Ethiopia has to be one of the most fascinating countries in Africa, from its food to its people, there’s never a boring moment.
Unlike many African countries though there is so much to do, so many places to visit and so many things to see. You could easily spend a month in Ethiopia and not even scratch the surface. So to make it easier for you, I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 things you should see on your trip to Ethiopia.
Churches of Lalibela
Situated in the small idyllic town of Lalibela, these have to be some of the most iconic structures in the world, as well as one of the world’s greatest and most sacred sights – the famous churches of Lalibela. Eleven rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single block of granite with their roofs at ground level, they are really breath-taking. The churches themselves were built between 1181-1221 by King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela and were made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978.
The churches are in three distinct groups and there is quite a lot of walking, scrambling and climbing to see them all, so make sure you take a bottle of water and wear some comfy shoes. The most famous has to be St George’s church which is in the shape of a cross. The only downside is the USD$50 entrance fee (one ticket for all churches – not $50 per church!).
The Danakil Depression is the hottest place on earth as far as year round average temperatures go, and also one of the lowest points on earth, being more than 100m below sea level.
What makes it particularly impressive is the indescribable colours, rock formations and hot springs. It’s also difficult to believe that such a lifeless place exists on earth and as such scientists are using the area to study how life might survive on other planets.
The Danakil Depression is also considered the cradle of civilisation as this is where Lucy, the oldest known homonid fossil was found, dating back 3.2 million years. Lucy is on display at the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
The Tribes of the Omo Valley
The Omo valley is one of the most picturesque parts of Ethiopia, but the main reason to travel there is the amazing local cultures and tribes that you can experience.
The Hamar are known for their unique custom of “bull jumping”, which initiates a boy into manhood. First, female relatives dance and invite whipping from men who have recently been initiated; this shows their support of the initiation, and their scars give them a right to demand his help in time of need. The boy must run back and forth twice across the backs of a row of bulls or castrated steers, and is ridiculed if he fails.
The Dasenech is a tribe that traces its origins from Uganda. Their lives depend on the Omo River and you need to cross it in very small, but luckily safe, wooden boats to visit the tribe.
The Karo Tribe, of which there are only roughly 1,000-3,000, is the smallest tribe in Ethiopia, and they are famous for their body painting. They paint themselves daily with coloured ochre, white chalk, yellow mineral rock, charcoal, and pulverised iron ore; all natural resources local to the area. The specific designs drawn on their bodies can change daily and vary in content, ranging from simple stars or lines to animal motifs, such as guinea fowl plumage, or to the most popular – a myriad of hand prints covering the torso and legs. Both the Karo and the Hamar men use clay to construct elaborate hairstyles and headdresses for themselves, signifying status, beauty, and bravery.
Erta Ale is a continuously active volcano in the Afar Depression. It’s not easy to travel to as the surrounding area is extremely inhospitable and one must proceed on foot as the ever changing surroundings make it impossible for roads to exist.
On a day to day basis the volcano spits small amounts of lava, but on a regular basis it properly erupts, forcing nearby locals to evacuate and often resulting in the deaths of animals, and sometimes even people.
As if volcanoes aren’t dangerous enough, Erta Ale is also located in an area which experiences regular ethnic violence. However, with peace talks recently achieving significant agreement, hopefully the sporadic fighting will calm down in the future.
5 Addis Ababa
Don’t forget Addis, the capital and cosmopolitan centre of Ethiopia. Although almost everyone will fly in and out of Addis, many don’t explore this city at all, instead opting to jump straight.