Determining which places to visit in Ethiopia can be really hard. The country is a beautiful, endearing, and delightfully quirky country in East Africa that is a must for anyone serious about their bucket list.
We reached out to a top Ethiopian travel agency in Ethiopia, Inside Ethiopia Tours, to find out what places to visit in Ethiopia they recommend for their travelers. The company was started by Binyam and his Spanish wife, Amanda.
“Ethiopia is a country that blows your mind. It’s not like any other country in Africa. There are so many special towns and places to visit in Ethiopia,” they said.
The Top 10 Favorite Places to Visit in Ethiopia
Lalibela is probably everyone’s favorite town to visit. It has these magical rock-hewn churches. The churches were carved down into the ground so that invaders wouldn’t seen them from afar. They can feel almost like a hiking experience. There are also a couple underground tunnels connecting them. It’s completely pitch dark and a little eerie to go through. The churches are still used by devout Orthodox Christians today, and for early risers they can attend one of 5 am services.
Lalibela also has beautiful surrounding mountains that are great for trekking and star gazing. There is also a world famous restaurant called, Ben Abebe, that looks like a winding cement structure that allows each guest a 360 degree of the nearby mountains.
2. Danakil Depression
Danakil Depression was described by one traveler, who had trekked for almost a year in 10 different African countries, as, “the best thing in all of Africa.” Of course it goes by other names such as “Gateway to hell” since it is the hottest place on earth.
Danakil Depression contains three main things to see:
- Miles and miles of salt plains. The salt is gathered there by locals and carried by camels to Addis Ababa
- Neon green sulfuric acid lakes that look like they are out of a sci-phi movie (and in fact, several have been filmed there)
- Erta Ale which is one of only 5 active lava lakes in the world. It’s so hot that you can only trek it at nighttime, but it is absolutely incredible to see sometime in your life.
3. Omo Valley
The Omo Valley is probably the most famous area in Ethiopia thanks to National Geographic magazines that have captured these unique looking tribes. You’ve probably seen the pictures. The ones with topless women, large mouth plates, and all over body paint.
If you come in person though, you might get to witness a bull jumping ceremony. This is when young men will jump naked three times over the backs of bulls. It’s a rite of passage to adulthood and one that he must pass if he wants to get married.
Harar is one of the most ancient Arab trading cities in the world. It’s the kind of place where wandering around and getting lost is one of the best things to do. With over 368 alleys crammed in 1 square kilometer that’s not hard to do. Fortunately the locals are very kind and will help you. Many travelers describe it as an Arabic Venice Afro vibe. Their coffee is rumored to be some of the best in all of Ethiopia too.
Of course, at night time things take a whole new spin. Walk to the outskirts of the city and meet one of the famous hyena whispers. Watch as wild hyenas come near you. If you’re really bold, you can even put a piece of raw meat in your hand (or mouth!) and feed them! It’s a popular activity among tourists and so far no one has been harmed…
5. Arba Minch
Arba Minch is most famous for it’s unbelievably huge Nile crocodiles that measure up 18 feet long. There are over 8000 of them in the lake so it won’t be hard to spot them. There is also a beautiful National Park filled with many animals.
With so much excitement, you can rest at Paradise Lodge which is the relaxation you’ll need after seeing such exotic (and frightening) wildlife.
Awassa is a beautiful lake town only 5 hours away from Addis Ababa. It’s famous for 2 ultra nice lodges. Yet the town offers more than that. You can relax by the lake or take a boat ride out to see wild hippos who call it home.
There is also a large fish market that is interesting to see. Or you can visit the forest that is filled with monkeys. The monkeys are quite keen on tourists who bring peanuts to share with them. Bring a handful with you, and you’re sure to make some new friends who won’t be shy about taking them out of your hand.
7. Bahir Dar
Bahir Dar is a northern city off of Lake Tana. It’s famous for two reasons. First, the lake is filled with multiple little islands. On each island is an Orthodox monastery that you can visit. Rent a boat for a half day and visit several of them.
The other famous things to see is the Blue Nile Falls. Depending on when you go, it can be quite beautiful if it’s just after the rainy season. It marks the start of the Blue Nile and a very special site to see.
8. Bale Mountains
Bale Mountains is the most underrated, but must see place. The mountains are home to black maned lions which are endemic to Ethiopia. In fact, the female can only be found in Ethiopia. It also has a beautiful waterfall. And for bird watchers, there is no better place to visit. Several new species of butterflies and moths have also been found there.
9. Simien Mountains
For those who love hiking, you will love the Simien Mountains. It is absolutely gorgeous from every single view. There are also many wonderful animals and an unending amount of baboons.
This city has fascinating old castles that are replicas of Europe. It’s very unusual to find in Africa, and a reminder of Ethiopia’s once great trade history. Most guests also enjoy visiting the Dashen Brewery afterwards.
For those with limited time to see places to visit in Ethiopia
If you are flying in only for a 1 or 2 day layover, there are also a lot of nearby attractions like Mount Entoto, Crater Lake, or the Blue Nile Gorge.
“We named our company, “Inside Ethiopia Tours” because we wanted to give people an authentic experience. We wanted them to truly feel the wonderful Ehiopian hospitality, dive in the culture, and get the “inside” look into this beautiful country that I now love to call home,” says Amanda.
“But one of the best ways to do that is to also match your interests. If you love running, art, cooking, jazz, or want to learn more about business and investment in Ethiopia, then you should tailor your trip to include that too,” says Binyam. “That’s what we do best. Personalizing your hobbies and passions to a trip that exceeds your expectations.”
“But whatever you do, try and come during a holiday or festival,” says Amanda. “They are always brightly colored, festive, and highly enjoyable experience to partake in.” Thankfully, there are a lot of festivals in Ethiopia so the chances of you arriving during one is quite high– even if you don’t plan it.
Wherever you do, we hope you have an amazing time traveling Ethiopia. For more questions, you can contact an Ethiopian travel agency like Inside Ethiopia Tours. Or for guests staying at our hotel, we have a full time Guest Relations Team member named Bethlehem who is happy to assist in any questions you have about Addis Ababa or travels within Ethiopia.