Tourist Attractions of Ethiopia

The "historical Circuit" through Northern Ethiopia is the core of Ethiopia's tourist attractions. In fact, the majority of the tourists follow this itinerary and rightly so. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa South of the Sahara that has ancient historical monuments. Ethiopia's monuments are unique in both their history and their architecture.

The most famous tourist attractions of Ethiopia on the historical circuit are: the circular Ethiopian Orthodox Churches on islands in Lake Tana, the Blue Nile Falls, and the castles of Gondar, the Stella of Axum, the rock hewn churches of Tigray, the ancient temple of Yeha, and the rock hewn churches in Lalibela.

We have combined these highlights in two itineraries, the first one based on road transportation and the second one based on air travel between the towns of interest. Both options are absolutely fabulous trips, in which road travel allows you to appreciate more of the countryside, while the second option allows you to see all the highlights in a shorter time, including as a one-week stopover on your way to another country in Africa, like one of the famous safari countries in East of Southern Africa, while traveling on Ethiopian Airlines and taking Addis Ababa as your hub.

  • Bahia Dar

 Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region, lies at the southern end of Lake Tana, 1830 meters above sea level. It has all rounded facilities and serves as a major gateway to the main attractions of the region. With its wide avenues of palms & flamboyant trees and its scenic location near Lake Tana.  Bahir Dar is well known for its many churches, Bezawit Palace, open air market, time memorial papyrus boats and lake side resorts, traditional music, Negede weyto village etc. Bahir Dar is the ideal centers from which to explore Lake Tana, the island monasteries, and the Blue Nile Falls.

        Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile

• Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile, is situated in the northwestern highlands of Ethiopia, 500 km North of Addis Ababa, at an altitude of 1800 m. The lake has probably been formed through volcanic.

• Shallow lake (average depth 8 m, maximum depth 14 m). Now it covers an area of approximately 3200kM square and is by far Ethiopia's largest lake, containing half of the country's fresh water supply.

  • The lake is isolated from the lower Nile basin ichthyic fauna by 40 m high waterfalls, at Tissisat ('smoking waters, 30 km downstream from the Blue Nile outflow.
  • Tis Isat Falls /Blue Nile Falls

Tis Isat means "smoking water" in Amharic, these legendary falls are best seen during the rainy season when the Blue Nile water levels swell, creating a thunderous amount of white water.

  • Gonder

During the time of the Portuguese travels in the Ethiopian region (1520 - 1527 CE), Gondar was little more than a small village community of peasants and military composts. For in the 1520's it showed absolutely no sign of any advancement to come, neither from any growing form of economy nor a strategic establishment of any significance. However, by 1630 it possessed not only the thrown of the ruling family in Abyssinia, but also the renaissance culture of the liturgy and artistry, which is recognized as the beginning of its modern form in Ethiopia.

The castle of Fasiladas

The creation of Gondar is credited to Fasiladas the Great (1632-1667), son of emperor Susenyos (1607-1632), and it was also he who built the first of the castle-palaces, for which the city is famous today.

Simien Mountains National Park (SMNP), the Roof of Ethiopia

The Simien Mountains National Park in Northern Ethiopia is an exotic setting with unique wildlife and breath-taking views on a landscape shaped by nature and traditional agriculture. The natural beauties of this region have always filled visitors from Ethiopia and abroad with awe. Gentle highland ridges at altitudes above 3600 meters above sea level, covered with grasses, isolated trees (Erica & bored) and the bizarre Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) are found on the high plateau that ends abruptly at 1000m to 2000m deep escarpments.

The margins of this high plateau consist of precipitous cliffs and deep, canyon-style gorges. In some places, the escarpment forms small elevations that offer splendid natal lookout points. The spectacular views from the observation points at Gidir Got and lmet Gogo in the center of the Park offer unparalleled panoramas along the high plateau and down to the lowland areas. Given the right meteorological conditions, views reaching up to a hundred kilometers over the valleys and the terraces of the Tekeze lowland basin are no exception.

The main attraction of the Simien Mountains National Park is its biosphere: the steep cliffs and the cool climate at the altitude of the Erica tree line (3600 to 4000 m ash) have created conditions that are appropriate for the survival of an ibex species (Capra ibex wee) endemic to the Simien Mountains. Despite the severe restriction of their habitat over the last centuries, several hundred animals have survived up to the present. Apart from the Walya ibex, many other animal species are found in the Park, for example the endemic Simien fox or Ethiopian wolf (Canis .071817, 51-3 simony's), several birds of prey, the endemic Gelada baboon (Theropithecusgelada), the Klippspringer (Oreotragus omotragus), and the bush buck (liagelphus scriptus). The rareness of these species formed the backbone of the concept for conservation of the area, which led to the establishment of the Simien Mountains National Park in 1969, and its listing as a World Heritage Site in 1918.

  • Debre Birhan Selassie Church

This unusual little church located in Gonder was built in the 17th century and features an elaborately decorated interior like no other - more than 100 winged cherubs are painted on the ceiling. A must see when in Ethiopia.

  • Lalibela - The underground Vatican of Africa

The eighth wonder of the world Lalibella, the site of 11 spectacular rock- hewn churches is an important historical attraction in Ethiopia. King Lalibella (r.1180 - 1221) was one of the kings of the Zagwe Dynasty which flourished after the fall of the Axumite Empire in the 10th century A.D. According to some sources king Lalibella constructed the churches in an attempt to create the second Jerusalem at the heart of Ethiopia.

In Lalibela itself you will find two main groups of churches, one on each side of the river Jordan and one other church set apart from the rest. The first group of the church lies in their rock cradles one behind the other north of the river, they are six bet Golgotha, bet Mikael, bet Mariam, bet Meskel, bet Denagel and bet Medhanealem. The second group are south of the Jordan river comprises four churches; beta Amanuel, bet Merkorios, bet Abba Libanos and bet Gebriel rufael.

Lalibela, previously known as Roha, is named after the king. The word itself, which translates to mean the bees, recognizes his sovereignty and the people of the region still recount the legend that explains why. Lalibela was born in Roha in the second half of the twelfth century, the youngest son of the royal line of the Zagwe dynasty, which then ruled over much of northern Ethiopia. Despite several elder brothers he was destined for greatness from his earliest days. Not long after his birth, his mother found a swarm of bees around his crib and recalled an old belief that the animal world foretold important futures. She cried out: -The bees know that this child will become king.     

  • Aksum - The first Christian Capital        

Axum, the site of Ethiopians most ancient city, is today a small town blissfully ignorant of its glorious past. The 16th century Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion is built on the site of a much older church probably resembling that of Debre Damo, dating from the 4th century AD. Only a platform and the wide stone steps remain from the earlier structure. The Cathedral is the repository of the crowns of some of Ethiopians former emperors. According to church legend, it also houses the original Ark of the Covenant - thus making St. Marry the holiest sanctuary in Ethiopia.

The Axumites introduced a universal written language, and created a new imperial power in this part of Africa. They also gave Ethiopia its first organized religion – Christianity - in the 4th century AD.

This site known for its extraordinary monolithic stelae and its places the most significant remains are:

• The main stelae field, a pre-Christian cemetery with the fallen and broken stele over 33 meters high and the large dolmen like structure called Nefas mawcha

• The large open-air water cistern known as may Shum

• The grave of King Caleb

• The ruins of two ancient churches dating from 16th century, on the Biete Giyorgis hill

• The large buildings at enda Simon, enda Mikael and Taakka Mariam

       Danakil Depression and Eastern Route

Geologically known as the Afar Triangle or Danakil Depression of Ethiopia. The region is a very active tectonic plate region. Because of the plate movements in three different directions. The Afar Triangle is stretched thin and torn, resulting in a series of faults visible in the landscape as long parallel valleys, some of the deepest filled with saline lakes, like Lake Asale. There is frequent volcanic activity and lava flows occurred along the faults. The region has a large number of volcanic phenomena like hot springs and extremely active volcanoes, with the Erta Ale Volcano being the most active.

For logistical reasons it is can be practical to continue this tour to also visit the Awash National Park and Babile Elephant Sanctuary, although one can also chose to go back to the mountains and visit those parks out of Addis Ababa.


Islam's fourth holiest city covers just a single square kilo meter in eastern Ethiopia, a walled citadel with over 80 mosques and 360 labyrinthine alleyways dating back up to a thousand years. The elegant Islamic architecture, colorful robes and ancient markets seemed to have altered little since then. One of Harar's main draws is the feeding of the hyenas - a nightly ritual which deters the predators from attacking livestock.

  • South Western module

 In the Southwest of Ethiopia are several national parks and lavishly interesting tribes:

• Mago National Park

• Omo National Park

• Mursi People

• Hamar People 

Both parks are known for their wildlife, while Mago National Park also is home of the Mursi People. The Hamar People don't live in a national park but on the lowlands and marshes north of Lake Turkana. For a long time, both tribes have lived under extreme isolation and they still live by vary ancient traditions, such as stretched out underlips for the Mursi women and voluntary extreme beating during marriage rituals of the Hamar girls.

  • Rift Valley

Africa's Great Rift Valley rips a great scar through the middle of Ethiopia, where lakes have bubbled up and forests have sprung from the ground. The warmth and humidity are a welcome break from the harsh highlands, and journeys up and down the valley reveal a variety of cultures and traditions, where life revolves around market days, traditional ceremonies, farming and weaving - all scarcely touched by tourism.

  • Addis Ababa

Africa's highest capital is a largely modern city - but not in a good way. It is filled with blocky, half-finished buildings, chaotic traffic and the sounds of construction. If you're passing through, though, don't despair; on arrival, the National Museum provides a fantastic historical introduction to Ethiopia - dating back 3.2 million years, and before departure the Merkato and craft stalls are great places to spend your last birr.

  • Western parks

There are several parks in Western Ethiopia, but only Gambella National Park if of significant interest, which sports among other species, the famous White-eared Kob, the second most important migrant hoofed animal in the world, with as many as 2.5 million individuals. African Buffaloes can also be seen in relatively large herds in Gambella National Park, as well as a large number of water birds, including the Shoe-billed Heron! It should be noted, though that at present, the park is practically inaccessible during the wet season.

  • Endemic wildlife

It is possible to see lion, buffalo, hippo and zebra in Ethiopia, but those after a traditional East African safari experience will be disappointed. What Ethiopia does best is uniqueness, and this extends to its fauna. Gelada baboons, Ethiopian wolves, mountain Nyalas and even the comical, big-headed mole rat can all be found roaming the isolated highlands -rare, fascinating and totally unique to Ethiopia.

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