Some of Africa’s largest and most awe-inspiring cave systems run labyrinthine into the limestone slopes of eastern Ethiopia. Known to be at least 15km long, the Sof Omar Caves, carved by the Web River in the lowlands east of Bale, is Africa’s largest network of limestone caverns. No expertise or experience is required to explore a 1.7km walking trail that leads from the main entrance through a series of immense cathedral-like chambers studded with limestone pillars that stand up to 20m high.
The Sof Omar Caves are named after a renowned 12th-century sheikh who took refuge there. The site is still an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Muslims.
Set on the steep eastern slopes of the 3,574m-high Mount Arba Gugu, the little-known Achare-Aynage Caves form Ethiopia’s second most extensive system of subterranean caverns. Sixteen entrances were identified and 7km of passages surveyed by scientific expeditions between 2004 and 2007.
The limestone caves of eastern Ethiopia served as canvasses to the cattle-herding people who inhabited the region around 5,000 years ago. The country’s best-known prehistoric cave paintings, depicting humans, livestock and various wild animals, can be found on the Laga Oda Rock Shelter near Harar. The little-visited Mount Kundudo, also in the vicinity of Harar, houses a beautiful limestone cave system as well as several superb rock art sites.
Many of Ethiopia’s most characterful churches have been built into or excavated from caves. Accessible examples include the stunning Aksumite church of Yemrehanna Kristos and pretty monastery of Nakuta La’ab, both near Lalibela.