As the only African country that has never been colonized, Ethiopia has managed to keep its colorful cultural identity. This is apparent through its historic fortresses, indigenous villages, and deep-seated traditions and customs that permeate the country. One visit to Ethiopia, and you’ll see what makes this country incredibly unique compared to other parts of Africa.
Besides exploring Ethiopia’s rich history, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. With rugged mountains, shimmering lakes, and even volcanic craters, there are plenty of things to do in Ethiopia in terms of natural beauty. Between the breathtaking landscapes and ancient cultural heritage, Ethiopia is guaranteed to be one of your most memorable trips.
In this post, we'll cover:
15. Lake Tana
As the primary source of the infamous Blue Nile River, Lake Tana is one of the most diverse ecosystems in Africa. It also happens to be the largest lake in Ethiopia, covering 50 miles of the north-western Ethiopian highlands.
A boat trip is the best way to explore the lake, and you’ll find many companies and locals offering day trips to visitors. As you cruise through the water, you’ll be greeted by an abundance of fish, birds, and even mammals, like hippos and softshell turtles. There are also several monasteries and churches to visit that are situated along the coastline.
14. Fasil Ghebbi
The spectacular Fasil Ghebbi is a unique architectural masterpiece that mixes both European and Nubian styles. The design of the castle is heavily influenced by Arab and Hindu architecture, while the medieval towers and stone facade were brought over by Jesuit missionaries.
This fortress was built in the 17th-century and was used as the main residence for Ethiopian emperors. As you tour the complex, you’ll get to walk through the main Fasilides’ castle and the Iyasu I’s palace. In addition, you’ll see the Dawit III’s Hall, horse stables, an on-site library, and three neighboring churches.
13. National Museum of Ethiopia
Take a deep dive into Ethiopia’s history at the National Museum of Ethiopia. The museum has three different exhibits with thousands of artifacts and archeological finds on display. The most notable exhibit is the paleoanthropological section, which houses the remains of early hominids or apes.
Here, you’ll find the skeleton of “Lucy,” whose fossil remains are over 3.2 million years old. She is believed to be the oldest remains of any human ancestor. The museum also has an exhibit for African art, as well as a display for historical memorabilia from ancient and medieval periods.
12. Blue Nile Falls
The dramatic thundering of the Blue Nile Falls is guaranteed to take your breath away. Although it’s only 138-feet high, this three-streamed waterfall is shrouded in a fog of mist and often accompanied by the faint shimmer of rainbows.
Getting to the falls can be time-consuming and difficult, so a tour guide is often recommended. You can either make the steep trek to the top viewpoint or take a motorboat to the base of the falls. It’s a good idea to avoid going during the dry season from January to March, as there is little water cascading down the falls.
11. Omo National Park
Considered to be Ethiopia’s most remote park, the Omo National Park is a pristine slice of untouched natural beauty. You’ll have the chance to explore sprawling grasslands, lush forests, and bubbling hot springs. The park is also home to several indigenous tribes, including the Mursi, Surma, Mogudge, and Dizi people.
However, most people visit Omo National Park for wildlife viewing. Not only will you find buffalo, elephants, zebras, and kudus, but you’ll also encounter dangerous predators like cheetahs, lions, and leopards.
10. Harar Jegol Wall
Surrounded by dry desserts and barren savannas, the Harar Jegol Wall is a historic town located on the eastern side of Ethiopia. This walled city was an important trade center and even served as the capital of the Harari Kingdom from 1520 to 1568. Nowadays, Harar continues to be one of the most sacred Islamic cities in the country, with 82 mosques and over 100 shrines.
The walls were built between the 13th and 14th-centuries, although some of the mosques inside the old town date back to the 10th-century. Stroll through the labyrinth of winding alleys and admire the colorful houses and bustling atmosphere that make Harar incredibly unique.
9. Rift Valley lakes
The lakes of the Ethiopian Rift Valley are some of the oldest and deepest lakes in the world. They are situated between the highlands of the Ethiopian Plateau and the Somalia Plateau and continue to have an important impact on Ethiopia’s thriving economy.
During your visit, make the trek to Lake Abaya, which is tinted a deep red due to sediments in the water. You can also go birdwatching at Lake Awassa, fishing in Lake Ziway, and crocodile viewing at Lake Chamo.
Comprised of muddy hot springs, boiling sulfuric pools, and toxic gas bubbles, the uninhabited cauldron of Dallol holds the record of being the hottest place on the planet. It has an average temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Despite its threatening appearance, it’s still possible to visit Dallol and even to hike up to the Erta Ale volcanic crater.
Besides the desire to feel the record-holding temperatures, many travelers visit Dallol to admire the unusual landscape. The colorful canvas of cobalt and turquoise hot springs are juxtaposed against the bright yellow and orange salt deposits, making it a truly jaw-dropping sight.
7. Debre Berhan Selassie
From the outside, the modest stone facade of the Debre Berhan Selassie church and monastery may not look like much. But once you step inside, you’ll be surrounded by colorful and elaborate frescoes on all sides.
Much of the artwork is painted in the second Gondarine style and uses rich reds, vibrant yellows, and warm gold colors. While you’re sitting in the pews, look at the ceiling; you’ll see dozens of cherubic angels looking back down at you.
6. Yemrehanna Kristos
Built in the 11th-century, the Yemrehanna Kristos Church is one of Ethiopia’s best-preserved Axumite churches. It was built (not carved) inside a basalt lava cave, which makes it unique compared to other churches in the area. However, the most unusual things to see are the piles of mummified bodies that lay in the dark corners behind the church.
Yemrehanna Kristos is relatively off the beaten track. After the long, bumpy journey to the entrance of the cave by off-roading vehicle or donkey, you’ll need to hike another 30 minutes to reach the church.
5. Debre Damo
The journey to the breathtaking Debre Damo monastery is almost as impressive as the building itself. It sits on top of a massive plateau and is only accessible by climbing 50-feet along the cliff using a thin leather rope. Once you reach the top, you’ll be able to say you’ve stepped foot in one of the oldest religious buildings in Ethiopia.
Today, it’s home to over 150 monks who are entirely self-sufficient, which means they grow their own food and raise their own cattle. As one of the more traditional venues, it’s important to note that women are not allowed up the rope or to visit the monastery.
4. Aksum Obelisk
The massive Aksum Obelisk is one of the most iconic landmarks in all of Ethiopia. It was originally built in the 4th-century by the ancient Kingdom of Aksum, but was violently destroyed during an earthquake in the 16th-century. The ruins were discovered by Italian soldiers, who took the pieces back to Rome.
In 2007, the obelisk was returned to Ethiopia and reassembled where it stands today. It was considered to be one of the biggest moments in Ethiopian history.
3. Simien Mountains National Park
Between the jagged peaks and the lush green valleys, Simien Mountains National Park is one of Ethiopia’s most beautiful attractions. At its center is Ras Dashan, the highest mountain in the country and the tenth-highest in all of Africa.
Most travelers choose to take a multi-day trek through the park. Besides admiring the jaw-dropping scenery, you’ll also have a chance to encounter wildlife that roams through the Simien Mountains. There are over 20 different mammals, including gelada baboons, caracals, and spotted hyenas. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the endangered Walia ibex or Ethiopian wolf.
2. Abuna Yemata Guh
A journey to the Abuna Yemata Guh Church is not for the faint of heart. It’s located a staggering 8,500-feet up the side of a cliff, and can only be reached on foot. For the hike, you’ll need to rock climb up rocks, traverse over narrow bridges, and even walk along the unprotected edges of the cliff.
If you can make it through the entire challenge, you’ll be rewarded with a visit to the ancient Abuna Yemata Guh, which dates back to the 5th-century. Inside, you’ll see colorful frescos from the Old Testament. Due to the lack of humidity on the mountain, these frescoes have been preserved for hundreds of years.
1. Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela
As one of the greatest symbols of Ethiopian Christianity, the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela are a must-see attraction during your visit to Ethiopia. They were named after King Lalibela, who built the churches in the 13th-century in efforts to recreate the city of Jerusalem.
Each of the 11 churches still plays an important role in the Ethiopian Orthodox religion. Not only do they still hold regular services, but they also act as pilgrimage sites for worshipers during the annual Genna festival.