The 13 best places to visit in Ethiopia

 

In the far north east of the country, within the city of Gondar, are the remains of the Fasil Ghebbi, meaning Royal Enclosure, a fortress city founded in the 17th century. Once home to Ethiopia's emperors, the complex of buildings include the Fasilides Castle, the Empress Mentewab's Castle, Lyasu The Great's Palace, a library, banqueting hall and three churches. With it's unique architectural style and diverse influences the Fasil Ghebbi has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

13. Fasil Ghebbi

 

In the far south west of the country close to the borders of Kenya and South Sudan is the 4,068 square kilometre (1,571 square mile) area of protected land considered the most remote in Ethiopia, Omo National Park. Made up largely of savanna, animals in the park include elephant, giraffe, cheetah, lion, leopard, zebra, colobus monkey, Anubis baboon as well as large herds of buffalo and eland. In the lower reaches of the Omo River are the earliest known fossil fragments of Homo Sapiens, dating back 195,000 years. Due to this the area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

12. Omo National Park

 

South of the capital, Addis Ababa, at the southern end of the Bale Mountains beneath the steep escarpment is the Harenna Forest, one of the last remaining and most extensive forests in the country. It's thick canopy is home to the rare Bale Monkey, whilst visitors can spot giant forest hogs in it's mossy undergrowth. Accounting for 3% of Africa's remaining bamboo forests, the Harenna Forest is an unusual, unexpected and rarely travelled landscape within Ethiopia.

11. Harenna Forest

 

In the far south west of the country, covering an area of some 514 square kilometres (198 square miles) within the Great Rift Valley, made up of escarpments, savannah, swamps and forest is the protected area of Nechisar National Park. Visitors can witness zebras and gazelles roaming the vast savannahs or watch the big Nile crocodiles of Lake Chamo. The most famous area of the park is a mountainous neck of land that splits Lake Abaya from Lake Chamo, known as the Bridge Of God.

10. Nechisar National Park

 

Directly south of the capital, Addis Ababa, in the southern centre of the country is the 887 square kilometre (342 square mile) Abijatta-Shalla National Park, named after the two Rift Valley lakes of which it encompasses. Between the two lakes is the enormous Mount Fike, a 2,075 metre (6,808 ft) high volcanic caldera, the parks highest point. Visitors can make their way to the north eastern corner of Lake Abijatta where there are a number of hot springs, as well as a large number of wild flamingos.

9. Abijatta-Shalla National Park

 

In the far north east of the country, close to the border with Djibouti is the bizarre Lake Abbe. Situated at the Afar Triple Junction within the Afar Depression, the site is the location where three pieces of the Earth's crust are pulling away from each other. What has been created from this is a large hypersaline lake salt flat, from which huge limestone chimneys of carbonated lake water and deep geothermal fluids reach 50 metres (160 ft) from the surface. Spewing steam in an area of dormant volcanoes it is one of the most unusual landscapes in Ethiopia.

8. Lake Abbe

 

South of the capital, Addis Ababa, in the southern centre of the country is the 2,220 square kilometre (860 square mile) protected area of Bale Mountains National Park, encompassing the Bale Mountains and Sanetti Plateau of the Ethiopian Highlands. Divided into five distinct and unique habitats, the park boasts the northern grasslands of the Gaysay Valley, the Northern Woodlands, the Erica Moorlands, the Harenna Forest and the Afro alpine meadows of the Sanetti Plateau. Among the high rocky mountains is Mount Tullu Demtu, standing at 4,377 metres (14,360 ft) above sea level it is the countries second highest peak. As well as the incredible landscape of Bale Mountains National Park, the area is also home to a quarter of the countries rare animal species, boasting the highest occurrence of endemic animal species of any terrestrial habitat on the planet.

7. Bale Mountains National Park

 

Directly north of the capital, Addis Ababa, in the northern centre of the country is the town of Lalibela, famous around the world for it's ancient monolithic rock cut churches. Built at an elevation of 2,500 metres (8,202 ft) above sea level, between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, these remarkable rock cut architectural masterpieces offer an exceptional testimony to the medieval and post medieval civilization of Ethiopia. Among the best known of these churches is the Church Of St. George, dating to the late 12th century it is the newest of the 11 churches. Measuring 25 metres by 25 metres by 30 metres, cut from the solid earth surround, it has been referred to as the Eighth Wonder Of The World. Considered the second holiest location in Ethiopia after the city of Aksum, the 11 rock cut churches of Lalibela have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Church Of St. George.

6. Lalibela Rock Hewn Churches

 

In the extreme north of the country, close to the border with Eritrea, ​is the monolithic church of Abuna Yemata Guh. Believed to have been hewn from the cliff face in the 6th century, the church was dedicated to one of the nine saints, Abuna Yemata, from whom it gets it's name. It's interior is decorated with 15th century frescoes and paintings depicting figures from the old testament. The dry air and lack of humidity have preserved these artworks in an almost perfect state. Situated at a height of 2,580 metres (8,460 ft) above sea level, visitors have to undertake a steep and hazardous climb to reach the church, using hand and footholds in the rock. For those brave enough to cross the natural stone bridge with a sheer drop of 250 metres (820 ft) either side, followed by a walk over a narrow wooden footbridge, a strenuous ascent followed by a climb up a vertical rock face without support, then finally walk over a 50 cm wide ledge with a 300 metre (984 ft) sheer drop, they'll be met with a most fantastic view over the surrounding valley, and the chance to see one of the finest religious building locations anywhere.

5. Abuna Yemata Guh

 

To the north west of the capital, Addis Ababa, is the largest and most well known waterfall in Ethiopia, the Blue Nile Falls. Known as Tis Abay, meaning 'Great Smoke', the waterfall can reach over 400 metres (1,312 ft) across during the rainy season and has a maximum drop of 45 metres (147 ft). The Blue Nile Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in all of Africa.

4. Blue Nile Falls

 

Within the Afar Depression in the far northern centre of the country, close to the border with Eritrea, is the Erta Ale, the most active volcano in Ethiopia. Standing at 613 metres (2,011 ft) above sea level within the East African Rift system, Erta Ale boasts the largest lava lake in the world, being one of only six volcanoes on the planet to even hold a lava lake. Though the surrounding terrain is considered some of the most inhospitable on Earth, within a region of tribal and political tension, it is possible to hike to the rim of the crater lake. As well as hiring a guide, visitors are also recommended to hire armed guards or military escort to accompany them. For those that do undertake this difficult and dangerous journey, what awaits is one of the most spectacular and extreme views on the planet. 

3. Erta Ale

 

In the far north west of the country, covering an area of some 220 square kilometres (85 square miles) within the Ethiopian Highlands is the Simien Mountains National Park. Home to the Ras Dashan, the countries highest peak at a whopping 4,550 metres (14,930 ft) above sea level, the landscape is one of sheer cliffs, plateaus and tall pinnacles separated by huge valleys. Rich in flora and fauna, one of the most prominent species within the park is the bearded vulture, a bird with an impressive 3 metre (10 ft) wingspan. With some of the most spectacular natural scenery in Africa, with a landscape pre-dating the creation of the Great Rift Valley, the Simien Mountain National Park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Simien Mountains National Park

 

Within the Afar Triangle, where three tectonic plates meet in the Horn Of Africa, in the far northern centre of the country along the border with Eritrea is a place known as the Danakil Depression, the second hottest place on Earth. On a plain some 200 by 50 kilometres (124 by 31 miles), sitting 125 metres (410 ft) below sea level, where the tectonic plates of Africa and Asia are pulling apart, a complex geological volcanic rift has developed, creating one of the most unique and bizarre landscapes in the world. With yellow sulphur springs creating pools of green water among strange land formations, the Danakil Depression is truly a place like no other.

1. Danakil Depression

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