer, known for their colourful skirts, the Dassanech, with their dramatic scarification and the Konso, recognisable by their colourful, hand-woven clothes.
There is a lighter rainy season from February to April but travel is still possible at this time.
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