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Ethiopia’s top 9 amazing places to visit on holiday

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Ethiopia, with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa, is a country of many contrasts. There are a wide range of altitudes and many distinct areas, from the highest point in the Simiens to the lowest in the Danakil Depression, lying below sea level.

Peppered with historical treasures and many traditional and tribal cultures, as well as a multitude of endangered species, Ethiopia is perfect for adventurous explorers. Away from the crowds and untouched by many western influences, the sheer breath-taking beauty of this country overwhelms your senses. So where are the most amazing places to visit?

Addis Ababa

The capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa is perfect for a night’s rest after a long flight, and there is a beautiful luxury hotel here where you can recuperate.

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If you’d like to explore the city, one of the best places to visit is the National Museum, which holds the fossilized remains of the most famous Australopithecus afarensis – "Lucy" who is around 3.3 million years old.

It is wonderful to interact with the local people, and a special place to visit is a blind women’s self-help group where they make pottery. In the evening you can also have a traditional Ethiopian dinner and see a spectacular local dance ceremony.

Bahir Dar / Lake Tana

Bahir Dar rests on the shores of Lake Tana and is one of Ethiopia’s prettiest towns with wide avenues, palms and jacarandas and stunning lake views. For centuries Bahir Dar has been a trading centre for the region and the tankwa (traditional papyrus boats) can still be seen transporting goods across the lake.

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You can enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Tana to the 14th century island monasteries of Ura Kidan Mihret and Azwa Mariam. These are home to important collections of crosses and crowns dating back to the 14th century. The walls have colourful murals which were painted on fabric and then stuck to the rock centuries ago.

Whilst here, you should visit the Blue Nile Falls about 30km downstream from Lake Tana. Locally called Tis Issat, meaning the Great Smoke, these Falls vary between 37 and 45 metres high, and consist of four individual streams of water which reach 400 metres wide in the rainy season.


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When driving from Lake Tana to Gondar, there is a beautiful crater lake where you can stop for mid-morning tea. Once in Gondar, you can explore the 17th and 18th century Gondar palaces in their seven hectare walled enclosure, and the vine-swayed Empress baths.

No visit to Gondar is complete without a visit to Debre Berhan Selassie church with its angel painted ceiling.


The Tigray district is breath-taking to visit, with over 140 cliff churches carved into the rock, dating between the 4th and 11th centuries. (There could be as many as 200 churches, many still being practised in).

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The Gheralta Mountains form a backdrop to this area of scattered monasteries and shrines that are also of biblical interest. Around 95% of Tigrayans practise Ethiopian Christianity and unlike other African countries that where influenced by colonial era Europeans, Ethiopia was influenced far earlier through the Mediterranean world from the 4th century – even earlier than some parts of Europe!

Here there are views of spectacular scenery, shrines, hermitages, Sabean and Axumite sites including the Gheralta region for the Yeha Temple, Marian Korkor, and the Aberha Tsebeha rock churches. While you can visit many historical and archaeological interests, you would have to be a mountain goat to reach others!

Simien Mountains

A new lodge in the Simiens has recently opened. Perched on the edge of the escarpment, it is a beautiful place to stay for those visiting Ethiopia's Simien Mountains National Park. It provides simple yet luxury accommodations in these stunningly beautiful mountains whilst promoting sustainable tourism with minimal environmental impact, and provides new opportunities to the local community.

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Seemingly on top of the world at an altitude of around 3500-4350 metres, the Simien Mountains are simply stunning. You can see for hundreds of miles and there are canyons plunging hundreds of metres into valleys with rivers and waterfalls.

The Simiens have both highland and lowland habitats providing a wide range of birding opportunities. You will be accompanied by guides with excellent knowledge of the local birdlife. The best time of year for bird watching is between October and December.

You can take daily walks with a specialist guide, surrounded by gorgeously hairy gelada baboons, walia ibex and other endemic wildlife. 

You can interact with the shepherds that live in these high altitudes tending their flocks of sheep that eat the lichen, moss and short grasses. The shepherd’s children spend many days on the mountain and they sleep in caves overnight.

Your guide can also take you to Jinbar waterfalls, where you can have a picnic overlooking the spray. You can see the highest point in the Simiens, Ras Dashen at 4543 metres, and at these high altitudes, with luck, you may see the lammergeyer vultures, who are highly endangered but seem to do well up here.


Axum, founded in the 4th century BCE, is home to the oldest Christian sanctuary. Axum has a field of seven ancient stelae located just outside of town, but the most impressive stelae, measuring over 33 metres high and weighing about 500 tonnes, lies on the ground having fallen and broken.

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The most notable now is the second largest stelae. This 26 metre obelisk was cut into pieces during the Italian occupation in World War Two and under personal orders of Mussolini, it was removed, transported and re-erected in Rome.

In 2005 after much negotiation between the Italian and Ethiopian Governments the stelae was returned to Axum where it stands once again.

You can also visit the palace ruins of the Queen of Sheba, and the church of Saint Mary of Zion (Tsion Mariyam). This UNESCO Site is where myth and legend states the Ark of the Covenant rests.

Other sites to be seen include the Tomb of the Mausoleum, the Axum Museum, King Ezana’s Park and King Basens Tomb.


Lalibela is home to 11 sunken rock-carved churches created in the 12th and 13th centuries. These were painstakingly carved out of solid rock in four groups. The churches all have their own story and many are linked – often by dark tunnels.

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The most famous, St Giorgis, has a “roof” which has been carved into a beautiful cross shape, and is considered the most beautiful and best preserved of the monolithic churches.

Whilst here you can witness a religious ceremony taking place and hear the mesmerising and melodious chanting of the monks. You can meet the monks, priests and most likely pilgrims who may stay in a small cave for weeks near the monasteries.

Danakil Depression

The Danakil Depression lies in a fault inside the Great Rift Valley and sits at more than 100 metres below sea level. Here there are brightly coloured sulphurous springs, acid lakes and vast salt pans.

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There is also a volcano, Irta Ale, which has been continuously erupting since 1967. This volcano holds a permanent lava lake in its small southern crater.

Whist visiting you may be lucky enough to see the local nomadic Afar tribes bringing their camel trains to the Depression’s salt pans. They mine for salt, following ancient salt trade routes, in these pans which have some of the hottest temperatures known to man.

My favourite way to see this amazing area is by private helicopter, where the whole landscape stretches out before you.

Bale Mountains

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Bale Mountains National Park is one of the best in the country yet it is little-visited. Known for its wildlife, it is one of the last remaining homes of the Ethiopian Wolf, which has only 250 individuals left here. There was also a new species of monkey discovered here in 1995, which is found alongside the black and white Colobus monkeys in the rainforests.

The habitats here are fascinating and the outer edges of the National Park have fortress-like pinnacles, and on one mountain top there is a vast barren plateau. In other areas there are rainforest and Afro-Alpine forests – there are such amazing contrasts.


Get in touch with us today to learn more about Ethiopia vacations and holidays.

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Posted by: Kate Pirie

Posted on: 23rd August 2016

Read more: Posts about Africa