Southern Ethiopia

The Omo Valley

Mursi-womanThe Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia is increasingly popular, with its varied tribal peoples living virtually untouched by modern society. Witnessing the local practices of living purely from natural resources is a humbling and inspiring experience. The landscape is equally spectacular, as it descends from the highlands, to wet forests, through open savannahs, and eventually to the searing desert lands on the shores of Lake Turkana.

The Omo and Mago National Parks are tucked along the banks of the Omo River, the life-giving waterway that runs through the Omo Valley. While traditional African Big Five wildlife sightings are rarely possible, many species still roam these lands.

3359883197_0ef2984a8bThe most interesting natives of this land are the Mursi people, known around the world for their women who wear clay plates in their lower lips and earlobes. A small incision is made into the lips of teenage girls which they stretch over time. The lip plate remains a strong Mursi identity feature, and is a symbol of a woman’s maturity and reproductive potential. Women are allowed to decide for themselves if they wish to slit their lip or not.

The gracious people of the Hamer tribe offer amazing cultural experiences for the visitor. The Hamer women are easily spotted with their characteristic hairstyle – long dread-like ringlets formed by mud and butter. The nightly dance party, known as evangadi, serves as a meeting place for young Hamer bachelors and bachelorettes to mingle and flirt with each other. The most unique ceremony is the Jumping of the Bulls event, where a young man jumps over a line of bulls to officially enter manhood.

Other tribes of the Omo Valley include the Tsemai, Ari, Karo, Dassenech and Erbore, all with their own unique cultures and rituals that have stood the test of time.

Arba Minch marks the entry point to the Omo Valley. Nearby Lake Chamo is home to the crocodile market, one of the best displays of crocodiles in all of Africa. Not far from Arba Minch are the Dorze people, living high in the Gughe Mountains with their beehive-like huts, and the Konso, known for their wooden totem-like erections placed in honor of past warriors.

Rift Valley Lakes

The Great Rift Valley cuts through Ethiopia, beginning the in Middle East, and extending south through Africa to Mozambique. The lakes are as varied as they are plenty. From Debre Zeit to Arba Minch, these lakes dot the landscape providing a home to a variety of birds, a refreshing watering hole to diverse wildlife, and a relaxing location for those in need. Lake Langano is a popular weekend getaway from Addis Ababa, with a variety of water-based activities available. Lakes Abiatta and Shala form the Abiatta-Shala National Park. Lake Abiatta is a shallow soda lake, home to thousands of flamingos, while, in stark contrast, Lake Shala is the deepest crater lake in the country, at 250m. Lake Awassa provides a peaceful setting in the town of Awassa, and is famous on the tourist circuit for its interesting morning fish market. Lakes Abaya and Chamo in Arba Minch form part of the Nechisar National Park. The “crocodile market” at Lake Chamo is one of the best displays of crocodiles in all of Africa.

Bale Mountains & Sof Omar Caves

The Bale Mountains is one of the best places in Ethiopia to see wildlife. The most popular residents here are the endemic Ethiopian wolf and mountain nyala. For birdlovers, the Bale Mountains are a paradise, with over 250 recorded species living in the park boundaries, at least 16 of which are endemic to Ethiopia. The most popular areas for wildlife viewing are the Sanetti Plateau, where the Ethiopian wolf is most commonly seen, as well as the Harenna Forest, a dense, moist forest with an abundance of plant-and wildlife.

Not far from the Bale Mountains lie the Sof Omar caves. Said to be the largest network of caves in Africa, they stretch 15.1km (9.5 miles), with the Web River snaking through the cave system the entire distance. The most stunning feature of the caves are the towering limestone pillars, the most famous of which are located in the Chamber of Columns. Not only a natural wonder, the Sof Omar caves are an important religious center for both Islam as well as local animist religions.