Since its establishment in the 19th century, Addis Ababa (አዲስ አበባ) has always seemed like a magical portal, a gateway to another world. For the rural masses of Ethiopia it was, and is, a city whose streets are paved in gold; and for a foreign visitor, the portal of Addis Ababa is at the verge of an ancient and mystical world.
Southern Ethiopia is a canvas ripped in two. Its landscape is being torn apart by the Great Rift Valley, leaving a trail of lakes where you can go see crocodiles, hippos and birds – or just drink in the scenery from you hotel. Move east and the Bale Mountains offer rewarding treks across a plateau amid Afro-alpine plants and rare wildlife.
Gonder & the Simien Mountains
The legendary city of Gonder and the nearby Simien Mountains National Park are a perfect marriage of history and beauty. Gonder is a modern town that has managed to grow and thrive without erasing much of its past, while the park’s dramatic peaks and vast valleys offer scenery on par with any other place in Africa.
Aksum & the Far North
Despite its captivating mix of influential historical sights and small-town life, Aksum is the place most likely to be skipped on shortened versions of Historical Circuit tours, but if you have the time, don’t miss it. From mountaintop monasteries to underground tombs, there’s a fantastic mix of history and adventure.
It’s not what Gonder is, but what Gonder was that’s so enthralling. The city lies in a bowl of hills where tall trees shelter tin-roofed stone houses, but rising above these, and standing proud through the centuries, are the walls of castles bathed in blood and painted in the pomp of royalty.
World Heritage–listed Harar is a place apart. With its 368 alleyways squeezed into just 1 sq km, it’s more reminiscent of Fez in Morocco than any other city in the Horn. Its countless mosques and shrines, animated markets, crumbling walls and charming people will make you feel as if you’ve floated right out of the 21st century.
I am weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more…but swear I by God in Whose power I am, that all that is written is the truth, and there is much more than what I have written, and I have left it that they may not tax me with its being falsehood.
Arba Minch & Around
Bordered by verdant mountains and home to two of Ethiopia’s largest Rift Valley lakes, this region is more than a convenient overnight stop on the southern circuit. With Nechisar National Park and the highland Dorze villages on its doorstep, it deserves to be a destination on its own.
Some people like to describe Bahir Dar as the Ethiopian Riviera. The moniker sounds strange, but when you pull into town and see the wide streets shaded by palm trees and sweeping views across Lake Tana’s shimmering blue waters, you’ll understand. In the 16th and 17th centuries, various temporary Ethiopian capitals were established in the vicinity of Lake Tana.
The relaxing and rapidly expanding university city of Mekele, Tigray’s capital, owes its importance to Emperor Yohannes IV, who made it his capital in the late 19th century. Though hardly anyone comes to see the town itself, most travellers enjoy killing time waiting for their Danakil tour to depart.