Ethiopia is a land of natural contrasts, from the tops of the rugged Simien Mountains to the depths of the Danakil Depression, at 120 meters below sea level one of the lowest dry land points on earth. The cornucopia of natural beauty that blesses Ethiopia offers an astonishing variety of landscapes: Afro-Alpine highlands soaring to around 4,600 meters, moors and mountains, the splendor of the Great Rift Valley, white-water rivers, Savannah teeming with game, giant waterfalls, dense and lush jungle... the list is endless. Ethiopia's many national parks enable the visitor to enjoy the country's scenery and its wildlife, conserved in natural habitats, and offer opportunities for travel adventure unparalleled in Africa. The wildlife consists mainly of East African plains animals, but there are now no giraffe or buffalo. Oryx, bat-eared fox, caracal, ardvark, colobus and grevy monkeys, Anubis and Hamadryas baboons, klipspringer, leopard, bushbuck, hippopotamus, Soemmerings gazelle, cheetah, lion, kudu and 450 species of bird all live within the parks' geographic coverage.
The geographic distribution of wild life in Ethiopia covers the whole country but the more densely populated areas are quite naturally around the most remote areas, national parks and sanctuaries. Ethiopia is rich in bird life with 830 to 860 species among which 28 are endemic to its territory. Some of the local species share geographical borders with neighboring countries. Birds of the water around the rift valley lakes and rivers, and birds of the tree in the highland forests, forest reserves and grass lands make Ethiopia among the richest in Africa.
Predators, herbivores, aquatics, reptiles and primates are the larger animals in the Ethiopian wilderness. Endemic mammals are mostly found within the boundaries of the national parks.
The national parks in Ethiopia are:
- Semien Mountain National Park
- Prominent inhabitants of the park are the endemic Walia Ibex, The Semien Fox, Gelada Baboon and the Lammergeyer
- Awash National park
- Around 80 species of wild life have been recorded in Awash among them are Beisa Oryx, Soemmering’s Gazelle, Salt’s dik-dik, Greater and Lesser Kudu, Defassa water buck, warthog, vervet monkeys, Gureza, Anubis baboons, Klipspringer, mountain reedbuck, lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted and striped hyena. And the bird life is composed of Abyssinian roller, Sand grouses, Larks, Hornbills, Waxbills, Bustards, Carmine bee-eater.
- Yangudi Rasa National Park
- The main attractions are The African Wild ass, Beisa Oryx, Soemmering’s, Dorcas gazelle, Gerenuk, Gravy’s Zebra, Arabian Bustards and Ostriches
- Bale Mountains National Park
- Menlik’s bushbuck, warthog, Bohor reedbuck, Ethiopian Wolves, Mountain Nyala, Vervet Monkeys, African Wild dogs and there is a rare encounter with African lions.
- Nechsar National Park
- Swayne’s hartebeest, Greater and Lesser Kudu, Gunther’s dik-dik antelopes, Chestnut bushbucks, Comical bush pig, Anubis baboons, Vervet monkeys, Burchell’s Zebra, Grant’s gazelle, black backed Jackal, African hunting dog. And birds are Red belled, Grey hornbill, Abyssinian ground hornbill, fish eagle, kingfishers and rollers.
- Omo National Park
- Mago National Park
- Mago is a habitat for: Buffalos, Elephants, Defassa bushbuck, Gerenuk, Tiang, Lelwel hartebeest, Greater and Lesser kudu, Guenther’s dik-dik, lion, black backed Jackal, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, Gravy’s zebra, monkeys and more than a hundred bird species.
- Gambella National Park
- Nile lechwe, White eared cob, Elephant, Buffalo, lion, roan antelope, lelwel hartebeest, olive baboon and Gureza monkey
- Abyata and Shala Lakes National Park
* Ostrich, Warthog, Somerings gazelle, Pelikans
- Senkele Game Sanctury
* Swayne’s hartebeest,greater and lesser kudu, Warthog
Addis Ababa - Bale Mountains
From Addis to Adama (100km) and after a turn to the right and a further drive of about (75km) Assela is reached. It is within the Oromia state and the administrative Capital of the Arsi zone. Even though Arsi is urbanized, after a few kilometers out of Assela one can see a distinct Oromia culture in the way people go about their daily activities. It is one of the places in Ethiopia where Christians and Muslims live in a wonderfully peaceful co-existence. The Arsi highlands some of which are higher than 4000m (Chilalo) are found close to Assela. A few days of trekking on these mountains with a local guide will enable to reach the 4000m peak. Some of the wild animals may cross hikers on their way.
After Assela driving further on a gravel road for 56kms will get to Bekoji. At 2700m, it is a cool highland. Bekoji is for long distance running as Brazil is for soccer. Most Ethiopian Olympic gold medal winners seem to have chosen to be born here. Haile Gebreselassie, Derartu Tulu, Fatuma Roba, Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba and the complete list will be too long. Passing through the attractively green Bekoji and Assala towns, we get to Dodola 44km from Bekoji.
The Arsi-Bale highlands are constant companions whose majestic view and lush green body serves as a good diversion to the dusty, bumpy road under construction. Dodola is the connecting town for Shashemene, Arsi and Bale. It is one excellent destination for hiking. To visit are a chain of mountains: Waharo, Angafu, Adele, Mololicho, and Duro. These mountain chains ranging in height b/n 3300m and 3460m are photographic paradise. It is advised to do this tour during the dry season on horseback. The trekking tour takes 5 to 6 days and camping is necessary.Dinsho is found at a distance of 58km from Adaba. It is the starting place for a trekking up the Bale Mountains. Mount Tulu Dimtu at 4377m is the highest peak.
The Bale Mountain National park, which covers an area of 2200km², contains forest, streams, birds and mammals some of which are endemic to Ethiopia. A considerably greater number of the Red Fox and Mount Nyala are found here than anywhere else. The Afro-Alpine moorland, which is found above the 3500 mark, covers a wide area at the southern slopes. Hiking, horse ridding, or even driving is possible in this park. The Dinsho Walking Trail, The Gay Say Extension, Harena Forest, The Web River Valley and the Saneti Plateau are the places of interest for an extended trekking.
The Sof Omar Caves
After the Bale highlands, Descending to the lowlands towards the place inhabited by the Somali tribe is found the Sof Omar Caves. At 1300m it is considerably warm. The web river passes under ground for 16kms and within a distance of 1.7kms between the entrance and exit of the cave one has to cross the cave 12 times. If passing through the cave end to end is considered, careful attention must be given to swimming ability and necessary gadgets. The places around Sof Omar are rich in bird life and a few species of endemic mammals may be seen accidentally.
The final approach to the Simien Mountains is from Debark, which is found 100kms from Gondar on the way to Axum or 250km from Axum on the way to Gondar. The upward trekking is one fascinating experience. Endemic wild animals of Ethiopia, The Gelada Baboon, Walia Ibex, and the Red Jackal have their homes right there. The Simien mountain national park is where to head with a wonderful view of the high peaks. The highest peak in Ethiopia- Ras Dashen 4533m can be reached after days of trekking. Travel in this area is definitely more adventurous and will require more in terms of cost. But a well-planned (organized) trip is worth all the extras. Camping at the site is recommended after all the necessities like food and all camping materials have been put in place. Travel by car is possible even up to the higher altitudes of the Simien but if trekking is chosen for the route, driving will be only up to a dead end at a town called Mekane Birhan after which trekking will continue on foot or horse back. Depending on the interest of travelers, a one, two, four, five, seven or ten day’s trip may be planned. The climb will definitely alter breathing as the air will grow lighter in density with altitude. A rushed trip is not recommended. A good rest between each day’s trips is important. One must be reasonably fit for the upward hike on the mountains. Gich, Sankaber, Chennek, and Ambiko are the towns on the way that can be used for camping. It is an adventurous and rewarding journey that usually ends with an ear-to-ear smile.
Addis Ababa - Adama
Adama is one of the fast growing cities of Ethiopia. It is the seat for the government of the Oromia region. It is found only 90 kms away from the capital Addis Ababa. The 2200m comfortable height of Addis starts to lower on the drive toward the beginning of the rift valley and at Adama it reaches 1600m. At the exit of Addis (20km), is found The Akaki Wetland that covers a wide expanse to the right extending up to 12 kms. Around the same area with a further drive of about 15kms and a right turn out of the main road, 30kms south leads to Zuquala. It is an interesting crater mountain (volcanic mountain) 2989m above sea level and 600m higher than the surrounding. There is a St Mary Monastery from the 4th century. It is one of the Orthodox Christian places of pilgrimage especially during the commemoration ceremony for the Egyptian priest, Abbo (Gebre Manfas Kidus), who became the patriarch in the 4th century. The other volcanic mountain, 10kms away from the main road at Dukam, is Mount Yerer (3100 m).
At 35km distance is an excellent weekend getaway from Addis. It is known for its traditional delicacies. The Lega tibs (medium fried) and Geba yale or Yebesele (Well-done) beef or lamb served with the traditional dipping hot sauces—Awaze, Mitmita, Data, Senafich. It definitely is a mouth-watering temptation. The Ethiopian version of steak tartar is Kitfo (raw ground beef) mixed with a fondue of seasoned Ethiopian butter and chili powder. Tire and Gored Gored are raw chunks of lean and marbling beef served with the dipping hot sauces. Eating in Dukam is a joyfully addictive experience. It’s even a more joyful when you share it sitting around the table. This traditional dish of mainly meat is out of sight during the fasting season.
Bishoftu (Debre Zeiyt) is found at a distance of 40 kms from Addis on the way to Adama. This fast growing city is interesting both in terms of its natural attractions and beautiful Tourist accommodating resorts. There are around six lakes in Bishoftu. These are Lake Bishoftu, Koriftu, Chelekleka, Hora, Bishoftu Guda, and the Cuban lakes. They are all accessible and accommodation is available. The view of the lakes is spectacular and very coaxing for an over night stay. The hotels and recreation facilities around these beautiful lakes and inside the city make the stay in Bishoftu quite pleasant. Birds of the tree and water hang around creating a wonderful ambience on the greenery around the lakes. If Bishoftu is not on the plan for an overnight stay, it definitely deserves a stopover for a short tour or sight seeing. After Bishoftu, on the road to Adama is found Modjo, another beautiful and also emerging city in Oromia. It is found where the road splits, one heading to Adama and the other to Southern Ethiopia through Zeway and Awassa. A 25- 30 kms drive out of Modjo will end the drive to Adama.
The road splits once again at Adama, one heading to Sodore and the other to Metehara and Awash. Adama awaits travelers fully equipped and ready to please with its services. Lodges, hotels, restaurants, roadside cafes and pizzerias are all at touching distance in the city. Sodore, resort and spa, which is only 25 kms from Adama, is the major resort area with a capacity to accommodate over thousands of people at once. Swimming pools, hot spring showers at Abadir, camping sites, bungalows, games and bird life make Sodere an interesting choice.
Adama – Awash - Afar
At a distance of around 200km from Addis the Awash national park is found bisected by the main road. The water bodies inside Awash are the Awash River, Lake Beseka, and hot springs. Gazelles, Antelopes, vervet monkeys, baboons, lions, cheetah, leopard, spotted and striped hyenas are a few among the 80 listed animals of the Awash National Park. An overnight camping or a night at one of the lodges is definitely a wild experience. Metehara, Awash Arba and Awash Seba are towns to cross if heading straight to Harar or to make a turn to the Afar if heading in the Djibouti /Assab direction. Taking the Afar road Gewane, Mille, Logia, and Semera are found. Later is found Assaita 50kms away, and off the main road. The Yangudi Rasa National Park with thinly populated wild animals is found along side the main road and goes along for 50kms. Volcanic formation of craters (volcanic outlets), solidified lava and rocky mountains are visible forming an impressive scenery. Gewane, Mille, and Logia are medium populated towns and growing. They provide enough for travelers—food, drinks and lodging with their own standards. At Mille the road branches and if the left stem is taken it leads to Kombolcha (Wollo) through Bati. Forty kilometers drive on the branching road gets to a town named El woha (Eloha). Again at Eliwoha making a turn off the main road for a one-hour drive on a gravel road, Hadar will be reached. Hadar is the place where Dinknesh (Lucy) was found. Lucy is a 3.4 million years old fossil with a scientific name-- Australopiticus Afarancis. This ancestor of the human species was dug out by and American scientist Donald Johansson in 1974. A recent finding of a 5.8 million years old fossil by an Ethiopian scientist Yohannes Haileselassie is also an additional proof of a bi- pedal (walking on two feet) existence that links the human race with even earlier ancestors. Guided tour by the locals and a paper permit from the authorities are always important in this region. Back to Mille and on the road to Logia. From Logia after a drive of about 8kms is found the emerging town of Semera. An out of the main road from Semera leads to Lake Afrera and the Danakil Depression. Assayita is found at 50kms distance from Semera after making a turn where it is sign posted at a distance of 10kms. The 40 kms gravel road to Assaita is accompanied by an interesting view of volcanic formations. There are lakes around Assaita that are rich in wild life. Migratory birds, hippos, and crocodiles are found. Lake Abbe, which extends up to Djibouti, is a deep blue attractive salty water. These lakes can be reached by trekking. A careful planning of camping, food and water supply, camel transportation and local guides are important-----back to the main road.
A further drive from the junction to Assaita on the main road leads to the Elidar Depression where many easily accessible lakes are found. These lakes are also rich in wild life and some could be snap shot by a ready camera, along side the main road.
Generally the Afar region is very hot through out the year and the heat peaks to an average of above 50ºc during summer. Reaching the deeper and more impressive parts of the region is an adventurous and yet definitely rewarding experience.
Addis Ababa – Ambo – Wechi - Wolliso
Driving west out of Addis the first Attraction is Gefersa. This area is a continuation of the Entoto forest preserves and the place provides a natural environment where local and migratory birds during European winter may be seen. A few hours of walking tour around this area and the next town of Addis Alem will be sufficient. Addis Alem was settled by Emperor Menlik II prior to Addis Ababa and his palace, which was constructed on a hilltop with a neighboring church, is also a historic footprint of the near past at around the end of the 19th century.
The Chilimo forest reserve is found after an 87km drive on a first grade asphalt road close to the town of Ginchi. This place has untouched green environment at the center of which Hailesillassie’s wife Menen, owned a lodge. Different birds and mammal of the forest are seen. A guided tour aided by the guards of the forest reserve or the local police is necessary.
Ambo is a town that is found 125kms west of Addis. It has recreation area with hot springs and swimming pool. The forest cover around this area is rich in bird life. The Attractive water falls of Guder are found only after 13kms drive out of Ambo along the main road to Nekemte. The volume of this waterfall increases tremendously during summer but it remains very attractive throughout the year.
An off-road drive out of Ambo on a gravel road for ---kms will get to Wenchi.
Wenchi is a volcanic formation of mountains that encloses a crater lake at the center. An upward hiking for about an hour will get to the top from there a panoramic view of both the lake and the greenery around it becomes possible. It is an attractive site for travelers in terms of its amazing landscape. The lake is spotted with small islands on which the Tekle Haimanot and Wenchi Christos monasteries are found. These monasteries are said to have been built b/n 13-15 century by Abune Teklehaimanot and Emperor Zara Yacob. Admirers of nature, bird watchers or possibly anybody will be impressed by its beauty. Camping or day excursion with barbeque will be Ideal. After Wenchi a further drive on the same gravel road will connect with the main Addis-Jimma asphalt road. The connecting town here is Wolliso. It is another naturally endowed place around the region. Hot springs, attractive lodges, with complete resort facilities and basic tourist hotels make it a comfortable getaway for travelers.
On a return drive from Welliso The Menagesha Forest Reserve is found only 30kms out of Addis. It is the first African natural reserve in recorded history. Emperor Zara Yakob ordered the import and sowing of tree seeds from Ankober by the 15th century after he noticed the depletion of natural resources around the area. Consecutive emperors also kept the reserve and centuries old trees are still found in the reserve. The Metabo Brewery lies close to the Menagesha reserve and provides service for traveler guests and locals. Camping at Menagesha is possible but there are also two hotels that provide basic accommodation for travelers. It is advisable to carry food and drinks along with other camping gadgets.
Addis - Jimma
Driving on the 350km asphalt road between Addis and Jimma the town of Wolkite lies in the middle 150 kms from Addis and 50 kms the resort town of welliso. Mainly inhabited by the Gurage tribe, Wolkite is an emerging town that accommodates neighboring Oromo people and other tribes of the region. It is an important spot along the road the road to Jimma where good service and accommodation is available. It was and still is an important trading route between Jimma-Addis-South and Oromia.
The road to Jimma provides a mixed view of the western highlands and the warm Omo River gorge. The vegetation also changes drastically with the ups and downs of the road. Jimma holds an important place in the history of Ethiopia. It was by and large a predominantly Muslim area inhabited by the Oromo tribes. It is now an Oromiya state that shares borders with the southern people state. It played a significant role in linking trade relations of the deep west and southwestern Ethiopia with the central and eastern Ethiopia. Coffee was first introduced to the world in Kaffa, which was the administrative capital of the region. The places around Jimma were and still are the major producers of coffee in Ethiopia. Coffee naturally demands tropical weather, fertile land and abundant rainfall all of which are the attributes of the region. Wild coffee harvesting, small-scale farming and some coffee plantations make up the coffee producing industry of Ethiopia. The country depends on the east, south and southwestern regions for the export of its major brands of the coffee Arabica species. The quality and originality of Ethiopian organic coffee stands out at world markets testifying to the historic roots of world number one beverage.
The Muslim kingdom of Jimma under king Aba Jifar around the end of the 19th century shared its regional autonomy with the central government and became compliant to the central Ethiopian government. The Jimma Aba Jiffar palace and the museum in the city are places of interest for travelers both of which hold historic and cultural heritages of the region. Also a mosque built by the king is found close to the palace.
Lake Boye found only 8km from the town of Jimma can be visited as a day trip. Different bird species of the water and forest and also hippos are found especially around the far western end of the lake. Hippos can be seen at the shore.
The Kofe swamp area is also found only a few kilometers south west of Jimma close to the airport. It accommodates a good number of both local and migratory bird species.
To look deeper into west Ethiopian history and culture or for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts Bonga forest along the Kaffa region is one more attraction. It can be reached with the aid of local guides and it covers 500 km² of land. The forest reserve contains wild coffee and a variety of large trees, which were the source of lumber and resulting woodcrafts of the region.
Addis - Gambella
The city of Nekemte is found 350km west of Addis Ababa passing through Ambo (125km).An attractively green scenery accompanies the road that extends from Ambo to Nekemte. It is a naturally endowed region of the Oromia state. Wollega the regional name under which Nekemte is found is rich in natural resources found both on surface and underground. The fertile land grows fruits, vegetables, cereals and coffee. The underground has a reserve of Gold, Platinum, Copper, Lead and Iron. The main attraction around Nekemte is the Dedessa Wild Life Reserve. It can be accessed through the road that leads to Bedele. An inside tour of the reserve is only limited to hiking because no drive-through route has been developed and there is also limitation in other infrastructure.
Gambella town is established along the Baro River (one of Nile’s tributaries). At 450m it is a very warm and humid area. The temperature frequently hits above the 40°c mark. Baro flows across the Ethio-Sudanese border and into the Nile. The traditions, history and origin of the people who live around Baro have cross-border similarities. Nuer and Anuak are the two major tribes having other sub-divisions and tribes that are smaller in number. Both tribes have a distinct feature of above 6 ft height and dark complexion. The Nuer people have traditionally valued scar lines on the forehead and scar on the temple is common for the Anuak. The tribes of Gambella, the Baro River, and the Gambella National Park are the areas of interest for travelers. One can experience all simultaneously by driving through the difficult dirt road towards the Gambella National Park. Covering the 185km distance in this direction requires careful preparation in terms of vehicle, camping equipment, food supplies, local guides and escorts in addition to the certification by local authorities. Wild life that depend for survival on the grass land, the Baro river, and the greenery around it include the larger mammals whose population is growing lighter by the day.It is found 771kms from Addis and can be reached through two alternative routes. One is from Nekemte through Gimbi and Dembidolo or Bedele and Metu and the other is from Jimma through Bonga and Mizan Tefri. Both routes will take more than half a day’s drive to reach Gambella. Even though camping is a necessity if traveling the 185km for the national park; Gambella provides sufficient accommodation for travelers.