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DISCOVER ETHIOPIA, THE “HOLY LAND” OF AFRICA! By Helen Broadus and David J. Saunders
You are invited to discover a fascinating place called Ethiopia which is affectionately referred to as the “Holy Land” of Africa. Ethiopia, the third most populous country in Africa with over sixty million people, is a landlocked country situated in northeast Africa bounded on the northeast by Eritrea and Djibouti, on the east and southeast by Somalia, on the south by Kenya and on the west by Sudan. The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic, with English as the second official language while French and Italian are also widely understood. Ethiopia has a cooler than average tropical climate due to its mountainous terrain with the rainy season between April and September so the best time to visit Ethiopia is October through March. The national currency is the Ethiopian Birr and visitors may bring as much foreign currency into Ethiopia as they wish but please note that credit cards are not widely accepted outside of most establishments in the cities.
Known as the “cradle of mankind” it is a country rich in history and tradition, full of culture and mystery, overflowing with natural beauty, hospitable people and a very unique cuisine. Perched on a high plateau in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is as old as any known country on the planet. Once known as Abyssinia, the region’s culture and traditions date back thousands of years. Many people choose to visit Ethiopia in order to experience the Historical Northern Route that displays the ancient historical sites as well as showcases religious traditions that are still practiced today to include ceremonies and rituals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which open the traveler’s viewpoint to an undisturbed world of the Old Testament Bible. In no other country is it possible to dramatically be transported back in time or participate in such freedom in the sacred rituals of such an ancient faith.
To know the best of Ethiopia it is highly recommended that you experience the Historic Northern Route. Your first stop will be in Addis Ababa, the third highest capital in the world with over five million inhabitants. The sprawling capital is an ideal place to begin your immersion of Ethiopia’s rich ethnic diversity. There is a wealth of sights to see and enjoy including the home of the headquarters of the African Union as well as Africa Hall, the headquarters of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa, which was designed as a monument to African independence. Addis Ababa also is home to Mercato, the largest market in all of Africa where you can buy exquisite leather textiles, exotic jewelry and fanciful handicrafts while enjoying rich Ethiopian coffee. Other major sightseeing offerings include gorgeous churches, cathedrals and mosques as well as incredible nightlife full of restaurants where you can enjoy awesome local cuisine and cultural entertainment featuring the amazing “shoulder dancing”. You can also visit the museum that houses the oldest humanoid in the world affectionately known as “Lucy”. Overall, Addis Ababa is a perfect combination of safety, great people and fantastic cuisine.
The second stop on your journey of the Historic Northern Route is Bahar Dar, Ethiopia’s third largest city, which gives you access to Lake Tana which feeds into the Nile River where you can see some of the countries’ oldest monasteries. There is also the Blue Nile Falls, locally known as Tissat Falls, which is very scenic. Your third stop on this journey is Gondar which is known as the “Camelot” of Ethiopia because of its castle complex and is one of the most impressive of Ethiopia’s ancient capitals. It was founded by Emperor Fasiladas in the year 1635 and remained the capital for some 250 years. Also of interest are the Bathing Pool and the elaborately decorated Debre-Birhan Selassie Church which features winged angels with afros painted on the ceiling. Continuing northwards on your fourth stop of the journey is the must see Lalibela, which is affectionately referred to as the “New Jerusalem”. The name is derived from its most famous ruler of the Zagwe Dynasty, King Lalibela of the 12th century. It is world famous for its awe-inspiring rock-hewn churches including the famous St. Georges Cathedral carved in the shape of a gigantic cross.
Your fifth and final stop on the journey is Axum (Aksum) which happens to be one of the oldest cities in Africa and home of the ancient Aksumite Empire. Here you will see the ancient ruins of the fabled Queen Bathsheba who, legend says, visited King Solomon in Israel and gave birth to a son named Menelik who began the long lineage of Ethiopian kings who are direct descendants of King Solomon all the way to Emperor Halie Selassie in the 20th century. According to the Orthodox Church, Axum is the holiest city of Ethiopia where Christianity was declared the national religion in the fourth century. It is also the location of the reputed Ark of the Covenant hidden somewhere on the grounds of the St. Mary Church of Zion which was built in the 17th century. Nearby are Axum’s ancient stelae (obelisks) made of single blocks of granite which describes the past glory of an ancient Ethiopia. There is also a unique stone pillar that has three ancient languages carved on it – Greek, Latin and Gneiss (which is the ancient language of the Aksumites).
An added attraction in Ethiopia is a fascinating visit to the city of Harar to witness the feeding of the Hyenas every single night. The city of Harar is also extremely interesting for being the fourth most holy city for Muslims. Other interesting places to visit in Ethiopia include the Omo Valley which is one of the few places in the world where you can still find indigenous people that have not been influenced by the modern world. The southern part of Ethiopia is also an excellent location for an African safari. Also, there are the Simien Mountains which are often called “God’s playground” because of their unique formations. Hiking is available in the national parks where you can find a unique combination of indigenous animals and incredible landscapes.
American visitors to Ethiopia must possess a visa for entry. In addition, possession of a valid vaccination certificate covering yellow fever is required as well as it is recommended that you possess vaccinations against hepatitis and cholera. If visiting the lowlands, malaria precaution should also be taken. All international flights to Ethiopia land in the capital of Addis Ababa. The flagship airline is Ethiopian Airlines which has an extensive network covering Europe, America, Africa and the Far East. In addition, the domestic network of Ethiopia Airlines is extensive and efficient. Addis Ababa is also serviced by other major international airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa Airlines, South African Airways and Kenya Airlines.
About the Authors: Helen Broadus is the President and David J. Saunders is the CEO of Venue International Professionals, Inc. (VIP) which is a full service travel and tourism consulting firm that specializes on African destinations. Together they have visited and conducted escorted tours in thirty-two African countries over the past twenty plus years. For more information about VIP please visit their website at www.venuetravel.net.