Must see attractions in Eastern Ethiopia

  • Sights in Harar

    Old Town

    Harar’s old walled town (known as Jugal) is a fascinating place that begs exploration. The thick, 5m-high walls running 3.5km around town were erected in the 16th century in defensive response to the migrations northward of the Oromo, and little development occurred outside them until the early 20th century. There are six gates: five 16th-century originals and the car-friendly Harar Gate, also known as Duke’s Gate after Ras Makonnen, the first duke of Harar, who added it in 1889.

  • Sights in Asaita

    Lakes Afambo & Gumare

    The little-explored territory and salt lakes scattered around Asaita are something of a holy grail for serious adventurers. This area remains one of the Horn's most inhospitable corners, appearing much the same as when explorer Wilfred Thesiger laid eyes upon it in the 1930s. Here the Awash River disappears into a chain of lakes, including Lakes Gumare and Afambo, which can be fairly easily visited from Asaita. The scenery is as stark, desolate and surreally beautiful as it is foreboding.

  • Sights in Harar

    Northern Hyena Feeding Site

    Located north of Fallana Gate, this is one of Harar's two hyena feeding stations. A highlight of any visit to Harar, this impressive spectacle begins around 6.30pm. There are generally two to four hyenas that make an appearance after the 'hyena man' calls them. If none turn up, you'll be taken to a nearby hyena den where hyenas can be seen with their pups.

  • Sights in Harar

    Eastern Hyena Feeding Site

    One of Harar's two infamous hyena feeding sites, it is located about 1.5km east of Erer Gate (near the garbage dump). This site is usually more productive than the other one because of its isolation and location near the garbage dump (although there's no guarantee).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Eastern Ethiopia

    Babille Market

    If you’re travelling east of Harar on a Monday or Thursday, don’t miss the super-atmospheric livestock market in the village of Babille – it's one of Ethiopia’s biggest, attracting buyers of camels, cows, donkeys and goats from as far as Djibouti and Somaliland. The market runs from about 10am to 2pm, but because sales go fast it’s best to visit early. Buses from Harar (Birr12, 45 minutes) are frequent.

  • Sights in Eastern Ethiopia

    Awash National Park

    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.

  • Sights in Eastern Ethiopia

    Babille Elephant Sanctuary

    Despite considerable tree cutting, livestock grazing and land encroachment, Babille is better protected than many of Ethiopia’s national parks, and the population of elephants (which some authorities identify as a unique subspecies, Loxodonta africana orleansi) has risen to around 400. Also resident, though unlikely to be seen, are lions (notable for their black manes), leopards, Menelik’s bushbucks, Soemmerring’s gazelles and greater and lesser kudus. The bird list is at least 227 species strong.

  • Sights in Harar

    Arthur Rimbaud Center

    Near the middle of the walled city, and often mistakenly called Rimbaud’s House, is this museum dedicated to French poet Arthur Rimbaud with a series of illustrated wall panels about his life. It’s in an attractive Indian merchant house built on the site of an earlier house where it’s said Rimbaud lived. There’s an excellent photographic exhibition of turn-of-the-20th-century Harar – with several of the photos taken by Rimbaud – that show some similarities to the city of today but also significant differences.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Eastern Ethiopia

    Koremi

    With its superb architecture and dramatic setting, the clifftop village of Koremi, 19km southeast of Harar above the Erer Valley, is a definite must-see. It's the largest of several villages of the Argoba, a deeply traditional people whose ancestors arrived in these parts in the 12th century. Unlike most of the Adare homes of Harar, the old stone houses here are unpainted and unplastered.

  • Sights in Bishoftu (Debre Zeyit)

    Lake Hora

    Lying just north of the town centre, Lake Hora is the wildest of Bishoftu's lakes and features some outstanding birdlife along its lushly vegetated slopes. There's a footpath around the lake, but never go alone as theft is a real concern. Sadly there's no reliable local guide that can be recommended in the area.

  • Sights in Harar

    Ras Tafari's House & Sherif Harar City Museum

    Close to Rimbaud’s House, the conspicuous Ras Tafari’s House was built by an Indian trader and many of its features, such as the Ganesh carving above the door, are Eastern in origin. Haile Selassie spent his honeymoon here: hence the house bears his precoronation name. It’s now home to a well-organised museum that houses a private collection of weaponry, coins, jewellery, household tools, old manuscripts and cultural dress. The owner will probably offer to show you his book-restoration workshop upstairs.

  • Sights in Awash National Park

    Filwoha Hot Springs

    At Filwoha Hot Springs, in the far north of the park, around 30km from the highway, you can swim in the turquoise-blue pools, but they’re not as refreshing as they look: temperatures touch 45°C and crocodiles lurk in the cooler areas. The beauty around the springs is boosted by the doum palms, used by the local people to make mats. After 5pm the area comes alive with birds, and lions can sometimes be heard at night.

  • Sights in Harar

    Tomb of Sheikh Abadir

    The tomb of Sheikh Abadir, Harar’s legendary founder and second emir, is an important pilgrimage site. His tomb still attracts worshippers seeking solutions to daily struggles, and if their prayers are answered devotees return with gifts of rugs, incense or expensive sandalwood. Non-Muslims are usually refused entry, but might be allowed in during the Thursday night gatherings (around midnight) when devotees come to play drums, read the Quran and pay respect.

  • Sights in Dire Dawa

    Kafira Market

    With its Babel-like ambience, the enormous Kafira Market, sprawling way beyond its Moorish-style arches, is the most striking of Dire Dawa's markets. Delving into the organised chaos of its narrow lanes is an assault on the senses. This market attracts people from miles around, including Afar and Somali herders, Oromo farmers and Amhara merchants. Charcoal and firewood is brought in from the hinterlands by camel; look for them in the wadi (riverbed).

  • Sights in Eastern Ethiopia

    Valley of Marvels

    In the Dakhata Valley (better known as the Valley of Marvels), tall rocks have been sculpted into strange, often phallic shapes by the elements. The name oversells things, but the 'Valley of the Pretty Cool' doesn’t have the same ring. Most people just see it from the road, but a half-day ramble is the better choice (be sure to go with a guide). The best section of it starts 4km east of Babille on the drive between Harar and Jijiga.

  • Sights in Awash National Park

    Fantale Crater

    Towards the west end of the park, 600m above the plains, lies Fantale Crater (2007m). With its terrific vistas, total quiet and cool air, this dormant volcano makes a great trek. At the top (a three-hour walk uphill; the 4WD track is no longer driveable) the 360-degree view is phenomenal and the elliptical caldera, which measures an enormous 3.5km in diameter, is quite an eerie sight in the morning when the steam vents can be seen.

  • Sights in Harar

    Smugglers’ Market

    The Smugglers’ Market is chock-full of counterfeit clothing and electronics (some real stuff, too) from China. Most of it is smuggled in from Somaliland either by night caravans of camel and donkey across the remote desert frontiers or cleverly concealed in trucks. The whole area is undergoing a major urban revamp, and most shops are expected to be relocated inside modern shopping malls.

  • Sights in Bishoftu (Debre Zeyit)

    Lake Bishoftu

    The best way to appreciate this scenic body of water is from the crater rim at one of the hotels, drink in hand. The view is sensational. According to local lore, this, the second-deepest lake in Ethiopia, is home to a sleeping devil. From time to time his evil gases kill the fish and send them bobbing to the surface to be scooped up by delighted waterbirds.

  • Sights in Harar

    Jamia Mosque

    Harar’s great mosque is the only one inside the wall big enough to host both men and women. The mosque was built in the 16th century, though according to local tradition a mosque has stood on the site since the 12th century. While not architecturally distinct, its white-tile minarets can be seen from all over the city. It’s off-limits to non-Muslims.

  • Sights in Dire Dawa

    Ethiopia-Djibouti Rail Yard

    Rail fans can clamber through what remains of the once-great Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia. Ask for Kadra Ali – she can get by in English and will happily take you around the rail yard (tip expected). You'll see plenty of rusty carcasses of disused engines, the still-operational roundhouse and Haile Selassie’s private carriage.