Francis visited Ethiopia in March 2020 and has written a series of blogs on this facinating country. For easy reference we’ve gathered them together here.
I thought I’d seen all that Africa has to offer during more than 25 years of travelling the continent, but Ethiopia put me straight. It is wonderfully different to anywhere else in Southern and East Africa, and with so much variety it feels like its own world, apart from the rest of the continent. It’s huge, more than four times the size of the UK, and has Africa’s second largest population, after Nigeria, with more than 110,000,000 people. It also has the world’s second largest donkey population, after China.
Ethiopia is a big country, more than four times the size of the UK, and it’s the sort of place that an aficionado could spend years travelling around thanks to its rich history, vibrant cultures and amazing scenery. There is also some intriguing wildlife, plentiful activity on offer, and the chance to go wild – almost completely off-grid – for the adventurous.
The land we know as Ethiopia has a long, complex, fascinating and reasonably well-documented history, during which time it was mostly known as Abyssinia. That its history is well recorded is no surprise; the ancient Egyptians knew of the region because of the Nile, and people from Palestine and Arabia were regular visitors centuries before Christianity arrived. It’s also home to some of the oldest hominid remains yet discovered, those of ‘Lucy’ and ‘Ardi’, who are three to four million years old. Both were found in one of the hottest parts of Africa, the Afar region near the Red Sea.
Ethiopia is primarily thought of as a cultural destination, and it has such an amazing history and rich culture that many people are happy to just focus on this aspect of the country. However, it does in fact have a very wide range of habitats, and very varied wildlife as a result. With lowland swamps, desert, lush grasslands, acacia savannah, rain forest, temperate forest, alpine regions, and Afro-montane forest, a significant number of endemic mammals can be seen here, the best known of which are the Ethiopian wolf, gelada baboon, Walia ibex, mountain nyala, and Menelik’s bushbuck. Birds feature too, with more than 800 species and no less than 30 endemic to the country. Elephant, lion, giraffe and buffalo can also be seen in some places.
I love Africa’s ancient traditional cultures. They tend to be truly rooted in their places of origin, and intensely connected with the land and life there. They are amazingly varied, most often exuberant and joyful, and always colourful. During my recent trip to Ethiopia I fulfilled a long held desire to visit the Omo Valley. Remote, isolated and largely undisturbed, this fascinating southwestern corner of the country is much as it has been for millennia. The people have maintained their semi-nomadic pastoral way of life along with their ancient animist traditions.