Must see attractions in Southern Ethiopia

  • Sights in Southwest Omo Valley

    Omo National Park

    Omo National Park has long been one of the most remote parks in Ethiopia and travelling here can be incredibly tough – but never less than fascinating. Because there is virtually no tourist infrastructure within the park, you will need to be totally self-sufficient with your own food, camping gear and a reliable, fully-equipped 4WD vehicle. But getting to the park has just got a whole lot easier – with two new bridges over the Omo River, the park can now be reached from the rest of southern Ethiopia, making it more accessible than ever before.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Southwest Omo Valley

    Kibish

    The main settlement in this area is the colourful village of Kibish. Set in a bowl in the forested hills, it is a fascinating place populated by the striking Surmi people. Photographing the Surmi attracts a fee of Birr5 per photo of an adult and Birr4 per photo of a child. Photographers likely to take a lot of photos will be better off negotiating a fee for unlimited photos over a set period of time (Birr40 for 10 minutes per person is fair).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bale Mountains National Park

    Bale Mountains National Park

    More than any other park in Ethiopia, this national park is known for its wildlife, but it’s a very beautiful place, too. As you approach from Dodola, ridges to the east are punctuated with fortress-like escarpments, standing out from the gentler, rounded rock pinnacles to the north, and the great wildlife watching commences right from the start when the road cuts through the Gaysay Grassland in the valley between them, which is home to the densest concentration of large mammals in Ethiopia.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Awasa

    Lake Awasa

    With its mountainous backdrop, Lake Awasa is a lovely sight. You could easily spend a few pleasant hours strolling the lakeshore trail at the end of town, watching men fishing from papyrus rafts, seeing the various shorebirds feeding in the reeds and stopping for fried tilapia and a coffee ceremony at one of the many rustic restaurants.

  • Sights in Nechisar National Park

    Nechisar Plain

    The main wildlife-watching circuit crosses the Bridge of God to the park’s namesake savannah, but the road is so atrocious that many tour companies prefer not to come here; nobody will attempt it when it’s wet. It takes about three hours to reach so there’s no chance of wildlife watching during the morning hours unless you camp.

  • Sights in Southern Ethiopia

    Sof Omar Cave

    Around 100km east of Robe, the fast-flowing Web River runs through a deep gorge and then cuts straight through a limestone hill. Though underground for only 1.5km, the aeons of erosion have carved 15km of passages. Proposed for World Heritage listing, the vaulted chambers, flying buttresses, massive pillars and fluted archway sometimes resemble an Antonio Gaudí cathedral. The cave is venerated by area Muslims due to Sheikh Sof Omar Ahmed reputedly taking refuge here in the 11th century. There’s a pilgrimage every November.

  • Sights in Abiata-Shala Lakes National Park

    Abiata-Shala Lakes National Park

    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.

  • Sights in Dorze

    Hayzo

    Hayzo is one of the few Southern Nations’ villages that has succeeded in turning the influx of tourists into a positive experience for all concerned. You can see the traditional way of life with few hassles from begging kids and without the need to pay for photos. Guides (Birr200) are mandatory and can be found at the Besa Gamo Chencha Local Guide Association in Dorze, though most people hire a guide (same price) from Mekonen Lodge further up the hill.

  • Sights in Southern Ethiopia

    Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary

    Senkelle was established to protect Ethiopia’s endemic Swayne’s hartebeest, and though the population of around 700 is a far cry from the huge herds of the past, it’s large enough to make a visit enjoyable. A typical visit, whether driving or walking, goes through the savannah, where Swayne’s and oribi antelope are sure to be seen, and then up to Borena Hill, 6km from the headquarters, for views of Lake Awasa and likely wildlife encounters with warthogs, olive baboons, vervet monkeys and bushbuck.

  • Sights in Mago National Park

    Mago National Park

    Although by Ethiopian standards wildlife is fairly abundant in this dramatically beautiful 2162-sq-km park, there’s no chance of an East African-safari-style experience. Poaching remains a problem and the thick acacia woodland dominating the plains makes seeing what wildlife remains quite tough. Mammals you can expect to spot are dik-diks, baboons and guinea fowl. If you're lucky, you may also see Burchell’s zebras, lesser kudus, defassa waterbucks, gerenuks and black-and-white colobus.

  • Sights in Nechisar National Park

    Crocodile Market

    Where the Kulfo River empties into Lake Chamo you’ll find oodles of crocodiles sunning themselves. Both the size of the congregation and the size of the crocs (6m is common) make this one of Africa’s best crocodile displays. There are also plenty of hippos, fish eagles and shore birds.

  • Sights in Shashemene

    Rastafarian Community

    Shashemene’s Rastafarian community, known locally as Jamaica, straddles the main road just north of town. It’s readily distinguished by its tri-coloured buildings, dreadlocked inhabitants and rounded vowels of Caribbean English. If you want to really meet and learn about the ‘Jamaicans’, the Zion Train Lodge and Banana Art Gallery are two good places to start.

  • Sights in Southern Ethiopia

    Lake Chew Bet

    This bizarre crater lake is about 800m across and 600m below the crater rim – it is so dark in colour that it looks like an oil slick amid the ruddy rocks. Valuable and muddy, black salt has been extracted from the lake for centuries, carried up on the backs of donkeys. It’s a half-hour, knee-trembling walk down and a full-hour, thigh-burning slog back up. It’s best to visit during the morning’s cooler temperatures when the salt gatherers are actually working.

  • Sights in Borana National Park – Yabelo Wildlife Sanctuary Headquarters

    Borana National Park – Yabelo Wildlife Sanctuary

    Covering an area of 2496 sq km, this wildlife reserve was originally created to protect Ethiopia’s endemic Swayne’s hartebeest. Hartebeests have since been poached out of the preserve, along with most other wildlife (cows are now the only large mammal in abundance, though visitors will also probably see Burchell's and Grevy's zebras). These days birdwatchers are pretty much the only visitors, here to add the locally endemic Ethiopian bush crow, Abyssinian hornbill and white-tailed swallow to their life lists.

  • Sights in Konso

    Konso Museum

    High above the town, this venture provides a very brief introduction to Konso culture, but it’s the excellent collection of totemistic waga that makes it a must-see. These carved wooden sculptures are raised in honour of Konso warriors after their death and not only depict the ‘hero’ but also his family, and the enemies and dangerous animals he has killed. You must pay at the tourist office.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Awasa

    Fish Market

    Lake Awasa’s fishermen head out in their little wooden boats in the afternoon and return the next morning laden with tilapia and catfish. The men are amazingly deft at gutting, scaling, skinning and flicking the eyes out of their catches. Massive marabou storks do janitorial duty while vervet monkeys beg around the nearby bar. It's an incredibly photogenic place, but you'll need a guide to walk around it – contact Tesfaye from Paradise City Tours, who charges Birr50 per person.

  • Sights in Nechisar National Park

    Nechisar National Park

    Spanning the narrow yet mountainous ‘Bridge of God’ that separates Lakes Chamo and Abaya, Nechisar National Park ranks among the most scenic national parks in East Africa. Although only 514 sq km, it contains diverse habitats ranging from wide-open savannah and acacia woodland to thick bush and sections of riparian forest. It’s the scenery that makes Nechisar special, but there’s still wildlife left, despite the government’s refusal to tackle the rampant land encroachment and poaching.

  • Sights in Southern Ethiopia

    Tiya Stelae Field

    The World Heritage–listed Tiya Stelae Field is an important stelae cluster at the south end of Tiya village, about 35km after the turn-off to Adadi. Tiya contains 41 stelae up to 5m in height (including the buried portions), engraved with enigmatic symbols including swords. They mark graves of individuals aged between 18 and 30 who died around 700 years ago and were buried in the foetal position, though little is known about the culture that carved them.

  • Sights in Nechisar National Park

    Forty Springs

    Arba Minch, which is Amharic for ‘Forty Springs’, is named after the innumerable little springs that bubble up right at the base of the ridge below the town. All the development (the city pumps its water from here) and the fact that it’s not especially scenic to begin with make it only worth visiting if you’ve already paid park fees. The 3km road there from the headquarters, however, is beautiful and is a good, easy walk.

  • Sights in Arba Minch

    Lake Abaya

    Divided by the lyrical ‘Bridge of God’ from Lake Chamo, beautiful Abaya is Ethiopia’s second-largest lake. Its peculiar reddish-brown waters are a result of elevated natural concentrations of suspended sediments, and it has a large population of crocodiles, which are said to be aggressive towards people and animals because the lake has few fish, their preferred food.