Ethiopia Travel Guide

Ethiopia Holidays - Tours and Adventure Travel Guide

PureTravel Says
"Ethiopia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. It contains landscapes of breath-taking beauty, from Lake Tana and the roaring Blue Nile Falls to the Simian Mountains cut by deep ravines. Its culture boasts ancient stele and churches carved from solid rock, mediaeval castles and Arabian towns. Its ancient Christianity has left monasteries and churches littering the country, including the great church at Axum, supposedly the home to the Arc of the Covenant."

Ethiopia Holiday Highlights

Culture & History - Ethiopia’s rich past can be seen today in its rich archaeological record and the buildings that still survive. The castles of Gondor, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and the ancient stele at Axum are the most famous, but also find time to visit by boat the remote monasteries on Lake Tana.
Many of the countries indigenous tribes survive, the most famous area being the Omo valley in the south-west of the country. Here, various tribes exist by hunter-gathering in a life style little changed for centuries.

Safari and Wildlife - The remote and harsh mountainous areas have allowed a number of indigenous species of animals to survive here. The Bale Mountains are home to many endemic species including the Ethiopian Wolf and the mountain Nyala. The giant mole rat lives at the highest altitudes of this area.

Bird Watching - Ethiopia has a surprising wealth of bird life which is both diverse and colorful. There are about 860 species of birds that inhabit the highland and lowland areas, as well as the forests and river banks of Ethiopia. There are a high number of species which are endemic.
Some of the best places to see birds are: Geffersa,Debrelibanos, Abjata-shalla National Park , Lake Zeway, Bale Mountains, Lake Awassa, Lake Chamo, Lake Chitoo, Chalaklaka wetlands, Koka Dam, Wendo Genet ,Awash National Park, Lake Langano, Bishangari, Yabello, Negele, Soaf Omar, Lemi and Jemma Valley, Alem Ketema, Ankober, Sululta Plains, Menagesha, the Akaki wetlands and Gibe Gorge.

Mountain Biking - Ethiopia has many areas suitable for mountain biking, but the sport has not yet been developed or popularized. There is gentle terrain, suitable for the beginner, and more challenging areas with steeper gradients and more obstacles. There is also plenty of opportunity for the independent mountain biker to go off the beaten paths.

Walking, Trekking and Climbing - The mountainous areas of Ethiopia offer great trekking in remote and challenging areas.

The Simian Mountains are in the northern area of Ethiopia. There are many valleys and plateaus with high pinnacles rising into the sky. The tallest peak is Ras Dashen at 4543 meters (14904 feet) and Abba Yared at 4460 meters ( 14,632 feet). Snow falls regularly on these peaks, so be prepared for cold conditions at times. The rugged landscape is very dramatic and impressive for trekking and camping. There are local villages high on the slopes, which are connected by ancient tracks.

The Bale Mountains are in the south east of Ethiopia, south of the Awash River. The highest points are Tullu Demtu at 4377 meters (14360 feet) and Mount Batu which is 4307 meters (14130 feet). The Bale National Park protects 2200 km2 of this mountainous region. The Bale Mountains are also the area where wild coffee grows.
Many of Ethiopia’s animals and endemic wildlife may still be found here. They include the Ethiopian wolf, many reptiles, lions, leopards and antelope.

Extreme Adventures - One of the most hostile yet enchanting areas to visit is the Danakil Depression, in eastern Ethiopia. Travel is tough both physically and mentally, but the extreme experience is very rewarding. Organized trips may be booked to this remote destination.

The Danakil Depression descends below sea level, in places by as much as 120 meters. It is extremely hot and dry, and forms part of the African Rift valley. Even here there are local nomadic tribes called the Afar.

It is believed that this depression was once part of the Red Sea. It has vast deposits of salt in places. The floor is mostly basalt lava. There is also an active volcano which can be visited.

When to Go

The best months to enjoy an active adventure holiday in Ethiopia are from mid-September to January and from April to mid June. It is mainly dry in these months. The rainy season runs from June to September, and even longer in the southern highlands. It has short showers in February and March. The lowlands are very hot from June to September.

Top Tips

  • There are currently no ATMs that accept foreign cards. Exchange cash or travelers checks at the airport. Local currency is the Birr.
  • The cheapest way to obtain a one month Visa is at the airport. Ethiopian embassies charge a lot more.
  • Always carry water with you when you travel in Ethiopia. Freeze the bottle overnight if possible, and it makes a refreshing drink as it melts in the daytime heat.
  • Always wear a sun hat and sunscreen. The sun is at its most intense at the equator.
  • Wear loose cotton clothing to stay cool and comfortable.

Ethiopia Holidays In Focus

Culture and History - The most popular holiday is known as the historic route, a tour of seven to ten days that takes in all the main cultural highlights of Ethiopia. The main places you can visit are:

Axum - Situated in the north of Ethiopia, Axum is considered to be both the oldest and the most sacred town in Ethiopia. It is home to a series of stone stelae, the largest of which is over 24 metres high. The oldest of them has been dated to between 5,000-3,000 BC. Axum is also thought to have been a candidate for the home of the Queen of Sheba, the mysterious character who bewitched Solomon in the Bible stories. It is this connection that gives rise to the legend that the sacred Ark of the Covenant was removed from the temple in Jerusalem at this time and brought to Axum for safe keeping. The Church of Our Lady Mary in Zion in Axum is the place it is kept, although it is not possible to actually visit the central sanctum.

Gonder - One of the most popular holidays to Ethiopia is a trip to Gonder, in the Amhara Region. In the 1700s, Gonder was the capital of the Ethiopian empire, under Emperor Fasil. The Royal Enclosure is in the heart of the old city, surrounded by high stone walls. The most important Imperial buildings can be found in this area. There are five castles within the walls, dating back to the mid-18th century and earlier. There were also dozens of churches, as Gonder was the religious center of the country at that time. The most impressive church which still remains standing is the Debre Birhan Selassie. It has a marvelous 17th century fresco of eighty cherubic faces painted on the ceiling.
The most colorful time to visit Gonder is at Christmas and during Epiphany which is in mid January.

Lalibela - The ancient town of Lalibela is set high in the mountains of the Amhara region, 8000 feet above sea level. It is 454 miles (730km) north of Addis Ababa. The impressive landscape is very dramatic surrounded by craggy escarpments and mountainous slopes.

The city of Lalibela is best known for its churches which date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. They were literally hewn out of the rock and have been in continuous use by the orthodox priests ever since.

There are eleven churches in total and they are all unique in their differing sizes and shapes. It must have taken tens of thousands of workers to carve these buildings by hand out of the solid bedrock. They are all below ground, and some are as much as thirty feet high. There is a maze of tunnels and passageways which join each of the buildings in a warren of ancient courtyards and alleyways.

The best time to visit this religious area is during Christmas and Epiphany which is in mid January. The Christian ceremonies date back 1000 years, and the scent of incense fills the air.

The Monasteries of Lake Tana - Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and the largest lake in Ethiopia. It is also the home to a series of old monasteries that nestle on the small islands of the lake and which are only accessible by boat. It is well worth the trip. It is like a time warp to enter their gates and see a way of life and worship little changes for centuries. There are about 19 with monasteries on them (they are so remote that nobody seems to know exactly how many are still there and inhabited, but many contain great religious relics and icons said to date from the times of both the old and new testaments. The larger monasteries include Kebran Gabriel, Narga Selassie, and Mertola Maryam, Kidane Mehret, Daga Estifanos, Kota Maryam Medhane and Alem of Rema.

Harrar - This old city id situated on the eastern plains of Ethiopia and is considered to be the 4th Holy City of Islam. The old town is perched on a hilltop and is a world heritage site due to its distinctive architecture and number of mosques and shires (nearly 200 in total. Some of these date back as far as the 10th century AD.

Walking & Trekking - The Simian Mountains are a formed from the erosion over millions of years of huge upland plateaux that covers a large area of Northern central Ethiopia. Deep ravines and gorges cut through the range, making some days on trek into “down all morning, up all afternoon” days, ending a stone-throw in distance from where you started. It is stunning scenery however, with rare flora and fauna that include the Semien fox and wolf and the Lammergeyer, a bird of prey with a 10 foot wingspan. The area was made into a National Park in 1969 and a World Heritage site in 1978.
It is possible to backpack in the Semians but inadvisable due to the steep trails but there are new and better toilet facilities around the official camps at Sankaber, Geech and Chenek. There are also huts provided for scouts and guides here.
There are plenty of local operators and guides who are prepared to organise treks into the range that vary from a few days to longer trips to Ras Dashan, the highest point in the range.

Rafting - The Omo river in southern Ethiopia is a popular destination of rafting groups. The river runs for just over 750 km and has a drop of over 2,000 metres, making it fast and rough and offering a good range of white-eater conditions. The valley is also home to several indigenous tribes who offer a fascinating cultural insight into any holidays here.

Classic itineraries

  • Trekking in the Simians.
  • Historic Route of Northern Ethiopia, visiting Lake Tana, Gondor, Axum and Lalibela.
  • Visiting the remote Omo Valley.
  • White water rafting in Omo.
  • Trekking and wildlife in the Bale Mountains.


Local Operator Tours

Specialist Tour Operators


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