Recently recommended by Samuel Gebre of Bloomberg magazine, Ethiopia is known for its rock-hewn churches, diverse peoples and religions and its two mountain ranges. The most well-known of these - and my personal favourite - is the Simien Mountains.
I love this area because it is huge, open and one can totally escape in the wilderness surrounded by the elements, wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else, and landscapes that take your breath away. If you love the great outdoors then this is the place for you!
The Simien Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only natural history site given this status in the country, and are accessed either from the north driving across country, sometimes on dirt tracks and steep mountain roads from Axum, or from Gondar to the south, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the few lodges in the Simiens is Limalimo, a gorgeous luxury ecolodge with stunningly beautiful views! Out of the windows, one can see for many miles. Some of the cliffs drop vertically for over a mile and all around lie canyons and mountain tops and pinnacles.
Limalimo sits in a perfect spot just outside the park – it is 10 minutes’ drive to Debark, where the Simien park headquarters are located, and from there one can explore and trek through the escarpment and walk through forests and over grasslands.
Located on a 10 hectare site visitors stay in gorgeous rooms that are light and airy with large windows that encompass the view. Of course there is a bar and restaurant to dine in and at night the log fire is perfect and welcoming as the nights can get very cold at this altitude. The staff, who are mostly employed from the local community, are very friendly.
Limalimo puts great emphasis on community and conservation, and they work closely with the local community and the African Wildlife Foundation to benefit the local area and reduce the impact of the lodge on the environment.
Every guest’s fees contribute to Limalimo’s conservation fund, which in turn will be invested into local conservation projects such as a Classroom Africa program, community engagement work and planting indigenous trees in the National Park.
The lodge was constructed by members of the community utilising sensitive green technology. Rammed earth and locally sourced wood were used so it all blends in well with the environment. Limalimo is dedicated to reducing their footprint and environmental impact so waste water is reused on site. The owners and staff are also trying to replace non-native trees on the site with native species.
These are better for the ecosystems and wildlife species and provide inviting and alluring habitats for local wildlife. Geladas have been known to walk though Limalimos property so wildlife viewing begins on the doorstep!
Sitting on the verandah at Limalimo birdwatching is sublime. Any keen birder will love to keep an eye out for some of the inhabitants including: fan tailed raven, lammergeyer, wattled ibis, auger buzzard and thick billed raven, abdim’ s stork, yellow wagtail, African citril finch, Montagu’s harrier, black-headed siskin, white-winged cliffchat, Verreaux’s eagle, stonechat and Ruppell’s griffon Vulture, Abyssinian catbird and Abyssinian slaty flycatcher .
One can trek through the mountains and past waterfalls that plunge over cliff faces and walk amongst the geladas as they forage. These are an endemic species of monkey only found in the Ethiopian highlands, along with other endemic species such as the Walia ibex and the last remaining Ethiopian wolves.
Geladas are quite relaxed when tourists venture amongst them (though they run at the site of a local shepherd!). They are mostly vegetarian and the impressive males have long golden hair that blows in the mountain air and a red heart shaped bare skin on their chests that they display.
They spend much of the day sitting on their haunches, grazing on the grasses that grow on the plateaux in groups made up of many families. At night when you are cuddled up around the lodge’s fireplace the geladas cuddle up together on the seemingly precarious cliff ledges safe away from predators.
Actually, although the gelada are commonly called ‘gelada baboons’’, they are not true baboons, rather belonging to a separate genus – Theropithecus.
For the more adventurous, I recommend adventure camping and trekking in the Simiens where a crew travels ahead and sets up small mobile camps for you, the equipment being carried by mules and donkeys.
And why not try a trek to Ras Daschen? This is the highest mountain in Ethiopia standing at an elevation of 4,550 metres (14,930 ft). A trek here generally takes about six days. It is essential that one takes it slowly as the altitude up here is very high and this would be for seasoned trekkers and those used to high altitudes.
Treks to Imet Gogo, Bwahit and the camp sites of Geech and Sankabur are more modest so much easier for others or you could just stay in the luxury lodge and then venture out each day to explore – there is so much to see here.
The canyon sides are covered in thick mosses and luxuriant vegetation, road tracks cling to the sides of the cliffs and moss and lichen grow in abundance. On the plateaus you are bound to see children and men who work and trail over the mountains tending their sheep and goats. Many of these children sleep in caves and look after the goats day and night.
- Take a helicopter flying safari to the Danakil Depression, land and see the Afar salt miners and their camel trains, and the salt deposits that make this look like an alien landscape.
- Visit the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, cut into the rocks over 800 years ago.
- See the hyenas being hand fed at night by the Hyena Man of Harar.
- Experience the rich culture of the peoples in the Omo valley.
Contact me if you would like to discuss Ethiopia in more detail!
Images provided courtesy of Limalimo Ecolodge and copywrite to:
Images of Limalimo verandah, dining room and lounge area - Mario Balducci
Image of gelada in the breeze displaying red skin on chest - Michael Waidmann