11 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Ethiopia

Jul 22, 2021

In March 2017, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned. Desalegn left to avoid being impeached by the country's House of Representatives for failing to prevent the impending May 2018 outbreak of civil war between different ethnic groups.

Ethiopia is known for its antiquities and incredible natural landscape, which is adorned with ancient rock-hewn churches, monasteries, and towers. Ethiopia is a popular travel destination for many individuals for its immense natural beauty and its cultural significance. There is so much to see and do in Ethiopia, such as its bustling towns, dramatic mountain scenery, and fascinating animal life in the deserts and the jungle.

Any of the best places to visit in Ethiopia are just waiting to be explored. Check out our list of the top tourist attractions in Ethiopia.

Gondar

Photo of Gondar
Gondar: en.wikipedia.org

Gondar is Ethiopia's second largest city, with a magnificent history that dates back to the 4th century. Some of the most beautifully carved doors and entrances you can see in this once grand but now post-unification Ethiopian capital may also date back to the 15th century, demonstrating the metamorphosis the country has undergone over the past four centuries. Despite its relatively new status, Gondar has some attractions, such as the Damaz Monastery and the Gondar royal palace. Although the palace is now home to a museum, the remains of the original structure can be found on the site of the palace itself. The Damaz Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, features several Byzantine-style churches and is set in spectacular views of Lake Debre Zeit.

Addis Ababa

Photo of Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa: en.wikipedia.org

Addis Ababa is the Ethiopian capital. In late May, tourists can admire the dramatic Leket festival, which celebrates the End of Lent and the beginning of the Christian holiday of Easter. During the festival, colorful floats carry Ethiopian priests through the streets. The festival lasts a full three weeks. The annual Grand Ethiopian Feast is a long-time celebration of Ethiopian culture that showcases traditional dances and music. The Ethiopian country's political upheaval is attracting increasing international attention. Two weeks after leaving power in 1991, then-president, Mengistu Haile Mariam was removed by the rebel forces that had ousted him. The head of state, the emperor, currently under house arrest, retains limited influence on the direction of the country. In January, the Ethiopian government placed the country under martial law, as the military fought off separatists in the western area of the country. Travelers and aid agencies were restricted to the capital until recently, but that situation has now eased.

Lake Tana

Photo of Lake Tana
Lake Tana: en.wikipedia.org

The third-largest of the Great Lakes in Ethiopia, Lake Tana is the largest lake in the country. It is fed by the Omo River and lies in the heart of the Semien Gondar Zone. Established in 1885, Ethiopia's oldest university is also found here, with most of the teaching and research taking place at the University College. The lake has been the source of much interest in the study of the human genome, but its main economic role lies in the production of fish and agricultural products such as cotton. There is good transportation between Addis Ababa and the town of Akaki. Boat trips run from April to September, which allow for a view of some of the lesser known islands in the lake.

Mekele

Photo of Mekelle
Mekelle: en.wikipedia.org

Climb the Grand Staircase and enter a landscape of smooth, whitewashed walls and elegant stucco, a landscape that's all the more spectacular when you look down on it from the two minarets that crown the architectural triple-tower of a town mosque. That is Mekele, the capital of Tigray and the largest city in northern Ethiopia. In Mekele you can walk through one of the most interesting city markets and watch local craftsmen work. On market days, artisans produce wonderful handmade artifacts, some of which can be purchased. Be sure to go to the Museum of Geography and Anthropology, where you'll see carvings and other examples of the ancient culture of the area. Among Mekele's unique attractions are the Topche-Gulde, the city's grand city gate and its most significant surviving structure. Built in 1565 in Portuguese style, it is one of the oldest Muslim gates in Africa, providing great views of the city.

Bale Mountains National Park

Photo of Bale Mountains National Park
Bale Mountains National Park: en.wikipedia.org

Bale Mountains, located in the Western Rift Valley in the Ethiopian Highlands at 2,600 meters, is a 564 square kilometer national park. This park has an amazing variety of terrain, including a series of volcanoes, cliffs, canyons, desert plateaus, valleys and a highly fertile grassland zone. Hikes in the park lead through scenic grasslands, valleys, rocky outcrops, large granite pillars, hot springs, waterfalls and three crater lakes. More than 130 kilometers of tracks offer exceptional views and encounters with the park's unique vegetation. Hiking from near the entrance to the park is the distinctive rocky climb to Ethiopia's highest peak, Marawichi (3,083 m) and onwards to Oromiya (the Ethiopian name for Amhara). Bale is home to four species of colobus monkeys, which are found only in Ethiopia. Sightings of the rare animals are rare but they can be seen at the park's Nursery section.

Lake Chamo

Photo of Lake Chamo
Lake Chamo: en.wikipedia.org

In Ethiopia, Lake Chamo (Lake Abba) lies in a low depression in the Ethiopian highlands some 35 kilometers east of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. It is in the southwestern corner of the country near the border with Kenya and is the largest lake in the area and is adjacent to the highlands. Lake Chamo is of great religious significance in Ethiopia. It was built to support the Bahir Dar-Azmara road during a colonial expedition when it was created in 1912. The village of Chamo (25 kilometers) at the lake's edge has large and small private and government-owned hotels, restaurants and other facilities.

Hawassa

Photo of Hawassa
Hawassa: en.wikipedia.org

Hawassa is located in the northern highlands of Ethiopia on the west bank of the Blue Nile River. A vibrant regional and cultural center, Hawassa is also Ethiopia's second-largest city after Addis Ababa. Even before the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in 1881, Hawassa was a major center of gold mining and trade. The Italians did much to industrialize the city and to make it a base for Ethiopian expansion into what was the upper Nile region. The long-term presence of the Italian military since the Second Italo-Ethiopian War of 1936–1941 has resulted in the current state of infrastructure and administration. Although still an ethnic patchwork city, Hawassa has a mixture of Latin and Oriental ethnic styles and influences that reflect its diverse population. The southern part of the city is distinguished by its narrow, densely populated streets with colorful, traditional dress; in the older, northern part of town, the typical building style is a kind of jumble of cement cubes linked by straight, unadorned whitewashed walls. Hawassa is served by Addis Ababa and Lalibela International Airport in the south. The city is also connected by paved roads to a network of gravel roads that connect to key destinations in northern Ethiopia. A twice-weekly bus service runs from Addis Ababa to Hawassa.

Lalibela

Photo of Lalibela
Lalibela: en.wikipedia.org

Perched on the southern tip of a sharp plateau, Lalibela is the spiritual center of Ethiopia. Lying in the Bishangari Zone of the Oromia Region, the town is in an area of rock-walled, multi-gabled monasteries, some of which date back to the 11th century. All over the site, particularly in the various churches, you can find wooden carvings depicting some of the scenes from the Ethiopian calendar and their corresponding months. One of the most intriguing attractions is the hill called Lalibela, which is thought to be the resting place of one of Lalibela's founder monks and is marked by a monastery, as well as a chapel containing a buddhistic relic. These monasteries are mostly closed to the public, but they can be visited by those on a church group. This site is well served by regular buses from Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and Jimma, and is an ideal place to relax for a couple of days.

Adwa

Over the centuries, several conflicts have pitted the Ethiopian Empire against neighboring Eritrea and Djibouti. The Afar Region, today Ethiopia's largest and least populated, has seen many battles and is now home to over 170,000 displaced persons who were forcibly relocated from their villages by Ethiopian forces. Nowhere are these conflicts more visible than at Adwa, a ruined citadel on the top of a 400-meter-high cliff, and one of the places where Ethiopian forces were victorious in the Eritrean-Ethiopian War. The battle was fought on April 7th 1896 and won by Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. The Afar Region has a particularly rich cultural tradition and the Adwa Museum of Ethiopia, near the battlefield, is full of objects found during excavations, as well as documents detailing the history of the region.

Omo Valley

Photo of Omo River
Omo River: en.wikipedia.org

The Omo River Valley in Ethiopia is home to what is believed to be one of the oldest living cultures in the world. Prehistoric Harenna can be seen in the form of natural rock formations and fortified villages. The area is particularly rich in history, evidenced by the layers of layered clay and ash that have left behind evidence of the past. For a bird's eye view of the valley, you can take the cable car (or gondola) from Harenna or hot air balloon flight from the nearby town of Dessie, where the balloon journey begins. To really get to grips with the area, there are hiking trails that can take you to natural rock formations and prehistoric settlements, including Wondo Genet.

Erta Ale

Photo of Erta Ale
Erta Ale: en.wikipedia.org

Erta Ale is the active volcano that is one of the two major towns in Ethiopia. Located in a spectacular setting in the heart of the Simien Mountains National Park, it is a small town of mud-walled buildings and steep, pockmarked slopes covered with tropical forest. The town stands at the foot of Mount Ol Dallol, which at 4,620 meters is the highest peak in Ethiopia and the eighth-highest in Africa. Entering the town by any of the gateways, you see a scene that is virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. The town is set in a valley, with narrow, steep streets and people living in tin-roofed houses, dominated by the imposing churches and the massive bell tower of the Wube-Dollo monastery, built in 1876. It is home to thousands of monks who live in monasteries in the surrounding region. The Nima-Wang markets are an interesting place to visit with local people selling their handiwork. A few kilometers outside the town in the crater of Ol Dallol lies the crater lake of Abi-neter-Abr (Lake Abune). It was formed following a very small volcanic eruption and is easily accessible by foot, by mule and by road.