Ethiopia’s 14 Best Sights
Ethiopia is a state in the east of the African continent. It has rocky plateaus, wide plains, and clear rivers.
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Things to do in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a large densely populated landlocked country with a turbulent rich history. The area has been exploited by people since ancient times. At the beginning of our era there emerged a powerful state of Aksum, which traded with Egypt, India and southern Arabia. In the IV century, Christianity spread, and later – Islam.
The mixture of cultures has contributed to the creation of unique architectural monuments, many of which are included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Tourists come to see the ancient cities, palaces, Muslim and Christian shrines.
Popular is Addis Ababa. The city, founded in 1886, is called the “capital of Africa. The metropolis attracts wide streets, prestigious hotels and stores. The main sights are the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Anwar mosque, Mercato market, a new sports stadium. In the center there is a monument to Alexander Pushkin.
The wildlife of Ethiopia is rich and varied. Mountain areas and plains are covered with greenery, among which live rare species of animals and birds. Black rhinos, Ethiopian wolves, cheetahs, spotted otters, and African wild dogs can be found in the reserves. National parks have special trails that allow you to observe the animals from a safe distance.
For active people Ethiopia offers a lot of entertainment. Excursions to the ghost town of Dallol, the Danakil Desert and the indigenous settlements are guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.
Ethiopia has few sources of clean water, so there are outbreaks of infectious diseases. To avoid infection, get proper vaccinations before your trip, stock up on medicine and mosquito spray, and adhere strictly to sanitary regulations during your trip.
Places of Interest
The city of Axum was once the capital of the Axum Kingdom. When you come here, you can see the magnificent historical monuments. The central place is taken by ancient steles with metal inlays and intricate designs. The height of the largest obelisk is 33 meters.
In the city there is a Christian church of 1665, petroglyphs depicting animals and birds, the most ancient megaliths, Ezana stone with ancient Greek writings. Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba, described in the Old Testament, lived in Aksum.
In 1635, the ruler of Ethiopia, Fasiledes, founded the city of Gondar. The historic area is listed as a World Heritage Site. The main attraction is the Fasil Gebbi fortress. The complex, built in Arabic style, includes palaces, churches, barns, and servants’ houses.
The architectural ensemble is surrounded by thick walls. In the corners stand watchtowers with domed roofs. All buildings have been restored and are accessible to the public. Inside the main palace is the imperial library.
The Karo tribe has lived in the valley of the Omo River since ancient times. The people live by their own rules and honor the customs of their ancestors. They have a special feature – to paint the body with colored clay and talcum powder. Tourist companies offer to go to the Karo village and see the life of the tribe from the inside.
Travelers can see the original wooden rod houses, watch ritual dances, and take pictures with the natives. Before the trip, it is worth stocking up on small gifts for the villagers.
On the outskirts of Gondar is a large 18th century fort built by order of Empress Mentwab. The ruler moved there after her son died and lived in the citadel for the rest of her days.
Kuskwam consists of a well-preserved palace, a church, a ruined chapel and a banqueting hall. The current temple contains the tomb of Mentwab and her family. In the fort there is a monastery and a Sunday school.
The baths of Fasilidas
In Gondar there are royal baths, erected by order of the emperor in the XVII century. The attraction is easy to find a few kilometers away from Fasil Gabbi. It is a two-storey house made of cobblestones and decorated with a crenellated roof, narrow windows and balconies.
It stands inside a 50-meter deep and 2.5-meter deep pool. Nowadays, the pool is filled up once a year during the Epiphany. The locals call it the Timkat feast. After the church service, worshippers come to the pool to bathe.
Hidden in the heart of the Danakil Hollow is an abandoned village that attracts extremists from all over the world. It has the highest average annual temperature in the country, making it one of the hottest places on the planet.
In the middle of the last century, a village was formed here around a salt mine. The mine quickly dried up and people left Dallol. The past is evidenced by the empty streets and clay houses where the hot wind rages. The only way to get here is with a guide who knows the proven caravan routes through the desert.
The Rock Churches of Lalibela
The city of Lalibela, founded over a thousand years ago, is the center of the Christian faith in Ethiopia. It is famous for its monolithic churches from the 12th and 13th centuries. Magnificent examples of rock architecture carved in the rocks of volcanic origin.
Among the 13 temples, Beth Giorgis is the best preserved. It stands in a pit 12 meters deep, surrounded by rock. The flat roof of the church barely reaches the surface of the ground and has the shape of a cross. The interior walls are decorated with ornaments and moldings.
Maria of Sion Church
In Aksum one can see the orthodox Church of Mary of Sion, erected in 372 on the ruins of a pagan temple. It is considered the oldest Christian church in Africa and attracts hundreds of tourists every day.
The vaults of the central hall are held up by massive pillars decorated with paintings from the Holy Scriptures. The walls are painted with colorful frescoes. From the ceiling hangs a huge bronze chandelier.
In the temple is kept a Christian relic – the Ark of the Covenant. The unique casket is hidden in a small chapel and is inaccessible to the faithful, even on holidays. Only a copy of the Ark is put on public display. In the chapel are also precious crowns of the rulers of Ethiopia.
St. George’s Cathedral
A beautiful octagonal cathedral dedicated to St. George is easy to find in Addis Ababa. It was built by Italian prisoners of war and designed by Sebastian Castagna in 1896. The cathedral is the coronation site of Ethiopian emperors and a center of pilgrimage.
Inside it is equipped with a museum. It exhibits ancient weapons, stained glass windows created by the famous artist Afeuorka Tekle, and the imperial throne, instructed by jewels.
In Addis Ababa, on the grounds of the Haile Selassie Imperial Palace, there is an ethnological museum that tells the cultural and social history of Ethiopia. The exhibitions on the first floor present everyday objects, traditional musical instruments, and weapons of hunters.
On the second floor are funerary structures, stone steles, and ritual objects. In the hall of religious art triptychs, icons, crosses, ancient scrolls. The private chambers of Haile Selassie are also open. Guests are shown the bedroom, bathroom and dressing room of the emperor.
The National Museum in Addis Ababa boasts the largest collection of historical treasures on the African continent. A plastic replica of Australopithecus Lucy is on display on the first tier. Fossilized bones of a hominid 3.5 million years old were found in the Omo River Valley. In the same room are the remains of the saber-toothed tiger and the giant savannah pig.
In the archaeological department there are pottery, bronze lamps from the first century A.D., a stone throne decorated with carved ornaments, and steles inscribed with ancient writings. On the second floor are paintings by Ethiopian artists.
Natural attractions and parks
On the border with Eritrea stretches the salt desert of Danakil. It hardly ever rains, and temperatures can reach 70 degrees Celsius. It is a dangerous place, attracting true adventurers. It is famous for its specific landscapes, reminiscent of the scenes of sci-fi movies.
Among the fossilized salt corals there are lakes of sulfuric acid and oil, narrow crevices, ponds releasing poisonous fumes. There are several dormant and active volcanoes in the desert.
The Blue Nile, flowing through Ethiopia, forms beautiful waterfalls in the Amhara region. The sparkling cascade falls from a height of 45 meters and consists of one wide waterfall and several smaller ones. During the rainy season, the amount of water in the river increases, and the width of the Tees-Ysat reaches 400 meters.
Above the falling water is often a rainbow. The striking spectacle attracts numerous tourists here. Not far from the waterfall is a deep gorge, overgrown with prickly bushes, over which there is an ancient stone bridge.
Simien Mountains National Park
In the Simien Mountains, a national park was founded in 1969 to preserve wildlife. It includes Ras Dashen, the highest point in Ethiopia (4550 m).
Ethiopian wolves, mountain goats, caracals, gelada baboons, and spotted hyenas live within the park. Among birds, you can often see vultures, eagles, falcons, African buzzards, and fatheaded crows. Vegetation is represented by alpine forests and low-growing savannah. There is a dirt road and hiking trails through the park for several days of travel.
Ethiopia guide: six reasons to go to the heart of Africa
Currently, only three countries with which Russia resumed air links, the epidemiological situation meets all the criteria of Rospotrebnadzor: Tanzania, Seychelles and Ethiopia. Options for a vacation, to put it bluntly, not much – and here is one of them. Journey to this unusual country, you really will remember for a lifetime.
See a completely different world
Of course, Africa itself is significantly different from all the European countries, but even against the background of African countries, Ethiopia seems very original. The nature here is unusual for the Black Continent – the country is almost half covered by emerald mountains. The history of the state on this land is 3000 years old, and scattered around the country ancient architectural monuments, the age of which is counted in centuries and millennia. Ethiopia has also remained the only African country that has never been a colony, although Europeans tried to gain influence in the local territories until the mid-20th century.
The best time to travel in Ethiopia is from October to February: there are neither extremely high temperatures nor rainfall (this period is considered the cold season in the country). From March to April is better to travel in the north of the country, as in the south at this time is the rainy season. From May to September is not worth visiting at all: it still rains in the south, in the north – the unbearable heat.
Ethiopia has its own chronology, which begins seven and a half years later than usual. The local calendar has 12 months of 30 days and an extra month with five or six days, depending on whether it is a leap year or not. The day begins at six in the morning here (that is, for locals it is 00:00). Of course, for tourists the daily schedule will be familiar – airports, train stations, banks, stores use the usual time for us, but just in case, check with interlocutors about what time we’re talking about.
The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr. Nowadays 1 Birr is equal to 1,87 Ruble, which means that one US dollar contains nearly 40 Birr. Only new dollars (at least 2013) and euros are accepted for exchange. Cards are not widely accepted in Ethiopia, but there are ATMs serving Visa and MasterCard in every city. By the way, a cow in Ethiopia is also currency: you can exchange it for money or goods. And even for your wife. (How awful!) In short, life in this country really is like nothing else.
Citizens of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus must have an Ethiopian visa: it is made online, valid for 30 days and costs $ 52. You can also get a visa at the airport in Addis Ababa for $ 50.
Meet African tribesmen
Of course, many travelers come to Ethiopia primarily to experience the life of wild tribes, to share a life with them, to see how they exchange food at the market, and even to live in a traditional hut. All of this is doable, but you can’t do it “in the wild”.
- You will need a guide ($50 per day), because the Ethiopian tribesmen – logically – do not speak English or any other foreign language.
- The tribes themselves have a fee for visiting and taking pictures. In some, this fee is paid directly to the chief, but in others, you have to give a few Birr to anyone who gets in your picture, so before you visit the Aboriginal villages, don’t forget to change large bills for change.
- Many tribes live in national parks and reserves, where you may also have to pay to enter. But all these amounts are small enough. Local tour operators offer one-day organized tours to the tribes, the cost of which ranges from $100 to $150: it already includes a guide, transportation and collection of the tribe.
Yellow fever vaccination is mandatory for entry into Ethiopia. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that you enter the country after routine immunizations for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, smallpox, polio, influenza, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. Before you travel, it’s a good idea to buy anti-malarial pills and repellent sprays.
There are several Ethiopian tribes that travelers can interact with in person, all of whom live in the southern Omo Valley. When visiting the natives, remember that the African tribes’ villages are their real habitats, not just a colorful attraction for tourists.
African Mursi woman with a large lip plate
The Mursi are the most famous of Ethiopia’s tribes. They are easily recognized by an unusual accessory – an impressively sized clay disk inserted into the lower lip (in the modern tribe, it is mostly women and girls who are adorned in this way). They say that once upon a time members of the Mursi tribe mutilated themselves in this way in order not to be taken into slavery; today the clay disc is a “source” of income, because tourists often take pictures of the “decorated” natives. The men wear loincloths only in front of tourists – and gladly take them off for the photo, the rest of the time they prefer to parade naked.