Full of natural wonders and ancient culture, this vast country is also home to booming cities and a youthful population. Explore it with our guide on where to go, what to see and where to stay

Why go?

Ethiopia has astonishing landscapes, ranging from the flat-topped mountains of the north to the otherworldly multicolored salt flats and lava lake of the Erta Ale volcano in the Danakil Depression; rich flora and fauna(this is the country where residents and hyenas live in peace); and ancient cultures, including the the city of Axum (one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Africa), the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Africa’s oldest mosque, Nejashi. It also has one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies (second only to Ghana), with booming cities and a young population. For all this, it is yet to attract large numbers of tourists, and visitors can often find themselves alone in this amazing country.

One-month itinerary: the historical northern route

Start the historical northern route in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and also the headquarters of the African Union. Due to its elevation (2,335 meters) the city has a near-perfect climate of 21 to 24C year-round.

See the remains of Lucy – our 3.2 million-year-old ancestor – in the National Museum, then walk through the old Italian neighborhood of Piassa, to have a coffee in the Taitu Hotel, the city’s oldest, founded by the Empress Taitu Betul in the early 1900s. Stay at the Wutma Hotel, a backpackers’ favorite (details below)

From Addis travel to Gondar (two days by inter-city coach, local loncina bus or Aba Dula minivan) via the town of Bahir Dar on Lake Tana and its inland lakes and the Blue Nile Falls.

Gondar is dotted with castles built during the 17th century and is a relaxed place to stop for a few days (stay in the Ethiopia Hotel with its high ceilinged retro cafe – details below). From Gondar you enter the Simien Mountains. Treks can be arranged in Debark, the small town at the entrance of the Simien Mountains national park. There is an affordable camping inside the park, or try Africa’s “highest lodge”, the Simien Lodge at 3,260 meters (doubles from £80 B&B June-August, rising to £176 in October-November and January).

From Debark, travel into the Tigray region, which more or less (together with neighboring Eritrea) lies over what used to be the antique kingdom of Axum. The town of Axum, with its Stelae park and palaces, is a fantastic place to stay for a couple of days. It’s also surprisingly laid-back (where else can you get close to the Ark of the Covenant, allegedly housed by the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion?).

Continue reading A backpacker’s guide to Ethiopia: a one-month itinerary at The Guardian
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