Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most beautiful countries and its landscapes are epic in both scale and beauty. This landlocked country is Africa’s oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population.
Ethiopia is steeped in history, it was the only African country to have escaped colonialism and has therefore retained much of its cultural identity. Ethiopia is home to one of the oldest Christian churches, the Ethiopian Orthodox. Ethiopia offers a greater richness in archaeological finds and historic buildings than any other Sub Saharan country.
It’s not only Ethiopia’s past which makes it such a fascinating country. Here is a place where you can trek more than 3000m above sea level (the Simien and Bale mountains) or visit the lowest place on the African continent, the Danakil Depression. In between, there are lush highlands and stirring deserts, vertiginous canyons and sweeping savannah, vast lakes and high plateaus. Not forgetting the wildlife: there is the gelada baboon or as they are sometimes called the bleeding-heart monkey across the northern plateau, the Walia ibex, elephants at Babille, crocs in Nechisar, they hyenas of Harar and some of the best birdwatching in Africa!
There are so many things to see and do in Ethiopia but let’s take a closer look at three things you will not want to miss when discovering Ethiopia.
The Simien Mountains National Park in Northern Ethiopia is an exotic setting with unique wildlife and breath-taking views. The Simien Mountains have been shaped over millions of years into one of the world’s most spectacular and dramatic landscapes, with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500m. Ras Dashen at 4,553m is the country’s highest peak, although the views from the Northern Escarpment are arguably a bigger attraction, with rock faces falling away thousands of feet.
Simien Mountains National Park, also known as, Simien National Park was one of the first sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978. The park is of global significance for biodiversity conservation because it is home to globally threatened species, including the iconic Walia ibex, a wild mountain goat found nowhere else in the world, the gelada baboon and the Ethiopian wolf.
Treks through the National Park are very popular amongst tourists. There are several trekking routes which can last anywhere from 3 to 10 days. Trekking provides visitors the opportunity to see the park from many different spectacular observation points and the increased chance of encountering the exceptional wildlife. It isn’t necessary to trek the national park for days on end to experience it, day trips are also possible.
Lalibela, a small, remote, town perched in Ethiopia’s Lasta mountains at 2,600m in northern Ethiopia is home to 11 spectacular churches carved both inside and out from a single rock some 900 years ago. No matter what you’ve heard about Lalibela, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen of its breath-taking rock-hewn churches, nothing can prepare you for the reality of seeing it for yourself.
Due to the impressive architecture and rich influence on Ethiopian Christianity, the churches have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. To this day, the churches are still in use.
The 11 medieval monolithic cave churches of this 13th century ‘New Jerusalem’ are still a place of pilgrimage and devotion today, attracting 80,000 to 100,000 visitors every year.
Thanks to a remarkable series of palaeontological discoveries, mostly in the Afar region of the northern Rift Valley, Ethiopia has a strong claim to be the Cradle of Mankind. Of the 14 fossils and other relics regarded to be most important in determining our understanding of human evolution, 11 were found in Ethiopia.
The most famous fossil unearthed in Ethiopia is Lucy, discovered in 1974 by Professor Donald Johanson. Lucy, the partial skeleton of an Australopithecus female is one of the oldest hominid fossils ever discovered at 3.2 million years old.
You can see our ancient ancestor, Lucy, as well as fossilized evidence of some amazing extinct creatures, like the massive sabre-toothed feline Homotherium and a wide array of artefacts at the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
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