Ethiopia can be visited at any time of year. People are often advised against traveling during the rainy season, which normally runs June until early October, but with Lalibela being accessible all year through this is less of an issue than it used to be. Indeed, having traveled in Ethiopia at most times of year my self, I actually feel the rainy season is my favorites period, partially because there are fewer other tourists at sites such as Lalibela, but above all because the scenery is so much more impressive when the countryside is green and well watered. A lovely time of year is September trough to early October, when the whole country is a riot of wild meskel flowers.
The most popular time to visit Ethiopia is between October and January, when the rains are over but the countryside is still quite green. Many travelers try to schedule their trip to coincide with important festivals such as Ethiopian New year, Ethiopian Christmas, Timkat and Meskel. The European winter is also the best time for birds, as resident species are supplemented by large numbers of paratactic migrants.
One area where travel options are restricted during the rains is South Omo. The rains here typically fall in April and May, but they may run earlier or later, for which reason March and June are also probably best avoided, as are the short rains in October.
EATING AND DRINKING
To anyone who has traveled elsewhere in Africa, Ethiopian food comes as a welcome revelation . instead of the bland gristle and starch that is the standard restaurant fare in most African small towns, Ethiopia food is deliciously spicy and you can eat well virtually anywhere in the country. Contrary to many people’s expectations, most of Ethiopia is fertile, food is easy to find, and portions are generous and very cheap. If you are travelling in tandem you’ll often that one plate of food – which costs little more than a dollar – will be adequate to feed two.
ETHIOPIAN DISHES A wide variety of different dishes is available in Ethiopia
Itineraries are subjective things, dependent on how much time you have, your chosen or enforced style of travel, and your interests. The simplistic itineraries included in many travel guides annoy me for several reasons. Gristly, they tend to assume we all have the same interests. Secondly, they are packaged to periods that may not suit everyone (what use is a three- week itinerary if you’re spending 16 days in the country?). Thirdly, they encourage an inflexible approach to travel, and discourage initiative and adventurousness. Finally, in countries that I know well, they always seem to be ridiculously crammed- fine on paper, but in reality they would involve spending most of your time in the country whizzing about in a car or bus.
Rather than prescribe a few itineraries, this section attempts to give you an idea of what is and isn’t possible-to allow you to think through what you want to do in Ethiopia, and how long you would need to do it. In that sense, it is an overview of the regional part of the guide
· Bahir Dar and Lake Tana
Set at an altitude of 1,830m, lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia, which a surface area of 3,673.km2, and it is also the source of the Blue Nile, a connection that explains many of Ethiopia’s links with the ancient world. Tana was known to the ancient Greeks as Pseboe, and to the ancient Egyptians as Coloe; it was described by a 5th-century Greek dramatist as the ‘copper-tinted lake … that is the jewel of Ethiopia’. Even today, the papyrus tankwa that sail the lake bear a striking resemblance to the boats of ancient Egypt.
Aside from the southern spur from which the Nile flows, and on which Bahir Dar is situated, Tana has a broadly circular shape measuring some 65m in diameter. It was formed at least 20 million years ago, by an ancient lava extrusion that effectively functions as a natural dam. Averaging some 14m in depth, and dotted with more than three dozen islands, many of which are inhabited, Tana harbors at least 26 different fish species, of which 17 are endemic to the lake. Tana is also renowned for its varied birdlife- flotillas of white pelican being a particularly common sight- while the shallows support small pods of hippos.
The Tana area is the traditional home of the Amhara, a Christian people whose language was for many years the national language of Ethiopia. Tana was also the homeland of Falasha who, although they are ethnically identical to the Amhara and speak the Jewish mainstream before 650BC. There are now very few Falasha people left in the Tana region; after centuries of persecution, most of them were airlifted to Israel in 1991.
Between the collapse of the Zagwe Dynasty in the late 13th century and the establishment of Gonder as a permanent capital in tee early 17th century, Tana was the political and spiritual focus of the Christian empire. Several temporary capitals were established on or near the lake’s shore, and it is here where the Portuguese force led by Christopher Da Gama spent most of its time in Ethiopia. Many of the island monasteries which dot lake Tana date to this time, though some are older – the monastery at Tana irkos, for one, appears to have seved as a spiritual retreat long before Christianity was established in the region.
The largest city and most important tourist centre in the Tana region is Bahir Dar, which lies on the southern lakeshore close to the Nile outlet, and is connected by regular flights to Addis Ababa and the other major tourist centers of northern Ethiopian. In addition to being an attractive city in its own right, Bahir Dar serves as the obvious base from which to explore the region’s other main attractions: the Blue Nile falls and myriad monasteries dotted around the lake. Bahir Dar aside, the only significant lakeshore settlement is Gorgora, which lies on the northern shore 60km from the city of Gonder, and is connected to Bahir Dar by a weekly ferry service.
This large on the southern shore of Lake Tana has sticky tropical ambience unusual for northern Ethiopia and more similar to somewhere like Awassa in the Rift Valley. Pal – lined avenues and pretty lakeside vistas make Bahir Dar a decidedly attractive town and it is also the base for visits to the Blue Nile falls and lake Tana’s many monasteries. With tourist amenities that are among the best in the country, Bahir Dar is an excellent place to settle in to for a few days.
As recently as the early 1950s, Bahir Dar was Little more than a sleepy lakeshore village,he overshadowed politically and economically by Gonder to the north and Debre Markos to the south. The initial stimulus for its subsequent rapid growth was the decision to build a hydro-electric plant at nearby Tis Abay, subsequent to this Bahir Dar has become one of Ethiopia’s most important industrial centres and the country’s seventh-largest town, with a population approaching the 185,000 mark-and western outskirts that have visibly expanded since 1994, when the first edition of this guide was researched. In 1995, Bahir Dar leapfrogged ahead of Gonder Dessie and Debre Markos-the respective former administrative capitals of the defunct provinces of Gonder, Wollo and Gojjam-when a capital was selected for the redrawn federal region of Amhara.
Although the town itself is modern the waterfront church of Bahir Dar Giyorgis, situated near the main traffic roundabout, was founded at least 400 years ago. The original church was knocked down to make ay for a larger and more modern but not unattractive edifice in the Haile Selassie era but the compound also houses a disused two-story stone tower, architecturally reminiscent of the Gonderine palaces, and whose construction is attributed to the Jesuit priest pero Pais during the reign of Susneyos.
As with many larg Ethiopian towns, the juxtaposition between urban modernity and rustic traditionalism is a striking feature of Bahir Dar, no more so than in the bustling daily central market, which ranks as one of the finest in the country and well worth a Couple of hours. The goatskin injera-holder called an agelgil, traditionally used by herdsmen as a picnic basket, makes for an unusual and inexpensive souvenir, as does the locally produced white shama cloth.
Many travelers love Bahir Dar without reservation, but others reckon that their time there was marred by the histrionics of various guides, fixers and compulsive yellers. The ‘hassle factor’ does seem to have died down considerably in recent years, but it remains the case that initial impressions tend to be influenced by whether you arrive by air or by bus. The reception committee at the bus station is notorious for latching onto travelers and trying to set up their accommodation in the hope of a commission from the hotel, which the traveler will cover by paying more than they would have otherwise-and be warned that such touts often claim any hotel that doesn’t give commissions is full. Staying at slightly more expensive hotel, or away from the town centre, will definitely help protect you from unwanted attention. So too, will exploring the town in the company of a local guide.
The hot springs resort of Sodere , situated at an altitude of 1,700m stretches for about 1km on the banks of the Awash River about 25km south of Adama. The large, 3m-deep swimming pool, usually dry during the week, is a popular draw for Addis weekenders. For most tourists, however, the Awash River and fringing riparian forest will probably be of greater interest. Vervet monkeys and crocodiles are often encountered in the grounds, and the odd hippo still makes an appearance. The reverie forest also offers excellent birding. The resort is riddled with footpaths and makes for a diverting day or overnight trip from Adama.
Koka Dam and Hippo Pool-
Damming the Awash River about 15km west o Adama as the crow flies, Koka was constructed in the late 1950s, with war reparation payments from Italy. Since opening in 1960, it has been one of Ethiopia’s most important sources of hydro-electric power. The lake formed behind the Dam-called Koka or Gelilas – is to the best of my acknowledge the most expensive artificial body of water in Ethiopia with a surface area of 180km situated cloth to the Dam wall is the plush Gelila place, which Hailesilasie donated to charity in the 1960. For several years after that, the Gelila Hotel had the reputation of being one of the plushest Hotels in Ethiopia , managed by the Ghion group with all profits diverted to charity Sadly it is no longer functional
Although it is an important sight for water birds Koka is of interest to tourists primarily for a hippo pool in the Awash River a short distance downstream from the dam at the confluence with the river that rises from the nearby Garagadi Hotel spring. The pools here a reliable place to see hippos, various birds and – with increasing frequency –crocodiles. The turn-off south towards the dam lies on the main Addis Ababa Follow this road for 12km to a construction sight where you can park. A guide is bound to offer his services but it’s easy enough to make your own way to the river. The birds and animals are most active. It’s an easy side trip in a private vehicle, but public transport is limited. road about 15kmwest of Adama and 10km east of Mojo at a big blue sign.
Garagadi Hot Springs-
This collection of 16 hot springs bubbles from a large field about 15km from Adma near the village of Wenji and the eponymous sugar plantation. The steaming pools formed by the hot springs are bathed in by local villagers, as well as by pilgrims from elsewhere in the country. Further away from the springs crocodiles are still resident in the river-which eventually leads to the hippo pool at the confluence with the Awash described above.
In theory, Garagadi could be visited in conjunction with Koka Dam, as the two sites are only 6km apart along rough 4*4 tracks, but this would require crossing the dam wall (which doubles as a bridge) and this is not permitted without written permission! As a result, it’s debatable whether the springs are worth the effort of vesting. But if you want to, you need to backtrack almost 30km from Koka to Adama, and then turn right immediately before the Awash Hotel as you enter town. Follow this gravel road for 10km, then turn right as you enter Wenji village, following the signpost for Wenji Feeding Lot. The track is rather indistinct from here, so keep asking directions, and you should reach the river and you will get to the springs after another 2km. Occasional public transport connects Adama to Wenji, where you can walk or take a “gari” to the springs.
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