Ethiopia Travel Guide - Backpacking and traveling in Ethiopia - Africa

Ethiopia has recently been named as one of the top twelve tourist destinations for 2007 by Frommer's Travel Guide and is slowly emerging out of the shadows caused by years of political strife .

Situated in the eastern Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is one of the earliest Christian kingdoms in the world and the second most populous African nation. Despite being rich in culture, wildlife and ancient history, Ethiopia is still commonly associated with famine and decades of civil war, which eventually saw independence for the northern colony of Eritrea in 1993. It therefore comes as a shock to discover there are probably more tourist attractions packed into this one country than anywhere in Africa .

This vast magical landscape has ancient monolithic stone churches in the remote mountain village of Lalibela that predates anything in Europe . In the holy town of Aksum , there is a magnificent stelae , stolen by Mussolini's invading army in 1937 and recently returned by the Italians in 2005 , that would tower over any Egyptian obelisk and inside the beautifully painted monasteries of Lake Tana , you can find monks hand painting illustrated manuscripts, just like their European counterparts did a thousand years ago.

Ethiopia converted to Christianity in the 4 th Century AD and the predominately Christian north is awash with such a rich history that it will capture the imagination of even the most experienced traveller. The threadbare village of Lalibela was one of the original twelve UNESCO world heritage sites and they are home to eleven ancient monolithic churches, which have been magnificently chiselled out of a single mass of red limestone. The Church of St George , which is named after Ethiopia 's patron saint, is arguably the most famous and indeed exquisite of the monolithic structures.

The northern tourist route, which is the mainstay of every guided tour, will inevitably lead visitors to the ancient town of Aksum and it is said to be the holiest place in Africa . The Ark of the Covenant carried down the mountain by Moses it is reputed to have been discovered here. Aksum is an enchanting place to visit and the town is quite literally honeycombed with ancient tombs, monasteries and churches. It is also famous across Africa for a series of 1,700 year old stone obelisks, which are deeply mysterious and date back to the reign of the first Christian King, Ezana, in the 3 rd Century. In the nearby town lies Gondar , which is the former imperial capital of Ethiopia and it is now known as Africa 's Camelot because of its selection of picturesque medieval century castles.

Lake Tana is fifty miles south of Gondar and is the source of the Blue Nile , which slowly floats from there to neighbouring Sudan . The lake has a series of islands, which are home to some precious Christian monasteries, where monks devote their lives to prayer and write precious religious manuscripts in Geez on goat and horse skin. Lake Tana is a swollen butterscotch paradise and a leisurely cruise is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to the region, especially during the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in the nearby village of Bahir Dar .

A trip to Ethiopia is many ways like a journey back to the beginning of time, where inside the blistering Rift Valley, some of our earliest ancestors, hominids, first walked on two feet about 3.5 million years ago. Probably the most famous hominid, Lucy, or Australopithecus afarensis to give her proper name was discovered in 1974 and she can now be found inside the basement of the national museum in Addis Abada. The sprawling capital of Ethiopia boasts the largest street market in the world, where an opportunity to eat the local dish of injera will almost inevitably arise. Injera is the country's bread or pasta equivalent, which is often served with a dollop of meat stew known as a wat, a spoonful of spicy sauce and a ladle of fresh salad. Once it is stirred together, you can tear off delicious chunks of injera in a friendly group situation without the assistance of a fork or spoon.

Another famous Ethiopian custom is chewing Khat, which is a mild stimulant indigenous to the Red Sea that brings on a delirious sense of euphoria and enhances the ability to talk. The debauched French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, abandoned Europe in the nineteenth century to go travelling across Africa and briefly settled inside the Islamic city of Harar , where he became rather fond of the substance. Harar is forth holiest city in Islam with ninety mosques and is also the greatest centre of Islamic learning in Africa . Indeed while the Ethiopia 's ancient north and central regions are still largely affiliated with the Orthodox Christian religion, Muslims make up one third of the country's population.

Ethiopia is of course an extremely diverse nation and one that is rich in culture, ancient history and beautiful landscapes. The luminous wilderness of Africa is available for those looking to enjoy a more environmental vacation and Ethiopia is a paradise for birdwatchers with over 850 exotic species roosting very year. Although while it might not be able to compete with Kenya or South Africa when it comes to spotting big game, there are dozens of National Parks and the Simien mountains provides some of Africa's most vigorous trekking opportunities. The Blue Nile rises south of the Simiens and organised boat trips navigate down the river, where you can regularly see wallowing hippos and vast flocks of pelicans.

The southern reserves of the country boast lions, elephants, giraffes, leopards and a variety of different gazelles, which all form part of the fabric of an enchanting African nation. Always mysterious and revered for its ancient religious history, there is a colourful and mystical charm about Ethiopia that even fellow nations in the African kingdom are unable to boast about. An unlikely destination for the sheltered visitor and challenging even for the bravest traveller, there is however something truly unforgettable about arriving in such a beautiful nation and opening up the treasure troves of the ancient past.

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