Abiata-Shala Lakes National Park

Southern Ethiopia

West of Lake Langano lie the twin lakes of Abiata and Shala, which form part of the national park. Identical twins these lakes are not: Shala’s 410-sq-km surface sits within a collapsed volcanic caldera, and depths exceed 260m in some areas, making it the deepest lake in Ethiopia, while Abiata’s highly alkaline waters rest in a shallow pan no more than 14m in depth.

A typical visit lasts about two hours and starts with a drive (or walk) through the fenced land around the headquarters where semi-tame ostrich, gazelle and warthogs (almost certainly the only nonwinged wildlife you’ll encounter) live. Then you drive (or walk) 5km to an overlook of the two lakes, followed 3.5km later by a spread of gurgling sulphurous hot springs on the northeast shore of Shala where locals wash clothes and bathe. Another 7km takes you to the shrunken shore of Abiata to look for flamingos, which have increased dramatically since the fish die-off (because they feed on algae) and can be seen in flocks of thousands, especially from October to February.

At Shala’s southwestern shore there’s a second hot spring and a stunning, pint-sized crater lake. Looking 80m down from the rim to Lake Chitu and spotting its 2000 or so semiresident flamingos is a sight worth the effort. The south shore is accessed via Aware or Aje, but admission can only be paid at the main park entrance and at Horakelo.

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