Ethiopia may, rather simplistically, be said to be the convergence point between the classical and African worlds. Northern Ethiopia is rich with remnants of the ancient civilisations, due to the arrival of Christianity in the 4th century and of Islam in the 7th. Unearthed art and architecture of this region point to links with ancient Egypt and the Middle East. A historical circuit of northern Ethiopia takes in the 18th century churches of the Lake Tana monasteries and Blue Nile Falls, Gondar - noted for its magnificent Royal Enclosure, Axum - the ancient capital and seat of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the curious rock-hewn 12th century churches Lalibela.
Far from its stereotyped image of arid desert, northern Ethiopia is dominated by the lush rainforests and grasslands of the Abyssinian Highlands which reach well over 4,600 metres in the Simien Mountains where canyons and rivers incise the massif. The Blue Nile Gorge reaches from Lake Tana to the Sudanese border and is one of the most impressive geological features of the Highlands.
Southern Ethiopia is a vast contrast, culturally and geographically, far more akin to its African neighbours to the south than its Eurasian ones of the north. The Omo Valley is a myriad of tribal cultures, pure African in nature due to its relative isolation over centuries. Of note are the Hamer people, with their body-scarring rituals, copper bracelets and their celebration of the Bull Jumping Ceremony, a three day initiation rite held each spring. On the eastern Omo River, the Karo men adorn their bodies with chalk paint to imitate the guinea fowl and paint colourful facemasks, while the Mursi are best known for the customary lip plates worn by women and the often fatal stick fight rituals by their men. This is a region that is occasionally quirky and ethnologically fascinating.
Though hunting has reduced the prolific game of centuries ago, there is much to enthral the natural history enthusiast with endemics including the Ethiopian Wolf, Gelada Monkey, Walia Ibix and Mountin Nyala, as well as an abundance of birdlife, including the Abyssinian Catbird, Blue Winged Goose and Harwood's Francolin.
The relative high altitude of much of Ethiopia counters its proximity to the equator, ensuring year-round access to much of the country, except for the South Omo during the rainy season of April/May, when roads can be impassable.
Contact our Africa travel specialist, Chris Evans, to arrange your tailor-made Ethiopia holiday on: +44 (0)1242 787806.