When most people think of traveling to (sub-saharan) Africa, they think of South Africa, Tanzania or Kenya and these countries are indeed awesome.
However, one of the most fascinating and captivating countries in the continent, if not the whole world, is Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the oldest civilisations and cultures on the planet. It is said that the first humans originated from the region and God himself once resided here inside the Ark of Covenant.
For a long time Ethiopia was synonymous with the word “famine” after the particularly brutal one which blighted the country during the 80’s and caused an international humanitarian crisis. Of course, the nation still faces its challenges but the country is truly back open for business.
Ethiopia is well served by Ethipio Airways and return flights can be picked up from throughout Europe for around $500. Obtaining an Ethiopia Tourist Visa is also pretty easy and there are some reputable agents out there who can take all of the pain out of the application process..
Here are the highlights of visiting Ethiopia…
1. An Extra Month in the Year!
Did you know that Ethiopia is the only place in the world where the year has 13 months in it?! This may sound balmy, but the Ethiopian calendar pre-dates the Gregorian and they have stuck to their own with a truly stubborn steadfastness.
2. Rock Churches of Lalibela
Because of biblical significance, Ethiopia boasts some ancient and fascinating monasteries.
The Rock Monasteries of Lalibela are absolutely stunning. There are 11 of them hewn out rock, the most famous being the George of St Church amazingly cut into the shape of a St George Cross. The churches are important ot the Ethiopian Orthodox faith and are now UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Equally awesome, is the outlines and extravagant outfits worn by the Orthodox Priests who look after the sites.
3. The Ark of The Covenant
Lets keep the religious them going a while longer…
According to Ethiopian legend, the Ark of the Covenant (where God lived and which the Israelites carried around the wilderness with them) came to rest in Ethiopia. Whilst nobody is allowed to actually look upon the Ark (it is afterall, pretty much the face of God) you can get as near as possible by taking a trip to the ancient Church of our Lady Mary of Zion in Aksum.
The site is very impressive sitting amongst some 75 stone pillars (most of which are still erect).
4. Simien Mountains National Park
Africa is famous for its abundant nature and wildlife. The Simien National Park is perhaps the most breathtaking expanse of pure nature in Ethiopia. The mountain range is amongst Africa’s most stunning (and highest).
The park is perfect either for a full-on 2-week trek or simply for an afternoons saunter.
5. Abuna Yemata Guh – The Church in the Sky
As well as having some of the highest mountains in Africa, Ethiopia also boasts some of the highest churches in the whole world!
Asd well as being one of the highest, it is also one of the most dangerous and least accessible. Reaching the tiny church (cut into the rock) can only be done by a perilous climb which entails carefully maneuvering along a death-defying, 650-foot periphery!
In local tradition, newborn babies are brought up here to be shown to God which means new Mothers braving the perilous climb with their infants attached to them.
6. The Hyenas of Harar
In the city of Harar, there is an ancient tradition of feeding wild Hyenas who roam the city streets after dark. The Hyenas are said to be represent the spirits of dead ancestors and to protect the city from evil. Each night a banquet of meat and bones is offered up for them to placate them and win their favour. If you find the right people, you can also join in the feeding of the animals yourself.
Harar is a stunning city in itself. It is an old-world, Islamic city rising up like a mirage from the endless plains. Walking the wall city through its ancient streets, it is like stepping back in time except fr the ghetto blasters blaring out of shops and busses.
Haras is reached by way of a 10 hour bus ride from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. The ride is absolutely breathtaking and the journey is well worth doing.
7. Addis Ababa
Ethiopia’s happening capital of Addis Abba is one of Africa’s funnest and funkiest in Africa. Often referred to as the capital of city of Africa itself, Ababa is a buzzing hub of economic, social and political activity. It is also home to such pan African institutions as the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The sheer diversity of its populace is reflected in the many churches, mosques and museums, including the Ethiopian National Museum which houses the fossilized skeleton of Dinkinesh, or Lucy, the Australopithecine discovered in the area in the 1970s.
You can visit the Ethiopian National Museum (naturally), the former palace of Haile Selassie (the Rastafari) as well as the aforementioned churches and mosques.
The city also has an exciting culinary scene as well as awesome nightlife. As a traveller in Ethiopia, you will find yourself making friends everywhere.
8. Rastafarian Culture
Whilst Rastafarian culture is primarily associated with the Caribbean island of Jamaica (and the tiresome Reggae singer Bob Marley) the strange religion began life in Ethiopia. Because of his successful resistance to European colonial rule, Emperor Haile Selassie was accepted by many Africans as the black messiah and a whole mystical cult developed around him which morphed into a religion.
The Rastafarian faith is an interesting mix of pan-African, rebel politics and Christianity with cannabis smoking as its Holy Sacrament. In Ethiopia, you can visit the palace of Haile Selassie himself, meet with Ethiopian rastas, visit the churches and monasteries and if you are lucky, even engage in the holy sacrament for yourself.
Where To Go From Ethiopia
Ethiopia is so vast, rich and rewarding that we recommend spending at least 3 – 4 weeks exploring it. Once you have finished though, you may wish to cross by land to Djibouti which is one of Africa’s most accessible and underrated destinations. Alternatively, word on the street is that the long closed land border with Eritrea will soon be opening now that the long civil war between the 2 countries has resolved.
If you are leaving by plane, then Cairo and Nairobi are well served by Ethiopian Airways and cheap one way tickets can easily be picked up.
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