An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"


with 4 comments

by Dr. Paul B. Henze
This paper has been prepared for the ADWA Conference of IDR/AAU in February 2007.

Opportunities and Ideas

Ecotourism represents an approach to tourism that emphasizes environmental and cultural preservation. It highlights opportunities for tourists and other visitors to experience aspects of the country’s ecology and natural endowments as well as unique features of its archaeology, history and culture. While its primary appeal, initially at least, may be to foreign visitors and foreigners resident in the country, it is also important for the country’s own inhabitants. Promotion of ecotourism assumes that people come to visit Ethiopia (and Ethiopians themselves travel) not merely for the purpose of enjoying themselves, but to gain knowledge and appreciation of the country’s geography and natural features, of its peoples and their interactions with their environment, to gain better understanding of the way development affects the environment, and how problems may be dealt with.
Tourism in Ethiopia has always involved features of ecotourism. People who visit the Historic Route are, of course, primarily interested in the country’s history and the unusual accomplishments of Ethiopians over the millennia: the great monuments of Aksum and other sites in the north; the monolithic churches of Lalibela; the island monasteries of Lake Tana. But they are also interested in the physical features of these areas and in the extent to which they are being protected. In recent years visitors have increased to other areas of major environmental interest: the Semyen mountains, the Bale mountains, the Rift Valley lakes, and especially to the Omo valley and other parts of the Southwest. Eco-lodge development in some regions of the country has begun. Some tour organizations are beginning to specialize in animal- and bird-watching tours, tours to observe indigenous forests and unusual geologic features.
As tourism develops further in Ethiopia a greater variety of the country’s attractions will become accessible to visitors–foreign tourists, diaspora visitors, foreign residents and Ethiopians themselves. The domestic aspect of ecotourism is of great importance as an educational tool for developing greater awareness among the population of the need for environmental and cultural preservation and in enlisting cooperation from the public in improving and restoring the country’s assets for the present and future enjoyment of its expanding population.
Tourism promotion and development of facilities for visitors in Ethiopia have until now concentrated primarily on attracting one-time visitors who come to travel the Historic Route and/or go to the Southwest to observe exotic peoples and wildlife. This paper will examine possibilities for expanding offerings to tourists that will appeal to people who wish to make repeat visits, who wish to pursue special interests and study unique aspects of Ethiopia’s environmental and cultural heritage.
The “Customers”:
Let us consider the “customers” for ecotourism. In developed countries in all parts of the world interest in ecotourism has long been growing and is likely to continue to grow. Most such travelers are mature and comparatively affluent. They represent a good source of income for tour organizations, but they can also be demanding. They are typically interested in several kinds of tours: safari-type luxury tours to observe wildlife, birds, landscape; adventure tours of a more modest sort which emphasize remote areas, colorful people or unusual geologic features. Ethiopia is rich in areas where camps offering a mixture of experiences and the opportunity to observe local life and natural attractions can be established such as those that already operate at Bishangari on Lake Langano and at the Experience Ethiopia site in the in the Afar region. Others are in the planning stage. 
Students and young adults who are less affluent and content with simpler accommodations and fewer comforts are good prospects for ecotourism. They are interested in trekking, exploring remote landscape, wild animals, birds, river- and lake experiences, and observing exotic ethnic groups. Scholars with a professional interest in ethnography, archaeology, various aspects of biology and geology represent opportunities for both individual and group tours sponsored by organizations. 
The experience of the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, which has been in existence for over 40 years, is rich in examples of the kind of interests in travel and study which its members–both resident foreigners and Ethiopians–undertake.
Diaspora Ethiopians are a special category. Many of them return primarily to visit family members and places where they or their ancestors formerly lived. But many come to gain better knowledge of their native country and to see parts of it they did not experience when they lived here. Many have gained knowledge in the countries where they are now living of environmental and cultural preservation programs and are likely to be interested in such activities in Ethiopia.
Fields for Development:
A paper I have prepared for the Millennium Council, “Preparing to Meet Millennium Tourism Goals” deals with the entire problem of measures that need to be taken to accommodate a great increase of tourism and diaspora travel to Ethiopia. All of these measures will help prepare the country to expand its capacity to sustain ecotourism. I list here some specific areas which merit attention:
     *Ethiopia’s mountains are almost untouched by climbers. Those who may be interested in them range from individual trekkers and hiking parties to professional climbers. Ethiopia has several mountain areas which could serve to make the country attractive to such people. They include not only the Semyens and the Bale Mountains, but mountains in Wag and Lasta, the Irob region in northeastern Tigray, Chilalo and other mountains in Arsi, lone peaks such as Zuqualla in Shoa and Fantalle in Awash National Park. In national parks that have already been established in some of these mountain areas, elementary provision for foot- and horse-trekking has already been made and some trails have been charted and marked. A great deal of further development would be useful.
     *Ethiopia’s lakes have many varied features of great interest to ecotourists: birds, wildlife, vegetation, colorful ethnic groups, historic churches and monasteries, unusual geologic features. Facilities for visiting most of them as well as accommodations are extremely limited.  
     *Ethiopia’s expanding national parks are still at a very elementary stage of development, though improvements in roads, trails and accommodations are improving. Good maps of parks are rare and information for viewing animals and birds is often not available. Visitor centers are rare (An exception is the elementary but excellent one at Melka Kontoure south of the Awash; but at nearby Tiya, though a World Heritage Site, there is nothing and visitors are usually harassed by local children as they find their way among the stelae.)
     *Churches are not only of historic significance, they are also significant as sites where trees and natural vegetation have been preserved for hundreds of years while it has been mostly destroyed in surrounding areas. A few churches in particularly attractive groves of well-preserved trees and other vegetation might be identified as places where tour agencies could bring people to observe their significance as refuges for vegetation and sanctuaries for birds. This is even more true of monasteries. Some monasteries are examples of adaptation to unusual geographic circumstances; some have made efforts to preserve natural features and exploit their surroundings in ways that reveal serious environmental concern and successful adaptation to local conditions. Some make ingenious use of springs and irrigation for raising fruit and special crops; some engage in productive traditional agriculture. Most preserve manuscripts and objects of historical interest.
     *Caves, Rock Art have only recently begun to attract attention but should not be neglected as sites of interest. Best known is Sof Omar in lowland Bale, which is interesting for its historical and religious connections. Some caves and rock shelters have paintings and carvings of people and animals. Some are ancient; others may be recent. In northern regions some of these are the site of historic churches: Makina Medhane Alem, Nakuto La’ab, Imrahana Christos; there are many others. Those that are easily accessible are now frequently visited by tourists; others are difficult of access and likely to be of interest only to determined trekkers or scholars.
It would be desirable to make a survey of published material useful to ecotourists–maps of important regions, handbooks on birds, animals, flora, geology, ethnography–to arrange for procurement or republication of the best material. It would be desirable to encourage writing and publishing of further materials that would be useful.
Suggestions and Possibilities:
The ideas sketched out below represent possibilities for support and development of ecotourism beyond what appears immediately possible. They are drawn primarily from experience in other parts of the world. They may not be immediately feasible for Ethiopia, but the ideas are advanced here to stimulate thinking.

     Countryside Walking Tours: 

In Europe and in parts of America countryside walking tours have become popular with tour organizations in recent years. Such tours take place in a small section of countryside with particularly attractive geographical, ethnographic or historical features. Tourists sometimes go out in different directions from a central point where they stay and to which they return each night or, in some cases, they walk from place to place, staying and eating at local inns or private houses. Such tours sometimes have a particular study purpose–folkore, music, handicrafts. Some sections of Ethiopia would appear to be appropriate for this kind of ecotourism: the Gurage country and other parts of the Southwest; areas with large numbers of rock churches in the north; Harar and its surroundings; national parks.

     Retracing of Historic Routes:

Tours can be organized to follow all or part of routes of earlier explorers, expeditions, trade routes, trails that served particular economic or religious purposes such as pilgrimage routes. An example which has been occasionally followed in Ethiopia for several years is the Salt Route into the Afar Depression. There are may other possibilities, including portions of the Napier Expedition to Magdala and historic Ethiopian military campaigns.
     Sites of Battles: 

Many significant battles have taken place in Ethiopia. The exact locations of those that took place in the past century or two are known. The most interesting being the Battle of Adwa. Magdala also comes to mind. There are many others, including locations of partisan actions during the Italian occupation and sites important in the 1941 liberation. Visitors to the sites now find almost nothing of significance, though local people sometimes are ready to recount what happened at such sites. Visitor centers with small museums could be built at some of these sites (the Adwa battlefield, because of its world significance, would be a high priority) and on some battlefields signs and plaques along trails could inform visitors of the main features of the action. Examples for this kind of historical commemoration of battlefields are numerous in Europe and America. Other sites of significant political events could also be given similar treatment: e.g., Boru Meda in southern Wollo, the site of the Church Synod in 1978 Yohannes IV and King Menelik of Shoa in the presence of church dignitaries and other prominent leaders settled religious issues important at the time. 
     The Concept of a Muslim Historic Route outlined in a paper I prepared for the Millennium Council would offer possibilities for adaptation of some of these ideas.
                                        Paul B. Henze
                                        Washington, VA    
                                        9 January 2007
The Author has traveled for more than 40 years in most parts of Ethiopia. He has trekked in the Semyens and Bale, climbed Chilalo, Zuqualla and several other mountains, explored all the Rift Valley lakes and their islands as well as the island monasteries of Lake Tana. He has visited innumerable churches, monasteries and archaeological sites all over the country and published extensively on them.

Written by Tseday

November 5, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Posted in Ethiopia

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. The idea of “Ecotourism” is not bad, if implemented properly. Ethiopia has been able to preserve its unique culture and faith, largely, because of its isolation from the outside world. Churches and Monasteries should be accessible to visitors in a ristricitve way, with great caution, as outside influence could mean extra challenge/temptation to the monastery life and sorrounding environment.


    November 7, 2008 at 12:15 am

  2. I completely agree with Tariku. Ecotourism has a lot of potential, but it needs to be properly implemented and being a cover for the “traditional” tourism. What could be really interesting for Ethiopia is to set up its own label regarding ecotourism and to be really stringent about it or to work with other organizations/labels. Have a look at

    Guillaume Foutry

    November 8, 2008 at 12:56 pm

  3. It is very nice that ecotourizm has good potentian but it needs to be properly implemented. I am very interested to select Eco tourism site in our area. our area has surrounded by nature but to create good site of Eco tourism I need some criteria. can you send me criteria to develope!!

    Ashenafi Mengistu Hatew

    July 19, 2016 at 11:56 am

  4. In Ethiopia It Is Even Better To Practice Ecotourism Because A Lot of Resources Are Not Touched By Human Built And The Numereous Package Of Cultural Diversity Through Out The Overall Parts The Country Specially, In The Southern Parts Colourful Peoples Are Still Preserved Within Their Culture.


    August 26, 2018 at 6:34 pm

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