Stunning landscapes, ancient history and truly exceptional coffee


Stunning landscapes, ancient history and truly exceptional coffee

Heralded by intrepid travellers as an all-time fave, the often overlooked east African nation of Ethiopia is re-writing travel bucket lists. Indeed, word is spreading of unique sights, delicious cuisine, and unusual wildlife in a beautiful and historic land. Did you know for example that Addis Ababa’s National Museum houses the bones of the world’s oldest hominid, Lucy, thought to be over 3 million years old; or that huge Lake Tana is dotted with medieval island monasteries; or that the Danakil Depression in the north is possibly the hottest place on earth? Tourist infrastructure is improving all the time, but you’ll need to allow time for long-distance domestic travel and include the cost of a guide which remains essential for an optimum experience at more remote sites.

A large central plateau, mountains, semi-arid and desert regions give Ethiopia a fascinatingly diverse landscape as well a wide-ranging climate. Overall, the most popular time for visitors is the October to March winter when days are warm and dry. However, a low season trip from April to August is totally possible. Temperatures will rise so you’ll want to avoid the hottest parts of the country and pick an itinerary that allows you to dodge the heaviest rains in July and August. This way you’ll not only achieve practically everything possible in peak season, but you’ll enjoy UNESCO sites without the crowds, get access to the best guides and accommodation for a fraction of the cost, and experience some special low season festivals and events.

Historic Northern Circuit

Explore the major sites of one of the oldest historic nations on earth. From the unmissable rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, travel to Gondar, once the seat of Ethiopian emperors and home of the elaborate 17th-century castle of Fasilides, and its unique mix of architectural styles. Take a boat trip around the islands of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, and visit its island shrines, but do be aware that some of the churches forbid entry to women. To the south of the lake lies Bahir Dar, the third largest and arguably the most beautiful city in Ethiopia, from where you can hike to the Blue Nile waterfall. Finish the circuit at Aksum, ancient resting place of none other than the biblical Ark of the Covenant.


The Cultural South

In contrast, the south is all about exploring the nature of The Rift and Omo Valleys, meeting the people and learning about their unique culture. Ethiopia has over 80 different ethnic groups, each with their own traditions including body painting and rituals. Among the best known are the Hamer and Mursi tribes of the Omo Valley. The rains come earlier to the south, as early as April, making some roads impassable. Try a visit from July onwards when the rains are further north. Low season also sees the renowned cow jumping ceremonies in the Lower Omo Valley, where young men prove their manhood by running over the backs of bulls.



For an unforgettable experience, explore the mountain trails with a local guide. There are many routes to choose from so even in low season you’ll have plenty for options for all abilities. Good choices are the mountains of Lalibela, including Mount Abune Yoseph, Ethiopia’s sixth tallest peak, Borena Sayint National Park, which is known for its diverse wildlife and landscapes, and the lakes of the Rift Valley. Hiking is also possible in the breathtaking mountains of Ankober and Menz-Guassa. Low season travellers wanting to tackle the stunning Simien and Bale Mountains will find them unsuitable due to fog in July and August, and should opt to travel instead between April and June.

Low Season Months

Jan Feb Mar Apr
Sep Oct Nov Dec

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Top Experiences

Wonderful Bird Watching

Low season April-June sees warm dry weather ideal for birding. Stay at high end wilderness ecolodges and spot endemic wattled ibis, blue-winged goose, yellow fronted parrot, and Abyssinian catbird. The enigmatic Stresemann’s bush crow and glistening white-tailed swallow are seen in Yabello Wildlife Sanctuary.

Rock Churches of Lalibela

Popular at peak times, a low season visit is a must-do to experience the surreal landscape of this mysterious holy site crowd-free. Built from monolithic rock including underground caves and dark tunnels the symbolic structures date from the 7th to 13th centuries and remain an important site for Orthodox Ethiopian Christians.

Colourful Festivals

Ethiopia’s cultural celebrations go on for days and are known for the elaborately embroidered gowns, jewellery and hairstyles of participants. Low season includes Sene Michael in July; August’s Ashendye, a celebration of young women with drumming, dancing, and singing; and the often brutal Donga stick fights by the Suri tribes.

Insider Tips

  • Expect a safari with a difference in Ethiopia. Get your checklist ready to tick off a host of endemic mammals and birds, many found only in this country - Simien Fox, friendly Geldab Baboons, Walia Ibex, Ethiopian Wolf, Mountain Nyala, Menelik Bushbuck, Bale Mountains Vert, and Bale Monkey.
  • Ethiopian coffee is rated among the best in the world. Naturally processed and with distinct floral, herbal and citrus notes. It isn’t hugely strong but it’s what you need for those early starts. It is not uncommon for coffee to be taken with a sprig of rue, a fern like aromatic herb, or popcorn.
  • Capital Addis Ababa is pretty high. With an altitude of 2335 metres, it’s the fourth highest capital city in the world. It’s a fascinating if hectic city with great restaurants, markets, cultural projects and excursions. It’s worth spending a day or two, at the start or end of your Ethiopian adventure.

Good To Know

  • Ethiopians dress modestly. While Addis Ababa is becoming more westernised, you’ll generally feel more comfortable in clothes that cover knees and shoulders. On visits to churches and monasteries, women should wear scarves covering their head and it is appreciated if men wear white gabi cloth.
  • Besides soldiers and militias, one may see other people with guns in Ethiopia. In the Omo Valley, for example, an AK-47 is a symbol of status, along with the number of cattle owned. National Park scouts and guides also carry weapons to protect themselves and visitors in the wilderness.
  • Although the Ethiopian Birr is the local currency, Euros and US Dollars are widely used within tourism. Try not to change to much money to Birr as it can’t be exchanged or even used at the airport. And don’t be afraid to negotiate on prices for pretty much everything as few prices are fixed.

Food & Drink


The staple food of Ethiopia, this sour fermented flatbread is served as the basis of practically every meal. Made from teff, a fine local grain, the spongy injera is used to scoop up the spicy stews, sauces and meat, vegetarian and vegan dishes that are popularly eaten by hand.

Tej Honey Wine

T’ej or Tedj is a kind of mead type homebrew with an alcohol content usually around 10%. As well as honey and water it contains a medicinal shrub and is said to offer great health benefits. Don’t forget to toast your fellow drinkers with by saying ’le tenachin’ meaning ‘to our health’.

Doro Wat Chicken Stew

A family favourite often served for special occasions due to the time and care needed. All parts of the chicken are slow cooked in this fiery stew flavoured with the ubiquitous berbere spice. It’s topped with boiled eggs and served of course with thick injera.

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