Tailor-made Ethiopia tour ideas
A very unique country, Ethiopia is a place where 12th century rock-hewn churches are in daily use, and 17th century castles are recent history. Currently it is enjoying modernisation while it seems to also hold on to the values of its past. In the north of the country, interesting ’boutique’ hotels are opening and others are being updated. So if you have ever considered an Ethiopia tour or holiday, but held back because the accommodation was lacking, this could be the time to act. While visitor numbers are still low.
Why visit Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is blessed with extensive natural variety and beauty. The landscape varies from the depths of the Danakil Depression in the Afar at about 125 metres below sea level, to the peaks of the Simien Mountains at 4533 m. In the Danakil the temperature can reach 50°C. Whilst snow is not uncommon in the Simiens! In between the weather is mild and sometimes wet, resulting in a green and lush landscape. Indeed the Great Rift Valley cuts through the country and creates a string of lakes towards the south.
Ethiopia is a very peaceful destination with so much to offer the traveller. If you have already explored elsewhere in Africa and looking for something off the beaten track, think of Ethiopia. An Ethiopia tour could include the mysterious rock-cut churches of Lalibela, the enigmatic Stele park of Axum or the timeless Lake Monasteries of Lake Tana. You may like to journey to the Simien Mountains to experience the dizzy heights of the Rift Valley Mountains with views of the valley 1500 m below or visit the historic walled city of Harar with its 99 mosques.
Religion & Culture
Religion is very much part of everyday life with both the Orthodox Church (dating from the 4th century), and Islam (about 30% of the population). In the south some tribes follow their traditional beliefs. Apart from some monasteries which do not allow women, everyone is welcome to visit provided they remove their shoes and dress appropriately.
Music is everywhere in Ethiopia. It is used as an accompaniment to the local dance which involves a lot of shoulder movement. Touching shoulders (known as the ‘shoulder bump’) is a common greeting among friends, with an unhurried handshake being more usual for formal greeting.
Coffee comes from Ethiopia. Everywhere you can see the traditional coffee ceremony, involving much smoke and incense, that is performed in many restaurants and at the roadside stalls.
Ethiopian Wildlife & Landscapes
The Simien Mountains are a great high altitude trekking destination and are home to the Gelada baboon, actually a monkey, and a great number of birds. There are Simien Wolves and Walia Ibex to look for as you walk along the high mountain paths.
Further south in the Bale Mountains you are likely to see Mountain Nyala, the rare Ethiopian Wolf and maybe even its odd-looking prey, the Giant Molerat. Most of our Ethiopia tours include one or other of these wildlife areas.
If you are torn between seeing the natural beauty of the country or seeing the best of it’s history, perhaps we can tempt you with our Ethiopian tour, Northern Ethiopia History & Scenery . This has the perfect combination of Ethiopia’s varied scenery as well as it’s famous churches and monastaries.
Below you will see a selection of Ethiopia tour ideas. Have a look at the various regions of Ethiopia to decide which interest you most or check out Kate’s very enthuiastic post on Why visit Ethiopia.
Early History of Ethiopia
Many places in Africa lay claim to being the ‘cradle of mankind’. Only in recent times has there only been one species of the genus homo; so they could all be correct. Ethiopia is the home and birthplace of ‘Lucy’, whose 3.2 million year old bones were found in the paleontological treasure trove of Awash in the eastern Afar region. ‘Lucy’ can be seen in replica in the Addis Ababa museum.
But, unlike places like Olduvai Gorge or Maropeng, in Ethiopia you can also see and visit a very wide variety of sites from the last 3000 years. Here historic sites have an earthiness and accessibility that is a very refreshing change from Europe or elsewhere.
The ancient Egyptians may have come from Ethiopia in about 3000 BCE from a legendary land called Punt, according to early Greek historians. The next milestone in the story is the Queen of Sheba (or Sabea) who may have lived here around 1000 BCE. Her son, Menelik, was the first of the 237 monarchs of the Solomonic dynasty. This dynasty ruled the country until the overthrow of the Emperor Haile Selassie on 1976.
Ethiopia is often said to be the home of the legendary figure of Prester John, a Christian King said to be a descendant of one of the Three Magi. The Ark of the Covenant is said to be in a somewhat leaky church in Aksum and there are estimated to be 1,500 monasteries and about 48,000 churches. The legacy of Early Christianity in Africa is abundant and yet almost modest. These incredibly old churches and significant historical sites, have unassuming entrances and lure you in with shabby promise rather than strident marketing. Unlike most of Africa, Ethiopia was never really colonised which accounts for its fierce independence.
If you’re looking for an Ethiopia tour focusing on the historical highlights of Ethiopia but you are short on time, check out our Ethiopia’s Historic Highlights fly-in tour?