Easily accessible from Addis Ababa, 756-sq-km Awash National Park is one of Ethiopia’s most visited parks. However, if you’re here for the thrill of staring slack-jawed at lions crunching through bones, you’ll be seriously disappointed. It’s much more low key than that, and ongoing incursions by Kereyu pastoralists have done little to help wildlife numbers. Nevertheless, it’s a must for birders and the volcanic landscape of blister cones and fissures is interesting and beautiful.
Awash National Park lies on an important migratory route between the north and the south, bestowing an astonishing amount of birdlife. More than 460 species have been recorded, among them the extremely rare yellow-throated seedeater and somber rock chat, both found only in and near Awash.
Two especially good spots to observe birds are around Filwoha Hot Springs and around the Awash River campsites, where francolin, barbets and hoopoes are all seen. On the plains, kori bustards are quite easily spotted, and sometimes secretary birds. An ostrich reintroduction program has recently begun. Among the many raptors are fish eagles, lammergeyer and pygmy falcons.
In the south of the park, the grassy Illala Sala Plains is the one place devoid of the dominant thick acacia scrub that makes wildlife spotting tough. The beautiful beisa oryx and Soemmering’s gazelles are usually seen here. Also present are salt’s dik-dik, greater and lesser kudus (particularly in the area called Kudu Valley), defassa waterbucks, warthogs and black-and-white colobus, which prefer the riverine forest. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, black-backed jackals, caracals, servals, wildcats and aardwolves are also found in the park, but thank your lucky stars if you manage to spot one of them: they’re virtually never seen.
All wildlife drives start at the main gate. An armed scout (Birr100, plus an extra Birr150 for the Filwoha Hot Springs) is compulsory.