An Ethiopian Journal

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

Posts Tagged ‘Tourism

Ethiopia’s wealth of surprises

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February 27th 2014, By Cheong Kamei

The East African country may not be on everyone’s must-visit travel list, but it has a lot to offer

The first time I learnt about Ethiopia was when I watched the video to We Are The World, as images of starving African children with distended bellies flashed across the television screen. And it seems that Ethiopia is still haunted by those powerful images of famine and poverty. The country isn’t exactly on everyone’s must-visit vacation list. To top it off, the costly cocktail of vaccinations I needed — it’s compulsory to be vaccinated against yellow fever, and my doctor advised me to get the meningococcal vaccine and malaria pills — didn’t help put my mind at ease. At first.

As I later found out, giving the country a miss would be a huge pity. Ethiopia is eager to exorcise the ghosts of its past. It wants to show off its beautiful scenery, otherworldly architecture and gracious people. All you need to do is be there.


After a 13-hour red-eye flight from Singapore to capital city Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, it took another two hours by car to get to resort town and popular day-trip destination Debre Zeit, but it was worth the squeeze through the morning traffic.

Sitting at the restaurant of the Kuriftu Resort And Spa, overlooking Lake Kuriftu, watching people kayak and pelicans swim by, I couldn’t help but feel that Debre Zeit is every bit as gorgeous as vacation hot spots anywhere else in the world. The lush greenery, crater lakes and abundant bird-life are testament to the country’s natural beauty, while the luxurious resort I was at reflected Ethiopia’s current tourist boom.

The temperature at Debre Zeit hovers around the mid-20s (that’s Celsius) throughout the year and the tranquil scene was lulling me to sleep when I caught a whiff of a uniquely heady spice. It was berbere, an indigenous and bright red chilli and spice mix that’s traditionally used in dishes, from steak tartar to lentils and wats (slow-cooked stews). Sweet, fiery and addictively aromatic, it’s easy to see Singaporeans falling in love with it. The ubiquitous staple of Ethiopia, injera, on the other hand, takes some getting used to. This flatbread, made from a grain called teff, is light grey in colour and has a slightly spongy texture — similar to a peanut pancake — and a distinctly sour taste.


My next stop was the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lalibela. “Awe-inspiring” does not come close to describing how impressive Lalibela’s 11 cave churches from the 13th-century are. Built by King Lalibela to be Africa’s alternative to Jerusalem, the churches were not erected from the ground up. Instead, the main structure of each church — complete with windows, door and drainage systems — were painstakingly carved out of living rock.

Nobody knows how exactly it was done, although some scholars speculate it took about 24 years to complete. Seeing the churches, in particular Bete Giyorgis, which is built in the shape of a cross, or Bet Medhane Alem, the world’s largest monolithic church that’s 11.5m deep and almost 34m long, you can understand why the legend goes that angels helped complete this architectural marvel.

It was close to Christmas when I was at Lalibela (in the Ethiopian calendar, it falls on Jan 7), and tens of thousands were making their pilgrimage to this spot. Some perched on rocks to read their Bibles, while others prayed, kissed the crosses that were held by priests or broke down at the sight of the churches. At one church, I witnessed dozens of people tirelessly swaying to the beat of the drummers in their company and chanting hymns in an almost trance-like manner. At every corner were people who had walked for miles — sometimes barefoot — to Lalibela to renew, restore or celebrate their faith. The air of reverence was so intense, it felt intrusive to take photos — it was hard not to feel moved.


A 30-minute flight away from Lalibela is Gondar, Africa’s Camelot, and Ethiopia’s royal and ancient historical city. Our first stop was Fasil Ghebbi, a complex of 17th- and 18th-century castles that marked Ethiopia’s first permanent imperial residence. Earthquakes and bombings during World War II damaged some of the buildings, but the Fasilides Castle is by far the best preserved. It was fascinating to hear about Ethiopia’s rich history, but what I really appreciated was how glaringly tourist-free this UNESCO World Heritage Site was. With plenty of space and time to leisurely stroll through the complex, and blue, open skies, Fasil Ghebbi felt almost romantic.

Separate from the complex of castles is Fasilides Bath. The original use of the 50m-long and 30m-wide bath is not known for sure, but it’s now filled with water every Jan 19 to celebrate Timkat, the Orthodox Christian celebration of the baptism of Jesus.

From Gondar, it is a three-hour bus ride to the Simien Mountains, 3,000m above sea level. Its stirring skyline of jagged mountain peaks, sharp gorges and the undulating plateau have drawn comparisons with the Grand Canyon in the United States. Unlike the Grand Canyon though, the only activities offered at Simien Mountain National Park are trekking and cycling. As I was feeling lethargic from the high altitude, trekking seemed like an ideal way to start the day. The pace and trail were manageable and the guide showed us the best spots to take in — and get great photos of — the mountain scenery and rare animals such as Gelada baboons.

It’s amazing how much Ethiopia has to offer tourism-wise. In a week, I’d received a five-star spa treatment at Debre Zeit, experienced a spiritual awakening at Lalibela and marvelled at Ethiopia’s regal past at Gondar. And I’d only seen a teeny part of this country — it’s five times the size of Britain, by the way. And I’m already thinking of returning. I’d love to see national parks such as the Omo National Park (one of the most underrated wildlife sanctuaries in East Africa) or take in the surreal beauty of Sof Omar Cave. Now all I need to do is to get used to eating injera.

Written by Tseday

March 16, 2014 at 11:07 am

“Everybody comes from Africa. Visit Ethiopia.” H.E. Dr. Tedros

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Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia promoting Ethiopia’s history and progress to +60,000 people in New York City at the 2013 Global Citizen Festival.

Written by Tseday

November 8, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Ethiopia’s Booming Hotel Industry

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May 17, 2013, by Kurt Davis Jr.

VENTURES AFRICA – The Sheraton Hotel is doing another good day of business on a Monday morning. The hotel, run by Sheik Mohammed Ali Al-Amoud, is Ethiopia’s most recognized hotel. It fills with business travelers from London and diplomats from all over Africa. It also offers similar services and accommodations expected from any major hotel in America or Europe. And for those who find the prices of the bigger international brands too expensive, Jupiter International Hotels, run by a young Ethiopian expat Benyam Bisrat, offers a quality local alternative.

The central parts—Kazanchis and Bole—of Addis Ababa resemble a construction site. New malls and hotels are being erected throughout these areas. These new constructions are mostly locally funded. Jupiter Hotels, as one of those locally funded constructions, has only been running for 5 years. In that time, the company has boosted occupancy rates above 80 percent to match international brands in the market.

Until recently, schmoozing with businessmen of all stripes and African diplomats involved sitting by the bar in the Hilton or lingering around the Sheraton lounge area. During the last African Union meeting, the lobby of the Jupiter Hotel in Kazanchis jammed softly with local Ethiopian jazz crowded out by Africa’s numerous local languages and the usual assortment of romance languages spoken on the continent.

This type of growth is usually the result of growing demand and stalled supply. But the supply of hotel beds in Addis has tripled in the last three years to around 6,000 hotel beds. Competition in this market could potentially push the number over 10,000 hotel beds in the next few years. Jupiter International Hotels will actively expand during this time to more than 1,000 hotel beds to capture approximately ten percent of the market, says Mr. Bisrat, who is also vice president of the Hotel Association of Ethiopia. International brands, including the Marriot, will also help the local hotel industry to reach that number.

Hotel groups are expanding in this capital because the amount of diplomats and corporate clients are growing. Yearly tourism, at approximately 500,000 tourists in Ethiopia, still has a ways to go before it matches other emerging African economies. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has stated its aspirations to make Ethiopia a top five tourist destination in Africa by 2020.

During this rapid growth phase, quality service-oriented business will win out at the end of the day, say Mr. Bisrat, or customers will walk out. He believes Jupiter International Hotels is positioned as top competitor in this space, especially as it plans to develop a value hotel chain. A hot shower, good mattress, and strong internet goes a long way to make a quality value hotel. But Jupiter International Hotels plans to also add a yoga studio, art gallery, and technological add-ons, including iPod docking stations and quality data and voice streaming capabilities in the rooms.

So many foreigners are coming now and more and more are not Ethiopian Diaspora, says Dawit, a local Ethiopian tourist operator. A sense of change has descended upon the country. Gone are filmmakers for aid videos on famine. Rather conference facilities and lobbies bustle with the growing presence of investors and government officials. Hotel groups, says Mr. Bisrat, still have a long way to go to meet the needs of a growing business and diplomatic hub. As Ethiopian Airlines expands its routes to meet the geographically diversifying clientele of the Ethiopia, expect the hotel industry to do the same.

Written by Tseday

May 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Discover Ethiopia, Birthplace of Humanity

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“The Ethiopians were regarded by the Greeks as the best people in the world. Homer speaks of them in the Iliad as the ‘blameless Ethiopians’. He claims that they were visited by Zeus, the king of the gods, by the goddess Iris, who travelled to their country to participate in their sacrificial rites, and by Poseidon, the sea god, who ‘lingered delighted’ at their feasts. This theme was taken up, in the first century BC, by Diodorus of Sicily, who asserted that the gods Hercules and Bacchus were both ‘awed by the piety’ of the Ethiopians, whose sacrifices, he claims, were the most acceptable to the gods.”

Passage from ‘The Ethiopians, A History’ by Richard Pankhurst 

Written by Tseday

June 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Trip to Ethiopia offers lessons in faith

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By Lee Witting | February 14, 2009


I’ve just come back from Ethiopia, where a group of us who are students at Bangor Theological Seminary went to visit ancient churches and monasteries. Along the way, I found myself caught up not so much by the ancient art and architecture, but by the living faith of a people so poor, I can only compare them to the Indians portrayed in the recent movie “Slumdog Millionaire.” Yes, it’s that bad.

And yet … And yet, the faith of this predominantly Christian nation is powerfully moving. We were there during Timkat, the most sacred time of the year. It’s a festival during which the faithful parade their churches’ replicas of the Holy of Holies through the streets of the towns, while they sing and pray and dance.

What is their Holy of Holies? It’s nothing less than the Ark of the Covenant — a box, the Bible tells us, which contains the power of God. Ethiopians believe a story told in a 13th century text, the Kebra Nagast, that the Ark of the Covenant came to Ethiopia approximately 3,000 years ago, when Prince Menelik — son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba — brought it from Jerusalem.

Today, the Ethiopians claim, it resides in a special building in the ancient city of Axum, where only one caretaker has access to the sacred box — a box of acacia wood, layered in gold, which contains the sacred tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments.

In many ways, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church represents Christianity the way it was meant to be. Ethiopians see themselves as the heirs of Judaism, with bloodlines back to Solomon, and with God’s blessing of the ark, the “Mercy Seat” where Moses encountered God.

The ark was the main reason for building Solomon’s Temple, but if the Ethiopian story is true, the ark was carried away about 400 years before the temple’s destruction in 587 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers swept out of Babylon to conquer Jerusalem.

Jews, on the other hand, would look to Second Maccabees, Chapter 2, which reports that the prophet Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave on Mount Nebo, to keep it from Nebuchadnezzar. Second Maccabees quotes Jeremiah as saying, “The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them his mercy. Then the Lord will bring these things once more to light.” Nevertheless, from that date forward, the question has been asked again and again — where is the Ark of the Covenant?

If what the Ethiopians believe is true, God’s blessing moved to Ethiopia, and the ark has been protected and preserved by them ever since. Moreover, Ethiopian legend tells of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus coming to Axum during their escape to Egypt, when Herod was attempting to murder the holy child.

Unlike the Western church, where Christians separated themselves from their Jewish roots, Ethiopians saw Jesus as the Messiah intended to fulfill Torah prophecy. Their orthodoxy blends Jewish and Christian traditions into one continuous faith, which is something we failed to achieve in Jerusalem and the West.

The consequences of that failure were enormous, especially since the Koran suggests Muhammad was influenced by the contradictions of Christians and Jews; he thought it necessary to found a third faith, based upon his own take on Hebrew scripture. The divisions, the killings, and the ongoing struggles between these three scripturally related faiths might have been avoided had the Judeo-Christian faith evolved throughout the world as it did in Ethiopia.

There are also stories that the mysterious Knights Templar, who occupied the Temple Mount and excavated areas in search of the lost ark, then may have traveled to Ethiopia to try to get their hands on it. And while they were there, the Templars may have had a hand in constructing the famous stone churches of Lalibela — churches, chiseled out of solid rock, that could well qualify as the Eighth Wonder of the World. On flat ledges of solid rock, the builders first carved out a 50-foot-deep trench around a block of solid stone. Then they carved a doorway, and proceeded to chisel out the entire interior of each spacious church, with walls, roof and decorated columns all sculpted from the solid stone. Amazing.

And speaking of the Templars, Ethiopian faith gets right what recent theories about the grail legend and Mary Magdalene got wrong. I’ve written before about the confusion caused by Dan Brown’s muddled novel, “The da Vinci Code,” in which he claims the Magdalene’s womb was the Holy Grail. The “grail” was not a cup, not a womb, but a stone. In fact, the Ark of the Covenant, containing the sacred stones, was the gral (stone) the Templars sought. There is power in the ark and its contents, and that’s what the Templars were after.

Incidentally, since the Middle Ages, Jesus’ mother, Mary, has been the one likened to the ark. For like the ark, Mary carried the fire of God within her, and was not consumed by it.

For anyone who’d like to learn more about the Ark of the Covenant, and Ethiopia’s claim to its ownership, I would recommend Graham Hancock’s well-researched speculations in his book, The Sign and the Seal. It reads like a detective story, as Hancock describes being drawn into the ancient legends, and evidence, concerning the Queen of Sheba, the Templars, the Ark of the Covenant and the other sacred mysteries of Ethiopia.

Lee Witting is pastor of the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor. He may be reached at Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.

Written by Tseday

February 26, 2009 at 5:35 pm

My Moments in Addis Ababa

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by Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska


Ethiopia, its culture and people have been part of my life for many years. But it is different every time I come here and it makes me realize how little I know about this country.

It is most probable that if you fly to Addis from another country, you will arrive at night and your first glimpse of the city will be at its dark side. Do not pay too much attention to your first impression. It will get better when the sun rises.

Not many people appreciate the capital city of Ethiopia and many tourists try to escape from there as soon as possible. Of course it is not easy to see the best of the city if one is in a rush. The city is like a woman whose charm you are able to see only after a while.

It does not strike you at the beginning but soon you are under a spell and have no idea how it happened.

Addis – the New Flower
Most tourists come to Ethiopia because they heard about its ancient sites, old churches and thousands of years of history. It is true that many of them are ancient sites but not Addis. This city is new as its name implies “New Flower.”

It is bit over a hundred years old. But this doesn’t mean that the mystical Ethiopia is not there. And it is worth taking a risk to try to make friends with Addis Ababa.

When Menelik, the powerful king of Showa, whose aim was to rule the whole of Ethiopia moved into the area of today’s Addis Ababa, he settled on Entoto, a mountainous province of the country. He was accompanied by his wife, Taitu.

The couple were powerful, perceived by their subjects as beautiful and divine. Moreover, Menelik and Taitu had a blueprint of how to rule the country.

When they settled on Entoto they were already on their way to fulfill their dreams. Not much later Menelik was crowned niguse-negest meaning Emperor and Taitu was crowned Itege or Empress.

She was not only the Emperor’s wife, but also a crowned wife, an Empress with her own rights. The couples influenced Ethiopian fate in almost all of its aspects. The administrational and geographical shape of the country changed completely. What was old Ethiopia constituted one third of the area of the country in its new shape.

The couple also realized that contrary to Ethiopian tradition, they need a permanent capital, a place to settle and to rule.

Entoto was good, but not perfect. Cold at night and dry. Taitu used to travel down the hill to cure her aching back in the hot springs of Fil-wo-ha.

It was her idea that the lower plain was good not only for her back but for a permanent settlement too. It was then that Menelik and Taitu decided to put up their tents and grow Addis Ababa (the new flower) there.

A view from Entoto and the two churches
It is good to go to Entoto when you are in Addis. The view from above shows the city in a completely new perspective. It is quiet, without smoke with no one to bother to you and you can enjoy the eucalyptus forest and the breathtaking view over Addis.



There are also two churches on the hill, Raguel Church and Entoto Mariam Church. Both of them are reminders of the imperial couple.

One was founded by Taitu and the other by Menelik. Both are splendid but there is something extraordinary about the one founded by Menelik – the paintings.

Actually, whichever church you visit in Ethiopia, the churches and their murals do not let you leave before you carefully study each and every representation.

Aba Lukas who painted the murals of the church was an Ethiopian monk from Gonder. A very talented monk, whom I deeply believe one day art historians will admit into the gallery of the most remarkable artists somewhere between Bosch and Broughel.

Inside the city
The marriage between Ethiopia and her coffee has been hailed by many to be the best in the world and with an Italian style. Italians occupied Ethiopia for five years (1936-1941) and whatever harm they did to the country, they also left a bit of their habits behind which turned out to go very well with Ethiopian habits. Coffee places are the best example of this combination.

There are a lot of places to be visited in Addis, providing that you do not run away from this place too soon. Churches each with their own spectacular history and some of them witnessing the most spectacular moments of Ethiopian history.

Like the coronation of Haile Selassie I or another one ‘Selassie Cathedral’ which places the Emperor’ssellasie_cathedral body buried in the year 2000, twenty five years after his death.

From the three imperial palaces in Addis, only one can be visited. The first palace of Haile Selassie I has been housing Addis Ababa University since 1960.

After a failed coup d’etat which was supposed to deprive the Emperor of power, he offered this palace to the University and moved to the new one. Now it is one of the governmental buildings.

menelik_mausoleumUnfortunately, neither the old Menelik’s Palace located next to the Menelik Mausoleum can be visited since the office of Prime Minister has its seat there.

Churches are not everything and being a typical tourist it is good to learn a bit and visit some museums. In Addis there are quite a few of them.

The National Museum with a replica of Lucy is the best known but there are others, like Addis Ababa Museum.

The building of the museum is an old residence which allows visitors to imagine Addis Ababa’s aristocratic life style from before.

A mug of Menelik, one of his daughter Zawditu and lots of pictures are there. museum_addis_ababa

If someone doesn’t find it fascinating, it is better to stay in the nearby Meskel Square where huge white pigeons have been constructed to meet the New Millennium.

According to the Ethiopian Calendar year 2000 has started on the 12th of September 2007.


Addis Downtown
Addis Ababa is a very joyful place with some quarters even more joyful than others. Piazza, the center has the most shopping and nightlife areas and used to be called ‘Arada’ before the Italian occupation. Now it is a name which is only inserted in some lyrics referring to the busy district.

There is another part of Addis that is now struggling to be the most occupied place on Saturday nights. Bole, a district spreading towards the airport is full of modern shops, restaurants and busy night clubs. The list of bars which are recommended by those who know it well will keep you there for the whole time.

At Piazza you feel more of Ethiopian life-style in comparison to Bole; especially, if you decided to stay in Itege Taitu Hotel. It is the first hotel in Ethiopia founded by Menelik’s wife. It is still offering something of the feeling of an imperial era in a very shabby, yet charming style. It is like one of those places which get old and fall apart with dignity.

Crowded streets and people calling you is what imagination brings when we think about African cities and Addis Ababa is no different. Ethiopians often talk freely to each other no European standard of pretending that we don’t see each other.

And foreigners or ‘ferengi’ I say this because it is a term applied by Ethiopians for foreigners. It is not meant to be offending even though some ferengi may feel like killing the 100th person who has called them by this name on the street. It can be tiring when used a lot, but this is one of the cultural differences that we want to experience as we travel. It seems ridiculous to complain.

This is one place in Addis that missing it would be a big mistake. Not only for shopping but for visiting, seeing, smelling and touching. Merkato is a place that you will love to go back to.

It is one of the biggest market places in the world. It is a whole district with a huge number of tiny streets, big and little shops offering you anything you want.

As in all traditional markets, each profession has its own sectioned area. You walk through sellers offering a variety of strange parts of odd machines, threads, garments, fruits, spices, colors, aromas, and you see the people excited, smiling, talking, touching …etc. Touching is also a way of noticing…another piece of culture that we come to experience.

One may ask how many days are needed to enjoy Addis before getting tired of the crowds, cars and smoke. I say, for some two minutes might be enough while others believe that this is the place where they may find a sense for their lives.

But all are tempted to go further to explore Ethiopia out of its capital. Of course whatever you may find in Addis, the real experience and real Ethiopia is waiting for you when you leave the city.

But what can be a big surprise is that when you return to the city before your next trip or to fly back to your country, you realize that you feel at home there.

The man at the corner who is trying to sell you pots from Gambella even though you bought two from him already, seems to be your old friend. It does not matter how ugly Addis Ababa may seem to be for some, you like it more as time passes by.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska has plenty of travel experiences to Ethiopia and is a contributor to our site.

She has specialized in modern history of Ethiopia and currently lectures at Warsaw University, Department of African Languages and Cultures.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska (Ph.D.)

Written by Tseday

November 14, 2008 at 5:04 am

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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

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