Ethiopia Travel Guide
Check out our safari map of Ethiopia created exclusively to help you plan your trip better.
Wildlife of Ethiopia
The abundance of endemic flora and fauna species in the Ethiopian highlands renders the country home to the highest concentration of endemics in Africa.
Among the famed mammals of Ethiopia are the gelada, primates whose chests and throats bear a distinctive red streak, thus earning them the epithet of “bleeding-heart monkey.”
The endangered copper-colored Ethiopian wolf also roams these highlands—primarily the Bale Mountain range—and preys exclusively upon Afromontane rodents. Both of these endemic species, along with the black-maned Ethiopian lion and impressively-antlered mountain nyala, are discoverable in Bale Mountains National Park. The cryptic wolf shares this mountainous habitat and has until recently undergone misclassification as a golden jackal.
The Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area not only serves as home to the cryptic wolf, gelada, and Ethiopian wolves, but also to leopard, duikers, and klipspringers. Ethiopia’s Gambella National Park witnesses the annual great migration of white-eared kob, tiang, Nile lechwe, and Mongalla gazelle as they pursue suitable land. An awesome sight, the total number of antelope who participate in this journey number over one million. These antelope species’ cousin, the walia ibex, resides in Simien Mountains National Park, along with the gelada and on rare occasions, the Ethiopian wolf.
Ethiopia is home to several stunning national parks and world heritage sites.
National Parks of Ethiopia
- Abelti National Forest
- Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park
- Alatish National Park
- Aledeghi Wildlife Reserve
- Awash National Park
- Bale Mountains National Park
- Chelbi Wildlife Reserve
- Gambella National Park
- Gewane Wildlife Reserve
- Mago National Park
- Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area
- Mile-Serdo Wildlife Reserve
- Nechisar National Park
- Omo National Park
- Semien Mountains National Park
- Shire Wildlife Reserve
- Tama Wildlife Reserve
- Yabello Sanctuary
- Yangudi Rassa National Park
Fossils of modern human’s earliest ancestors from up to 4.2 million years ago have been found here, in the Cradle of Mankind. Ethiopia has, therefore, the longest human history of any place on earth, with earliest records coming from ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. Legend has it that the kingdom of Sheba was located in Ethiopia, and Ethiopian monarchs derived their legitimacy from tracing their ancestry back to the alleged tryst between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. The Axumite Empire (approximately 100-940 BCE), one of the world’s greatest powers of its era, provided a key link between Rome and the powers to the east, and oversaw the people’s conversion to Christianity.
In the late fifteenth century, near the end of the Solomonic period, the first Portuguese missions arrived in Ethiopia. But although they helped defend Ethiopian territory against new Muslim rivals in the southeast, they did not succeed in subordinating Ethiopia to European control. In 1769, the deposition of the Emperor Iyoas ushered in a chaotic period known as the Zemene Mesafint (“Era of the [Warring] Princes”). It was not until 1855, when Tewodros II was crowned negusa nagast (King of Kings), that Ethiopia achieved its modern, unified character. The last decades of the twentieth century saw increased interest in Ethiopia from Great Britain and Italy, the latter of which suffered a resounding defeat at the Battle of Adwa in 1896—the first instance of an African nation successfully repelling a European attempt at colonization.
In 1930, Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, and although he was forced into exile during the Italian occupation from 1936-1941 (the only instance of extended European occupation in Ethiopian history), he ruled until his deposition in 1975. Ethiopia then became a one-party communist country under the Derg, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, who carried out a brutal, genocidal campaign known as the Red Terror. After the fall of the Derg in 1991, Ethiopia achieved its modern government, led by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), with first Meles Zanawi and now Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister. Today, any visitor to Ethiopia is immediately struck by the independence of the Ethiopian spirit, and its nine World Heritage Sites and abundance of natural, cultural, and historical/archaeological attractions make it an ideal adventure destination.
The 7th largest country in Africa, Ethiopia is roughly the size of France or Spain. It is bordered by Sudan and South Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, and Eritrea to the north (on the other side of Eritrea is the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula).
Geographical Zones of Ethiopia
The rugged landscape founded on ancient, Precambrian rock is divided from north to south by the Great Rift Valley, with the Western and Eastern Highlands and Lowlands on either side. The typical elevation of the central plateaus ranges between 2,000 and 3,000 m. The highest peak is Ras Dashen (4,543), in the Semien Mountains in the northwest, with Mt. Batu (4,307 m) in the southeastern Bale Mountains a close second. Major rivers include the Blue Nile, which begins in Lake Tana and eventually flows into the Nile River, and the Awash, which feeds into Lake Turkana at the southeastern border. Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is located in the centre of the country, though historical capitals are usually located in the north.
Top Cities of Ethiopia
- Addis Ababa: The high-volume crowds of Ethiopia’s capital city balance out the serenity of its highlands. In Addis you will find cornerstones of the Ethiopian identity, such as the country’s National Museum, and fine dining establishments that serve the best of Ethiopian food.
- Dire Dawa: This city buzzes not only with activity, but with its thrilling confluence of Greek, Arab, French, and Italian culture. The Dachatu River splits Dire Dawa into two quarters, each of which brim with markets and structures with architectural influence from both the East and West.
- Harar: With its landscape of small streets and mosques, this holy Islamic city became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006, and has the habit of making visitors feel like they traversed backwards in time to the era of vast trade between East Africa and the Arab world.
Self-Driving in Ethiopia
Foreigners who wish to drive in Ethiopia must be in possession of a temporary Ethiopian driver’s license, which they must receive through a valid residence permit. Given these laborious steps and the lack of substantial road infrastructure, we do not recommend tourists to self-drive in Ethiopia. Booking with knowledgeable travel agents and guides allows you to experience the smoothest transportation possible. To organize your trip to Ethiopia, enquire now.
Things to Do
Things to Do in Ethiopia (Non-Wildlife)
- Hyena Man of Harar: The often misunderstood and villainized hyena share a hypnotizing, almost sacred interaction with Harar’s “hyena man” as he feeds them morsels of meat in close proximity. Hyena and Hararis trace their shared history back to the medieval period, during which the walled city fed the fierce canids porridge in order to keep their inhabitants safe from attacks. This contemporary ritual between one man and his carefully forged connections with these captivating animals thus serves as a peek into a much longer history. You certainly do not want to miss it.
- Omo Valley: This remote valley in Ethiopia’s southwestern region functions as home for eighteen different tribes. Among these include the Surma tribes, which consist specifically of the Suri, Mursi, and Mekan peoples. The Surma have retained their nomadic way of life, as well as their distinct aesthetic practices, which include lip plates, body scarification, and brightly colored paints. These people have redefined the relationships humans share with art and the body. After speaking with them, your perspective is sure to shift.
- The Rock Churches of Tigray: The Tigray region lies in northern Ethiopia alongside its border with Eritrea. With its secluded, rock-hewn churches, Tigray serves as a critical lens into medieval East African Christianity. These testaments to human knowledge and religious devotion stand as architectural and historical wonders amidst the backdrop of contemporary life.
- Danakil Depression: In the northwest of Ethiopia, the otherworldly Danakil Depression evokes landscapes of Mars or the Moon. The only reminders of life on Earth are the Afar people, and the simultaneously delicate yet highly chemical bodies of water that form the dwindling flow of the Awash River. The extreme heat in the depression vaporizes water and leaves behind salt pans, from which the region earns majority of its revenue.