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Far from being the endless desert many expect, Ethiopia is arguably the most underrated and eccentric tourist destination in Africa, offering a host of scenic, historic, cultural and natural attractions that would be difficult to do full justice in the space of several months, let alone an ordinary 10-14 day trip. The most popular circuit runs through the majestic northern highlands and takes in a trio of former capital cities — ancient Axum, medieval Lalibela and 18th century Gonder — known for the wealth of archaeological and cultural sites, of which the most alluring is the actively used complex of 13 rock-hewn churches at Lalibela. There ...

Far from being the endless desert many expect, Ethiopia is arguably the most underrated and eccentric tourist destination in Africa, offering a host of scenic, historic, cultural and natural attractions that would be difficult to do full justice in the space of several months, let alone an ordinary 10-14 day trip. The most popular circuit runs through the majestic northern highlands and takes in a trio of former capital cities — ancient Axum, medieval Lalibela and 18th century Gonder — known for the wealth of archaeological and cultural sites, of which the most alluring is the actively used complex of 13 rock-hewn churches at Lalibela. There are also castles in Gonder, pre-Christian stelae (obelisks) in Axum, ancient island monasteries on Lake Tana (source of the Blue Nile) and numerous other lesser-known sites for aficionados of genuine off-the-beaten-track travel. Where the north is dominated by an idiosyncratic Christian denomination established at Axum in the 4th century AD, the east supports one of the world’s oldest Islamic cultures, focussed on the atmospheric walled city of Harer, birthplace of Haile Selassie, last in a succession of 200-odd emperors that claim King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as their ancestors. Bisecting Ethiopia from north to south, the Great Rift Valley is the site of the volcanically active Danakil Desert (officially the hottest place on earth), the wild Awash National Park, and a string of beautiful lakes running towards the border with Kenya. In the far southwest, the Omo Valley is a veritable living museum inhabited by a hodgepodge of staunchly traditionalist pastoralist tribes, while montane highlights include the hiker-friendly Simien and Bale National Parks. Wildlife is thinner on the ground than elsewhere in Africa, but this is compensated for by a host of endemics, including more than 30 species of birds, the stunning golden-maned gelada monkey, and the world’s rarest canid in the form of the Ethiopian wolf.

Philip Briggs
About the Expert

Philip Briggs has written or contributed to 50-plus editions of Bradt, Insight, AA and Berlitz guidebooks to African destinations.

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Philip Briggs for Triporati

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