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5 incredible things to do in Ethiopia

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 11/03/2018 Alice Howarth

a canyon with a mountain in the background © Provided by Evening Standard Limited Ethiopia feels like a country still waiting to be discovered.

Often overlooked for neighbouring destinations like Kenya and Uganda, in part due to their safari and gorilla-spotting opportunities, it’s remained largely unexplored by tourists however, everything is there.

From incredible landscape to wildlife, ancient culture to World Heritage sites, what it lacks in luxurious facilities it makes up for in experiences.

Here are five incredible ways to experience this east African country... 

Summit Erta Ale

(Shutterstock ) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited (Shutterstock ) Situated in the hottest and most inhospitable place on earth, summating Erta Ale is an adventure for even those well-versed in hiking. 

Due to the stifling heat of midday (temperatures consistently hover at 94 ˚F on average), alongside your small tour group, guide and camels who carry your possessions, you’ll start the ascend from the base camp once the sun begins to set.

After around four hours and in total darkness (bring a head torch), a lit up crescent will start to come into view and as you get closer you'll see a full lava lake crackling and bubbling with quiet rage.

A short walk away from the lake, you'll take refuge from the heat that ripples off the crater and sleep under the stars in a make-shift, open air campsite.

The next morning, when the sun begins to rise around 4am, you’ll wake to coffee and breakfast before you start the climb down.

Tough, extraordinary and exhilarating - this is definitely a bucket list activity worth telling everyone you ticked off. 

Explore Dallol

(Shutterstock / Einat Klein Photography) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited (Shutterstock / Einat Klein Photography) In the same area as Erta Ale, part of Dallol, this is a region that lies 134 metres below sea level. An expanse of sulphuric acid, hot springs and salt flats, the landscape constantly changes. You can pair Dallol with your trek up Erta Ale (making the trip four days instead of two) and if possible, you should. 

Resembling what I imagine Mars would look like, the sulphuric acid fields are like a mountainous, neon patchwork. Utterly desolate and a little eery, you’re guaranteed never to see something like this again. The trip takes you from here to the salt flats (yes, you can pose for the perception photos) and come dusk, you’ll spend the night sleeping in the open desert air as trains of camels carrying large blocks of salt pass you by. 

Trek through the Simien Mountains

(Shutterstock / RadekBorovka) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited (Shutterstock / RadekBorovka) Once described as ‘chess pieces of the Gods’ by the travel writer Rosita Forbes in the early 1900s - her observation of this World Heritage mountain range couldn’t have been more correct. Each mountain appears to stand tall on their own as if carved into a solo piece.

You can spend two, three or five days trekking with only a guide and some endemic Gelad baboons for company. There are lodges to stay in as an option but I’d opt to stay in the campsites. Basic and unglamourous there will be no fancy food or fluffy white robes each night but the unglossed version makes for a much more authentic experience. 

Visit Lalibela

(Shutterstock / WitR) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited (Shutterstock / WitR) Religious or not religious, Lalibela is extraordinary. 

Home to 11 churches carved out of rocks that date from the 12th and 13th centuries, the whole area remains a pilgrimage site for Coptic Christians today. 

Commissioned by King Lalibela who set out to construct a ‘New Jerusalem’, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land, each church was created by huge teams of faithful workers and each are different.

Wandering around, looking at the intricacy of the stone carving and the coloured frescoes that cover the high ceilings, you'll wonder how exactly they did this with no machinery. 

Meet a spotted Hyena (from a far)

(Elli60 / Pixabay) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited (Elli60 / Pixabay) Spotted Hyenas have been recorded in the Ethiopian city of Harar for as long as 500 years. 

Embraced instead of feared they roam the streets at night and are instrumental in keeping them clean. However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t practice caution when nearby. 

The best way to see these wild animals is to book a tour guide who can take you to where one of the locals are feeding them. There are two main sites in Harar, a point at the east gate of the city and a point at the north gate. You may have to wait until the Hyenas feel hungry enough to appear which can take several hours ((if they do that day at all) but seeing them (relatively) up close and personal will be worth it.

Desalgn Gebrie, co-founder of Trek Ethiopia Travel and Tours, is an excellent guide and can help to arrange the above activities and offer other tips for an Ethiopian holiday itinerary.

Related: Ranked: the cheapest destinations for a long-haul holiday (Provided by Love Exploring)


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