Ethiopia a Tourist Paradise
Ethiopia is truly a land of contrasts and extremes; a land of remote and wild places. Some of the highest and most stunning places on the African continent are found here, such as the jaggedly carved Simien Mountains, one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites - and some of the lowest, such as the hot but fascinating Danakil Depression, with its sulphur fumaroles and lunar-like landscape. Ethiopia is old; old beyond all imaginations. As Abyssinia, its culture and traditions date back over 3,000 years. And far earlier than that lived "Lucy" or Dinkenesh, meaning 'thou art wonderful', as she is known to the Ethiopians, whose remains were found in a corner of this country of mystery and contrasts.
Many people visit Ethiopia - or hope to do so one day - because of the remarkable manner in which ancient historical traditions have been preserved. And, indeed, the ceremonies and rituals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, open a window on the authentic world of the Old Testament. In no other country is it possible to find yourself so dramatically transported back in time or to participate with such freedom in the sacred rituals of an archaic faith.
Ethiopia is a country for outdoor-oriented people where so many open-air activities can be enjoyed. The opportunities to enjoy the attractions of Ethiopia, while participating in a favorite pastime, make a holiday in Ethiopia even more fun.
Some activities may provide a relaxing interlude in an Ethiopian tour, while others will be an important factor in choosing to come to Ethiopia. So take time out and explore the opportunities that Ethiopia offers. In any remote area, or undertaking any form of hazardous activity, taking a local guide is strongly recommended. In national parks, ranger guides accompany trekking parties.
Walking and Trekking
The Ethiopian highlands, blessed with a temperate climate and grand mountain scenery, offer superb trekking opportunities. The principal well-established areas for trekking are the Simien and Bale Mountains National Parks. The more recent arrival to this field of tourist activity is the remote South - West highlands east and west of the Omo valley, where strong and colourful cultures compliment the appeal of scenery, flora, and fauna.
Less strenuous and more relaxing are the pleasant local traits that flow the banks of Rift Valley lakes, or resort areas close to Addis Ababa, such as a walk through the vineyards of Ambo.
The rewards of a trek in the Simien mountains include spectacular views from the northern escarpment, the three endemic mammals - Walia Ibex, Gelada Baboon, and the Simien Fox as well as Ras Dashen, the country's highest peak at 4620 meters.
Bale has a less inhabited, richer mosaic of high-altitude plateau, heather moorlands, and dense juniper forest with an easily seen population of Mountain Nyala and Simien Fox as well as some fabulous birds, many of them endemic.
Riding and Pony Trekking
In such a rugged environment horses and mules play an important part in the transportation of people and goods. So it is not surprising that horse riding can be enjoyed in most parts of Ethiopia. A trek in the Simien Mountains on a surface-footed pony allows visitors to get to areas even 4 x 4 vehicles find difficult.
Much of Ethiopia is rugged mountainous country, and the opportunities to conquer demanding peaks and crag are endless. The Simien Mountains, the Bale Plateau and many other areas provide perfect climbs. Equipment is rarely available locally and should be brought with you.
In many areas, particularly those with limestone, crag, underground caves and caverns may be discovered. Near Dire Dawa there is evidence of prehistoric habitation. Skilled expeditions will find great opportunities, but local guides are essential.
With 861 bird species, out of which 16 are endemic, Ethiopia is a must for every bird enthusiast. Many of the National Parks provide areas less affected by human activities where a broader range of bird species can usually be seen.
According to their habitat, the most recommended sites for bird-watching are - the highland plateau, the lakes region, and the lowlands. Nearby sites include Entoto, Gefersa, Debre Zeit, and Menagesha forest.
The highland is called the land of endemism. Of the total endemic birds, over 60 percent of the species are found in the Bale Mountains National Park. Totally 161 bird species are recorded in this park. Some of the richest areas of bird life in highland plateau include small patches of natural forest on gorge edges,
inaccessible valley bottoms, and sacred graves on hilltops and around churches.
Ethiopia's lakes are famous for the sheer numbers of birds they harbor. The Lakes Region covers Lakes Ziway, Langano, Abijatta, Shalla, Awassa, Abaya, and Chamo. Over 50 percent of all bird species have been recorded in the Rift Valley because of the proximity of numerous aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Lake Abijatta is a feeding ground for numerous great white pelicans and greater and lesser flamingo as well as flocks of little grebes. An island in neighboring Lake Shalla is a regular breeding ground for great white pelicans and a nesting spot for the greater flamingo.
Lowlands too offer a great opportunity for bird-watchers. These areas are rich in seed-eating and insectivorous birds. This site covers areas in Borena Administrative Zone.
The main reasons behind the distribution of birds in various localities are the feed, altitude, climate, and cover factors. Accordingly, birds of prey and other scavengers are in plenty. To list some of the birds: Lammergeyer or the bone breaker is quite common in the Simien Mountains. Shoebill or Whale headed stork is also common in Gambella and Ethio-Sudan border. Ethiopian Bush Crow is a localized endemic bird distributed throughout Borena area up to Murle. Prince Ruspli's Turaco too is considered as a localized bird found in Borena area alone.
The best season for bird-watching is from the beginning of September up to February. Between November and February, migrant birds raise the bird population and widen species diversity as well.
The trip starts at the Gibe Bridge - 186 kilometers South - West of Addis Ababa on the road to Jimma. The river there is known as Gibe. The best season for trips is between September and October, when the river is starting to dry out.
Bordering the Awash National Park, the 23 kilometers stretch of the Awash River offers a superb one or two-day trip featuring lots of spirited rapids, wildlife and impressive rugged cliffs and side canyons. The trip starts at the Awash Falls, with a paddling drill in the foaming pool below, and the rapids follow one after another.
The diversity of its landscape and climate has enabled Ethiopia to possess various species of wildlife. The recorded list counts at 277 out of which 31 are endemic.
Apart from areas set aside for National Parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserves, the country has 18 controlled hunting areas. Controlled hunting area is an area of land set for the use of hunt able wild animals for their sustainable hunting on a quota basis which is subject to revision periodically. Actively hunting areas are located in Oromia, Afar and Southern regions.
The list of hunt able wild animals include endemic mammals - an addition to have a unique experience by possessing a unique trophy at the end of this activity.
Some of the additional opportunities for tourists who come for hunting are special scenic features of hunting areas, culture and traditional livelihood of the indigenous people, attractive and unique topography and pleasant weather. Tour operators specializing in hunting include Wildlife Safaris. Ethiopian Rift Valley Safaris, Rocky Valley Safaris, and Libah Safaris.
Camping is often the only way to see some of the more beautiful, but remote, areas of Ethiopia. In most areas camping is safe, but local advice should be sought. As little camping gear is available to hire in the country, all the necessary equipment should be brought with you.
Opportunities for swimming abound in Ethiopia. Apart from pools at the main hotels, Lake Langano and Shalla are bilharzia-free and resort areas have been set aside for swimming. Specially attractive are pools created by natural springs as can be found in Awash National Park, or at Sodere Filwoha (hot spring).
Sailing on Lake Tana, or some of the Rift Valley lakes is a popular pastime. Many of the local Fishermen will be happy to take out their boat for you. A trip in a dugout canoe, or traditional papyrus boat, is another wonderful experience. Lake Langano is also popular with windsurfer, and water-skiers.
White water rafting is a new adventure that can be experienced on parts of the Omo and Awash Rivers and the Blue Nile.
With its spirited rapids, innumerable side creeks and waterfalls, sheer inner canyons, hot springs, abundant wildlife and exotic tribal peoples combine to make the Omo one of the world's classic river adventures.