This post was most recently updated on March 27th, 2018
Ethiopia is unique. Unlike its neighbors, Ethiopia was never really colonized. The Ethiopian people are fiercely proud of their way of life, their language, and culture. Ethiopians have excellent food and even better coffee. They have a long Christian history which they are proud of. They even have their own tradition of horse riding, not to, mention their own calendar.
Top Ethiopia Tourist Attractions
The city of Addis Ababa was born when Emperor Menelik II built a new home for his wife Empress Taitu in the 1800s. The Empress could not abide the severe cold and lack of wood fuel at the capital of Entoto, and her husband obliged her by building a new home conveniently located at a lower altitude and near some hot springs. Today, Addis is a center of culture, government, culinary arts, history, education, and industry.
While in Addis, visitors should not pass up an opportunity to eat local food. Ethiopian food is exquisite. Follow up your meal with a cup of coffee. Ethiopians have been enjoying coffee longer than pretty much anyone else. Shop for souvenirs at the Addis Mercato. Visit St. George’s Cathedral and Museum and the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Museum. The National Museum of Ethiopia is a good place to visit.
Aksum is an ancient kingdom located in Northern Ethiopia. Today, only ruins and tall obelisks remain. Centuries ago, however, Aksum was the capital of a prosperous kingdom. It was the largest city in Ethiopia peaking in the 6th century. According to Legend, the famed Ark of the Covenant rests in Aksum, where devoted Coptic monks guard it.
Bahar Dar is the site of Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s biggest lake. Spread across it is the thirty-seven islands. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile river. On these islands are ancient churches, monasteries, and relics left behind by ancient kings. Most of these churches do not allow women inside. In the monasteries, visitors can admire ancient paintings and architecture. It is a great place for bird watching. Visitors make their way to the islands using boats.
Feeding Hyenas in Harar
Built by Sultan Abu Beker in 1520, Harar is sacred to Ethiopia’s Muslims. It is among the four holiest sites in Islam, together with Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. In 1889, Ethiopia’s Menelik conquered Harar, ending a lengthy war between Christians and Muslims. Harar is a maze of narrow, winding alleys, with beautiful mosques, and lively markets. Famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud once lived in Harar.
A house built on the same site of his original home is today named after him. Harar is probably the only city that is frequented by hyenas. The canines visit the city and are fed by ‘hyena men.’ During a Muslim festival known as the Day of Ashura, hyenas eat porridge. Locals believe that they can foretell the future by observing the hyenas eating.
Gondar is Africa’s answer to Camelot. Royalty, imposing castles, palaces, pageantry, and history together make this one of the most intriguing locations in Africa. Gondor castle is a network of castles and palaces dotting the mountainous region. In the Seventeenth century, Gondar was the most populated region in Ethiopia. It was a center of trade, Christianity, and aristocracy. Some of its buildings were partially ruined in 1941, during the war. Emperor Fasilidas built the magnificent castles in the 17th century. Some of the old churches are still here.
Concerned that many Christians could not afford to travel to Jerusalem for pilgrimage, King Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty embarked on an ambitious project. He wanted to create a little Jerusalem inside Ethiopia. That is how Lalibela was born. Lalibela’s churches were not built from the ground up. They were carved out of bare rock, starting from the top and finishing at the bottom.
The town has a small population, and many of them are priests. Pilgrims and tourists flock to this ancient city. Churches hold prayers every morning. Pilgrims kiss the walls of the churches as they recite their prayers, hoping to receive special blessings.
Prepare to be rendered speechless by the wildlife, landscapes, and birds. Visitors can trek for between one and twelve days in Simien Mountains National Park. Ethiopia’s highest mountain, Ras Dejen, sits here and the combination of high mountains and deep valleys makes this landscape very striking. Wildlife enthusiasts, birdwatchers, researchers and hikers love it. More than 180 types of birds perch here. In the giant Erica forest, endangered species like the Ethiopian wolf, the Walia Ibex, and the Gelada.
The Omo Valley
Some of the fascinating tribal people in Africa live In the Omo Valley. Here you find the Hamer, Mursi, Bumi, Turkana, Abore, Bena, Kwegu, Ari, Karo, Bodi, Kara, Konso, and Daasanech people. The Omo River drains into Lake Turkana in Kenya. To avoid a zoo-like experience, spend some time getting to know people before whipping out your camera. You will have a more enriching experience.
The Danakil depression is a desert with extreme temperatures. Danakil is rich in salt. Locals have made a living harvesting salt for centuries. Lava flows add to the charm of the landscape, as do the many lakes that lie well below sea level. Within the salt beds, there are deposits of sulfur as well as hot springs. One of the hottest places on earth is the ghost town of Dallol, constructed using blocks of salt. The landscape here reminds you of the lunar surface.
The Rift Valley
Seven lakes dot the path of the Great Rift Valley through Ethiopia. Visitors to these lakes can enjoy swimming, water sports, fishing, and bird watching. Lake Langano is well developed, with multiple resorts. A large population of hippos grazes around the bountiful reeds of Lake Chamo. Crocodiles live here too. In the Rift Valley, you also find hot springs.
Bale Mountains National Park
In Ethiopia’s Bale mountains, there is a variety of landscapes and species. More than 1,300 plant species adorn these mountains. Endangered animals like the Ethiopian wolf roam in in Bale. The largest swine in the world, the giant forest hog, lives here in the Harenna forest. Hikers and trekkers are in for a treat. All weather roads traverse the Park, making it accessible to tourists. The endangered Ethiopian wolf and the mountain Nyala are just some of the unique species that live here.