5 incredible sights to visit in Ethiopia

Posted on 23 January 2024 By Tsoku Maela

Landlocked in the Horn of Africa and combining breathtaking natural beauty with jaw-dropping historical sights, Ethiopia is the complete wanderlust package.

But what sets this destination apart from its African neighbours? The excellent coffee? The fact that it had never been colonised? Or that Rastafarians regard it as their spiritual home? It might be all that and a whole lot more. If you’re looking for a starting guide on things to look out for on your trip, we compiled five places to visit.

1. Lalibela

In the late 12th century, Gebre Mesqel Lalibela had 11 churches — Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian nations — carved out of solid rock, all of which can be found in the town of Lalibela. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the town’s eleven astounding monolithic churches are carved deep into the rock, hidden from sight. The destination is about a 10-hour journey from Addis Ababa but is well worth the visit.

5 Sights to visit in Ethiopia

Picture: Mulugeta Wolde on Unsplash

2. Harar

The high-walled city of Harar is spectacularly lined with a plethora of mosques and ancient buildings – 99 mosques and shrines to be exact. Known for its famous array of markets, the famous Hyena Men, ancient paintings and artefacts spanning all cultures, it’s easy to get lost in the never-ending maze of the winding streets of Harar.

Picture: Flickr Commons/ Ralf Steinberger

Most travellers from within Ethiopia will come to Harar from one of two places: Dire Dawa or Addis Ababa, and the journey could be up to 15 hours by bus. One activity you can do while you are there is actually feeding hyenas. This activity has its origins in the 20th century when the Harari people started feeding the local hyenas to stop them from killing their livestock.

3. Danakil Depression

The Danakil Depression is a geological depression caused by the continental drift of the African and Asian tectonic plates and is one of Earth’s most unusual environments. With its desolate yet colourful landscape, bubbling hot springs, and mesmerizing lava lake, it is perhaps no surprise that it is also the hottest place on Earth with temperatures regularly rising above 48 degrees Celsius. It isalso home to salt lakes, lava lakes, volcanoes and neon acid springs.

5 Sights to visit in Ethiopia

Hot springs in the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia’s Afar region. Picture: Jorge Tung on Unsplash

Another sight to visit here is the Erta Ale volcano, where you can spend the night sleeping under the stars by the crater rim. The volcano contains an active lava lake where the thin charcoal crust is pierced by glowing red fissures of searing liquid lava below.

4. Omo Valley

Known for its cultural traditions and tribal diversity, this remote corner of Ethiopia has been a cultural crossroads for millennia. Its numerous tribes all have their own customs and ways of life to experience and it is a singular chance to learn more about different peoples and cultures. Despite being only tens of kilometres apart, the tribes often feel completely different from one another Omo Valley has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since the discovery of human remains dating back nearly 2.5 million years.

5 Sights to visit in Ethiopia

Picture: Fabrizio Frigeni on Unsplash

The major constraint is the drive times – all of the travelling in the area is done by road, so how long you can spend with each community depends on the number of villages you want to visit.

5. Gondar

5 Sights to visit in Ethiopia

Picture: Hunde Gemechu/Usplash

An astonishing collection of crumbling castles, fortifications and 17th-century churches, Gondar is often referred to as the “Camelot of Africa”.

The city is the gateway town to the Simien Mountains National Park and is one of the best places to be during the festival of Timkat that takes place every January. Additionally, the town is home to Gondar University, Ethiopia’s oldest medical school.

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