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Ethiopia An introduction

| 11 Aug 2014

Are you curious about what Ethiopia has to offer you, as a traveller? Find out with our introduction to this fascinating country.

Ethiopian highlands

Ethiopia may be economically poor, but what it lacks in material wealth it more than makes up for in its captivating combination of stunning scenery and remarkable historical and cultural sites. Today, we will give you a broad introduction to this fascinating country, which has so much to offer travellers seeking moving experiences.

Ethiopia: essential information

Let’s begin with a few basic facts, which anyone travelling to Ethiopia will need to know. Taking approximately nine hours to reach from London, Ethiopia is two hours ahead of GMT and its official languages are Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali. You will need to arrange a visa before you travel, and the national currency is the Birr.

In terms of when is best to travel, November to May is the driest season and therefore is usually the optimum time. It’s also worth bearing in mind that November, just after the rains have finished, is a particularly excellent time for things like trekking, as the landscape becomes wonderfully verdant.

First impressions

Of course, any traveller knows that bare facts like the above, while useful, can never paint a true picture of a country. Home to more Unesco World Heritage sites than any other African nation, Ethiopia marries an incredibly rich culture and history with beautiful landscapes.

Come here and you can expect to spend your time gazing up at vast obelisks that have stood for centuries – and stand as icons of a culture’s past heyday, which still has resonance today. You can gape in awe at churches hewn from raw rock, and you can discover animals found nowhere else in the world in its mountains.

You will find its most famous attractions, such as the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, in the country’s north. However, there are reasons to go south – the South Omo region, for example, is where you can get to know some of the nation’s tribespeople.

Generally speaking, the country’s poverty is more widely known than its fantastic attractions, which are draped across its landscape like rare jewels. For the keen traveller, Ethiopia represents an opportunity not to stay in five-star hotels or even to unwind, but to dedicate your time to discovery and experience – and that, of course, is the most exciting travel of all.

Key attractions

Ethiopia has a wonderful array of attractions, with many particularly suited to first-time visits. You can find out more about a selection of the best below.

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

Among the most impressive sights to see in Ethiopia is Lalibela, where vast churches stand hewn directly from rock. Designed a Unesco World Heritage Site, this area houses some 11 monolithic churches that date back to the 13th century.

These imposing creations were designed to be a ‘new Jerusalem’, having been built at the behest of King Lalibela in response to Muslim conquests interrupting traditional pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

It is hard to convey just how unusual and remarkable these buildings are. Vast areas of rock have been cleared out around them, so they stand tall, hollowed out from the surrounding earth. They’ve then been hollowed out inside too and intricate details have been added, making them as beautiful as they are imposing. Biete Medhani Alem is perhaps the most impressive, being believed to be the largest church of its kind in existence.

Axum

Home to towering obelisks and dramatic ruins, dusty Axum was once a wealthy metropolis – a vital part of the Axumite kingdom. What makes it stand out from other historical attractions in Ethiopia – and indeed anywhere – is that it is still an important, vibrant place, which has relevance for Ethiopians today, as well as their ancient ancestors.

Come here and you can see local life unfolding much as it has done for centuries, among the towering structures of bygone eras; this is not an attraction that possesses the telltale signs of the tourism industry – something that adds to its appeal. The ruins date from between the first and 13th century AD, and include royal tombs, castles, monolithic obelisks and huge stelae.

Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains form one of two highland national parks in Ethiopia, and are where you can see some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, which have been shaped by erosion down the years. Deep valleys contrast with jagged mountain peaks, while the landscape also provides a home for a host of flora and fauna – much of it particularly rare. Indeed, this is the only place in the world where you have a chance of seeing the Walia ibex, which is a type of mountain goat.

Other rare creatures you can hope to spot include the Ethiopian wolf, the Gelada baboon and the Simien fox.

Cox & Kings runs group, private or tailor-made holidays to Ethiopia, including an art tour. Read more >

 



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