7 best places to visit in ETHIOPIA
Curious about the best places to visit in Ethiopia? Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. With over 109 million inhabitants, it’s the second most populous nation in Africa. Ethiopia may not have large game reserves as other African countries, but it is home to a number of stunning natural wonders and cultural gems.
Rugged mountains, waterfalls, vast and desolate landscapes teeming with hot springs, ancient monolith churches and ruins of the ancient cities.
Sounds enticing? Want to come and explore? Then you have found yourself in the right place.
We’ve created this list of some of the best places to visit in Ethiopia to help you with the task of planning your trip to Ethiopia.
7 best places to visit in Ethiopia
The Semien Mountains
The Semien Mountains is a rugged mountain range in northern Ethiopia. They are a part of the Ethiopian Highlands.
The Semien Mountains include the Simien Mountains National Park, the largest national park in Ethiopia and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Semien Mountains consist of plateaus separated by valleys. Steep, rocky cliffs and jutting mountain pinnacles are dominating the landscape in the area. There are several peaks above 4000 meters. The highest peak of the range is Ras Dejen (4550 m). Mount Kidis Yared (4453 m) and Mount Biuat (4437 m) are other notable peaks in the area.
The Semien Mountains are one of the top hiking destinations in Ethiopia, and have some of the best trekking routes in Africa.
The Semien Mountains are also well known for its furry inhabitants — the Gelada monkeys.
It’s a fantastic species of Old World monkey found only in the Ethiopian Highlands.
Surrounded by a centuries-old defensive wall, Harar is one of the most notable cities in Ethiopia. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Harar is the perfect place to experience the culture and traditional history of Ethiopia.
Ethiopians consider it to be the fourth holiest city after Mecca, Jerusalem and Medina. The city is also often called “The City of Saints”. Harar is one of the holy towns of Islam in Africa. The walled historical town is relatively well-preserved. To this day it’s still rich in Harari Muslim cultural heritage.
The historical town is known for its maze of small, narrow streets and traditional townhouses.
It contains 82 mosques, some of which date to the 10th century, and multiple vibrant and colourful markets.
The Danakil Depression is a geological depression that has developed as a result of Africa and Asia moving apart.
At some 100 m below sea level, it is one of the lowest places on the planet. The area is also known for the extreme heat, with daytime temperatures surpassing 50 °C. In fact, it’s one of the hottest places on the planet.
The Danakil Depression is vast and desolate. Yet it boasts some of Ethiopia’s most spectacular geological features.
The Dallol geothermal field is known for its colourful hydrothermal pools and terraces. Due to the variable oxidation of inorganic iron, the colours of the pools and terraces change from white and light green to yellow and red.
Erta Ale is the most active volcano in Ethiopia, and it’s situated in the same area. The volcano features the world’s longest existing lava lake. Erta Ale is also unique because it’s one of few active volcanoes that have an almost persistent lava lake.
Do not miss the salt mines of Danakil. This is the source of all salt sold in Ethiopia.
The salt is mined by hand and loaded on camels and donkeys. It takes two to three days to get to the nearest town.
Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia. It is known for its distinctive subterranean, rock-cut churches.
Dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, these churches are important pilgrimage sites for Christians.
To Christians, Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Axum.
There are 11 medieval monolithic cave churches in Lalibela. Each of them have their own distinctive look and features. And some of the churches have coloured frescoes inside.
These impressive monoliths are among the best places to visit in Ethiopia.
Addis Ababa is the capital and largest city of Ethiopia.
As it is the main international gateway to Ethiopia, you are going to start your trip around the country at Addis Ababa. We recommend you to spend a day or two in the city to just adjust to the new conditions, as Africa can be overwhelming to first-time visitors.
Visit the National Museum where you will find some of the most precious local archaeological finds in Ethiopia. These include “Lucy” — one of the oldest and most complete hominid skeletons.
Do not miss Addis Mercato — the largest open air market in Africa. It covers several square miles and has more than 7000 shops and stalls. The market is seemingly endless and seems too chaotic. But in fact, the market is divided into zones depending on the speciality. You can find just about anything there — from food to ironworks. We recommend hiring a guide, so you can get the best experience and see more of it.
Visit Entoto Mountain which overlooks the entire city of Addis Ababa. With a height of 3200 m, it is the highest peak of the Entoto Mountains. The mountain is considered a sacred mountain and has several monasteries. Saint Mary and Saint Raguel are the most notable ones.
Get used to local Ethiopian food and enjoy Ethiopian coffee.
The oldest and best known coffee roaster in Addis Ababa is Tomoca Coffee
Bahir Dar & the Blue Nile Falls
Bahir Dar is one of the leading tourist cities in Ethiopia.
It is a gateway to the Blue Nile Falls and Lake Tana, some of the best places to visit in Ethiopia.
With its wide streets, beautiful lake views, it is one of the most beautiful cities in Ethiopia. The city is often referred to as the “Ethiopian Riviera”.
Bahir Dar numbers ancient monasteries that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The monasteries along with the Bahir Dar Market are some of the best places to see in Bahir Dar. The city lies on the southern shore of Lake Tana which is the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile.
The Blue Nile Falls are 52 meters high and consist of four streams. The falls are over 400 meters wide in the rainy season. The falls are known to locals as Tis Abay, which means the “great smoke”. The falls are so powerful, and the rising mist reaches so high, that you can feel the wetness from a distance.
Aksum is one of the centres of ancient civilisation, and the ruins of the ancient city are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ruins of the ancient city are the heart of ancient Ethiopia. They date back to the 1st and the 13th century A.D. If you want to see from where it all started, this is your place to go to.
The ancient city of Aksum includes obelisks, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient castles.
Ethiopia travel tips
- Find out if you need to apply for an e-visa before travelling to Ethiopia, or you can obtain the visa on arrival at the airport. Note that visa on arrival is being issued only at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Travellers with e-visa also must enter Ethiopia via Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Entering from other airports & ports of entry is prohibited.
- Compared with many other African countries, Ethiopia is considered pretty safe. Violent crime is rare, however petty theft is quite common in large cities. Pickpockets operate in public transport and crowded places. Keep your wits about you and leave your valuables like expensive jewelry at home. Do not flash your belongings. Avoid buses and don’t walk the streets after dark. Instead take a taxi.
- Malaria is present in Ethiopia. Talk to your doctor about how to prevent malaria while traveling.
- You also need to have the yellow fever vaccination certificate, especially if coming from a yellow fever zone. Talk to your doctor about this.
- Fly to save time.
- You can get a significant discount (even 50% off) on Ethiopian Air domestic flights if you fly into the country on Ethiopian Air.
- Skybus and Selam Bus are the most popular long distance bus companies in Ethiopia, and offer a very comfortable service.
- The best time to visit Ethiopia is during the dry season, which runs from October through to March.