Ethiopia, officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Eritrea to the north and northeast, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west and Kenya to the south. In the beginning of the ‘90s the country emerged from a very rough communist regime so it is just basically starting to flourish and people are becoming increasingly curious to discover the wonders Ethiopia has hidden from the outside world for so many years. Ethiopia is also the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second most populated nation on the African continent. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this country is its ancient culture, their native language, Ahmaric being one of the oldest written languages in the world.
So what sets Ethiopia apart from its neighbors? Maybe it’s the culture, maybe it’s the fact that it has never been colonized, or maybe it’s the smooth and very well maintained roads which are so rare on the continent, that make exploring the land by car a joy. Or maybe is all that. These are the 10 things that make Ethiopia an amazing place to visit.
Addis Ababa, the capital and the largest city of Ethiopia, is also known as the capital of Africa thanks to its hosting of the headquarters of the African Union in which all African states, except Morocco are part of. Home to the largest market on the continent, Addis Ababa is famous for its churches, cathedrals, mosques and museums, and also for its incredibly diverse nightlife. Notable tourist attractions include St George’s Cathedral, Holy Trinity Cathedral and the burial place of Emperor Haile Selassie. The Imperial Palace which is also the official seat of the government and the National Palace are also worth a visit. In Addis Ababa you will also have the opportunity to see the fossilized skeleton and a plaster replica of the oldest humanoid in the world, Lucy, preserved at the Ethiopian National Museum.
Situated in northern Ethiopia, Axum (or Aksum) happens to be one of the oldest cities in Africa and the former capital of the Kingdom of Aksum. A naval and trading power, Axum is said to have ruled the region from about 400 BC until the 10th century. The place is absolutely amazing to visit thanks to its archeological sites which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1980. There are ruins and artifacts all around the city and some of the major monuments are the steles, 1,700 years old obelisks and a symbol of the Ethiopians’ identity. Other major attractions are the Old and New Cathedral of St Mary of Zion, the Ezana Stone written in Sabaean and King Bazen’s Tomb.
Bahir Dar or Bahar Dar is a city in north-western Ethiopia and the 3rd largest city in the country with access to Lake Tana which feeds the Nile. Very close to the city the Blue Nile Falls are located and although not as big as Niagara, they are very beautiful to watch. Known for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of colorful flowers, Bahir Dar was awarded the UNESCO Cities for Peace Prize in 2002, for addressing the challenges of rapid urbanization.
Feeding hyenas in Harar is by far one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ethiopia. The city is surrounded by walls and the old town is home to no more than 110 mosques and numerous shrines, all centered in the Feres Magala Square. The feeding the hyenas tradition is a long standing tradition which evolved during the 1960s to impress tourists. Although the city of Harar does not excel in terms of nightlife, it is a great place for people looking to learn more about the history of Ethiopia. A very interesting fact is that Harar is the 4th most holy city for Muslims so you are bound to find great food and interesting museums which is in itself a great way to have fun.
Ethiopia is also a gateway to Somaliland, a self-declared state that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. Ethiopia is the only country that has an official location in Somaliland and it is also the easiest way to access what is known to be one of the most dangerous regions in the world. There are plenty of places to visit there and as it turns out, it is quite safe to roam around as the people are very welcoming.
Gondar or Gonder is located north of Lake Tana and is the former capital of both the Ethiopian Empire and the subsequent Begemder Province. Several royal castles are still standing today, including Fasil Ghebbi which gives Gondar the name as “the Camelot of Africa”. The city is a popular destination thanks to its picturesque ruins, the most famous being located in the Royal Enclosure: Fasilides’ Castle, Iyasu’ Palace, Dawit’s Hall, three churches, a library and many more.
Lalibela is a town located in the northern part of the country and is famous for its monolithic rock-cut churches. One of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, Lalibela is the center of pilgrimage and its population is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. The city was built and designed as a second Jerusalem and many Ethiopians still claim this fact. The dating of the churches is not well established but most are thought to have been built during the 12th and 13th century. Lalibela was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a must-see place when visiting Ethiopia.
Simien Mountains are part of Ethiopia’s highlands, located northeast of Gondar. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Simien Mountains are often called God’s playground because of their unique formations. The mountains consist of plateau separated by valleys and rising to pinnacles, the tallest peak being Ras Dashen rising 4,550 meters high. Despite the ruggedness and altitude there are some villages located on the mountains, originally inhabited by Ethiopian Jews.
The Omo Valley is one of the few places left on in the world where you can still find indigenous people that haven’t been influenced by the outside world. The Omo River is located in southern Ethiopia and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on Earth with a wide variety of animals and people that inhabit it. The tribes that live in the lower part of the valley are truly fascinating and there are even tours organized to several towns and villages. Home to almost 200,000 people, this is another place that makes Ethiopia such a fascinating country.
Sof Omar Cave is the longest cave in Ethiopia at 15.1 km and some might argue that it is the longest system of caves in Africa. Legend says that Sof Omar was the name of a Muslim holy man who lived in the area. The place is a religious centre and it is sacred both to Islam and the local Oromo traditional religion. The caves are characterized by their numerous pillars, the Chamber of Columns being a unique feature in the world of caves.