Ethiopia's majestic landscape is one of the main draws for visitors to Africa’s oldest independent country

Africa’s oldest independent country, Ethiopia's wondrous landscape runs from rippling mountains to otherworldly volcanic features. In the ancient capital of Axum and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, meanwhile, visitors will discover that the nation’s human heritage is just as rich as its natural marvels. The best time to visit is October to April, when the weather is dry and sunny and conditions are perfect for hiking; outside this time, it can get cold in the mountains, while temperatures can soar in the Danakil Depression.

The best places to visit in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa
Most people start their trips around Ethiopia in bustling, sprawling Addis Ababa

Most people start their trips around Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. Book into the five-star Sheraton Addis, a Luxury Collection Hotel, a regal property set on a hilltop overlooking the city, and head straight to the National Museum of Ethiopia, one of the best places to visit in the capital. The museum’s big draw is the partial skeleton of “Lucy”, an early hominid believed to have lived over 3 million years ago. Addis’ Holy Trinity Cathedral, burial place of Emperor Haile Selassie, is also worth a visit, along with the Merkato, one of the largest markets in Africa. Marriott Executive Apartments Addis Ababa is one of the best places to stay if you’re here for a longer visit or have families in tow, thanks to its well-appointed one- and two-bedroom apartments, each with a fully fitted kitchen and living room.


The fabled rock churches of Lalibela are a highlight of any tour round northern Ethiopia. Chiselled from stone in the twelfth century, they were created by King Lalibela as a “New Jerusalem” after Muslim conquests stopped Christian pilgrims from journeying to the Holy Land. There are 11 churches in total, all hewn from monolithic blocks, their doors and windows delicately carved out and some of them decorated inside with murals. If you’re short on time and wondering where to go, head for Biete Medhani Alem, believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, and Biete Ghiorgis, the House of Saint George, which is shaped like a giant cross sunken into the ground.


Axum, Ethiopia
Axum, once capital of the ancient Aksumite kingdom, features a church that’s believed to be the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant

Reputedly the former home of the Queen of Sheba, Axum (or Aksum) was once the centre of a great empire. Today, it’s still scattered with reminders of its time as capital of the ancient Aksumite kingdom – carved obelisks, huge stelae, royal tombs, and a church that’s believed to be the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, stolen from Solomon’s Temple by Emperor Menelik I and now guarded by a couple of Ethiopian Orthodox monks.

What to eat and drink in Ethiopia


Injera is a fermented flatbread that acts as a kind of edible plate, onto which spoonfuls of various stews are loaded

Similar to a thick, spongy pancake, injera is a fermented flatbread that is traditionally made of teff flour, a natural superfood. The injera acts as a kind of edible plate, onto which spoonfuls of various stews are loaded, such as doro wat (made from chicken) and misir wat (made from red lentils). The injera soaks up the juices and is then eaten at the end. There are lots of great places to eat injera in Addis Ababa – try Yod Abyssinia or Kategna.

Shiro wot

Made from chickpeas and broad-bean flour, which is mixed with garlic and onions, shiro wot is more of a thickened puree than a stew, but it has a wonderfully silky texture and a delicious nutty flavour. It’s traditionally served alongside cooked greens, such as gomen (cabbage), and injera or other flatbreads.

Gored gored

Gored gored consists of high-quality, tender raw beef, which is cut into cubes and then served with seasoned butter and awaze, a type of spicy chili sauce. Like kitfo, another raw-beef recipe, gored gored is considered a national dish.

Ethiopian coffee

Ethiopian coffee
Ethiopian coffee ceremonies are an integral part of the country's culture

As the birthplace of coffee, you could hardly come to Ethiopia and not try some roasted beans. Indeed, coffee plays such an important role in the country’s culture that many places carry out an elaborate coffee ceremony, roasting the coffee in front of you and infusing it in water before serving it in little cups.

Top things to do in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's Simien Mountains
The Simien Mountains are a trekker’s paradise

Known as the “Roof of Africa”, the Simien Mountains are a trekker’s paradise, with hikes ranging from a short ramble to multi-day adventures like the popular Debark-to-Chennek trek – one of the best things to do on this hike is to catch the sunset at Geech viewpoint, an unmissable experience. The Simiens are home to the endemic gelada baboon, a species of primate that is also referred to as the “bleeding-heart monkey” due to its red chest.

One of the most fun things to do in Bahir Dar, some 500km northwest of Addis Ababa, is to take a boat trip out to the monasteries on Lake Tana. Dating back to the 14th century, the monasteries kept royal treasures and ecclesiastical art safe for centuries. There are too many to visit in one trip, but make sure you see peaceful Narga Selassie, on Dek Island; Debre Maryam, home to ancient manuscripts; and Daga Estefanos, which houses the mummified remains of five Ethiopian emperors.

Dozens of different tribes inhabit the Omo Valley, making a visit here one of the most interesting things to do in southern Ethiopia. Several well-respected operators run trips to see – and, more importantly, interact with – local groups such as the Karo, known for their elaborate body painting, and the Hamar, who wear flamboyant goatskins and decorate their hair with clay and butter.

Hidden gems in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's Danakil Depression
Renowned as the hottest place on Earth, the astonishing landscape of the Danakil Depression is a vast desert of lava lakes, volcanoes and neon-coloured acidic springs

Over 400km southeast of Addis, the Bale Mountains are an alpine plateau of glacial lakes and moss-draped forests. The wildlife-watching is superb, with a number of endemic species calling the national park home, such as the mountain nyala and the Ethiopian wolf, the rarest canid in the world. Alternative things to do here include trekking to waterfalls and fishing in the Web River.

Renowned as the hottest place on Earth, the astonishing landscape of the Danakil Depression, in northeast Ethiopia, is a vast desert of lava lakes, volcanoes and neon-coloured acidic springs. A visit here is one of the most unique things to do in Ethiopia and will also give you a chance to spend some time with the Afar, a nomadic people who eke out an existence amid these inhospitable surroundings.

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Published: July 26, 2022

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