Brimming with contrasts and extremes, Ethiopia beckons visitors
to explore from the tops of its highlands, where mountains soar
over 14,100 feet (4,300 meters), to the depths of the Danakil
Depression situated below sea level; to discover Abyssinian
culture and traditions that date back over 3,000 years; to
experience ancient Islamic folklore, as well as the fascinating
rituals and sacred ceremonies of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Northern Ethiopia holds the greatest attraction for visitors as
one of the country's richest regions for culture, history and
natural splendor. The Historic Route takes in the medieval city
of Gondar, with more castles, palaces and churches than any
other city in Africa; and the ancient capital of the Queen of
Sheba and Ethiopia's holiest city, Axum, where the original Ark
of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments is said to rest.
Ethiopia's top attraction, however, is undoubtedly the
13th-century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, among the most
incredible man-made structures in the world, revered and
renowned among Ethiopians and foreigners alike and the venue for
some of the most famous religious festivals in Ethiopia. Taking
24 years to complete, the astounding rock churches are believed
to have been created with the help of angels.
Southwards, the Rift Valley system is another wondrous region
where many other attractions are sited. The six or seven Rift
Valley crater lakes are home to a large number of bird and
marine life. They are also a paradise for nature and water
lovers. National parks with their exotic birds, animals and
plant life add to the beauty of the Rift Valley region.
Beautiful landscapes and natural features are the most enjoyable
components of the system. Salt lakes, active volcano sites and
caravan routes still number among Ethiopia's great attractions
in the Rift Valley.
Further south is the Omo Valley with its popular ethnic
treasures. This is where about 50% of Ethiopia's ethnic groups
live: the Konso with their terraced agriculture and rituals; the
Mursi with their clay lip plates and barbarian life style; the
Hamer with their bull-jumping ceremony, which young men must
experience in order to qualify for adulthood; and the Karo with
their body painting and adornment. Here unusual traditions such
as dance, music and rituals from birth to marriage and burial
are still observed in their genuine and original forms.
Ethiopia is used to being overlooked as a tourist destination,
but the country's unique attractions are slowly taking pride of
place in Africa, and today the oldest independent nation on the
continent welcomes visitors to experience her mosaic of
ethnicity, a long and proud history, and an abundance of