Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder pics: a taste of Ethiopia

A taste of Ethiopia: Nellie enjoying the view Nellia in Ethiopia © Nellie Huang

Lonely Planet Pathfinder Nellie Huang travelled to Northern Ethiopia to sample the country's culture and culinary delights.

Ethiopia has a rich and vibrant culinary heritage. Unlike other parts of Africa, where meat is scarce and variety is limited, in Ethiopia I feasted on delicious curries and diverse cuisine every day.

Furthermore, Ethiopia also has a rich history, and is home to plenty of historic monuments and buildings that have withstood the test of time. The country's culture is quite unlike anywhere else on the continent, and its climate stands in stark opposition to the surrounding deserts. During my visit, I could see that the country is still facing its fair share of struggles, but famine certainly is not one of them.

Mountain country

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The Ethiopian Highlands form the largest continuous area of their altitude in Africa, covering most of central and northern Ethiopia. From Addis Ababa, we found ourselves travelling up and down treacherous mountain roads to reach the Guassa Conservation Area in the Highlands. The local community has protected this 98km² area since the 17th century. It’s an excellent area to spot endemic wildlife like the gelada baboons and the Ethiopian wolf, as well as to explore remote local villages that always offer a warm welcome.

Coffee nation

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Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. In the 10th century, the country's nomadic mountain people were the first to recognise coffee's stimulating effect. Today, it continues to be a prominent national beverage and an important part of the country’s commerce. You’ll find people in the middle of a traditional coffee ceremony everywhere you go in Ethiopia, including in small rural villages – this ceremony centres on the traditional serving of coffee, usually after a big meal. It often involves the use of a jebena, a clay pot used for heating coffee.

The Holy Land

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Perched at an altitude of 2630m, the hilly town of Lalibela is home to a cluster of 13 medieval, rock-hewn churches, featuring some incredibly impressive architecture. Carved from basaltic rocks, these 900-year-old churches were meticulously sculpted below ground level during King Lalibela's reign, circa 1181-1221. Today, pilgrims visit from all over the country and locals come to pray at the Unesco World Heritage site on a daily basis.

Iconic Saint George

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Lauded as the most beautiful church in Lalibela, many describe Saint George Church as the icon of Ethiopia. Travellers can recognise its perfectly-shaped cross section when they stand on elevated ground near the site. Thanks to a 2m-thick rock ceiling, this particular church has miraculously withstood centuries of environmental wear and tear. It is the only church doesn't need the protection of a Unesco tarpaulin. I recommend making this your first (or last) stop of the day to avoid the crowds.

Highest point in Ethiopia

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Home to some of Ethiopia’s highest peaks, the Simien Mountains pack quite a punch when it comes to lofty landscapes. Because of their geological origins, the mountains are truly unusual, with only South Africa's Drakensberg range having been formed in the same manner.

Celebrating Timkat

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One of the best times to visit Ethiopia is during Timkat, the Ethiopian Epiphany Day. Since Christianity arrived in the country in the 1st century, it’s been an important part of the Ethiopian identity – as a result, more than half of Ethiopia’s population (about 40 million people) are Orthodox Christians.

Revival of their faith

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Timkat is widely celebrated across Ethiopia, but the biggest and most spectacular celebrations take place in the historic city of Gonder. Once a year, Gonder's historic Fasiladah’s Bath (once used as a swimming spot by royals) is filled up for the Timkat festival, to replicate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.

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