Riven by many deep and stupendous gorges, crowned by high and magnificent mountains neck-laced by a chain of lakes, water by majestic rivers, studded with burning deserts and great escarpments that plunge down from its highlands, Ethiopia remains a land of incomparable beauty.
But it is not simply the sheer scale of its physical beauty which characterises this land where the Blue Nile has carved one of the world’s greatest and most awesome gorges.
Its ancient and medieval monuments, its proud and colourful cultures, and its varied and often unique wildlife set it apart from all else.
Ethiopia, dissected through its middle by the scar of the Great Rift Valley, is as old as time itself. It is a land claiming a history that goes back to the Old Testament.
It is the land of Sheba, and of Axum and Lalibela, of towering obelisks and the Ark of The Covenant – a land that was Christian before much of Europe and yet unknown to Europe for 1,000 years or more; a land that dwelt in limbo, forgotten by the world which it never forgot. For more information about the Ark of The Covenant, see Patrick Richardson heads to Ethiopia in search of the Ark of the Covenant.
From the vast spread of Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile River in the northern highlands, through the relics of Axum, seat of Sheba’s legendary empire, down along the scorching inferno of the Danakil Depression, one of the world’s lowest points, and high amid the wonders of the Simien and Bale Mountains to the untouched, game-filled wildernesses of the remote southern grasslands.
The Ethiopian highlands, blessed with a temperate climate and grand mountain scenery, offer superb trekking opportunities. The principal well-established areas for trekking are the Simien and Bale Mountains National Parks. The more recent arrival to this field of tourist activity is the remote South – West highlands east and west of the Omo valley, where strong and colourful cultures compliment the appeal of scenery, flora, and fauna.
Less strenuous and more relaxing are the pleasant local traits that flow the banks of Rift Valley lakes, or resort areas close to Addis Ababa, such as a walk through the vineyards of Ambo.
The rewards of a trek in the Simien mountains include spectacular views from the northern escarpment, the three endemic mammals – Walia Ibex, Gelada Baboon, and the Simien Fox as well as Ras Dashen, the country’s highest peak at 4620 meters.
Bale has a less inhabited, richer mosaic of high-altitude plateau, heather moorlands, and dense juniper forest with an easily seen population of Mountain Nyala and Simien Fox as well as some fabulous birds, many of them endemic.
Riding and Pony trekking
In such a rugged environment horses and mules play an important part in the transportation of people and goods. So it is not surprising that horse riding can be enjoyed in most parts of Ethiopia. A trek in the Simien Mountains on a surface-footed pony allows visitors to get to areas even 4 x 4 vehicles find difficult.
Much of Ethiopia is rugged mountainous country, and the opportunities to conquer demanding peaks and crag are endless. The Simien Mountains, the Bale Plateau and many other areas provide perfect climbs. Equipment is rarely available locally and should be brought with you.