Ethiopia is the cultural bridge between Africa and the Arab north and east, and is one of the oldest established territories in the world. It is principally a highland region with a deep fringe of arid desert and semi desert to the south and east. It is a land of stark beauty and savage contradictions, home to some of Africa’s rarest and most endangered species, and yet a country of acute population pressure, straining natural resources and perennial political instability.
The Ethiopian Highlands form the northernmost African feature of the Great Rift Valley, a geological formation that runs from the Levant, down the eastern quadrant of Africa, and ending in the vicinity of northern Moçambique. The Great Rift Valley has been the conduit of much social migration since the dawn of humankind, and many of the oldest traces of human development in Africa have been found in Ethiopia.
Perhaps the rarest distinction Ethiopia enjoys among other African nations is that it was never effectively colonised, and despite concerted efforts from many quarters, primarily Italy, she remained substantively independent throughout the colonial period. Notwithstanding this Ethiopia has experienced a troubled history, which in the modern context has seen the nation reel under brutal communist dictatorship, disastrous social engineering and a propensity for famine on a biblical scale.
Travel To & Within Ethiopia
Why Travel to Ethiopia
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Ethiopia has been groping its way towards functional multi-party democracy, and has increasingly since then emerged as a safe and rewarding international tourist destination. It is still fundamentally a fringe travel venue, which, assuming a certain amount of resilience, offers a number of varied and extremely worthwhile destinations for the venture traveller.
One of the main reason to go is to step back in time to the biblical period of nomads, orthodox Christianity, walled towns and settlements, and the images, sights and sounds of a nation and landscape touched only very lightly by modernity. From the highlands to the desert, this is a land of ecological diversity and dense human activity. There are several national parks and sanctuaries scattered across the country that cover all its varied ecological zones, and where many among the long list of Ethiopia’s threatened and endangered species can be found.
Ethiopia is making a great effort to build itself up as a mainstream tourist destination, and enjoys established facilities in the main cities and a growing spectrum in the countryside. With the rather depressing statistics of environment and wildlife threat in the country, one of the surest ways to support conservation, be it in terms of wildlife, environment or monuments, is to go there and spend your tourist dollars.
When to Visit Ethiopia
Ethiopia experiences climatic conditions that vary according to the landscape, which is nothing if not varied. Since most of the country lies at altitudes above 1 500m, conditions in most places are agreeable throughout the year. This is distinctly not the case in the Ogaden region an dthe extreme south, however, which is arid desert and semi-desert lying below 1 500m, and which can get extremely hot during the summer months. Most of the country, and in particular those areas at higher elevation, experience summer rains between June and September, with a few showers early in the year, and usually very little outside these periods.
As is the case anywhere in the African highland belt, the period immediately after the rains is the most pleasant, with spring like air clarity, general inflorescence and a landscape freshly greened. If you are planning to visit during the festival periods of Timkat or Meskel then book in advance, and of course the European holiday seasons can be particularly congested in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia is still a politically volatile region, and although generally safe for a traveller, it would be worthwhile researching security conditions and the general political climate in advance of any visit.
Relations between Ethiopia and northern neighbour Eritrea have in recent years been tense at best, with hostilities and open war not an uncommon occurrence. The border between the two countries is now permanently closed, and visiting the border regions is a red tag security risk.
There are other regions of insecurity, usually in border areas associated with Somalia and Djibouti, and indeed in any of the more remote regions where banditry might be expected.Check in advance.