The Simien Mountain National Park :The Simien mountain massif is one of the major highlands of Africa , rising to the highest point in Ethiopia , Ras Dejen (4620m), which is the fourth highest peak in the continent. Although Simien is in Africa and not too far from the equator, snow and ice appear on the highest points and night temperatures often fall below zero.
The national park has three general botanical regions. The higher lands are mountain grasslands with fescue grasses as well as heathers, splendid Red Hot Pokers and Giant Lobelia. The park was created primarily to protect the Walia Ibex, and over 1000 are said to live in the park. Also in the park are families of the unique Gelada Baboon with its scarlet ‘bleeding heart on its chest,’ and the rare Simien fox. The Simien fox, although named after the mountains is rarely seen by the visitor. Over 50 species of birds have been reported in the Simien mountains.
Access to the park is from Debark, 101km from
Gonder, where riding and pack animals may be hired. This should be arranged in advance through your local tour operator or the Office of the Wildlife Conservation Department.
The Blue Nile Falls (Tisisat Falls) : The River Nile, the longest river in Africa , in Ethiopia . From Lake Tana , the Blue Nile , known locally as Abbay, flows from Ethiopia to meet the white Nile in Khartoum to form the great river that gives life to Egypt and the Sudan . It has been said that the Blue Nile contributes up to 80% of the Nile ’s flow. Nowhere is it more spectacular than when it thunders over the Tisisat Falls near Bahar Dar. Here millions of gallons of water cascade over the cliff face and into a gorge, creating spectacular rainbows, in one of the most awe-inspiring displays in Africa , earning its name ‘Smoking Water’. The Blue Nile falls can easily be reached from Bahar Dar and the Scenic beauty of the Blue Nile Gorge, 225KM from Addis Ababa , can be enjoyed as part of an excursion from the capital.
Lake Tana :Lake Tana , the largest lake in Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile from where it starts its long journey to Khartoum and on to the Mediterranean . The 37 islands that are scattered about the surface of the Lake shelter fascinating churches and monastries, some of which have histories dating back to the 13 th Century. However, it should be noted that most of the religious houses are not open to women. The most interesting islands are: Birgida Mariam, Dega Estefanous, Dek, Narga, Tana Cherkos, Mitsele Fasiledes, Kebran and Debre Maryam. Kebran Gabriel is the principal monastery which can be visited by male tourists from Bahar Dar with its impressive Cathedral-like Building first built at the end of the 17 th Century. Dega Estephanos, which is also closed to women, is on an island in the lake, and is reached by a very steep and winding path. Although the church is relatively new (only one hundred years old), it houses a Madonna painted in the 15 th century. However, the treasury of the monastery is a prime attraction with the remains of several emperors, as well as their robes and jewels.
On the banks of the lake are many more religious houses such as Ura Kidane Mehret and Narga Selassie, many of which are open to women.
Near Gorgora, at the northern end of the lake, the Susneyos palace is a forerunner of the magnificent palaces and castles of Gonder, and dates from the reign of Emperor Susneyos. In the same area the medieval church of Debre Sina Mariam is particularly important.
A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in Bahir Dar. Along the lakeshore bird life, both local and migratory visitors, make this an ideal place for birdwatchers. Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasilidas island, which is especially famous as an important wetland. The whole of the lake Tana region and the Blue Nile Gorge have a wide variety of birds both endemic and visitors. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to rain forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.
The Sof Omar Cave :Sof Omar is one of the most spectacular and extensive underground cave systems in the world. Formed by the Wabi River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved out a new channel through limestone foothills, the Sof Omar systems is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty. The cave which is now an important Islamic Shrine was named after the saintly Sheikh Sof Omar who took refuge here many centuries ago. The cave has a religious history that predates the arrival of the Muslims in Bale – a history calculated in thousands of years.
The Rift Valley :The Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is part of the famous East African Rift Valley, comprises numerous hot springs , beautiful lakes and a variety of wildlife. The valley is the result of two parallel faults in the earth’s surface, between which in distant geological time, the crust was weakened and the land subsided. Ethiopia is often referred to as the ‘water tower’ of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off the high tableland. The Great Rift Valley ’s passage through Ethiopia is marked by a chain of seven lakes. Each of the seven lakes has its own special life and character and provides ideal habitats for the exuberant variety of flora and fauna that make the region a beautiful and exotic destination for tourists.
Most of the lakes are suitable and safe for swimming and other water sports. Lakes Abiata and Shalla are ideal places for bird watchers. Most of the Rift Valley lakes are not fully exploited for tourists except lake Langano where tourist class hotels are built. The Rift Valley is also a site of numerous natural hot springs and the chemical contents of the hot springs are highly valued for their therapeutic purposes though at present they are not fully utilised. In short, the Rift Valley is endowed with many beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs , warm and pleasant climate and a variety of wildlife. It is considered as one of the most ideal areas for the development of international tourism in Ethiopia .
Axum Historical and Archaeological Sites :Axum historical and archaeological sites, central Tigray (Tigray Region) Rightly famous for its obelisks, Axum was the capital of the Axumite kingdom – once one of the four kingdoms of the world. It was also home to the Queen of Sheba whose ruined palace and bathing pool can still be found in and near the town.
The Awash National Park:Lying in the lowlands at the east of Addis Ababa and striding the Awash River , the Awash National Park is one of the finest reserves in Ethiopia . The Awash river , one of the major rivers of the horn of Africa , waters important agricultural lands in the north of Ethiopia and eventually flows into the wilderness of the Danakil Depression. The dramatic Awash Falls , as the river tumbles into its gorge, is the sight not to be missed in the national park. Awash national park, surrounding the dormant volcano of Fantale, is a reserve of arid and semi-arid woodland and savannah, with riverain forests along the Awash river . Forty six species of animals have been identified here, including beisa oryx and Swayne’s heartbeest. The bird life is prolific especially along the river and in the nearby lake Basaka and there are fine endemic amongst the 392 species recorded. A special attraction is the beautiful clear pools of the Filwoha hot springs .
Access to the park is best from the main Addis Assab highway, and there is a caravan lodge called Kereyu Lodge at the edged of the gorge.
The Omo National Park:One of the most beautiful national parks in Ethiopia , its 4068 km of wilderness bordered by the Omo river, is home to an amazing range of wildlife. 306 species of birds have been identified here, while large herds of eland, some buffalo, elephants, giraffe, cheetah, lion, leopard, Burchell’s zebra are not uncommon. The park is not easily accessible, as the current means of access is via Omorate and the ferry to the north bank of the river. The park HQ is 75 km from Kibish settlement. However, a new airstrip is available close to the HQ and a pleasant campsite on the Mui River – plans are in hand for further major improvements.
The Mago National Park:Covering an area of 2162 km on the banks of the Omo River , the Mago National Park is relatively undeveloped for tourists. The broad grasslands teem with herds of buffalo, giraffe, elephants and kudu, while sometimes it is possible to find lions, leopards and Burchell’s zebra. The abundant bird life here is typical of dry grasslands and river banks.
Gambala National Park:In these areas many interesting species of animals and birds can often be seen by the visitor. According to the wild life information office, Dowsett Forbs has identified 813 species of birds, 596 residents and 224 regular seasonal migrants in Ethiopia .
Addis Ababa :With a population of more than two million people, Addis Ababa is not only the political capital but also the economic and social nerve-centre of Ethiopia . Founded by Emperor Menelik in 1887, this big, sprawling, hospitable city still bears the stamp of his exuberant personality. More than 21,000 hectares in area, Addis Ababa is situated in the foothills of the 3,000 meters Entoto mountains and rambles pleasantly across many wooded hillsides and gullies cut through with fast-flowing streams.
Like any other capital in the world, there is more than enough for anybody to do in Addis. There are numerous restaurants offering various exotic dishes from many parts of the world. Ethiopian food is served at the majority and there are Chinese, Italian, Indian, Armenian, Arabic, Greek and many other specialist restaurants. Indeed, it is possible to eat your way round the world without ever leaving Addis Ababa . On the entertainment side several cinemas show international films with English dialogue or sub-titles. Most of these cinemas also stage dramas in Amharic depicting Ethiopia ’s social and cultural life during different historical epochs. Shopping in Addis is a delight and the shops are fairly well stocked with almost all consumer goods. The local jeweler, sold by the weight of gold or silver, is in particularly high demand .The main market-known as the M ercato, is largest open market place in Africa and has a wonderful range of goods and products, items of local art and Ethiopian curios and antiques. Here, haggling over prices is expected - and one should allow ample time for this, At the shops in town, however, prices are fixed, although a small discount is often allowed on large purchases.
If you have some spare time during your stay there are a number of places that are well worth a visit. The Addis Ababa university, whose campus occupies a palace built by Haile Selassie before the Italian occupation of Ethiopia , houses the Institute of Ethiopian studies and the Ethnological museum. The St George Cathedral was built in 1896 in the traditional octagonal shape in commemoration of Ethiopia’s military success at the Battle of Adwa (St George is the patron saint of the soldier) and houses modern paintings by master Artist Afework Tekle, an Ethiopian painter whose work has won wide international recognition. The M enilek mausoleum was built in 1911 and the Trinity Cathedral in 1941, Both serve as tombs of emperors, princes and Ethiopian martyrs of freedom. Menilek’s wife, Taitu, and his daughter, Z ewditu, are also entombed at the mausoleum.
Axum :Halfway by road to Axum from Addis Ababa, you will pass, 1,005 kilometers to the south, Ras Dashen, which, at 4, 543 meters, is Africa ’s fourth -highest mountain. Axum , the northernmost stop along the route, is the site of Ethiopia ’s most ancient city and is renowned for its Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion , where, as legend has it the original Ark of the Covenant is housed. Axum is also famous for its seven mysterious monolithic stelae, all made of single pieces of granite and with identical decorations. The biggest of them is 33 meters high and weighs over 500 tones. It was the largest monolith in the world but fell at some time in the past.
Bahar Dar : Bahar Dar, the next stop, is 578 kilometers from Addis Ababa, has daily Ethiopian Airlines flights and a number of good hotels, and is located on he southern shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, with its ancient island monasteries and both the Blue and the white Nile’s most spectacular feature, the Tis Isat waterfalls. On the island of Dega Estefanos , you will find the church of Saint Stefanos , which has a priceless collection of icons and manuscripts and houses the mummified remains of a number of Ethiopian emperors.
Debre Damo :Some 76 Kilometers from Axum is the monastery of Debre Damo (closed to Women), which is said to have the oldest existing intact church in Ethiopia . Local tradition says that Abune Aregawi, one of the nine Saints, built the church in the 16 th Century. The Monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley.
Addis Ababa :Taking the historic route north from Addis Ababa, the first stop is Deber Markos, 305 kilometers north of the capital and also accessible by air three times a week with Ethiopian Airlines. Here you will find the 19th Century church of Markos (saint mark), with its pale but beautiful paintings depicting scenes of biblical and religious history.
Gondar :Gondar lies 748 kilometers along the route from the capital and is also served daily by Ethiopian Airlines. The town has some good hotels. The oldest and most impressive of Gondar ’s many imperial structures is the palace of Emperor Fasiladas , said to have been built by an Indian architect. There are also numerous other fascinating historical buildings and relics to be seen in the area.
Harar :Off the oval- shaped, almost north- south historical route, is Harar, 523 kilometers due east of Addis Ababa. While the town has a reasonable hotel, most people prefer to stay in Dire Dawa, 54 kilometers away along the road to Addis Ababa. The most dominant features of Harar are its strong encircling walls, which tightly embrace the town, its rich and exciting market place probably the most colorful in Ethiopia and its 99 Muslim mosques, which make this the fourth most holy city of Islam .
Lalibela :The last stop the route is Lalibela, 642 kilometers from the capital, with good hotels and with daily Ethiopian Airlines flights. Though not much more than a village, Lalibela is internationally renowned for its rock -hewn churches, which are sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world. Carved out of the rock in which they stand, these towering edifices seem to be of superhuman creation in scale, workmanship and concept.
Mekelle :Although Lalibela is unique, it is not the sole site of Ethiopia 's famous rock-hewn churches. In Tigray near Mekelle, over 200 fine examples of these monuments to man's devotion to God as well as his building skills, may be seen and visited.
The Capital of the Emperor Yohannnes IV (1871 - 1889), Mekelle is now the main town of Tigray , the most northern Ethiopian region. The Emperor's palace has been turned into a particular interesting museum, with many exhibits of his time and subsequent history. The town is also well known as a transit point for the Camel Caravans bringing salt up from the arid lands of the Danakil Depression. This makes the market palace a particular interesting place to visit. Intrepid visitors can also make excursions into the Danakil to visit some of the Afar nomads that trek across the region.
Few nations, if any, can boast the historic splendour of Ethiopia , evidence of whose extraordinary past is everywhere, from its rock-hewn churches, still places of living worship, to its ancient historical traditions and magnificent cultures. Ethiopia is a nation of surprises, full of diversity and contrast, from the ancient to the modern.
Legend has it that Emperor Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and king Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum , where he settled and established one of the world’s longest known, uninterrupted monarchical dynasties.
This is only one example of Ethiopia ’s magnificent history, which encompasses legend and tradition, mystery and fact, from a powerful and religious ancient civilization. The well -trodden path through Ethiopia ’s famous and fascinating historic places takes you through a scenically magnificent world of fairy -tale names, such as Lalibela, Gondar, Deber Damo and Bahar Dar.