If you are wishing, dreaming, thinking or already planning to visit Ethiopia, there is a varied selection of exciting destinations and tourist attractions waiting to be explored in the 'Land of Origins'. Tourist attractions and destinations in Ethiopia range from national parks with wealth of endemic wildlife to historical sites including castles and medieval churches.
In no particular order, here are the top five tourist attractions to see in Ethiopia, the Land of Origins.
Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela
Photo by Vincent Ko Hon Chiu
Perhaps ‘incredible’ is the most appropriate adjective to describe the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela. Located in Lalibela, a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, the Churches of Lalibela are a group of 13-century 11 medieval monolithic churches carved out of rock.
The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela are the biggest monolithic temples in the world, and are collectively listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, yet much mystery still surrounds their construction. Although the exact age of these churches is not known, history has it that they were excavated during the reign of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela , who ruled Ethiopia at the beginning of the 13th century.
There are two main groups of churches. To the north of the River Jordan are Biete Medhani Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), Biete Mariam (House of Mary), Biete Maskal (House of the Cross), Biete Denagel (House of Virgins), Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael). While to the south of the River Jordan are Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos), Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos), Biete Gabriel Raphael (House of Gabriel Raphael), and Biete Lehem (House of Holy Bread). The eleventh church, Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), is isolated from the others, but connected by a system of trenches.
All the eleven churches are arranged in two groups and are connected with passageways which are 11 meters deep. The churches were not conventionally constructed but were hewn out of solid living rock of monolithic blocks from top to bottom. The blocks were then chiseled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs and other parts.
About 645 km from Addis Ababa, Lalibela is located in the Semien Wollo Zone of the Amhara Region in the northern part of Ethiopia. Also known as the 'New Jerusalem,' Lalibela is Ethiopia's second holiest city after Aksum, Home to a large community of priests and monks, Lalibela is a high place of Ethiopian Christianity and up till today, remains a place of pilgrimage and devotion for Christians from all over the world.
For international tourists, travelling to and from Lalibela is convenient as Ethiopian Airlines operates two daily direct flights between Addis Ababa and Lalibela. Flight time is 1 hour. The two flights from Addis Ababa have convenient morning departure times, so you can begin your touristy exploration shortly after touching down in Lalibela. There are also connections to Lalibela from other Ethiopian Airports. For me, the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela is a must-see!
The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion
Photo credit: apsaidal.com
Located in the town of Axum a small city in the northern part of Ethiopia, the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion is an Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church . The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is the most important church in Ethiopia and claims to house the Ark of the Covenant.
According to tradition, the Ark came to Ethiopia with Menelik I after he visited his father King Solomon. Only the guardian monk may view the Ark. The original church is believed to have been built in the 4th century during the reign of Ezana the first Christian ruler of the Kingdom of Axum which is the present-day Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since it was originally built. If you are a Christian visiting Ethiopia, then a visit to the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion is almost a must. The church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is a very important pilgrimage centre for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, especially during the Festival of Zion Maryam which is marked on 30 November each year.
The Festival of Maryam is held in Axum, where thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians make the pilgrimage to the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion. Originally the capital of the eponymous kingdom of Aksum, Axum is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Africa and is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia.
A visit to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is as entertaining as it is educative as you will learn a lot about the history of Christianity in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Airlines operates three daily direct flights between Addis Ababa and Axum. Flight time is 1 hour, 20 minutes. The beautiful thing is that there are also direct flight connections on Ethiopian Airlines between Lalibela and Axum connecting two of the most beautiful tourist destinations in Ethiopia.
Erta Ale Volcano
Photo Source: EthioDanakil Tours
Erta Ale volcano is a large basaltic shield volcano in the Erta Ale volcanic range in the central northern Danakil depression, a badland desert area bordering Eritrea. Awe-inspiring, Erta Ale is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is popular for its persistent lava lake which has been active during most of the past decades.
Erta Ale volcano is 50 km wide and rises more than 600 m from below sea level in the barren Danakil depression, making it a low-elevation volcano. Literally, Erta Ale means "smoking mountain" in the local Afar language and its southernmost pit is known locally as "the gateway to Hell".
For tourists, especially the strong minded, visiting Erta Ale volcano offers one the once-in-a-life time chance of seeing a live volcano. It is truly a unique experience. However, you have to be prepared for the strenuous and even tiring hike.
The Erta Ale volcano is about 10km up and down the mountain with really hot surrounding but beautiful landscape. It is highly recommended that tourists to the Erta Ale volcano carry supplies including water, food and even pain medicines.
Photo Source: Atlas & Boots
If you are visiting Ethiopia as a tourist and you love nature, Simien Mountains should be on the top of your travel bucket list. Definitely one of the major tourist attractions and sights in Ethiopia, the Semien Mountains are located in northern Ethiopia, north east of Gondar in the Amhara region. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Simien Mountains are part of the Ethiopian Highlands and include the Simien Mountains National Park.
Simien Mountains National Park is a spectacular landscape, where massive erosion over millions of years has created gullies, pinnacles, jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500 m. Trekking is one of the most popular activities to do in Simien Mountains National Park.
Trekking tours start at Debark where the Simien Mountains National Park Headquarters is located. Here you will need to register, pay your entrance fees and meet your trekking guide from the Walia Local Guides Association. Trekking in Simien Mountains can be done in a day but can often take up to three days especially if you want to fully explore this massively beautiful plateau.
Ethiopian Airlines connects Addis Ababa and Gondar daily with four direct flights and another five indirect flights. The Gonder airport is about 20km from the center of town.
The Great Rift Valley
Photo Source: Ethiopia Tropical Tours
The Great Rift Valley is the single largest geographical feature on the African continent, stretching along a 4,000 km long fault line from the Red Sea south to Mozambique’s Zambezi Valley. The Ethiopian part of the Rift Valley runs from the Red Sea to Lake Turkana on the Kenyan border and forms the Danakil Depression in northern Ethiopia.
The Great Rift Valley passes through Ethiopia, connected by a chain of seven individual lakes including Lakes Zeway, Shala, Abyata, Langano, Awassa, Chmao and Abaya. Each of the lakes has its own special aquatic and vegetate life providing ideal habitats for the exuberant variety of flora and fauna that make the region a beautiful and exotic destination for tourists. Each of these lakes provides discerning and nature-loving tourists distinct opportunities to explore and experience nature in a remarkably exhilarating way.
Lake Langano features a beautiful resort with camping facilities, hotels and chalets. Its sandy beaches provide the perfect space for swimming, sailing, water skiing and wind surfing.
If you are the bird watching type, then Lakes Abiata and Shalla are ideal places for you. Lake Shalla which is the deepest of all the lakes is the most important one for the breeding colony of the Great White Pelicans. At Lake Ziway tourists can observe a retinue of birds that includes white pelican, saddle bill, yellow bill, storks and kingfishers. Located in Awassa city and surrounded by high hills, Lake Awassa is a genuine haven of peace with reed and marshes at its edges.
Lake Abaya is the largest and longest and is very popular among birds as it provides excellent feeding place for them including the Flamingos. Lake Chamo forms one of Ethiopia's finest National Parks-Nech Sar. With its sparkling aquamarine waters, Lake Chamo is a converging sanctuary of some sort for hundreds of hippopotamus and thousands of crocodiles and fish.
The Rift Valley is also a site of numerous natural hot springs, chemical contents of which are said to have therapeutic properties. The Rift Valley’s beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs, warm climate and a rich variety of wildlife make it one of the most beautiful natural attractions in Africa.