Covering 179 square kilometers, the Simien Mountains National Park lies between 1,900 and 4,430 meters. It is in the Afro alpine zone and the temperature regularly falls below freezing at night. Rosita Forbes, in From Red sea to Blue Nile A thousand Miles of Ethiopia, said this about the Simien mountains:" The most marvelous of all Abyssinian landscapes opened before us, as we looked across a gorge that was clouded amethyst to the peaks of Simien. Thousands years ago when the old gods reigned in Ethiopia, they must have played chess with those stupendous crags for we saw bishops miters cut in lapis lazuli,castles with the ruby of approaching sunset on their turrets an emerald knight where the forest crept up on to the rock, and far away, a king crowned with sapphire and guarded by a row of pawns. When the gods exchanged their games for shield and buckler to fight the new men clamoring at their gates, they turned the pieces of their chessboard into mountains. In Simien they stand enchanted, till once again the world is pagan and the titans and the earth gods learn down form the monstrous cloud banks to wager a star or two on their sport."
These gigantic chess pieces are actually hard cores of volcanic outlets from which the surrounding materials have eroded away over the centuries - one of the most distinctive characteristics of these highlands, which constitute one of the major mountain massifs in Africa. The region includes many summits above 4,000 meters and culminates in the highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dashen, which at 4,543 meters is also the fourth highest mountain in Africa. It is not difficult to climb and can be reached by traveling thorough the park.
There are various campsites and routes to follow and the park is breathtaking. Climbing up form Debark on mules through extensive farmland, the visitor is unaware of the dramatic scenery about to unfold. The land forms various small plateau areas, and the edges of this plunger dramatically to the lowlands to the north and east. The edges of these gorges form the perfect habitat for the animals that this park was set up to protect -Walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf and Gelada baboon. Birds from the area are also a delight to watch as they provide spectacular aerobatic displays off the sheer cliffs, using the currents indigenous to the terrain.
The best time to visit is the dry season, form December to march. Travel is difficult during the long rainy season between June and September when several rivers may be flooded and difficult to cross Trails also become slippery and fog frequently obscures the view throughout the day October, November and December are the coldest months
Bale Mountains area is described by many visitors as the best-kept secret of Ethiopia. Bale mountains national park is 2,400 square kilometers in area converting a wide range of habitats and ranging in altitude form 1500 to 4,377 meters at the highest point in southern Ethiopia. The area of the park is divided into two major parts by the spectacular Harenna escarpment that runs from east to west.
North of this escarpment is a high –altitude plateau, which is formed of ancient volcanic rocks. It is dissected by many rivers and streams that have cut deep gorges into the edges over the centuries that in some places have resulted in scenic waterfalls. The southern part of the park is heavily forested with a variety of exotic vegetation.
Temperature during the dry season are cold at night and hot during the day while the wet season has more moderate temperatures the rainfall is high and usually falls between March and October.
The park can be divided into three main regions. The centre of the park is a high plateau of 4,000 meters with many small peaks including the highest point in southern Ethiopia Tullu Deemtu(4,377m). The plateau is home to the Ethiopian wolf which the park was originally established to protect, along with the Mountain nyala. The north is the riverine plains, bush land, and woodland, where many animals can be seen. The Mountain nyala are best seen in the in here at Gaysay grassland along with other wildlife including Menelik’s bushbuck, Bohor reedbuck, Grey duiker, Warthog, Serval cat, Colobus monkey and Anubis baboon.
The forest of the south harbors: warthogs, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, and rarely the African hunting dog. The birds of Bale include six endemic species many of which are easily seen. Namely, Black-headed siskin, Abyssinia catbird, Abyssinia long claw, Golden-backed woodpecker, Yellow-fronted parrot, and Spot-breasted plover. The other attraction of Bale includes the thirteen mountain streams and many ice-cold tarns that have thousands of fat and beautiful brown and rainbow trout. Stocked with fry from Kenya in the 1960s, these fish have flourished and offer a challenge few fly fishermen could resist.
Many of Ethiopia’s picturesque Amharic place names conjure up in stant and colorful images of their location , and Necdhisar National park is no exception, ‘Nechisar National park. The park is 514 square kilometres in area, 78 of these being water , altitude ranges from 1,108 to 1,650 metres 93,634 to 5,412 feet and temperatures between 11*and 26*c(52*and79*f Rainfall overages 880 mm ( 34 inches) and mainly falls from march to may and September to November. In Arba Minch, the Bekele Mola Hotel enjoys a spectacular position of the edge of bluff-looking out to the lakes and the mountains beyond-but suffers from lack of maintenance and negligent management. In Nechisar National park there is no hotel or lodge accommodation, but camping is permitted. Lakes Abaya and Chamo, lies just to the south; the two lakes are ringed by savannah plains and smoky mountain crests.
A good place to view crocodiles is on the shore of Lake Chamo, just south of the town, at a place popularly refereed to as the’azzo gabaya’ or crocodile market. This spot offers one of Africa’s most preserve displays of big crocodiles. So great is the crocodile population in the lakes that they are now being hunted commercially, but some of the lake shore is with in the park to protect their breeding grounds. The crocodile farm is an unusual attraction close to the Abaya port at the northeast sector of Arba Minch, where visitors can see at close range these primeval creatures at various stages of growth. Much of Nechisar National park can be enjoyed in a full day’s drive from the Bekele Mola hotel, (or from your own campsite) in the fig tree forest near the park headquarters. If you want to explore the park fully you would need to camp a second night near the hot springs in the east. In any case, a four-wheel –drive vehicle is a must to cope with the steep rocky inclines and the rainy –season mud. The park’s vivid contrasts will linger long in your memory –a swath of white grass against the backdrop of clearly defined, deeply cut hills and mountains. From the escarpment on which Arba Minch stands you look down on the clear blue waters of Lake Chamo and the sandy beaches of its northern shores, covered by crocodiles lounging in the sun
It is best to avoid the rains, as roads can be impassable at this time due to the black cotton soil in many areas.
Awash National Park is situated in the lowlands to the east of Addis Ababa, on the main Addis-Djibouti highway, which bisects the park. Its southern boundary is in part, one of the major rivers of the country, which swings north soon after living the park and eventually disappears into the wastes of the Danakil region. The park covers an area of 827 square kilometers, most of which lies at an altitude of around 900 meters. Temperatures in the park are hot during the day and cooler through the night Lake Basaka, located in the park, is a bird sanctuary which supports cormorants, herons, and other water birds. The area is visited by pelicans and flamingos from other areas of Ethiopia.
In the middle of the park is a dormant volcano called Fantale, reaching a height of 2,007meters on its rim. On the southern flank of the volcano a notable dark scar can be seen of the latest lava flow of 1820. The slopes of the mountain hold evidence of former sixteenth century dwellings, seen as remains of walls and settlements of considerable proportion. The interior of the mountain- top crater- where the wispy white breath of steam vents can be seen is still used by the local people the kereyu for grazing their livestock on a used by the local people, the Kereyu, for grazing their livestock on a seasonal basis.
Another feature of the park is the hot springs or Filwuha situated in the extreme north of the park. These can be reached by either one of two scenic routes, which start opposite the main gate. The water of these springs and rivers can easily reach 36 and is used by the local people for providing water to livestock. The unbelievably clear blue pools surrounded by palms invite the dusty travelers to wash- off the dust of the day.
The plains to the south of the main road are excellent for game viewing and are bordered to the south by the spectacular Awash Gorge plunging 250 meters to the river. The wildlife of Awash reflects its dry nature. The Beisa Oryx is seen on many of the more open areas and greater and lesser kudu in the bushed areas. Semarang’s gazelle have distinctive white rumps and are often seen with the Oryx .Other wildlife that live in Awash include Swayne’s hartebeest through only a handful, Salt’s dik-dik, Defassa waterbuck, baboons, and Colobus monkeys. Fantale crater provides a diffent habitat supporting mountain reedbuck and klipspringer. Crocodile and hippopotami are seen both in the Awash River and in the cooler parts of the hot springs and river in the north. Lion, leopard, several, caracal and wildcat are all parts of the hot springs and rivers in the north. Lion, leopard, serval, caracal and wildcat are all seen infrequently. There are more than 300 species of birds on record in Awash.
All times of year are suitable for a visit but the plush green growth after the start of the rains (February and June) marks a particularly good time.
Known locally as Tis Isat- ‘Smoke of Fire’- the Blue Nile Falls is the most dramatic spectacle. The area can get up to four hundred metres wide when it floods, and drop over a sheer chasm more than forty–five meters deep, the falls throw up a continuous spray of water which drenches onlooker up to a kilometer away. This misty deluge produces rainbows, shimmering across the gorge, and a small perennial rainforest of lush green vegetation, to the delight of the many multicolored birds that inhabit the area.
The site overlooking the waterfall has had many notable visitors over years including the late eighteenth–century Scottish explorer, James Bruce. However, today much of the water is diverted to the dam for electric production making the falls not as magnificent as it used to be. But, the beauty of the countryside and the little falls are still worth visiting.
With mysterious ancient stelae fields, numerous hot springs and five unique Rift valley lakes hosting everything from historical island monasteries to endangered birds, this 275km-long corridor is more than just a gateway to southern Ethiopia.
LAKE ZIWAY: surrounded by blue volcanic hills, south of Addis Ababa, and covering a massive 425 sq km is Lake Ziway, the largest of the northern group of Rift valley lakes. It is an attractive enough place, but its best known for its Birdlife. White Pelicans, black egrets, saddlebill, and yellowbill storks are all seen here, as well as a variety of kingfishers and waterfowl.The lake is also home to five little volcanic islands, of which three once boasted medieval churches. Tulu Gudo is home to three monasteries. Debre Tsion, the most famous, has long and enigmatic history. According to tradition, it once housed the Ark of the Covenant.
LAKE LANGANO: Lake Langano, set against the 400m blue Arsi Mountains, is a dream comes true for many Brits. They can do their swimming kit and cross ‘doing the back stroke in the world’s largest cup of English tea’ off their list of fantasies- yes, langano’s water is on the brown side. The birding is excellent on some of the more remote sections of this 300sq km lake, and over 300 species recorded.
ABAYA AND CHAMO: Arba Minch meaning ‘forty springs’ is situated at an elevation of around 1300m in the foot hills of the Rift Valley and amid a country with abundant water, on a high, cool ridge overlooking two of the southern Rift’s most beautiful lakes Chamo and Abaya. The town is directly opposite Nechisar National Park entrance. ‘Nech’ means white and ‘Sar’ means grass- and the combination ‘white grass’ clearly describing the broad plains area of Nechisar National Park supporting a good number of mammals including, the large greater kudu, with spectacular spiral horns and white-striped flanks, the tiny Guenther’s dik-dik, usually seen in pairs, herds of Burch ell’s zebra, which mingle with Grant’s gazelle and an occasional Swayne’s hartebeest – an endemic subspecies.
The two lakes are divided by a hilly ridge with the delightful name of the ‘Bridge of Heaven’. . Many small rivers empty into both lakes. Crocodiles and hippos abound and hippo hunters from the local Ganjule and Guji tribes carry on a lucrative trade in those parts of the lakes not inside the national park. There is also a crocodile market at the mouth of the small Kulfo River which flows into Lake Chamo. Further north on the shores of Lake Abaya is a crocodile farm, also outside the park boundary.
The birds of this area are many and varied, reflecting the different habitats within the park. Hornbills are particularly striking; the fish eagle is ever-present; kingfishers are numerous along the Kulfo River, and rollers can be seen in the bushes. The shores and islands of Abaya and Chamo are populated by farming peoples such as the Ganjule and Guji, both of whom also have ancient traditions of hippo hunting.
Abyata-Shala Lakes National Park is formed by the twin lakes of Abyata and Shala. It has a total area of 887 square kilometers (550 square miles) in size, of which 482 square kilometer (300 square miles) is water.
Both lakes are terminal lakes but very different in nature. The park was created for the many aquatic bird species that use the lakes, particularly Great White Pelicans and Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The surrounding area is mainly acacia woodland, some of which is very degraded by man. Lake Abyata is a shallow pan, only 14 meters (46 feet) deep and its level fluctuates periodically. The beaches are unstable and saline, which creates a very real danger of sinking on the vehicles that venture too close. The lake provides the main source of food for the colonies of great while pelicans on the nearby Lake Shala.
Lake Shala by contrast, is, at 260 meters (853 feet), Ethiopia’s deepest rift valley lake, possibly the deepest lake in Africa north of the Equator. Shalla’s islands are used as breeding sites by many birds, and are home to the continent’s most important breeding colony of Great White Pelicans. The color of the water is like cold tea and there is a high concentration f salts, making it feel soapy. Few fish are found in this lake. It is also one of the seven nesting sites of the bird in the whole of Africa. Apart from the above mentioned birds, some others include White-necked Cormorant, African Fish Eagle, Egyptian Geese, various Plover species, and Herons. Local mammals are not numerous but include Grant’s gazelle, Greater Kudu, Oribi, Warthog and Golden Jackal. Besides, some of the scenery is very beautiful, especially at dusk; the sight of Pelicans dipping into the silver waters of Lake Abyata is unforgettable.
Originally established to protect the endemic Swayne’s hartebeest, the open acacia woodlands of the Senkele Wildlife Sanctuary also hosts Bohor reedbucks, greater kudus, spotted hyenas, serval and civet cats, caracals, warthogs, common jackals and oribi antelopes. The globally threatened Aquila clanga ( greater spotted eagle) is one of 191 bird species documented. With a population of approximately 450. The Swayne’s hartebeest is the most easily spotted species in this 36sq km.
Rising in the highlands south-west of the capital of Addis Ababa the Omo river courses south for almost 1,000 kilometers but never reaches the sea . it is the sole feeder of Lake Turkana, East Africans fourth largest lake , which the river enters just north of the Kenya border.
As it tumbles off the escarpment, the Omo passes from an afro-alpine environment and rain forest on into savannah country, and finally into searing desert lands, through the millennia its flood-swollen waters have cut stupendous gorges. Wild game roam in abundance on both banks, while unique and colorful birds dart in and out of the lush vegetation.
Africa’s premier location for the sport of while water river rafting, its early fury takes it through gorges hundreds of meters deep and over formidable cataracts before it later snakes more peacefully amidst dense jungles and finally across the colorful desert terrain. Its waters boil with fish and the huge shapes of crocodile and hippos.
On the final leg of its journey south to Turkana , the Omo forms the border between kaffa and Gamo Gofa regions. It’s here that Ethiopia’s largest nature sanctuary, the Omo National park , is located, it is one of the richest unspoiled areas of game and yet one of the least visited areas in east and central Africa. Another sanctuary, the Omo National park, has also been established on the east bank of the river. A land of endless, distant horizons. In the dense acacia scrub of the park, close to the river-and in the broad rolling grasslands and deserts that surround it –the traveler enters a lost world, across which few vehicles have ever traveled and which few foreign eyes have ever seen.
Both parks can offer in credible spectacles of Oryx, giraffe, zebra , hartebeest, gerenuk, and gazelle as well as lion, buffalo, and elephants. Both, also have the reputation of being off the beaten path, virtually unexplored, and thus are places in which game can be seen in their natural state. Increasing poaching by the locals is beginning to threaten this previously undisturbed habitat.
Along this southern stretch of the Omo, far away from’ civilization’ indigenous peoples such as the Burne and the karo practice a combination of cattle keeping and flood-retreat agriculture, which has replaced what was once-as little as several decades ago-pure pastoralism .Mago national park and Omo National park are the two major parks in this area.
To the south is the capital of Southern Nations Nationalities Regional State, Awasa, situated on the shores of beautiful Lake Awasa. Enclosed by a gentle chain of mountains, the lake provides an ideal spot for fishing and boating. The lake-twenty –one meters ( 69 feet) deep, with a circumference of sixty-two kilometers (38 miles) –boasts good hotels and campsites, as well as an interesting countryside featuring coffee plantations, fruit groves and the Bale Mountains rising away in the east. The town is also the site of an agricultural research station.
The lake waters carry fish, including barb us, tilapia, and catfish in great numbers. A fair-sized local fishing community uses small boats and simple nets to lure these stocks, as do many species of birds. This lake is known for its grassy dike built to contain the lake’s steadily rising water level is convenient for walks, sightseeing, and bird watching. The abundant storks and herons mingle with kingfishers, darters, plovers, wild ducks, Egyptian geese, crakes, and cormorants, creating a colorful spectacle, in a four-wheel –drive vehicle, it is possible-and pleasant-to drive all the way around the lake , where you will see a myriad of birds as well as picturesque Sidama villages. The town of Awasa itself is an interesting attraction, with a bustling and attractive outdoor market that gives something of the flavor of the life and commerce of the region.
West of Shashemane, heading south after thirty kilometers (19 miles) leads to the largely undeveloped Senkele sanctuary, fifty –four sure kilometres (33 square miles) of savannah and wooded grassland that was established to protect its resident population of Swayne’s hartebeest, one of Ethiopia’s endemic subspecies, the sanctuary is also home to about twelve other species of mammal-including oribi, Bohor reedbuck, and greater Kudu-and ninety-one species of birds.
Sixty kilometres west of shashemene is the village of Alaba kulito, where a turn to the left –of south –west-leads to Sodo, another seventy kilometres (43miles) farther on. Often referred to as Wolay’ta Sodo after the district in which it is situated, the town is the site of a huge and very colorful open –air market, which is well worth a visit. Kaffa is thought to be the original homes of the coffee plant.
120km east from Goba is one of the most spectacular extensive cave systems in the world. Created by the Web River in the limestone rock, the caves are an extraordinary natural phenomenon and a place of breathtaking beauty. Great caverns have been carved out of the rock creating soaring underground chambers.
This underground world with its arched portals, high eroded ceilings, and deep vaulted chambers, is now and important lsamic shrine. It is named after Sheikh Sof Omar, who took refuge here many centuries ago. As you enter the dry, cool caves, you can see how nature has worked a marvel of architecture, there are soaring pillars of stone twenty meters high, flying buttresses, fluted archways, and airy vaults. Finally, when the river itself is reached, the unique sunless sea flows through a deep gorge. The large central hall, named the Chamber of Columns, is dominated by colossal limestone pillars and is one of the highlights of the cave system.
Inside the caves, the only living creatures are bats (which do not usually trouble the visitor), fish, and crustanceans. Crocodile are found in the river nearby but seem to shun the caves themselves. The countryside around abounds with wildlife including dilk-dilk, kudu, serval cat, rock hyrax, giant tortoises, snakes, and lizards, as well as more than fifty species of birds.
An easy side trip directly across from lake Langano, is the Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National park. Lake Abjatta is very shallow at only fourteen meters deep while Lake Shalla, by contrast, is the deepest in the Ethiopian Rift valley at 260 meters deep. Bird life is significant in this area and includes the yellow masked weaver, the red-billed buffalo weaver, the red–billed hornbill, the African fish eagle, the Didric’s cuckoo, the Abyssinian roller, and the superb starling.
Rivaling the attraction of the Blue Nile falls are the thirty- seven islands scattered about on the 30 00 square kilometer surface of Ethiopia’s largest body of water, Lake Tana. Some twenty of these islands shelter churches and monasteries of historic significant and cultural interest. They are decorated with beautiful paintings and are the repository of innumerable treasures.