Rich in human history and culture with a fascinating diversity of landscapes, Ethiopia’s unique history, cultures, landscapes and wildlife make it a truly special destination in Africa.
It is an immense country stretching from Kenya almost all the way to the Red Sea. A country rich in human history and culture, Ethiopia is the only country in Africa never colonised. From south to north, hundreds of different tribes roam the country in search of pastures for their animals and its fascinating diversity of landscapes support an unusually large number of endemic species of mammals and birds.
It is in Lalibela where churches were not built, but carved, into solid hills of rock in the 7th – 13th centuries. The most spectacular one amongst the 11 found here is St. George. Carved from within the earth in the shape of a cross, it is only accessible through underground tunnels and passages. Ethiopia’s orthodox Christian population considers the Lalibela site to be the most important pilgrimage destination in the country and continue to hold their religious ceremonies here.
The journey to Lalibela also happens to be spectacular. Situated atop a plateau 2300 metres high, the route to Lalibela provides breath-taking views of mountain passes, deep valleys and gorges.
A large area atop the Simien Mountains has been designated a National Park. It is here amidst sheer cliffs 2000 metres high that the endemic Abyssinian ibex, Simien wolf and Gelada baboons are found.
In 1974 in the Afar Region Donald Johansson found the skeletal remains of Lucy, the oldest hominid ever discovered (now exhibited in the Addis Ababa National Museum). Today in the Danakil Depression (125 metres below sea level) we find two active volcanoes spitting lava, gases and smoke. Despite being considered the hottest place on earth, the depression continues to be visited today by long camel caravans coming to collect blocks of salt that have been extracted by hand by the Afar people.
Ethiopia also has some of the most interesting human history in Africa. The trading nation of the Axumite Kingdom dominated north-eastern Africa from the Gulf of Aden to Alexandria between the 3rd and 9th centuries A.D. Before converting to Christianity in the 4th century A.D, the Aksumite erected monumental obelisks for religious purposes. One of these granite columns stands almost 30 metres tall and is the largest such structure in the world.
In the western region of Ethiopia near the border with Northern Sudan is Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. Here at 1800 metres above sea level we travel by boat to visit the monasteries and churches that dot its shores. Built between the 14th -18th centuries, these charming places of worship are gracefully decorated with brightly coloured scenes from the Bible.
The ancient town of Gondar was the Imperial Capital of Ethiopia for over two centuries between 1600-1850. Each Emperor or King built his own castle here and these remain in good condition and are open for us to visit. Also, in Gondar is the incredibly well-preserved church of “Debre Birhan Selassie” (light of trinity). The walls of the church are impressively decorated with scenes depicting biblical events. The faces of angels cover its painted ceiling.
In addition to its notable castles and churches, Gondar is also renowned for its spectacular Timkat celebrations. Timkat, Ethiopia’s most important religious ceremony, is held on the day of the Epiphany in January to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ. Gondar’s enthralling celebrations centre around the Royal Bath built by Emperor Fasilida in the 17th century. We strongly recommend timing your Ethiopian tour to experience this special event.