MAGO NATIONAL PARK

Located about 782 kilometers south of Addis Ababa and on east bank of Omo River, the 2,162 square kilometers of this park are divided by the Mago River, a tributary of the Omo, into two parts. To the west is the Tama Wildlife Reserve, with the Tama River defining the boundary between the two. To the south is the Murle Controlled Hunting Area, distinguished by Lake Dipa which stretches along the left side of the lower Omo. The park office is 115 kilometers north of Omorate and 26 kilometers southwest of Jinka. The park has about 200km internal roads, which lead to the different attractions sites of the park. All roads to and from the park are unpaved.

The major environments in and around the Mago Park are the rivers and reverting forest, the wetlands along the lower Mago and around Lake Dipa, the various grasslands on the more level areas, and scrub on the sides of the hills. Open grassland comprises about 9% of the park’s area. The largest trees are found in the reverting forest beside the Omo, Mago and Neri. Areas along the lower Omo (within the park) are populated with a rich diversity of ethnic groups, including the Aari, Banna, Bongoso, Hamer, Karo, Kwegu, Male and Mursi peoples. The park’s perhaps best known attraction are the Mursi, known for piercing their lips and inserting disks made of clay.

Turmi

This traditional town, not far from the Kenyan border, lies right down in the heart of the south Omo region and is an important transport hub, located at a three-way road intersection. It is the main town of the Hamer people and is known throughout the Omo Valley for its colorful Monday market, one of the most important in Hamer country.

The People of the Lower Omo Valley

If you want a cultural experience that you will never forget, then plan a trip to the Lower Omo Valley. Here you can connect with one of more than a dozen indigenous peoples that live in the region.

The valley is dependent on the Omo River to live as it feeds the dry savannah that supports the local communities. Each of the villages has their own customs and language and have lived basically the same lifestyle for centuries. The Mursi and Hamar are proud people who adorn themselves in unusual body art and jewellery, and cattle are vital to their existence. They are also very territorial and will fiercely defend their land and way of life. Even though the region is remote, many tour companies operate treks to the Lower Omo Valley and several of its villages. Just be prepared for a pricey and challenging trip–both logistically and physically.

The Holy City of Harar

Harar is a city in Northeast Ethiopia near the border with Somalia and a great seat of Islamic culture. Its walled city dubbed “Africa’s Mecca,” is home to more than 100 mosques and is also considered the “fourth holy city of Islam”. Harar was built in the 16th century to protect the region against religious invaders. As you stroll down the city’s cobbled and narrow alleys, you will be greeted by friendly Harari women dressed in brightly colored dresses.

It won’t take long to be told about the legendary “hyena man of Harar”. At the Fallana Gate the “hyena man’ will call out to the hyenas by name in Harari. They come up, one-by-one and take a piece of meat from a stick he has placed in his mouth. If you have the nerve, you can also take a turn hand-feeding these wildly beautiful, but dangerous African predators.

Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains National Park is an exotic setting with unique wildlife and breath-taking views on a landscape shaped by nature and traditional agriculture. Gentle grass covered highland ridges, isolated trees and the bizarre Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) are found on the high plateau that ends abruptly at 1000 – 2000 metre deep escarpments. The margins of this high plateau consist of precipitous cliffs and deep, canyon-style gorges. The spectacular Jinbar waterfall drops 500m, and is easily viewed from a lookout just a 15 minute walk from the road. Apart from the Walya ibex, many other animal species are found in the Park, including the endemic Simien fox or Ethiopian wolf, several birds of prey, the endemic Gelada baboon, the Klippspringer, and the bush buck .

Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

Near the small town of Lalibela, there are eleven medieval churches, which are all carved out of massive slabs of volcanic rock! The churches were created in the 12th-century under the direction of King Lalibela. He had a vision of a “New Jerusalem” for Christians who were prevented from making the pilgrimage to the Holy Land because of Muslim conquests across the region. 

Today it is still a popular pilgrimage site for Coptic Christians. The most fascinating of the ancient churches is the House of Saint George, or Biete Ghiorgis. The 12th century “New Jerusalem” is often called the 8th wonder of the world heritages.

Lalibela has been a world heritage site since 1978.

Nechisar National Park

This is one of the most beautiful game reserves in Africa. The park protects the white grass plains and also parts of Lakes Chamo and Abaya. The park and lakes support a large number of different species of wildlife including hippo, crocodile, Burchell’s zebra, waterbuck, Grant’s gazelle and as usual a wide variety of birds. The terrain is varied too from savannah plains to groundwater forest where it is common to see vervet monkeys and baboons.

Jinka

Although Jinka is the administrative capital of the South Omo zone it exists in almost total isolation from the rest of the country, and has a relaxed, rural feel. Set at an altitude of 1490m it is quite temperate and its Saturday market attracts traders from all over the area.

Gondar

Nestled in the highlands of Northern Ethiopia, you’ll find the fabled city of Gondar. Once you have reached Ras Dashen, the highest peak in the spectacular Simien Mountains, you will be able to marvel at Gondar, the “Camelot of Africa”. The castle was the medieval home to Ethiopian Emperors and Princesses who led the country for nearly 1000 years. Once you have reached the main site, check out the Royal Enclosure which is home to the main attractions in the city.

Another site not to miss is Fasiladas’ Bath. This is where the annual Timkat celebration takes place. The water is blessed by the bishop and splashed on the crowd of pilgrims that come to renew their faith and to take part in the ceremony that replicates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. Whilst here don’t forget to visit Debre Berhan Selassie, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in all of Ethiopia.

Danakil Depression

If you are up to a really hot time, then make your way to Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression. The Depression overlaps the borders of Eritrea and Djibouti and is part of the great East African Rift Valley.

The Afar people call this northeastern part of Ethiopia home and against all odds, have not only existed for centuries but still have a thriving community. But beware, the climate is unforgiving and widely considered the hottest (average temp of 94°F/34.4°C), driest (4 – 8 inches/100 – 200 mls of rain) and lowest spot (400 feet below sea level/122 metres) on the planet. Having said all that, this unearthly landscape is an incredible place to visit.

The lava lake at Erta Ale is one of only six lava lakes on Earth and will leave you in awe. The multi-colored hydrothermal bubbling lakes and great salt pans will amaze you and have you question if you are still on Planet Earth. The site is also rich in fossils of ancient hominid. The famed fossil of “Lucy” was found in this area in 1974.