Travel to Ethiopia: Why Visit and What Might Surprise You

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Last Updated on June 30, 2020 by Audrey Scott

Curious about Ethiopia and what you might experience there? From its ancient history and rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to its mountains, bustling markets, delicious cuisine, coffee ceremonies and more, here are a few reasons why you should travel to Ethiopia. We're almost certain you will be surprised by what you find.

Gherlta, Ethiopia
This is Ethiopia? Yes. A land of many surprises.

When I was growing up, I remember Ethiopia having a long run on the nightly news. Unfortunately newscasts all pointed to the grim. Newsreel images featured fly-ridden babies with distended bellies, drought-ruined landscapes and a ravaging famine made only worse by civil war.

Sounding familiar?

Fasiladas' Palace in Gondar, Ethiopia
There be castles in Ethiopia. This 17th century one: Fasiladas' Palace in Gondar.

Prior to our visit, we figured some distance between the Ethiopia of the 1980s and the Ethiopia of today — yet not quite to the extent we’d found. If our Ethiopia travels proved nothing else, it proved this: though countries remain themselves at heart, they can emerge from perilous circumstances. When they do, stereotypes can slowly be cast aside and the historical, cultural and natural contours – which had always existed yet never been highlighted – can more clearly be revealed.

As we shared photos of unexpected castles, remarkable mountain landscapes, ancient churches and colorful plates of local food during our trip, readers would ask: “Is that really Ethiopia?

Yes it is.

Our unpacking of our travels in Ethiopia begins with a few first yet lasting impressions of the country.

Note: Our experiences in and insights about Ethiopia are from the G Adventures Discover Ethiopia Tour, provided to us as part of their Wanderers program. Although it's possible to travel independently in Ethiopia, it isn't always the easiest country to do so with poor public transportation and lack of travel information in some places. We were thankful for our G Adventures tour that provided us with a fabulous local guide (thanks, Fekadu!!) so we could ask our endless questions and constantly learn about this fascinating country, comfortable and reliable transportation around the country, and an itinerary that had a good mix of activities and destinations.

1. Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and Living History

Before our trip to Ethiopia, we were aware in a book sense that it was one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity (in 330 A.D.). We did not imagine how pervasive and well-documented this historical vein would be, nor could we appreciate how much the country’s present would be connected with its past through ritual.

Church of St. George, Ethiopia
St. George. Carved top-down from red volcanic rock in the 12th century.

Whether they are rock-hewn or tucked far into the hills, Ethiopia's churches often feature original paintings and frescoes from as much as 1000 years ago or more. Ancient texts and relics remain in use by today’s priests who bless all those willing by rubbing large ancient metal crosses over afflicted areas of the body.

Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World). Waiting
Women await a blessing at Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World) in Lalibela.

In the Gheralta Mountains of Tigray province, churches were carved out of natural mountaintop caves as long ago as the fourth century. Why build so? The idea: hide your churches from invading armies while bringing yourself that much closer to heaven.

Climbs were steep then, just as they are now — even for young mothers who carry 40-day old babies on their backs in hopes of peak baptism.

As we followed a 78-year old monk around a cliff’s edge to the 6th century cave church of Daniel Korkor, we could imagine a staggered line of devout Ethiopians making that same journey, wrapped in the same white cotton cloth, over the course of hundreds of years.

Following the Monk to Daniel Korkor Church - Gheralta Mountains
Careful steps behind a 78-year old monk to the cliffside 6th century monastery of Daniel Korkor.

Ethiopia feels very much like a case study in living history. An experience that is as much about feeling an energy as it is about seeing the relics and remnants of an ancient history.

2. Land of Legends

The story goes…

Ethiopian history blends fact and myth almost seamlessly. (Some may even say shamelessly.)

Yemrehanna Kristos Church - Ethiopia
What's behind the 12th century Yemrehanna Kristos church near Lalibela? A legend.

So much of Ethiopia’s identity is connected to its history, a history passed on orally which traces its roots back four thousand years to the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant. For over a thousand years, Ethiopian kings claimed to be direct descendants of the line of Solomon, living connections between their country, its history, and the Holy Land.

Amidst all that, stories and legends circulate in a fog akin to a long-running historical version of the telephone game. Historians may argue as to the validity of any and all prevailing accounts, but as our guide suggested, “If you believe, then it is true to you. And we believe this is our heritage.”

Belief, it seems, trumps all.

3. Mountains and Desertscape Interactive

Until this visit, we never really considered Ethiopia for trekking and adventure, but our experiences in the Simien Mountains and Gheralta Mountains of Tigray set that straight.

Simien Mountains in Ethiopia
Audrey takes in mountain layers while trekking the Simien Mountains.

Some of our most enjoyable moments and context: the Gheralta Mountains near the town of Hawzia in Ethiopia's Tigray province. Not only does the area surprise and stun with its Utah-reminiscent red rock backdrop and outcroppings, but treks to 1500-year old cave churches like Maryam Korkor and Daniel Korkor leave no adrenaline untapped as they force challenging climbs up sheer sandstone walls and precarious walks along narrow cliffs.

Not for the faint of heart or for those unwilling to press deeply into their fear of heights.

Gherlta Mountains - Ethiopia
En route to the hilltop monasteries in the Gheralta Mountains. Look familiar?

4. Ancient Language, Ancient Civilization

In and around the ancient sites that make up the modern day northern town of Aksum, stone tablets dating back thousands of years will often be inscribed in three languages: Greek, Arabic, and Ge'ez, an ancient Semitic language that predates Ethiopia's present-day regional languages. Giant stone obelisks stand, lean and have fallen. While most recognize the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Persia, Rome and Greece among the greats, few know of the similarly advanced Aksumite civilization which made its name in trade across the Middle East, Mediterranean and Asia from 400 B.C. to 800 A.D.

It's thanks to Ge'ez, a long-standing written language, that we now know so much about Ethiopia's past.

Old Ethiopian Religious Books in Ge'ez Language - Ashetan Maryam
An Ethiopian religious book written in Ge'ez on goatskin parchment.

All monks and priests are required to learn Ge'ez and services are still held in this ancient language. In the early hours of the morning, Ge'ez chants and melodies echo through the hills. Eerie, beautiful and sleep-challenging, especially during the high holidays.

With over 200 symbols, Ge'ez– a mesmerizing spaghetti of symbols to the uninitiated — now serves as the phonetic alphabet for Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.

5. Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

There’s nothing more disappointing than a coffee-producing country that does not actively consume and appreciate what it grows. No worry of this in Ethiopia: they not only grow the beans, but they also carry a proficiency in roasting, so much so that coffee roasting seems a rite of passage for young women across the country. Unsurprising considering that Ethiopia’s Kaffa region is where coffee is said to have originated.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony - Aksum, Ethiopia
Frankincense burning during an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is deliberate, a process that has been handed down through generations of Ethiopian women for centuries. It has an almost magical way of seeming to slow time, if not stop it altogether.

Coffee is central to Ethiopian life and pace. You'll find coffee ceremonies taking place throughout the country in cafes, on street corners, in markets and most importantly in homes. Fronds and greens scattered on the ground, frankincense alight and in a pot, young green coffee beans roasting in a small pan over a charcoal stove, a delicate passing of water through the grounds until the ideal strength is achieved.

Coffee drinkers rejoice. All others, just behold.

6. Ethiopian Food

In our experience, Africa rarely garners an “Ooh, awesome food!” distinction. Ethiopian cuisine is an exception, one of the great cuisines of the world, I’d venture. In any event, it stands out against its neighbors with an array of rich and spicy stews.

Ethiopian Easter Feast
Our Ethiopian Easter feast – injera covered in various meat and vegetarian stews.

Ask an Ethiopian the most important part of any meal and she'll answer injera, the spongy, stretchy pancake-like flatbread made from fermented tef (a gluten-free grain indigenous to Ethiopia). Injera forms the foundation of every Ethiopian meal. You’ll often find a round of injera spread out like a natural platter atop which a variety of spicy stews made from lentils, meats and vegetables blended with spices blends like berbere (ground chilies mixed with upwards of 15-20 ingredients) are piled.

Woman Making Injera - Ethiopia
Making injera the traditional way over a fire.

Although the presentation and flavor hints of an Indian thali, the Ethiopian table is very much unto itself.

We'll reserve further comment on Ethiopian cuisine for now, as we have written a comprehensive guide on it, from how to eat it to why you should consider a deep dive during the vegetarian fasting season or avail yourself of its raw beef specialties during the remainder of the year.

7. Traditional Music and Eskista Shoulder Dancing

Think “dancing in Africa” and you might appropriately imagine hips and butts moving and shaking in ways that blow the mind of those not of the continent. But in northern Ethiopia, the shoulders and upper body are the stars of the dancing show in something called eskista.

Traditional night clubs usually feature a group of professional dancers, but even better than those are the impromptu “dance offs” between two club-goers who try to out-shoulder one another. The beat, the energy, the atmosphere — all superbly infectious.

Even we got into the act.

Next up to make the leap from local music to the world stage: Ethiopian.

8. Kids, Kids

Our bus pulls off for a potty break in bushes or trees (a “bush stop” in local travel parlance) in what most might consider the middle of nowhere Ethiopia. Even here, the children appear out of the woodwork, from the hills up, the valleys down.

Where do all the children come from?! I won't bore you with a lesson as to how those children are conceived, but population estimates in Ethiopia hover around 95 million, with projections topping 120 million in the next 15 years or so. Staggering.

Surrounded by Kids at a Road Stop in Ethiopia
As always, we attract a crowd at a roadside stop between Gondar and the Simien Mountains.

Note: Kids and pens? We have published another piece on the unfortunate practice of tourists indiscriminately giving pens and money to kids in developing countries — a practice that has slowly but surely “trained” them to beg.

9. Ethiopian Roads Overflow with Life

Much the world over, vehicles take first priority on the roads. Not so in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Road Scenes, Camels and All
Ethiopia's roads, often a condition between disorder and mayhem.

From village lanes to full-fledged highways, the Ethiopian road is ruled by a fog of people, animals (sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, camels), lean-tos, funerals, weddings and more. Cars and buses get out of the way of what was happening on the street, not the other way around. If you remember the video game Frogger, this is the live version. One unfortunate result: road carnage. Heaps of tarp-draped remains of horrifying wrecks stand testament to a country coming to grips with the old ways of doing things converging with the unappreciated power of new vehicles on paved roads.

10. Market Days are Social Days

“Markets are not just for buying and selling. They perform an important social function. Most Ethiopians work in the fields, so market day is when people have a chance to meet, share news, and even find the person they will marry,” Fekadu, our guide, explained.

Debark Market Day - Ethiopia
Spices, roots and families at the Debark village market.

You can always tell market days in rural areas. For kilometers on end, roads are clogged even more so than usual with people from all neighboring villages carrying their goods to market – sheep, goats, wares, foodstuffs. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have to sell: any and all are clearly welcome.

And they’re coming.

Ethiopian traditional markets are sprawling affairs with goods arranged accordingly: all the peppers here, all the green coffee beans there, homeopathic treatment for the cows somewhere in an open field in the distance.

Beyond the sale, these markets bind this primarily agrarian society. They provide an essential social focal point — not just for the trade of goods, but for the trade in life.

And in Ethiopia, there's certainly no shortage of that.

Disclosure: Our tour in Ethiopia was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

Our experiences above were from the G Adventures Discover Ethiopia Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on one of the links above. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

102 thoughts on “Travel to Ethiopia: Why Visit and What Might Surprise You”

    • God bless you Daniel it is very encouraging to see some one who see the real world and say something about it.Ethiopia is very beautiful country and great historical place with multicultural flavor.I agree with all you mention but there is a lot to be told. Any one who travels can enjoy the difference.

      New Zealand.

      • Thank you, Alemayehu. I really appreciate your description of our writing as “seeing the real world.” When we communicate, that’s our intent.

        As you say, it’s true indeed that there is always a lot to be told — about Ethiopia and otherwise.

  1. These are nice pictures from the dry season.

    However, during the rainy and spring seasons, the entire area transforms into a kind of Paradise on earth with green lash mountains, hills and fields. Rivers and streams are all over the places.

    • Thank you and fair point. The content in this article shows Ethiopia during the dry season. We’ve heard great things (and seen beautiful photos) of Ethiopia during the wet season. We’ll just have to schedule a return visit.

  2. That’s a really great report on Ethiopia. I visited it last year and I absolutely agree with everything said here – it’s a place worth visiting and what the country can offer to a visitor is amazing.

    I was a big fan of injera as well, but I most of the travellers I met where actually pretty fed up with it.

    • Thanks, Monika. We heard (and honestly felt) something similar with injera. While we enjoyed it, after several days we were looking for some variety. As for Ethiopians, it seems like they are happy to eat injera three times a day, every day. Such is your outlook on a food when you’ve grown up with it.

  3. I, like you guys, grew up with the same images of starving children in Ethiopia. It is good to see some prosperity come to these long-suffering people. I’ve read a lot on travel blogs about the rich cultural and historical background of the country and it sure sounds like a fascinating destination. I’m also under the impression that it has fewer of the ‘security’ issues common in visiting Africa. Did you find this to be so?

    Keep up the great work. It was a pleasure meeting you both at TBEX last year. Safe Travels!

    • well, of course this is the horn of African region (the most fighting corner of Africa/the world you may say). but security issues are rare in, probably because security is tight at any gates esp. at customs spots and peripheries of each town and sub-national state. ethiopian defense uses sort of “check tight at the gate, and leave the man relaxed inside” philosophy. and ethiopia has the 3rd strongest and most efficient defense apparatus in the continent, even stronger than South Africa and Nigeria.

    • As for safety… – this is what I really like about Ethiopia. When I think back to the month I spent there I cannot recall even one moment when I didn’t feel safe – another good reason to travel (although there are some bad sides to travelling there as well;)

    • Regarding security, I think it’s generally good practice to be aware and to research a place looking for very recent reports before you go. For us (and as you indicate), traveling in Ethiopia was less a security concern than news reports might suggest.

      As for prosperity in Ethiopia, while it has come to some, there’s some distance to go before that prosperity is broadly or more generally felt. However, circumstances are clearly much better than they were decades ago.

  4. Ethiopia is an amazing country! Has the opportunity to discover the country last year. One month and it was not enough!
    Did you not managed to go deep south to Omo Valley?

    • We did not make it to the southern part of Ethiopia this visit. That’s next up for our return to Ethiopia.

  5. Beautiful pictures and article. I never knew Ethiopia was so diverse. Actually, I didn’t know much about it at all! It’s a place I’ve always thought about visiting but just haven’t researched much. Have a great rest of your trip!

    • Thanks, Hannah. Glad we could continue to fuel the fire of interest in Ethiopia. If you decide to go, let us know.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Ethiopia. I admit that it was a LONG way down on my wish list, but I am now rethinking that idea. It went from “I don’t think so” to “hmmm, might be worth looking into”. Thank you for educating me and opening my eyes to one more possibility.

    • thanks for the article.
      and when people think about Ethiopia, the only thing comes to their mind if the famine from years ago. but that is only less than one percent of the country history. 99% of Ethiopian history is untouched. and as you said it worths a visit. Ethiopia is a very diverse cultural beauty and intact African history. for those who may (highly encouraged) to visite, here are some of the a worth searching for vacation planning.
      1) lalibela Churches
      2) axum ( the final resting place of the arc of covenant, the miraculous oblisks, and the under ground palaces)
      3) debre damo ( climb test)
      4) semien mountains
      5) Gonder
      6) yeha
      7) omo valey, afar depression
      8) abay beles/ tana kirkos
      9) all Ethiopian orthodox churches, the whole culture
      10) Holidays: new year(9/11), meskel in Addis, gena(christmes in lalibela, timket in addis or gonder, Easter and so on. these are some of the list out of many. visit Ethiopia and enjoy it your self……

    • I am sure u will have great time in Ethiopia. if you need any info, advise or anything, don’t hesitate to contact us.

    • Thanks Joanne for your comment. That was the aim of this article, to shed a little light on Ethiopia. Glad we could move Ethiopia a little further up on the list for you and give you some context on a remarkable country!

  7. fascinating article, I should say. still, I say it’s just not even a quarter of what could be seen of ethiopia. Ethiopia is a country of more than 80 tribes and 110 dialects. It runs it’s own calendar which celebrated the 2nd millennium just 8 years later than European calendar did. It’s the same country from where archaeologists say human has originated, so apparently the first humans were ethiopians (all of us on planet earth today are descendants.). It’s land of the first Hijira pilgrimage and where the first Azan (morning prayers for muslims) were screamed world wide. Ethiopia is mentioned more than 40 times in the Bible and other sacred books. It has the world’s hottest place human can inhabit at Afar region (geographically unstable part where tourists in pursuit of adventures may see a stock in). Yet, it also has “Africa’s largest Mountain Ranges” at Semien can’t be paralleled by any (probably Drakensberg of South Africa may be a contrast). and such a geographic range is plainly non-existent else where. Ethiopia is home for Africa’s oldest parks and reserved areas and the typical African wildlife habitat you imagine are here. It also showcases some of Africa’s oldest standing buildings reaching upto more than 2500 years of age. ehhhhhhh…………..

    Today, Ethiopia is one of the 10 fastest growing economies of the world, the fastest grown non-oil producing economy, registering an average economic growth rate of 10%. It’s the home of African Union, UN ECA, and many other global and regional bodies. It’s influence in the politico legal and socio-economic life of the continent is simply immense and it’s playing a crucial diplomatic role in the region.

    Well, there may be different kinds of tourists. some interested in geographic adventures, some in cultures, some in wildlife … you narrate them. whoever comes to Ethiopia gets an enjoyable piece in this respect.

    • True this. Our experiences and this article only really scratch the very surface of what Ethiopia is about and the various sorts of experiences one can have traveling to Ethiopia — not only to the north of the country, which is the focus of this article, but also the south. Same goes with the seasons. I imagine the country is quite different in the wet season which we did not see, as opposed to the dry season which we did.

  8. Wow this was great! Loved every bit of it guys…I might get a chance to visit the country. Quite excited about it 🙂

  9. Thank you for great great travel and narration about Ethiopia. Though I was born and grew up in Ethiopia, I have never heard such wonders about Ethiopia: its history, culture and the people of Ethiopia. No wonder, I heard little about Axum/ Lalibela and their significance in the history of Ethiopia – but visited non of the places mentioned. Now, I have convinced myself that I should visit the great historical places of Ethiopia soon in the coming summer. Thank you for your inspirational iformation about Ethiopia and its people.

    • Many of us think as if touristy information is for those living abroad — you just proved us wrong. I was not fortunate to visit all these places when I lived there. But we did go over our history and significance of these places in school that gave us sense of uniqueness and proud for being Ethiopian (the ancient country from the Bibles). I am not sure if that history class still exists or has changed as everything else down there. It is very sad for someone to say I don’t know my history but again very appreciated to have the will to learn, travel and discover. It’s never too late.

      Thank you guys, love what you do!!

    • You are welcome. Glad we could both inspire and inform. Ethiopia is one of those places where one’s learning of the history is never-ending.

  10. @addis………..The Danakal, erta ale [spelling?] Live Volcano, which due to potash changes its color from red into blue is a magnificent seen too. You can also see there how they make salt.

    • We’ll definite look forward to that area on our next visit to Ethiopia. Thinking: Danakil Depression, southern Ethiopia as well.

    • Yes! … The whole of Afar is a drama … they say the Arabian peninsula just went away from atop and retreated from Africa to let the red sea in between and let Afar lay as low as 300 feet below sea level. Salt and potash fields are amazing and Erta ale is simply not explainable! geographically speaking, Afar is like nowhere else.

      Daniel and Audrey! … I really appreciate what you guys are doing here. You know this country suffered from a spoiled name in the past … and tourism can’t just open up. It’s now changing and you and your like have immense role. It’s not merely about glory and all … It’s just about the best that we shall get from tourism. A country that registered Africa’s largest collection of UNESCO heritage sites is earning the lowest from the sector. And the “why!” of this is simply events of the 1980s can’t let us go easily …. Ethiopia is thankful to you really!

      • Thanks, Addis. It’s core to our mission, to share a dimension of our world that is often not heard or seen, to share destinations and peoples that are often misunderstood. After our visit, Ethiopia certainly seemed to fit that bill.

        True that it’s not about glory. It’s about humanity, about people around the world — with the backdrop of their history and culture — just trying to make their way.

        You are welcome. And thank you for your contribution to the comments and our community!

  11. Thanks for sharing your experience. It was a great read. Ethiopia is indeed a beautiful country and I hope people of the world will get a chance to experience it in the same way you did.

    • Thank so much. That is our hope and aim as well: to get a different view of Ethiopia and experience something a little different (and better) than expectations.

  12. Thank you authors. Here are Some additional breif Facts About Ethiopia.

    1. Ethiopia is one of the ancient and oldest countries on earth; and Ethiopia is widely considered the site of the emergence of anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, in the Middle Paleolithic 200,000 years ago. Ethiopia’s civilization dates way back to pre Axumite kingdom in the 8th century B.C.

    2. Ethiopia is diverse not only in its people, but also in its geography and climate.

    3. Ethiopia has the most UNESCO world heritage sites in Africa – 9 of them. Please refer to: and there are 5 tentatively submitted sites awaiting evaluation and approval by the World Heritage Fund — please click on the hyperlink provided above for more info.

    4. Ethiopia is one of the original founding members of the UN & African Union.

    5. Unlike any other country, Ethiopia has its own calendar, widely known is the Ethiopian calendar—also known as the Ge’ez calendar.

    6. Ethiopia has its own letters/alphabets for its script and writing system.

    7. The tributary for the world’s longest river, the Blue Nile or Abbay river, originates in Ethiopia.

    8. Ethiopia harbors many endemic and faunas and floras.

    9. Ethiopia is the 2nd most populous nation in Africa — more than 90 million people.

    10.The Ethiopian people are the most kind and hospitable people I have ever seen and met.

    11. There are more than 12 amazing and outstanding tourist attractions in Ethiopia — just ask western people who have already visited Ethiopia, Google and make your own independent search and you will find out why Ethiopia might need your attention if you plan to travel in due course of time.

    12. Ethiopia is a land of hidden treasures and breathtaking sceneries!. Just seeing is believing! I saw and lived it for 2 months in 2013..

    I am an Australian and I have visited Ethiopia twice. I plan to go back one more time to see
    the active volcano in the Dankil Depression.

    David Kemp
    Sydney, Australia

    • Thanks for a great list, David. The largest number of UNESCO sites of any country in Africa. Quite a distinction and not surprising, especially after our visit to Ethiopia.

      Like you, we would like to return and among other areas, we’d like to visit the Danakil Depression.

  13. Thank you Daniel and friends…am glad you had a great time!

    For years, Ethiopia has kept herself to herself. Almost all other African countries have had the Belgians, French, English, Dutch etc promoting them due to colonisation. Ethiopia has never been colonised. One of only 2 countries not to have been colonised. There is a lot the west does not know about Ethiopia. This is why you find it a ‘surprise’. Its untapped. Along with China, Pursia, Rome, Ethiopia is one of the oldest civilized nations with its own alphabet which is also unique to the rest of Africa. Its very unfortunate our name is always related to hunger when we have so much to offer. I am not surprised you find it a surprise as i know how we are portrayed in the west.

    Go and see Ethiopia. You wont be disappointed. I may be biased but you will find some of the most friendly people on earth who always have time for you. Dont worry about crime. Its virtually nil. People are deeply religious, Christians and Muslims without being a fanatic. People have morals and values. They may beg you but they will never hurt you to steal stuff like i have seen in other African countries.

    Daniel, thank you and may God bless more!

    • You are welcome. And thank you for your addition to the running discussion on Ethiopia. May more people visit Ethiopia and discover it for themselves.

    • Abyssinia as it was known then WAS colonised by Mussolini for a short while until the British army i.e.: South Africans came and liberated the land. Hence why and how the Ethiopians spoke Italian.. The Italians showed them how to build all the roads throughout their land…that is where I learned my Italian from my MAMITA before she taught me how to speak Amharinia…the Ethiopians also call themselves Abashi !
      Aesop who wrote the famous Fables for children was half Greek (father Aesopas) and mother Ethiopian.
      The Byzantines gave them Christianity and they follow a very old sect of Coptic Orthodox which is similar to the original Eastern Orthodox.

  14. i was born and raised in ethiopia. someone in an earlier post asked about security. I cannot think of too many countries in the world with so little crime rate. the social fabric and culture is such that crime, especially violent crime, is almost unheard of. Even during the civil war (which was ideological as opposed to tribal), there was no documentation to prove that neither the then government nor the rebels committed any war crimes — this is significant because it shows social values that reflect the respect for human dignity even when poverty and destitution used to be synonyms with ethiopia.

    • Thank you for a thoughtful comment and also an interesting addition to the discussion regarding security in Ethiopia, especially for travelers. Although I was aware of the civil war in Ethiopia, I was unaware of the background that you allude to.

  15. Wow! I am a tour operator in Ethiopia and you have no idea how such a great report make us happiness. the Hapiness is not about making business following the positive reference travelers will get. it is beyond lifting our pride in our history, culture and sense of uniqueness. i have traveled a few countries in Europe and middle east before i start the business. and their reaction was, “what am going to eat there? how can by pass civil war fighters? what is there in Ethiopia for a visit? all what we tell or say is a myth for people and sometimes they consider us as story tellers.

    But your report and even the comment given by the travelers makes big difference.if we share the balanced info for our friends and families, our world would have been safe and posetive!
    keep the good works,
    our company:, would do anything necessary to make your stay in Ethiopia one of the best moments in Ethiopia.
    if you have any question, information or anything, please don’t hesitate! everyone here is our Ambassador.

    sorry for the bulky message; if you have time, please refer the following facts.
    1. Ethiopia is the birth place of mankind.
    2. Ethiopia has the largest number of world heritage sites in Africa.
    3.Ethiopia is a place where coffee is discovered.
    4. Ethiopia is the first country to be mentioned in the Bible.
    5. The largest rock church and the tallest stale are found in Ethiopia.
    6. The only country in Africa never to be colonized thus maintained its history and culture.
    7. Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa is the 3rd highest in the world.
    8. Ethiopia is comprised of more than 80 ethnic groups, 200 different dialects, its own time and calendar.
    9. Ethiopia is a country where the three most influential religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet.
    10. Ethiopia is a country of dramatic scenery.
    11. Ethiopia is one of the oldest Nations in the world, more than 300 years of history.
    12. 9/10 tourists found Ethiopia “surprising”
    13. Silver and gold is sold in open area, without guard, without security camera, making Ethiopia one of the safest countries in the world.
    14. 4. Ethiopian flag(green, yellow and Red) is driven from rainbow and it is used by the Solomon dynasty dating back to 800 B.C. Most African countries used those colors after independence taking Ethiopia as a sign of freedom.
    15. there is a religion called Ethiopian ism
    16. Ethiopia is the promised land for the Rastafarian communities.

    • Dear Brother Molla please correct your comment that you mentioned Ethiopian history which you said 300 years when the fact is more than 3000(three thousand years). I am considering it as a typo error. But if you are saying & teaching with the perception of Ethiopian history as 300 years, you need to stop your tour operator job for a while, ask the Ethiopian historians or do a proper research so that you know it is more than 3000 years old. Just to add one point, the Holy bible proved that the wife of the prophet Mosses was Ethiopian.. What do you say when you see this & other facts about the age of history. However, I still appreciate & give high value for all of the other information you provided. I also really appreciate & would like to thank for all the visitors comment writers who tried to show to the world the visible positive image of Ethiopia. Thank you all.

      • Dear Negasi,
        Thank you so much for your concrete comment. I made quite a lot of spelling mistakes in this post as i was moved by the article. big excuse!
        Normally we say, “over 3000 years of history. There are scholars who claim that Ethiopia has over 5000 years of history.


    • Thank you. I’m glad that our article — and perhaps more importantly, the contributions of our community and readers — resonates with you and others, particularly those who are even considering a visit to Ethiopia.

  16. I like people who choose to see the positive aspect of their environment. This writer just appreciates life, nature and people despite their shortcomings. Thank you so much for portraying us in such a positive way. God Bless You!

    • You are welcome. As the author of this article, I’d like to think that I resemble your remark. That is my aim, anyhow. I think it makes for a better world.

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

  17. Really beautiful photographs. Ethiopia is one of my two favourite countries (and I’ve been to over 100) – and I still haven’t visited the Omo Valley. One area you don’t mention is the east – Harar is a beautiful old walled city, and the Bale Mountains, whilst not as dramatic as the Simiens, are still very impressive and worth a visit.

    A great country for birdwatching too, with loads of endemic species.

    • Based on our experience, definitely true about birds and bird watching in Ethiopia.

      Harar, southern Ethiopia and the Omo Valley is on our list for the next visit. Add to that also the Danakil Depression. A visit to Ethiopia certainly reinforces that it is a big country, even larger than it appears on the map. And certainly diverse.

      Thanks for your comment.

  18. I had a glance at your article with its real life pictures. It is exciting and remarkable. It gives impressions about Northern Ethiopia, representing about a quarter of the whole country. But it is a hasty generalization to say this is Ethiopia. Because Ethiopia is a vast country stretching from the north (the land of the Amhara and the Tigreans who ruled the country since the end of the 19th century and still ruling) to the Central part of the country including Shawa where Addis Ababa is found through the West, South west, and Eastern part of Ethiopia, currently Oromia Region and also includes the southern people of over 70 ethnic groups, the Eastern part which includes the Afar, the Harari and the Somalis and many others. It is a diverse country with diverse culture, religion, history, land scape, way of life etc.

    • Thanks for your note, Kumera. The intent of the piece wasn’t a full treatment of Ethiopia, but rather a way to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions for people, who like me, were under the impression that the country was as it was portrayed on the news.

      However, your point is well-taken. I should probably add a caveat to the piece noting that the piece really only addresses the North, is not a full treatment, does not extensively cover all seasons across the country, etc. The list of what this article on traveling Ethiopia does not cover can be quite long, I’m sure.

  19. Agree or disagree with the content … I wish all Ethiopians, specially those who make their living in the travel industry take hours from their not so busy life and make a page or so that will clearly show details like you guys do … Great job.

  20. What a wonderful post and photos…My 4.5 year old son is adopted from Ethiopia…this website makes me so proud of his beautiful and historic birth country. I can’t wait to return with him when he is old enough to enjoy and appreciate it. Your post does a wonderful job of dispelling negative images of Ethiopia…it is truly an amazing country!

    • Excellent. And congratulations to you. We have a couple of friends with adopted children from Ethiopia. We’ll look forward to hearing about your return to Ethiopia with your son.

      I’m glad we could help contribute to a fair, positive discussion about Ethiopia. Thank you for sharing your story.

  21. Those landscape photo’s are absolutely phenomenal, I’m slowly coming around to the idea of travelling Africa. Thanks for another eye-opening article (I literally just had a bug fly into my eye as I wrote ‘eye-opening’)

    • Glad we could help open the eyes, though not for the bugs. Ethiopia, while challenging, offers a lot to the first-time traveler to Africa. We’ll look forward to hearing when you go!

  22. What a fascinating insight into life in Ethiopia. The shoulder dance looks epic! And I would love to go to one of the markets, they sound pretty special.

  23. I haven’t been to this interesting country yet. Your first impression tells me (especially the shoulder dance) that I should go there sooner than I thought I would be. 🙂
    So much to see & learn !!

  24. This is great! Now I really want to go to Ehiopia, I have been very skeptic in my plans to go to his place but I guess this country is really worth my time. Hope I can visit it someday.

  25. I have loved travelling around Ethiopia over the years. Apart from some hassle and the somewhat never ending flea bites, it is a fascinating place. Tribes and culture mixed with ancient history. Mountains and desert… it has everything.

    • Completely understand the “hassle”…comes with the territory and also the volume of people. And flea bites, yes. Am curious where you got your flea bites. Was it outside or in hostels/guest houses/hotels?

      Aside from that, Ethiopia is pretty rich in experience and worth the bit of inconvenience.

  26. The cliff side walk is pretty intense as I see it. I don’t know if I could ever do such stunt without a harness. It does look pretty nice though. Where does the walk lead you? to that cliff?
    And the photos are so amazing. Pretty gorgeous. I love them.

    • Thanks, Rachel. The walk around that cliff (and a couple of others in Northern Ethiopia) leads you to an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian cave church over 1000 years old. For more photos, search for Maryam Korkor, Daniel Korkor (on the same walk) and nearby Abuna Yemata Guh.

      We didn’t need harnesses (they’d be difficult to safely fix to the sandstone, actually), but I certainly did need a bit of patience and will.

  27. What a educational article. I had little knowledge on Ethiopia. Castles, vibrant culture, shoulder dancing and incredible culinary delights are all huge attractions to the eager traveler. Let me share this with my Wife 🙂

    • Judging from the discussion, you are not alone regarding little knowledge on Ethiopia. We too, at least before we traveled there.

  28. I thought right away, that I remember it to be one of the cradles of civilisation. And when I scrolled down, I realised, it is true. So nice pictures on here. Congratulations!
    I think I need to accept the invitation to go to a Ethiopian restaurant in Bangkok together with an Ethiopian lady, that I happen to know. 🙂

    • Thanks, Charles. Ethiopia definitely has a cradle of civilization feel to it. Cultural crossroads, too.

      We’ll post something about Ethiopian food next week. If you accept that invitation to an Ethiopian restaurant, let us know how it goes!

  29. What a beautiful and inspiring post.

    Of course you’ve now got me dreaming more about a trip. After having several friends visit the past few years it continues to be a place that I truly hope to visit some day.

    • Thanks C.C. When you visit Ethiopia, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed. When you’re ready to visit, if we can help or answer questions, just let us know.

  30. You blend beautiful photos with telling tales, it really is like the perfect cup of coffee. I always wondered about Ethiopia, considering where I’m from there are many Ethiopian expats, but they don’t speak much about their country. This shed considerable light with a beautiful presentation. Thank you for the time you took to prepare this post.

    • Thanks, Rashad. Now that you are armed with a few more details about their country, I’ll be interested to hear what Ethiopian expats have to say about their country as you ask them questions about it.

  31. Thanks for taking us into this beautiful world, Audrey + Dan! You guys have such an incredible ability to make us feel like we’re there with you. A special talent indeed!

    • Our time in Ethiopia made the process of bringing our audience along a little bit easier. Thanks very much for such a kind compliment, Susan.

  32. Great post, i definitely feel like going to Ethiopia some time. Hope i get the chance one day to visit, definitely a unique trip for you.

  33. Go with an open mind; don’t expect French cuisine, German motorways, North American customer service or British Health and Safety standards. Ethiopia is rich in rewards but a desperately poor country at the same time. It is in need of external investment to improve things for its peoples and tourism is one way to help this. Strongly recommend the Bradt Travel Guide to Ethiopia – the best guide book we have ever used.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Stevo. No doubt everywhere in the world runs by different standards. Ethiopia is no exception. It’s recommended to approach anyone, anywhere where they are at.

  34. Great post Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott! Beautiful pics from Ethiopia. Thanks for sharing your experience to this beautiful country. Thus, it makes me eager to go there 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it Stephen. Ethiopia was a terrific experience and really opened our eyes. Let us know if you have questions and also when and if you decide to travel there.

  35. Hi guys,

    I’m considering booking this tour but am apprehensive about the physicality. I’ve only previously done a tour graded 2 and didn’t find it difficult at all besides some days me just being tired from travel. However I’d hate to underestimate the physicality required for this tour and its increased grading. Could you give me an idea of the most strenuous activity/part of the tour? Thanks, Aisling.

    • Hi Aisling,
      During our trip we had people of various levels of fitness and ages, from mid-30s to 70. The most strenuous part of the tour was the trekking in the Gheralta Mountains in Tigray Region towards the end of the tour (here is our writeup of it in BBC Travel: The landscape there is amazing (think red rock deserts of Arizona), but in order to get up to the cave churches you need to do some free-climbing along sandstone walls. You will have guides and “helpers” with you to guide your hands and feet to the best spots to climb up, but it’s still challenging, especially if you have a fear of heights (like Daniel does). Otherwise, the trek in the Simien Mountains takes a few hours but it there is not a lot of elevation gain. And then there is the standard walking around sites where you are on your feet for several hours, but it’s not too strenuous. There were a couple of people on our trip who were not as physically active so they had alternative activities so that’s also an option. Hope this information helps!

  36. Great post guys! My eyes were first opened to the wonder of Ethiopia on an episode of Amazing Race here in the United States. They had to do a task at St. George and really opened my eyes to the mystery of the place and of course the coffee.

    • I didn’t realize that Ethiopia had been featured on that show. Well, good publicity for sure. In any event, Ethiopia is a worthwhile destination, preferably at a pace a few notches slower than The Amazing Race.

  37. As an Ethiopian, this article was totally spot on 🙂 I really enjoyed seeing the photos and the beauty of Ethiopia that I miss!

    Thank you!

    • Thank you, Amina! Really means a lot that you felt that this article was accurate for your own country. Can I understand missing Ethiopia’s beauty 🙂

  38. I came here wanting to read about the Iranian visa process, and here I am two hours later, reading about Ethiopia. Thanks a lot Daniel! 😀

    • Thanks, David. We hear that. Ethiopia is definitely an exceptional travel experience in general and within Africa.

    • Information regarding our Simien Mountains hike is not in a separate post, but you can check out the G Adventures itinerary linked in the blue box at the top of this article.

  39. Great list and useful information. Ethiopia is indeed a beautiful country with a rich culture, history and hospitable people. I loved visiting Harar for it’s beautiful architecture, Islamic history and halal food. Sadly, Ethiopia has been going through some turmoil the last couple years but it was very beautiful to see how a country with more than 80+ ethnic groups and different religions were living together peacefully (i’m only speaking from what i have seen and know). The diversity of the traditional clothes, jewelry and music styles from the Amharas, Hararis, Falasha Jews, Somalis, Gurages, Oromos etc.

    I do have to say that i don’t particularly agree with this statement : In our experience, Africa rarely garners an “Ooh, awesome food!” distinction. Ethiopian cuisine is an exception

    Don’t get me wrong, Ethiopian food is definitely tasty if you like spicy food although injera remains an acquired taste for many of us including myself, i did notice that there wasn’t a lot of variety aside from the stews/curries and different meat/fish dishes, so the food started to get very boring really quick. I don’t know if you have visited West Africa, but Senegal and Nigeria have amazing dishes and i also like Somali food (best eaten in other countries because of the drought/food shortage) so there are many African cuisines that have great dishes, especially spicy in the case of West Africa, with lots of variety like rice, desserts, soups and snacks which i frankly did not encounter that much in Ethiopia except samosa/sambusa. Luckily there were other restaurants in Addis Abeba like Syrian, Yemeni and Western ones where you could eat something different.


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