What Makes Ethiopia Special?
Ethiopia's cultural heritage is all around you - from the statues and monuments, to the ancient buildings and traditions. It's the only African nation never to be colonised by a European empire (although it was briefly occupied by Mussolini - Ethiopians still use 'ciao' as their goodbye!).
Ethiopia's rich history is best understood by visiting the country and seeing the ancient monuments - stood firm for centuries - towering above. The famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, centuries-old and still in use today, are one of Ethiopia's most cultural and historically important sites.
Continue exploring to find the Fasil Ghebbi fortress complex in Gonder, and the ancient towering Obelisks in the old capital of Axum. Keep going and you'll find Harar, with her maze of cobbled streets and stone walls, mosques, and hyenas!
Ethiopia has some of the most staggering vistas anywhere on the continent. The Ethiopian highlands are famous for being one of the largest areas of continuous highlands anywhere on the continent - and over 60% of all of East Africa's highlands are found in Ethiopia.
The Simien Mountains National Park are one of the country's most spectacular mountain ranges, and if you head south, the Bale Mountains National Park are one of the country's best wildlife destinations and the best place to find the endemic Ethiopian Wolf.
For those seeking to get far from the main trail, a visit to Gambella National Park - the country’s largest park in the remote and rugged southwest of the country - is a proper adventure in wild Africa.
If you head to the far north of the country, you'll find the Danakil Depression, famed as the hottest inhabited place on the planet, the Danakil is an otherworldly destination full of lava lakes, salt flats, volcanoes, and colour acidic springs.
One of our favourite experiences in Ethiopia is community trekking in the highlands around Lalibela or in the Tigray region. The views from the guesthouses are breathtaking, and the hiking routes offer a unique chance to learn more about rural Ethiopian life.
There is plenty of wildlife to be found in Ethiopia, and the country has an impressive number of endemic species. The iconic and endangered Ethiopian Wolf can only be found here, and it remains the rarest canid in the world, but sightings are common in the Bale Mountains.
In the Simien Mountains, you'll find other endemics like the Walia Ibex - giant mountain goats with massive horns - black-maned lions (rarely seen) and mountain nyala. Most famous of all is the Gelada Monkey, or 'bleeding heart monkey'. This iconic animal is found only in Ethiopia, and you'll see them in large troops playing on the fields in the Simiens.
If you head to Gambella National Park, you'll find savannah-roaming species like elephants, zebra, wildebeests, buffalo, and giraffes. In Harar, you can feed the hyenas that roam outside the city walls.
In the lakes of Ethiopia, you'll find crocodiles, hippos, and pelicans - and a diversity of birdlife, including the white-cheeked Turaco, the blue-winged Goose and the Rouget's Rail.
The Cradle of Humanity
Lucy (known locally as Dinknesh), the skeleton of an early hominin species dating back more than 3.2 million years, was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, and she wasn't the first of her kind to be found in the country.
This has led many to believe that humanity first evolved from our primate ancestors in ancient Ethiopia. The Awash Valley and Omo Valley are deemed important palaeontological sites by UNESCO, and a replica of ‘Lucy’ can be seen in the country’s National Museum.
Festivals & Celebrations
Ethiopia has a vibrant festival calendar. The most famous celebrations are Ethiopian Christmas (also known as Leddet or Genna) on the 7th January every year, and the Timket festival (also known as Epiphany) on the 19th January. In September, there are the festivals of Enkutatash (Ethiopian new year) on 11th September, and Meskel (finding of the true cross) on 27th September.
The country really comes alive during these festivals, and if you're lucky enough to be in Addis, Gonder, or Lalibela during these events, you'll be part of a lucky few who have experienced first-hand a central tenant of Ethiopian culture.
The Adwa celebrations every year commemorate the anniversary of Ethiopia’s successful defeat of invading Italian forces in 1896 and involve men dressed in traditional costumes of lion mane collars and warriors’ headdresses dancing in main city squares.
Coffee ceremonies, a tradition passed down through centuries, are famous in Ethiopia. The country is the birthplace of coffee, and they make it better than anyone.
A coffee ceremony is an important part of Ethiopia culture, particularly as a gesture of hospitality from host to guest (you!). Fronds and greens are first sprinkled on the ground, and then frankincense is lit and green coffee beans are roasted in a pan on a charcoal stove. Water is passed through until the coffee is the right strength (that is, very strong). The coffee made is akin to espresso, often taken with sugar.
There's nothing like waking up to freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee from your lakeside veranda, or from a guesthouse perched high in the hills.
These communities have preserved traditions passed down from generation to generation for millennia. A visit to the Omo, usually across 3-5 days, will give you an introduction to a completely different way of life. A famous tradition among the Hammer tribe is the bull-jumping ceremony - a rite of passage for young men about to marry.
Another astounding tradition are the lip plates of the Mursi. The plate, an ornamental clay disk, is inserted into the lower lip of Mursi women and stretched over a number of months. The plate symbolises beauty and adulthood.
Responsible tourism has never been as important as it is in the Omo Valley. Visiting this region must be done with the utmost respect and humility - you are a guest in their homes. Do not visit if you are just looking for a photo opportunity.
A place for real adventures
For decades, Ethiopia has been saddled with negative PR stemming from droughts and poverty, and while the country is still very poor, it is slowly starting to shake off this negative global image. This is, in part, thanks to its appearance in a number of high-profile international documentaries and programs that have showcased some of the extraordinary destinations within Ethiopia, and the wonderful people that live here.
Tourism in Ethiopia is in its infancy, and everyone on the ground is still learning. Hotels and lodges, while often in fantastic locations with a lot of character, often suffer from maintenance problems or a general lack of TLC. While Ethiopia's domestic flight network makes travelling around this vast country much easier, there can be hiccups along the way.
Outside the major towns, you can't always rely on having electricity, hot water, or an internet connection.
In our view, none of this takes away from the appeal of the country, and what makes it such a fantastic place to visit. What makes Ethiopia so special is not high-end luxury hotels, but the people you'll meet along the way - always smiling and interested in your story - and the incredible natural landscapes, culture, monuments and wildlife the country has to offer.
The country is unpredictable, but that's what makes it so exciting. Every journey is completely different, and you'll forge connections and create memories you'll carry with you forever.
Ready to visit Ethiopia?
The trips below showcase just some of what is on offer in Ethiopia. With our experience, expertise, and partnerships, we can help you bring your dream Ethiopian adventure to life - get in touch with us and we can help arrange a tailor-made holiday.
Ready to plan your Ethiopia adventure?
We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.
Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.
We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.