5 good reasons to go to Ethiopia
This article is part of our weekly tourist advice column.
It is barely 6 a.m. and the sun is generously shining on Addis Ababa. Only 10 small degrees are felt in the morning at the beginning of November. The 2600 m altitude has a lot to do with it. No time to think about the weather and cool off because the program is busy and we go directly to discover the Ethiopian capital and the origins of the territory.
The traffic is fluid and does not prevent us from venturing into the center. The largest city in the country, with more than three million inhabitants, does not really look like what one might have imagined. Between “chic” or cozy neighborhoods, shanty towns or the business district, the journey allows us to discover one of the facets of this little-known State.
Ethiopia is halfway between poverty and sustained growth. The Chinese have invested the places to help the people to develop and, in return, can supply themselves with certain riches from the ground. They have, moreover, become accustomed to doing this in other African countries. This country, marked by its multi-ethnic character, has more than eighty local languages and dialects! The different populations have, over time, learned to respect each other in order to avoid major worries.
We have now arrived at the national museum, housing many local treasures. The fossil of the famous Lucy, the Australopithecus discovered in 1974 on the Hadar site, is staying there as the main attraction of the establishment. For many, Ethiopia is the unknown. The short visit to the museum makes us understand that the country is the land of origin of many beautiful discoveries.
Lalibela, the local Jerusalem
It only takes an hour’s flight to reach the small Lalibela airport in the north of the country. The landscape is very different from Addis Ababa. Here, the inhabitants, mostly farmers and peasants, live in small huts or maisonettes. The change of scenery is impressive and leaves the impression of stepping back in time. There, eighty percent of Ethiopians still live in the countryside and their sprawling villages.
On the road to take us to the center of Lalibela, we stop out of curiosity in a small village. Despite the (very) precarious living conditions, the inhabitants are warm and do not fail to give us their most beautiful smile as a welcome. The “land of smiles” lives up to its nickname.
The children present are curious and do not let go of us. The lucky ones will receive a ballpoint pen. They do not necessarily ask for money but for school materials… because not everyone has the chance or the necessary materials to be able to go to school.
Our small bus resumes its journey to one of Ethiopia’s top tourist attractions, the site of the eleven monolithic churches of Lalibela.
The place is breathtaking. We stroll through the aisles of the eleven churches, which have the particularity of having been built from top to bottom, in other words, carved out of the rock! The site, marked by a spectacular architectural style, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978.
Beyond the tourists who walk the aisles, it is above all many pilgrims who gather in these sacred places, considered “holy land” for Christians. “It’s like Jerusalem but in Ethiopia“, tells us our guide.
Religious songs, punctuated to the sound of keberos and sistres, local instruments, particularly attract our attention. We are one of the lucky ones: once a month, a big religious ceremony takes place in the heart of the churches. This is good, it is today and it is before our eyes. This procession lasts from 3 to 9 hours and is animated by priests / and monks who take turns in bewitching songs.
We end the day in a memorable place that will leave us speechless. The Ben Abeba restaurant offers us a breathtaking view of a sunset that no one will forget.
Hours go by and sleep is hard to find. During the night we were all woken up by religious melodies. No, pilgrims do not stop on days of prayer, even in pitch darkness.
After a short night’s sleep, we go to the biggest market in the area. Vendors of all kinds scramble tens of kilometers on foot to reach, on Saturdays, the location of the market.
Despite the activity and the prevailing chaos, the market is rather well organized. There is a specific section for spices, a space for cereals, an aisle for clothes and a place for the sale of cattle… There is something for everyone.
It is time to leave. The return plane will not wait for us. After this short morning visit, we find the airport and then the capital to participate, on the last day, in the biggest race in Africa. The Great Ethiopian Run brought us closer, a little more, to this oh so sympathetic and generous people. The 10 kilometers of route allowed us to say goodbye to this fabulous country, which, without a doubt, will make us come back one day or another as there are still beauties to discover there.
5 good reasons to go to Ethiopia
Ethiopian Airlines will be our best ally on site if we want to travel easily. Africa’s largest airline serves no less than 125 destinations around the world. Wholly government-owned, it is also the largest national company with 16,000 employees. Ethiopian Airlines offers reduced prices, around 50 €, for domestic flights (22 in total!) If one goes to Ethiopia initially with their company.
Ethiopia has such a rich history that it is impossible to detail it in a few lines. Despite the insistence of Italy during the twentieth century, the Ethiopian people are the only ones on the African continent not to have been colonized, which constitutes the greatest national pride.
The diversity of activities
There is so much to see that it is best to spend two weeks (or more) in order to have time to fully experience your Ethiopian adventure. It is essential to take the pulse in Addis Ababa, visit the rock churches of Lalibela, walk in the Danakil desert or walk in the historic Omo valley. Just to name a few …
Fans of spicy dishes will be in heaven with injera, the traditional Ethiopian dish, made from teff cakes, a variety of cereals, accompanied by surprising and spicy sauces. Coffee lovers will find no better paradise than its country of origin. You can especially enjoy the “buna”, the coffee ceremony in many bars and restaurants. A lady in traditional dress will burn incense before serving the coffee in the cup and perfume the latter with a fragrant herb to give it an original flavor. Assured crush.
The people are very friendly and welcoming. Ethiopia will feel right at home. We were told before our arrival that we would leave marked by human warmth and sincere smiles towards us. This was verified very quickly.