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Ethiopia is packed full of highlights and for the intrepid traveller willing to put up with a little hardship in terms of long driving distances and older style accommodation the rewards are phenomenal and totally unique. The country oozes with history and has an extraordinary array of UNESCO World Heritage sites - Gondar, Axum, Lalibela to name just a few. In terms of wildlife and birding Ethiopia also excels boasting endemic species such as the Simien Wolf found mostly in the Bale Mountains and the wonderful Gelada Baboon which can easily be seen in the Simien Mountains. Ethiopia has a stunning 800+ species of birds making it a key birding destination in Africa. To combine this level of history, culture, wildlife, birding and simply beautiful scenery all in one country is rare indeed!
Ethiopia is located just north of Kenya and bordering Eritrea to the north, Sudan and South Sudan to the west and Djbouti and Somalia to the east and has no coastline. The capital is Addis Ababa - the starting point and capital city - has world class hotels to start and finish your journey and a number of attractions well worth seeing. The National Museum has many archaeological and historical exhibits and a visit to the Ethnological museum showcases the countries historical and cultural heritages. Trinity Cathedral is in baroque style and is unique to both Ethiopia and Arica. Merkato is the largest open air market in East Africa.
The north of Ethiopia is accessible via a good network of local flights. You can visit the monasteries on and around Lake Tana, the Imperial Castle compound of Gondar, the 12th century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and visit Axum - the earliest capital of Ethiopia with it's amazing historical sites. Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and the second-oldest official Christian nation in the world after Armenia - the location for the first Hijra (615 AD) in Islamic history where the Christian king of Ethiopia accepted Muslim refugees from Mecca sent by the prophet Mohamed. If you are visiting the north of the country you can visit the Simian Mountains National Park - home to the endemic Gelada baboons and wonderful mountainous scenery.
The south of Ethiopia is equally as stunning but less accessible. We would recommend a 4 x 4 and driver/guide to escort you throughout as the roads are very rough with lots of people and domestic animals using the road. Drive through the Ethiopian part of the Great Rift Valley, visit the many different cultures and tribes of the Omo Valley and enjoy the bird and wildlife of the Bale Mountains - if you are lucky you will see the endangered and endemic Ethiopian Wolf.
The country has a wonderful diversity of historic sites and seven of Ethiopia's cultural heritage sights are included in the world cultural heritage list:
The Simien Mountain National Park
The rock-hewn churches of Lalibel
The Castles of Gondar
Awash Lower Valley palaeontological and prehistoric sites
Axum historical and archaeological sites
Valley of the Omo, palaeontological and prehistoric sites
Tiya pre-historical and archaeological sites
Ethiopia's population is highly diverse and contains over 80 different ethnic groups and in excess of 100 languages which can be classified into 4 main groups. A visit to Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is a rare experience for anyone interested in meeting and photographing different ethic tribes – there are around 7 or 8 tribes you can visit in the area including the Hamar, Mursi, Karo, Nyangtom and Daasanach.
Within Ethiopia is a vast highland complex of mountains and dissected plateaus divided by the Great Rift Valley, which runs southwest to northeast and is surrounded by lowlands, steppe, or semi-desert. The great diversity of terrain determines wide variations in climate, soils, natural vegetation, and settlement patterns. Lake Tana in the north is the source of the Blue Nile.
Ethiopia has a large number of endemic mammals including the Gelada Baboon, the Walia Ibex and the Ethiopian wolf (or Simien Fox). The wide range of altitude has given the country a variety of ecologically distinct areas - this has helped to encourage the evolution of endemic species in ecological isolation. With 14 major wildlife reserves, Ethiopia provides a microcosm of the entire sub-Saharan ecosystem. Ethiopia has become one of the main birding destinations in Africa with over 800 species of birds. A remarkable 29 are endemic – including the Spot-breasted Lapwing, Rouget`s Rail, Yellow-fronted Parrot and Black-winged Lovebird.
There are many national parks within Ethiopia with some difficult to reach or without any infrastructure to enable a visit - the main three National Parks you are likely to visit are the Bale Mountains and Awash National Parks in the south of the country and The Simien Mountains National Park in the north.
Awash National Park
Awash National Park offers wonderful birding and is located in the Afar Region around 225km east of Addis Ababa. The park's southern boundary is along the Awash River and the park covers 756sq km of acacia woodland and grassland. In the south of the park the Awash River gorge has amazing waterfalls and in the upper Kudu Valley at Filwoha are hot springs amid groves of palm trees.
Forty six species of animals have been identified here including beisa oryx and Swayne’s heartbeest. Wildlife and other mammals include the East African oryx, Soemmerring's gazelle, dik-dik, the lesser and greater kudus, warthogs and both the Anubis and hamadryas baboons. as well as over 453 species of native birds such as the North African ostriches.
The bird life is prolific especially along the river and in the nearby lake Basaka. Of note there are around six endemics: Banded Barbet, Golden-Backed Woodpecker, White-Winged Cliff Chat, White-Tailed Starling, Thick-Billed Raven and Wattled Ibis. On the open grassland plains it is possible to see hawks, Secretary birds, Abyssinian ground hornbills, Carmine Bee-eaters and the Abyssinian Roller and in the wooded vegetation Emerald-Spotted Wood Dove, Green Wood-Hoopoes, Red and Yellow Barbets, Coucal, Turaco, Go-away bird, and the Silver-cheeked hornbill.
Bale Mountain National Park
The Bale Mountains National Park is located in south eastern Ethiopia and around 400 km of Addis Ababa – a long, bumpy but scenic drive filled with the rural life of Ethiopia and endlessly fascinating. Part of the western section of the south eastern Ethiopian Highlands, the park is divided into five distinct and unique habitats: the Northern Grasslands (Gaysay Valley), Northern Woodlands (Park Headquarters), Afro-alpine Meadows (Sanetti Pleateau), Erica Moorlands, and the Harenna Forest.
Habitats of the Bale Mountains National Park range from grassland areas around 3,000m in elevation, to Mount Tullu Demtu, the second highest point in Ethiopia at 4,377m. Surrounded by East African pencil juniper trees and St. John’s wort, waist-high wildflowers and grasses grow in the Northern Grasslands and Woodlands. The Afro-alpine moorlands of the Sanetti Plateau is the largest continuous area of altitude in Africa and is carpeted in lichen covered rocks and punctuated by Giant lobelia. The Plateau is also dotted with alpine lakes and streams providing important resident wildlife resources as well as wintering and passage stations for rare and regionally endemic birds.
The Bale Mountains National Park is an important area for several threatened Ethiopian endemic species and mammal species include: Ethiopian wolf, Mountain nyala, big-headed African mole-rat, bushbuck, common duiker, klipspringer, Bohor reedbuck, warthog, spotted hyaena, serval, and the Bale Mountains vervet. It is also possible to see Cape bushbuck, African golden wolf, spotted hyena, colobus monkey, lion, African leopard, and African wild dog.
Interestingly around a third of the 47 mammals that live in the park are rodents. The rodent community, particularly of the Afro-alpine plateau, are keystone species in the Park and are the main prey for Ethiopian wolf. This area is home to over half the global population of Ethiopian wolf - the rarest canid in the world with just round 400 animals surviving.
Bale is home to 1,321 species of flowering plants - 163 of which are endemic to Ethiopia. The forests of the Bale Mountains are important for genetic stocks of wild forest coffee and for medicinal plants in Ethiopia.
The park has over 282 species of birds including nine of the 16 species endemic to Ethiopia and over 170 migratory birds. Due to the density of rodents the Bale Mountains are also an important area for resident as well as wintering and passing raptors. Ethiopian endemic birds found in the Bale Mountains include: blue-winged goose, spot-breasted lapwing, yellow-fronted parrot, Abyssinian longclaw, Abyssinian catbird, Bale parisoma, Ethiopian siskin, fawn-breasted waxbill, and the Abyssinian owl.
Simien Mountains National Park
Simien Mountains National Park is located in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia and north east of the town of Gondar. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 and covers the Simien Mountains and Ras Dashan which is the highest point in Ethiopia. The Simien Mountains are home to a number of endangered species including the endemic Ethiopian wolf, walia ibex - a wild goat found nowhere else in the world, gelada baboon and caracal.
The park has over 130 bird species and around 20 large mammal species including Anubis and hamadryas baboon, colobus monkey, leopard, caracal, wild cat, spotted hyena and golden jackal. There are also large herbivores, such as bushbuck, common duiker, and klipspringer.
Birds include lammergeyer, Verreaux's eagle, kestrels, vultures, lanner falcon, African buzzard and thick-billed raven.
The park has stunning scenery with serrated mountain peaks, deep valleys and sheer cliffs making it one of the most spectacular areas in the world to hike. Vegetation is mixed with African alpine forests, wilderness forests and alpine vegetation. High altitude areas offer montane savannah, giant lobelia and yellow primrose and lichen covers the trees of the alpine area.
The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon and Ethiopia can be visited at any time of the year. The ideal time to visit Ethiopia is between October and April, when the rains are over but the countryside is still green. The rainy season normally runs from June until early October – the scenery is beautifully green in September and early October and the whole country will be a riot of wild flowers.
Tracks Safaris would be delighted to assist you to tailor make your perfect journey to Ethiopia. Take a look at some of our itineraries and call us to start planning your Ethiopian adventure on 01386 830264 or email [email protected]