The natural beauty of Ethiopia amazes the first-time visitor. Ethiopia is a land of rugged mountains (25 of which are over 12,000 feet high) broad savannah, lakes and rivers. The unique Rift Valley is a remarkable region of volcanic lakes, with their famous collections of birdlife, great escarpments and stunning vistas. Tisisat, the Blue Nile falls, must rank as one of the greatest natural spectacles in Africa today. Over 20 major wildlife reserves, Ethiopia provides a microcosm of the entire sub-Saharan ecosystem. Birdlife abounds, and indigenous animals from the rare Walia Ibex to the shy wild ass, roam free just as national park intended. Ethiopia, after the rains, is a land decked with flowers and with many more native plants than most countries in Africa. Among the many natural tourist attractions only the principal ones are briefly given below.
One of the most important features of this region of Africa resulted from faulting and cracking on its eastern side. This has caused the Great Rift Valley, which extends from the Middle East to Mozambique, passing in a north-south direction right through Ethiopia. This shearing of the earth’s surface occurred at the same time that the Arabian Peninsula, geologically a part of Africa, was sundered from the rest of the continent. Volcanic activity, which has continued until today, finds expression in volcanoes in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, as well as in the hot springs in many parts of the country.
Earth tremors are often felt, and exposed cones of old volcanic plugs are seen throughout the plateau. After the Rift opened, much of this area was flooded by the inrushing waters of the red Sea, a flood that was subsequently stemmed by fresh volcanic activity that raised barriers of basaltic lava. Behind these barriers the trapped inland sea that had formed began to evaporate under the fierce heat of the tropical sun – a process that is almost complete today. Only a few scattered, highly saline lakes – Gamarri, Affambo, Bario, and Abbe remain. Elsewhere, there are huge beds of natural salt – which, at points, are calculated to be several thousands of meters thick.
Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, is the source and from where the famed Blue Nile starts its long journey to Khartoum, and on to the Mediterranean. The 37 islands that are scattered about the surface of the lake shelter fascinating churches and monasteries.
Some of which have histories dating back to the 13th century. A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in Bahir Dar.
Along the lake shore bird life, both local and migratory visitors, make the sIET an ideal place for bird-watchers. Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasiledesisland, which is specially famous as Lake Tana is an important wetland. The whole of the lakeTana region and the Blue Nile gorge host a wide variety of birds both endemic and migratory visitors. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to riverain forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.
Archeological research at Yeha has unearthed many historical treasures, including a number of Sabaean inscriptions and a variety of animal figurines. Several of these antiquities are on display in the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
Blue Nile (THE SMOKE OF FIRE)
Known locally as Tis Isat – ‘Smoke of Fire’ the Blue Nile Falls is the most dramatic spectacle on either the WhIET or the Blue Nile rivers. Four hundred metres (1,312 feet) wide when in flood, and dropping over a sheer chasm more than forty-five metres (150 Feet) deep the falls throw up a continuous spray of water, which drenches onlookers up to a kilometre away. This misty deluge produces rainbows, shimmering across the gorge, and a small perennial rainforest of lush green vegetation, to the delight of the many monkeys and multicoloured birds that inhabit the area. After leaving the village, the footpath Meanders first beside open and fertile fields, then drops into a deep rift that is spanned by an ancient, fortified stone bridge built in the seventeenth century by Portuguese adventurers and still in use. After a thirty-minute walk, a stiff climb up a grassy hillside is rewarded by a magnificent view of the falls, breaking the smooth edge of the rolling river into a thundering cataract of foaming water.
A rewarding but longer trek is to walk along the east bank all the way to the back of the falls; crossing the river by papyrus boat known as ‘Tankwa’.
The Omo Valley is virtually free of human habitation but it is rich in palaeo-anthropological remains. According to research conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, hominid remains from the Omo Valley probably date back more than four million years.
Much of Africa’s volcanic activity is concentrated along the immense 5,000 kilometres crack in the earth’s surface known as the Rift Valley. It is the result of two roughly parallel faults, between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened and the land subsided. The valley walls 97 daunting blue-grey ridges of volcanic basalt and granaint – rise sheer on either side to towering heights of 4,000 metres. The valley floor 50 kilometres or more across encompasses some of the world’s last true wildernesses. Ethiopia is often referred to as the water tower of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off its high tableland, and a visit to this part of the Rift Valley, studded with lakes, volcanoes and savannah grassland, offers the visitor a true safari experience.
The Omo River tumbles its 350 kilometres way through a steep inaccessible valley before slowing its pace as it nears the lowlands and then meanders through flat, semi-desert bush, eventually running into Lake Turkana. Since 1973, the river has proved a major attraction for white-water rafters. The season for rafting is between September and October when the river is still high from the June to September rains but the weather is drier.
The river passes varied scenery including an open gallery forest of tamarinds and figs, alive with colobus monkeys. Under the canopy along the riverbanks may be seen many colourful birds. Goliath herons, blue-breasted kingfishers, white-cheeked turacos. Emerald spotted wood doves and red-fronted bee-eaters are all rewarding sights, while monitor lizards maybe glimpsed scuttling into the undergrowth. Beyond the forest, hippos graze on the savannah slopes against the mountain walls, and waterbuck, bushbuck and Abyssinian ground hornbills are sometimes to be seen.
The Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is part of the famous East African Rift Valley, comprises numerous hot springs, beautiful lakes and a variety of bird life. The valley is the result of two parallel faults in the earth’s surface between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened, and the land subsided. Ethiopia is often referred to as “water tower” of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off the high tableland. The Great Rift Valley’s passage through Ethiopia is marked by a chain of seven lakes. Each of the seven lakes has its own special life and character and provides ideal habitats for the exuberant variety of flora and fauna that make the region a beautiful and exotic destination for tourists.
Most of the lakes are suitable and safe for swimming and other sports. Besides, lakes Abijatta and Shalla are ideal places for bird watchers. Most of the Rift Valley lakes are not fully exploited for tourism purposes except lake Langano where tourist class hotels are built. The Rift Valley is also a site of numerous natural hot springs and the chemical contents of the hot springs are highly valued for their therapeutic purposes though at present they are not fully utilized.
In short, the Rift Valley is endowed with many beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs, warm and pleasant climate and a variety of wildlife. It is considered as one of the most ideal areas for the development of international tourism in Ethiopia.
SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
The Simien Mountains massif is a broad plateau, cut off to the north and west by an enormous single crag over 60 kilometers long. To the south, the tableland slopes gently down to 2,200 meters, divided by gorges 1,000 meters deep, which can take more than two days to cross. Insufficient geological time has elapsed to smooth the contours of the crags and buttresses of hardened basalt.
SofOmar, a tiny Muslim village in Bale, is the site of an amazing complex of natural caves, cut by the Way River as it found its way into the nearby mountains. The settlement, which is a religious site, is named after a local Sheikh. Visitors make their way-armed with torches and official maps underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream. There one can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high, eroded ceilings and deep, echoing chambers.
Some 35 per cent of the Ethiopian population is Muslim. Nearly half the population is Christian, belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, whose 4th Century beginnings came long before Europe accepted Christianity. A further small percentage of the population adheres to traditional and other beliefs, including Judaism.\
YANGUDI-RASSA NATIONAL PARK
This little developed National Park covers an area of 4,730 square kilometers. Situated in a semi-desert area the Yangudi-Rassa National Park has very little rainfalls. With an altitude of 400 to 1,459 meters (1,300 – 4,800 feet) above sea level, the Park was established for the purpose of protecting an endangered species – the wild ass. Gerenuk, Sommerring’s gazelle, Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra and Hamadryas baboon are also found in the Park.