Ethiopia, a rising star of African tourism

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This article was originally published in the 5th issue (October 2016) of The Ethiopian Messenger, the quarterly magazine of the Embassy of Ethiopia in Brussels

A stable and peaceful democracy since 1991, Ethiopia is a federal state whose progressive economic policies are reflected in its annual growth rate of about 10%. The Ethiopian lifestyle, with its unique musical and linguistic heritage and cuisine, combined with an ancient coffee culture and a thriving artisanal scene combined with its colorful annual festivals make the country an unmissable stopover for culture-hungry visitors. Add to this the rare species in the magnificent Simien and Bale Mountains, the spectacular volcanic landscapes of the Danakil Depression, and a wealth of fauna and flora unique in the world, and it is no wonder that Ethiopia has become the most attractive and popular emergent tourist destination in Africa.

A unique cultural heritage

With its 3,000 years of civilization and unique cultural heritage, Ethiopia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Proof of this is its tally of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites – more than any other in Africa: Ethiopia is home to the ancient city of Harar, the world’s fourth-holiest Islamic city, the mediaeval rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Gheralta, thousands year old architectural relics, the magnificent 17th century castles of Gondar, and the oldest human remains on the planet and the birth place of coffee.

Lalibela church. © Ethiopian tourism Organization

Spectacular nature

With its spectacular scenery, rich biodiversity and numerous protected areas, Ethiopia is a paradise for nature lovers, renowned for its large number of endemic animal and plant species. Although lions, elephants, giraffes and other typical safari animals are present in Ethiopia, the country derives its fame from its unique species such as the Ethiopian wolf (the rarest dog in the world), the Walia Ibex (the only indigenous goat in Africa) and the peaceful Gelada baboon, also called bleeding-heart monkey.

With its lush forests, inland seas and mountain peaks, Ethiopia is a land of breathtaking scenery and rich biodiversity. Sometimes perceived as a dry and arid country in the West, Ethiopia has a wealth of lakes, rivers and aquatic habitats, ranging from Lake Tana, the main source of the Blue Nile, to the magnificent crater lakes around Bishoftu, only 50 km from Addis Ababa. Ethiopia often mentioned as a water tower of Africa for its rivers and lakes. Ethiopia’s scenic centerpiece is a mountainous central plateau, the largest and most fertile in East Africa that covers half of its surface area, and supports the vast majority of its population. The Simien Mountains National Park in Northern Ethiopia is an exotic setting with endemic wildlife and spectacular views on a landscape shaped by nature. The natural beauties of this region have always filled visitors with a life time amusement.

Bird watching

With a total of 860 species recorded, Ethiopia is considered by experts as one of the main ornithological destinations of Africa. The main attraction of Ethiopia for bird lovers is the presence of 18 endemic species. These include the spectacular Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, peculiar Stresemann’s Bush Crow and melodious Abyssinian catbird. The Nechisar nightjar, considered the world’s rarest bird, is unique to Ethiopia where it was first observed in 2009.

Bale Mountains National Park was recently listed as one of the continent’s top five birding hotspots by the African Birding Club. In addition to endemic species, the Rift Valley lakes south of Addis Ababa are renowned for their prolific aquatic birdlife: flocks of tens of thousands of flamingos, bobbling flotillas of pouch-beaked pelicans, and a profusion of ducks, rallids, weavers and waders. In the highlands of northern Ethiopia, the mighty lammergeyer is regularly observed flying above the Simien Mountains displaying its 2-metre wingspan.

The best time for bird watching is from September to March when local species are joined by migrating birds. However, given that the most sought-after species at national and regional level reside throughout the year, there is no bad time for bird watchers visiting Ethiopia.

Coffee Natural Forest

Visit the coffee plantations

The forests that surround the highlands of Western Ethiopia are the land of origin of coffee, which is still abundantly cultivated today. In the heart of its lush tropical forests, Arabica coffee also grows in its wild form. Many Coffee Forest Tours offer visitors the opportunity to discover the tropical rainforests that cover the highlands of Western Ethiopia, birthplace of coffee.

With 7,600 km2, the Kafa Biosphere Reserve is the largest and most accessible of three UNESCO protected reserves in the highlands of Ethiopia. It is also an important reservoir of the genetic diversity of coffee, as many varieties of beans still grow in the region. The tropical rain forests of Western Ethiopia also harbor the production of many other sustainable forest products, including forest cardamom, forest pepper and honey.

The new international coffee museum is currently under construction in Bonga, a pleasant forest-lined town in the heart of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve. The Bonga Tourist Office now offers guided day and night tours of several sites associated with the Kafa Reserve. These visits include the discovery of God’s Bridge, a stunning natural rock formation, and the Mother Coffee Tree, which is the world’s oldest living plant of its type. Other important coffee- producing regions include Harar, Jimma, Yirga Chafe and the Lake Tana Basin. The Bebeka and Tepi Coffee Estates, respectively the largest and second-largest in the country, are good places to learn about coffee production, and to ramble through dense montane forests alive with birdlife.

The rapid development of the tourism sector has enabled Ethiopia to win the coveted title of the world’s best tourism destination by the European Trade and Tourism Council in 2015. Referring the nomination, the Daily Mail on its July 2015 edition published an article titled “forget the sunny Spain, enchanting Thailand and romance of France: Ethiopia is named World best tourism destination”. With its incomparable cultural and historical richness, breathtaking nature and unique fauna, the country is assuming a position of must see touristic destination. Ethiopia is now working to become one of Africa’s top five tourist destinations by 2020. Visitors will undoubtedly come in growing numbers to enjoy the security that reigns in Ethiopia and the hospitality of its inhabitants. Indeed, Ethiopia is the Land of Origins and the prospect of visiting it is similar to visiting one’s own ancestors’ country. This is boldly the perception of renowned personalities. In his biography, Nelson Mandela said that “Ethiopia always has a special place in my imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England, and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.”

Mesmerized by the unique churches of Lalibela, the Portuguese priest Francisco Álvares in the 15th century said “I weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more…I swear by God, in Whose power I am, that all I have written is the truth”. Dear reader, now is your perfect time to visit Ethiopia and write your own personal impressions.

© Ethiopian Tourism Organization

Source of the article: The Ethiopian Messenger /

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