10 Days ago I did not have a clear answer to the question Why are you going to Ethiopia? - something I was asked again and again leading up to this trip. But one week here was all it took to get several clear answers.
So why visit Ethiopia? I’ll give you 5 reasons.
1: The Natural Beauty
Ethiopia has some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever witnessed. That’s a feature of this country I was totally unaware of before this trip. My family began our trip in the Simien Mountains, a national park that is often referred to as “The Roof of Africa” because it has several of the highest points on the continent. Photos cannot capture the purity of the air or the starry night sky or even the vastness of this mountain range.
The Simien Mountains are also home to several species that are native to Ethiopia and exclusively found in Ethiopia, like the Gelada baboons.
I’m listing natural beauty as my first answer to Why Ethiopia? because it’s something that caught me off guard about this trip. Getting into the mountains isn’t exactly easy (you can’t even enter the national park without a personal guide and armed park ranger!) but we would have been missing something major if we had surpassed the Simien Mountains on our Ethiopian holiday.
2. The Inherent Diversity of the People and Places
After the Simien Mountains, we spent a few days in Lalibela for Christmas (Christmas is January 7 in the Coptic Christian calendar - the religion followed by the majority of Ethiopians). You could have easily convinced me we were in a different region of Africa completely - that’s how different the experience of the Simien Mountains is from the experience of Lalibela. Not to mention I’m writing this from a poolside lounge chair at the Sheraton in Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia) and I’m having a hard time believing I’m still in the same country as I was in both Lalibela and the Simien Mountains.
All of that is to say, Ethiopia is massive and with that comes a diversity of cities, people, activities, foods, etc. I’d actually say it is similar to the US in that way - although it is a bit easier to get from place to place in the US than it is here in Ethiopia.
3. The Numerous Activities and Adventures
With a diversity of places comes a diversity of activities. There is SO much to do in Ethiopia if you have the time to travel it properly. If you are a hiker, rock climber, or camper, then Ethiopia should be near the top of your travel wish list if it isn’t already. With the help of a guide, it’s possible to go trekking for weeks into the Simien Mountains. And even for the less experienced (aka - my family) there are ways to do it so you can hike easier paths and avoid camping overnight.
The Simien Mountains are also great for animal lovers. This is where we got up close and personal with the Gelada baboons.
For all the foodies out there, Simien is pretty limited with what is available in the lodges and at the campsites. However, Lalibela, Gondar, and Addis Ababa are crawling with opportunities to try the local cuisine. In Lalibela we cooked a traditional Ethiopian dish (Bayenetu) with a group of local women and it was my favorite meal of the entire trip.
Ethiopia is also a place for history lovers. Ethiopia has a unique history when compared to other African countries and the English-speaking locals will be happy to share with you how they ended up on their own calendar and time-telling system.
Finally, Ethiopia is a destination for the curious. I found that merely riding in a van through a village served as incredible entertainment. Observing life in some of the villages almost feels like a trip back in time. Land is plowed with the help of oxen, gravel is ground with only a hammer, and wheat is harvested with the help of mules.
I’ve had the privilege to travel extraordinary places which made it all the more special when I experienced and witnessed things in Ethiopia I hadn’t ever before around the world.
4. The Chance to Broaden Your Perspective on How Life is Lived
I mentioned how observing village life felt like time travel. It also led to a lot of perspective taking. My life in Los Angeles seems to always move at crazy speeds. If a website takes an extra 30 seconds to load that suddenly feels like inefficiency and wasted time. But the people of Ethiopia, primarily those outside of major cities, are doing things the same way people were doing things hundreds of years ago and they are surviving just fine at a slower pace.
5. The Welcoming People
Ethiopia is the only African country to never truly be colonised (no one really counts the 5 years of Italian rule in the 1930s). This creates a sense of pride in the Ethiopian people for their nation. Most of the population may not have the amenities that we in the Western world are used to, but they are proud of the country and the society they have built independently. Locals here are constantly asking us where we are from and how we find Ethiopia. And our guides and hosts throughout the trip are inviting us to return again or to tell others to visit.
For a lot of Westerners (especially Americans), Ethiopia may trigger stereotypical African images of poverty or unrest. But in reality it is a hidden gem on this massive continent that most tourists don’t even know they are missing.