Ethiopia is a land of natural attractions, from the tops of the rugged Simien Mountains to the depths of the Danakil Depression, at 120 meters below sea level one of the lowest dry land points on earth. The cornucopia of natural beauty that blesses Ethiopia offers an astonishing variety of landscapes: Afro-Alpine highlands soaring to around 4,300 metres, moors and mountains, the splendor of the Great Rift Valley, white-water rivers, Savannah teeming with game, giant waterfalls, dense and lush jungle… the list is endless.
Ethiopia’s many national attractions enable the visitor to enjoy the country’s scenery and its wildlife, conserved in natural habitats, and offer opportunities for travel adventure unparalleled in Africa.
The wildlife consists mainly of East African plains animals, but there are now no giraffe or buffalo. Oryx, bat-eared fox, caracal, aardvark, ccolobus and green monkeys, Anubis and Hamadryas baboons, klipspringer, leopard, bushbuck, hippopotamus, Soemmerings gazelle, cheetah, lion, kudu and 450 species of bird all live within the park’s 720 square kilometres.
Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park
Using Lake Langano as your base, it is an easy side trip to visit Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park, which is 887 square kilometers (550 square miles) in size, 482 (300) of these being water.
The altitude of the park ranges from 1,540 to 2,075 meters (5,051 to 6,806 feet), the highest peak being Mount Fike, situated between the two lakes. The temperatures can be high, reaching 45°C (113°F) at maximum and 5°C (41°F) at minimum. Rain falls between March and April and June and September, averaging 500 mm (19.5 inches).
The surrounding area is mainly acacia woodland, some of which is very degraded by man.
Abijatta and Shalla are both terminal lakes but very different in nature. Lake Abijatta is 14 meters (46 feet) deep as opposed to Lake Shalla which has a depth of 260 meters (853 feet).
The Park was created for the many aquatic bird species that use the lakes, specially great white pelicans and greater and lesser flamingo. The birds use Lake Abijatta as a feeding center while using Lake Shalla’s island as breeding site. White-necked cormorant, African fish eagle, Egyptian geese and others are in abundance in the park.
Awash National Park
Lying in the lowlands east of Addis Ababa, and striding the Awash River, the Awash National Park is one of the finest reserves in Ethiopia. The Awash River, one of the major rivers of the Horn of Africa, waters important agricultural lands in the north- eastern part of Ethiopia and eventually flows into the wilderness of Danakil Depression. The dramatic Awash Falls as the river tumbles into its gorge, is the site not to be missed in the national park. A special attraction is the beautiful clear pools of the hot springs (Filwoha).
Awash National Park, surrounding the dormant volcano of Fantale, is a reserve of arid and semi-arid woodland and Savannah, with riverine forests along the Awash River. Forty-six species of animals have been identified here, including Beisa Oryx and Swayne’s Hartebeest. The bird life is prolific specially along the river and in amongst the 392 species recorded. Access to the park is the best from the main Addis-Assab highway, and there is a caravan lodge called Kereyu Lodge at the edge of the gorge.
Access to the park is the best from the main Addis-Assab highway, and there is a caravan lodge called Kereyu Lodge at the edge of the gorge.
Bale Mountains National Park
Only 450 Ethiopian wolves survive today. Some 220 live around Bale’s bleak yet beautiful Sanetti Plateau in southern Ethiopia, a six-hour drive south from Addis Ababa. Despite their rarity, spotting them along the roadside through the National Park is almost as easy as spotting an urban fox in London. They look like foxes too, with deep russet coats and black-tipped tails, but they’re sleeker, taller, and incredibly handsome. In just 15 minutes on the plateau, we saw our first wolf, a juvenile, skulking low, then waiting patiently to pounce on his living lunch. Bale is known to be home to 78 mammal species and around 300 species of birds, but who knows what truly lives here? Largely unexplored yet potentially full of exciting discoveries, researchers have recently found 22 previously unknown species of butterflies and moths.
Ethiopian wolf, Canis simensis, Bale Mountains National Park, Sanetti Plateau, Ethiopia, Endemic, Abyssinian wolf, red jackal, red fox, Simien fox, Classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List 2004, most threatened canid in the world, only wolf species to be found in Africa
Simien wolf, endemic to Ethiopia, also known as the Simien jackal of Abyssinian wolf, is found in greater numbers in the Bale Mountains then in the Simiens, between 3,000 and 4,500 meters high.
Sof Omar, a tiny Muslim village in Bale, is the site of an amazing complex of natural caves, cut by the Weyb River as it found its way into the nearby mountains. The settlement, which is a religious site, is named after a local Sheikh.
Visitors to Sof Omar make their way-armed with torches and official map underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream, and there one can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high, eroded ceilings and deep, echoing chambers.
Some 35 per cent of the Ethiopian population is Muslim. Nearly half the population is Christian, belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, whose 4th Century beginnings came long before Europe accepted Christianity. A further small percentage of the population adheres to traditional and other beliefs, including Judaism.
Simien wolf, endemic to Ethiopia, also known as the Simien jackal of Abyssinian wolf, is found in greater numbers in the Gaysay area in Bale Mountains, between 3,000 and 4,500 metres high.
Gambella National Park
One of Ethiopia’s least developed parks and receiving few visitors, Gambella National Park is located on the Akobo River system. It was originally created for the protection of the extensive swamp habitat and the wildlife there.
The park is 5,060 square Kilometers (1,954 square miles) in area, and its altitude ranges between 400 and 768 meters (1,312 and 2,519 feet). Rainfall is 1,500 mm (58.5 inches) a year, falling between April and October. Temperatures are high. The vegetation here is mainly grassland and Terminalia /Combretum wooded grassland, with extensive areas of swamp. Malaria is a problem and precautions must be taken.
The park contains forty-one species, many representative of neighboring Sudan and not found elsewhere in Ethiopia, such as Nile lechwe and the white-eared Kob, the latter migrating in the large numbers. Roan antelope, topi, elephant, buffalo, lelwel hartebeest, lion, and giraffe are also present.
The most important of the 154 bird species present here is the whale-headed stork, an unusual large-billed, tall bird seen standing in the swamps.
Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, is the source and from where the famed Blue Nile starts its long journey to Khartoum, and on to the Mediterranean. The 37 islands that are scattered about the surface of the lake shelter fascinating churches and monasteries. Some of which have histories dating back to the 13th century.
A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in Bahir Dar.
Along the lake shore bird life, both local and migratory visitors, make the site an ideal place for bird-watchers. Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasiledes island, which is specially famous as an important wetland. The whole of the lake Tana region and the Blue Nile gorge host a wide variety of birds both endemic and migratory visitors. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to riverain forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.
Archeological research at Yeha has unearthed many historical treasures, including a number of Sabaean inscriptions and a variety of animal figurines. Several of these antiquities are on display in the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
Mago National Park
Covering an area of 2,162 square kilometers on the banks of Omo River, the Mago National Park is relatively undeveloped for tourists. The broad grasslands teem with herds of Buffalo, Giraffe, Elephant and Kudu, while sometimes it is possible to find Lion, Leopard and Burchell’s Zebra.
The park rises in the north to mount Mago (2,528 meters) and is home to 56 species of mammals. Mago National Park mainly grass savannah, with some forested areas around the rivers. Very dense bush makes for difficult game viewing. The Birds are typical of the dry grassland habitat, featuring bustards, hornbills, weavers, and starlings. Kingfishers and herons can be seen around the Neri River, which provides an alternative habitat.
Nechisar National Park
Covering 514 square kilometers (319 square miles), Nechisar National Park is situated near the town of Arba Minch, 510 kilometres from Addis Ababa. Lakes Abaya and Chamo are the twin rift valley lakes separated by a neck of land better known as a “Bridge of Heaven”. They are the integral part of the park. The park is home to Burchell’s Zebra, Grant’s Gazelle, greater Kudu and others. Various species of birds and crocodiles reflect the park’s different habitat.
The 188 bird species – including two endemic of the area are quite varied, reflecting the different habitats within the park. Both the red-billed and the gray hornbill are common here, and the Abyssinian ground hornbill is also seen. Also common are fish eagle, kingfishers, and rollers. Various bustard species are found in the park including the large and impressive Kori.
One of the most important features of this region of Africa resulted from faulting and cracking on its eastern side. This has caused the Great Rift Valley, which extends from the Middle East to Mozambique, passing in a north-south direction right through Ethiopia. This shearing of the earth’s surface occurred at the same time that the Arabian Peninsula, geologically a part of Africa, was sundered from the rest of the continent.
Volcanic activity, which has continued until today, finds expression in volcanoes in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, as well as in the hot springs in many parts of the country.
Earth tremors are often felt, and exposed cones of old volcanic plugs are seen throughout the plateau. After the Rift opened, much of this area was flooded by the inrushing waters of the red Sea, a flood that was subsequently stemmed by fresh volcanic activity that raised barriers of basaltic lava. Behind these barriers the trapped inland sea that had formed began to evaporate under the fierce heat of the tropical sun – a process that is almost complete today. Only a few scattered, highly saline lakes – Gamarri, Affambo, Bario, and Abbe remain. Elsewhere, there are huge beds of natural salt – which, at points, are calculated to be several thousands of metres thick.
The Smoke of Fire-Ertale
Known locally as Tis Isat – ‘Smoke of Fire’ the Blue Nile Falls is the most dramatic spectacle on either the White or the Blue Nile rivers. Four hundred metres (1,312 feet) wide when in flood, and dropping over a sheer chasm more than forty-five metres (150 Feet) deep the falls throw up a continuous spray of water, which drenches onlookers up to a kilometre away. This misty deluge produces rainbows, shimmering across the gorge, and a small perennial rainforest of lush green vegetation, to the delight of the many monkeys and multicoloured birds that inhabit the area.
To reach the falls, which are about thirty-five kilometres (22 miles) away, drive south from the town of Bahir Dar for about half an hour and stop at Tis Isat village. Here travelers will quickly find themselves surrounded by a retinue of sometimes overzealous youthful guides who, for a small Fee, will show the way and point out several places of historic interest en route.
After leaving the village the footpath Meanders first beside open and fertile fields, then drops into a deep rift that is spanned by an ancient, fortified stone bridge built in the seventeenth century by Portuguese adventurers and still in use. After a thirty-minute walk, a stiff climb up a grassy hillside is rewarded by a magnificent view of the falls, breaking the smooth edge of the rolling river into a thundering cataract of foaming water.
A rewarding but longer trek is to walk along the east bank all the way to the back of the falls; crossing the river by papyrus boat known as ‘Tankwa’. The site overlooking the waterfall has had many notable visitors over the years, including the late eighteenth-century traveler James Bruce, and, in more recent times, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.
The OMO Valley
The Omo Valley is virtually free of human habitation but it is rich in palaeo-anthropological remains. According to research conducted in 1982 by the University of California at Berkeley, hominid remains from the Omo Valley probably date back more than four million years. Much of Africa’s volcanic activity is concentrated along the immense 5,000 kilometres crack in the earth’s surface known as the Rift Valley. It is the result of two roughly parallel faults, between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened and the land subsided. The valley walls 97 daunting blue-grey ridges of volcanic basalt and granite – rise sheer on either side to towering heights of 4,000 metres. The valley floor 50 kilometres or more across, encompasses some of the world’s last true wildernesses. Ethiopia is often referred to as the water tower of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off its high tableland, and a visit to this part of the Rift Valley, studded with lakes, volcanoes and savannah grassland, offers the visitor a true safari experience.
The Omo River tumbles its 350 kilometres way through a steep inaccessible valley before slowing its pace as it nears the lowlands and then meanders through flat, semi-desert bush, eventually running into Lake Turkana. Since 1973, the river has proved a major attraction for white-water rafters. The season for rafting is between September and October when the river is still high from the June to September rains but the weather is drier.
The river passes varied scenery including an open gallery forest of tamarinds and figs, alive with colobus monkeys. Under the canopy along the riverbanks may be seen many colourful birds. Goliath herons, blue-breasted kingfishers, white-cheeked turacos. Emerald-spotted wood doves and red-fronted bee-eaters are all rewarding sights, while monitor lizards maybe glimpsed scuttling into the undergrowth. Beyond the forest, hippos graze on the savannah slopes against the mountain walls, and waterbuck, bushbuck and Abyssinian ground hornbills are sometimes to be seen.
The Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is part of the famous East African Rift Valley, comprises numerous hot springs, beautiful lakes and a variety of bird life. The valley is the result of two parallel faults in the earth’s surface between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened, and the land subsided. Ethiopia is often referred to as “water tower” of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off the high tableland. The Great Rift Valley’s passage through Ethiopia is marked by a chain of seven lakes.
Each of the seven lakes has its own special life and character and provides ideal habitats for the exuberant variety of flora and fauna that make the region a beautiful and exotic destination for tourists.
Most of the lakes are suitable and safe for swimming and other sports. Besides, lakes Abijatta and Shalla are ideal places for bird watchers. Most of the Rift Valley lakes are not fully exploited for tourism purposes except lake Langano where tourist class hotels are built. The Rift Valley is also a site of numerous natural hot springs and the chemical contents of the hot springs are highly valued for their therapeutic purposes though at present they are not fully utilized. In short, the Rift Valley is endowed with many beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs, warm and pleasant climate and a variety of wildlife. It is considered as one of the most ideal areas for the development of international tourism in Ethiopia.
Simien Mountains National Park
The Simien Mountains massif is a broad plateau, cut off to the north and west by an enormous single crag over 60 kilometers long. To the south, the tableland slopes gently down to 2,200 meters, divided by gorges 1,000 meters deep, which can take more than two days to cross. Insufficient geological time has elapsed to smooth the contours of the crags and buttresses of hardened basalt.
It is common to see troop of Gelada baboons in the Simien Mountains. Found only in Ethiopia’s high country, their ‘sacred heart’ a patch of bare skin on the chest distinguishes them from any other species of baboon.
Simien Mountain National Park is the home of the agile Walia Ibex, the symbol of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization. Rivaled only by the klipspringer, the Ibex was thought to be heading for extinction, but it appears to be surviving with the protection it is now given.
Yangudi-Rassa National Park
This little developed National Park covers an area of 4,730 square kilometers. Situated in a semi-desert area the Yangudi-Rassa National Park has very little rainfalls. With an altitude of 400 to 1,459 meters (1,300 – 4,800 feet) above sea level, the Park was established for the purpose of protecting an endangered species – the wild ass. Gerenuk, Sommerring’s gazelle, Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra and Hamadryas baboon are also found in the Park.