Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder pics: scratching the surface of Ethiopia

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Lonely Planet Pathfinder Oneika Raymond pays a flying visit to Ethiopia's capital city. Here she shares her trip highlights.

Ethiopia is an enchanting country that is full of history, so a visit has long been on my bucket list. I recently had the opportunity to spend four days there, which although brief, gave me just enough time to scratch the surface of two cities, Addis Ababa and Lalibela.

The reasons to visit these two places in particular are manifold: Addis Ababa, the bustling capital, is a cultural gem with its many museums, markets, and monuments, while Lalibela, in the north, is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities. Since I was short on time I chose to focus my exploration of the country through two main axes: religion and food. Here’s what I discovered.

Houses of worship

Ethiopia was one of the first nations in the world to adopt Christianity and religion remains an integral part of its cultural fabric. Of the many houses of worship in the country a good number are Orthodox, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral. This cathedral is one of the country’s most important places of worship—second only to the Old Church of St Mary of Zion in the northern city of Aksum.

Injera Indulgence

Ethiopia is known for its food and the most effective way to sample a range of the country’s rich cuisine is to take a food tour in the capital. I booked a spot on Go Addis’ four hour tour and in doing so finally got to try injera, Ethiopia’s national dish. This spongy flatbread is loaded with stews and is best eaten with the hands.

Off to the market

If you’re looking for an authentic local experience, make your way to one of Addis Ababa’s open air markets. The Shola Market sells everything under the sun, including different varieties of teff grain, which are used to make injera. The many food stalls also make the perfect spot to refuel after a spell of sightseeing.

A holy town

Lalibela, a 90 minute flight from Addis Ababa, is a center of religion. Famous for its monolithic rock-hewn churches, religious pilgrims come here from near and far to worship, and the population is almost entirely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. The names and layout of the 11 churches, built mostly in the 12th and 13th centuries, are widely said to be a re-creation of Jerusalem.

Keepers of the church

Interesting fact: while the population of Lalibela hovers around 18,000, it is said that up to a tenth of the town’s inhabitants are priests. It’s no surprise then that each of Lalibela’s 11 rock churches has its own resident clergy. Typically dressed in white, with a white cloth tied around their head, they are both the guardians and guides of their sacred lairs.

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