From lush Afromontane forests and horizonless inland seas to the austere salt flats of the Danakil and windswept peaks of the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia is truly a land of breathtaking scenic variety and rich biodiversity.
Ethiopia’s scenic centrepiece is a mountainous central plateau that covers half of its surface area and supports the vast majority of its population. The most extensive contiguous block of fertile land in the eastern side of Africa, this elevated plateau stands almost entirely at altitudes above 2,000 metres and includes dozens of peaks that top the 4,000m mark, among them Ras Dashen in the Simiens, the fifth highest mountain in Africa.
The Ethiopian highlands support a remarkable diversity of habitats, each seemingly more scenic than the next. There are lush evergreen forests inhabited by monkeys and parrots, tall sculpted sandstone cliffs studded with ancient rock-hewn churches, high moorlands covered in green grass and pastel-shaded heather, and cultivated fields of tef, wheat and maize.
The Blue Nile, which rises in Lake Tana, is associated with two of Ethiopia’s scenic highlights. The first – traversed along the road between Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar – is the 1,500-metre deep Blue Nile Gorge, Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon. The second is the Blue Nile Falls, a popular day trip from Bahir Dar. Other massive gorges, almost as imposing as the Blue Nile, have been carved by the Tekaze and Wabe Shebelle Rivers.
Bisecting the central highlands, the Great Rift Valley is the world’s most extensive tectonic chasm, hemmed in by sheer 1,000m-high escarpments and studded with a series of beautiful tropical lakes.
The northern Rift Valley, also known as the Danakil, is one of the world’s most volcanically collective regions. Dipping to 116 metres below sea level, and possessed of thrillingly austere beauty, this unique region is swathed inactive volcanoes, bubbling lava lakes, vast blinding salt flats and hostile soda lakes.