Land in the centrally-located capital city, Addis Ababa, and to start the journey. Visit the Ethnological Museum on the grounds of the Addis Ababa University for a beginner’s lesson in Ethiopia’s past and present.
Ethiopia is a large country, covering 420,000 square miles, and is home to the most UNESCO World Heritage sites on the continent. There are even more UNESCO sites on the horizon, which means you may want a repeat visit. Visit the official website for more information: whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ET
Below is a sampling of a few sites on any travelers’ “must-do” list.
Known as the city of castles, Gondar (or Gonder) was once home to emperors who led the country from the 12th century to the last decade of the 20th century. Here you will find spectacular castle ruins in Fasil Ghebbi or the the Royal Enclosure. (This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is where these emperors once reigned.) Guided tours offer sightseeing and stories of legend and lore.
Gondar is also where you will find Ras Dashen, the highest mountain in Ethiopia, located in the Simien Mountains National Park. Active travelers should arrange a land tour of the mountains with a guide and scout, for hiking and trekking to see the outstanding scenery and wildlife within this region.
A place deeply immersed in Christianity, it is said that more than 800 years ago, King Lalibela tried to create a “New Jerusalem.” His goal was to provide a symbol of the Holy Land as an alternate destination for Christian pilgrimages. Eleven churches were magnificently carved and chiseled from red volcanic rock. These buildings within the rock are complete with doors, windows, floors and roofs. Also engineered into the rock are drainage ditches and passageways that connect some of the churches, and catacombs. There is fascinating history and legend surrounding the construction and architecture of these marvels, which are now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ethiopia. It still serves as a holy site of worship.
It is believed that the lost Ark of the Covenant may be in Aksum (Axum), in the far north of Ethiopia, under heavy guard in a chapel built around it. Created by Moses to hold the stone tablets containing the 10 commandments, the Ark has been lost for over 2,000 years, but Christian Ethiopians say it resides there. Thousands of years ago, in an effort to protect and hide the Ark, it may have traveled up the Nile to Lake Tana, the source of the Nile River.
This region was once a thriving center of trade, and the wealthy citizens and kings arranged for obelisks, or stelae, to be built over their graves. The stelae are massive in size, the tallest reaching 80 feet in height. These stone monuments feature artistic hand carvings, which have intricate features such as false doors and windows.
It is also said that Aksum was once the home of the Queen of Sheba, who had a relationship with King Solomon. Their relationship may be how Christianity was originally brought to Ethiopia.
For the Palate
Travelers must try Ethiopian cuisine. Served at every meal, injera is a spongy bread made from teff flour, which is naturally gluten free. The injera bread is used as both plates and utensils for eating wot, a stew made from meats and vegetables. Be careful though, they are quite spicy.
Injera often lines the serving dishes, soaking up the juices and flavors of the stews. Pieces are torn into edible portions by diners. Be aware of some cultural differences; it is polite to eat only with your right hand, and sometimes the host of a meal will generously share by putting food into the mouths of their guests.
Oddly enough, pasta is widely available in Ethiopia, a leftover from the influence of the brief Italian occupation of the country in the late 1930s.
Those who require caffeine on a regular basis are in for a treat. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and Ethiopians have a ceremonial art of roasting, brewing and serving this dark-hued elixir. Visitors will almost surely participate in this tradition more than once.
Ethiopian Airlines is the flag carrier of Ethiopia, and offers service from Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Ethiopian’s headquarters are at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, from where it serves a network of 82 passenger destinations -19 of them domestic. Ethiopian flies to more destinations in Africa than any other carrier.
For more information, visit www.tourismethiopia.org