Between its diverse culture, breath-taking natural beauty, yummy cuisine, and rare wildlife, Ethiopia is the perfect destination for travelers looking for a range of different experiences in one trip.
With so many offerings available in a single country, we have narrowed down the list to the top nine things to do in Ethiopia. Keep reading for our must-see places for both the budget traveler and luxury traveler.
Destined to blow your mind during your visit, Lalibela is known as the “New Jerusalem.” Located in the northern part of Ethiopia, this town is a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians. Marvel at the 11 ancient monolithic churches built by King Lalibela back in the 12th century. The architectural design of these structures is something special, as they are all dug deep into the ground and carved out of a single rock with hammers and chisels. The most famous of the churches is St George’s Cathedral, which stands 40 feet high and has a roof in the shape of a cross. All of these spectacular buildings have been registered by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. There are also several monasteries in the nearby area that are worth visiting.
Gaze at the amazing structures of the many castles, palaces, and churches in Gondar city. Have a royal day in the capital of Ethiopia which was founded by King Fasiledes in the 17th century. Check out the views of Lake Tana from the two-storey emperor’s castle made out of brown basalt stones. In this walkable city, you will also find great shopping, hotels, and restaurants. This is a great spot to visit on your way to Simien Mountains National Park.
3) SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
For travelers seeking a trekking experience, head to Simien Mountains National Park, which offers cliffs as high as 5,000 feet. Check out Ras Dashen, the highest point in all of Ethiopia. Also, check out the shimmering Tekeze River below and spot all of the mules, donkeys, sheep, and goats that call this lush land their home. See if you can also spot the Ethiopian Wold, Semien Fox, Gelada Baboon, the Walia Ibex or some of the 180 bird species.
4) OMO VALLEY
Soak up all of the culture that Omo Valley offers with some of Africa’s most traditional tribes, who often dress in clothes made with animal skins and paint their bodies with chalk. Located in southwestern Ethiopia, this remote area of the Great Rift Valley is greatly untouched by the outside world. If you are lucky, you will get to witness a Hamer bull-jumping ceremony which marks the transition from a boy into a man. This area of Ethiopia is also known for its paleontology and has had human skeletons discovered that were dated back to over three million years ago.
5) BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Immerse yourself in nature in southeastern Ethiopia at Bale Mountains National Park. The Sanetti Plateau, located high in the park, offers the best opportunity to see the Simien wolf. This species is extremely rare, as there are less than 500 left in the wild. The park also offers opportunities to spot animals such as the Mountain Nyala, Giant mole-rats and Menelik’s bushbuck. Wander through the park’s five distinct and unique habitats, such as the Harenna Forest where you can spot over 160 bird species (including the Blue-winged Goose and Rouget’s Rail, which can only be seen in Ethiopia).
6) SOF OMAR CAVES
Marvel at nature’s unique architecture skills at Sof Omar, the longest cave in Ethiopia and also all of Africa. Formed way back by the Weib River, there are over 40 entrances and exits to this complex cave system. Grab a local guide and explore the high stones on foot. This attraction is located in Ethiopia’s southeastern region. It gets its name from Shiek Sof Omar, who utilized the cave space as a mosque for his followers back in the 12th century.
Clustered around over 75 vertical memorial stones and 2,000-year-old monuments, Axum is one of the oldest cities in all of Africa. It is believed to be the home of the Queen of Sheba and the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Check out Mai Shum, a reservoir where local tribes believe the Queen of Sheba used as her bath. Despite all of its incredibly rich history, Axum is often overlooked by tourists due to its small size. Don’t skip out on discovering the city's relics, the mountaintop monasteries, and the underground exploration of the Axumite empire tombs.
8) LAKE CHAMO ‘CROCODILE MARKET’
Don’t expect any crocodile products at this tourist attraction. All of the crocs are alive and thriving in Lake Chamo. Take an afternoon or early evening boat ride on the lake for an up-close-and-personal view of these huge and mighty creatures. Expect to see entire banks along the lake completely covered with Nile crocodiles up to 20 feet long! The faint of heart might want to sit this one out.
9) BABILE ELEPHANT SANCTUARY
With only around 1,000 elephants still remaining in Ethiopia, your best bet of seeing one is in the Babile Elephant Sanctuary, where the largest herd of 400 still live. Participate in one of the walking safaris that are offered here daily. This sanctuary is also home to gazelles, lions, leopards, cheetahs, and tons of exotic birds, so bring your camera.
What's on the top of your list? You can take advantage of one or many of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites; take in the landscape of filled with lakes, rivers, rocky mountains, grasslands, and lowlands; and round off your trip with incredible wildlife, remarkable people, delicious food, and wonderful weather. Get ready to be moved, inspired and taken away on your next journey to Africa. Start planning with Acanela today — we offer both a Classic Expedition and a Local Expedition in incredible Ethiopia
Post written by: Kirsten Cusack, @kirqsak