Do you know the country you really fell in love and you were looking forward to getting back when you were still there? The country that you want to still discover more and more after one month? Where did you really find everything what you love on traveling?
I liked some countries after a few days and sometimes it may take even longer time. I needed time to find something for me there. But in this case (Ethiopia), it was really fast and every day more and more. I'm really glad to introduce you to my TOP country of the year and certainly one of the top countries I've ever visited!
Welcome to Africa. Welcome to the birthplace of people. Welcome to a country of many interesting nations and tribes that is perhaps even more diverse than our entire continent Europe. Welcome to unforgettable Ethiopia! ?
I had previously known about Ethiopia that I would love this country. 🙂 I never go to a country unprepared and without info - even if it is a private trip, when I am not a guide and I travel alone or with my friends. So I was looking for information about Ethiopia, and because of that I knew that there will be something for me! These are the reasons that have been confirmed or even exceeded my expectations - This is why Ethiopia is my TOP country:
Incredible mix of cultures that will soon disappear
Many Europeans see Africa very simply or Europeanly. One country = one dominant nation. Slovaks live in Slovakia. Polish people in Poland. Ukrainen in Ukraine. But Africa is more complicated!
In Ethiopia, there are more nations and different tribes than all European nations together. They speak different languages, have different cultures and habbits, different look, different houses and often different behaviors. To get a better idea of the number of local nations and tribes: People in Ethiopia speak up to 80 languages and another 200 dialects! 🙂 Especially the south of the country, around the Omo River, is a very, very rich and exotic goulash of different people and tribes.
For example, you can meet people from the Mursi tribe, where women put earthen plates to the cut and stretched lower lips. There is also a Hamar tribe, where women lubricate their hair with butter and red clay. Hamar men must naked ritually run on the cows, if they want to be real men and meanwhile when it is this ceremony, women are being whipped as a symbol of love and commitment. Or other ineteresting tribe: the Dorze people who build high huts on the mountains that reminiscent elephant heads. And of course that it's not all. You can meet dozens and dozens of other different tribes and people here.
Many of these people still live traditional African life, but the number of people who are already running in t-shirts and not naked is increasing. Roads are being built here and electricity is also coming. The traditional lives of these people are gradually changing, civilizing and modernizing. Therefore, who wants to see the traditional African life... I think you don't have so much time. "I'm giving it 20 years," says our local partner and the really experienced local guide Eremias. The situation is changing every year.
Old, unique and untouched history that is rarity in Africa
I also knew about Ethiopia that it is perhaps the only country in Sub-Saharan / Black Africa (from the Sahara to south) that has a really old civilization, history and monuments that are thousands of years old. For someone who likes history like me, another, very big plus. ?
I mentioned the south of this country is as home for dozens of different, interesting tribes… so the north is the cradle of the old Ethiopian civilization - the Aksum (Axum) Empire. I want to especially mention the town of Axum, which was the capital of this ancient empire - the forerunner of today's Ethiopia. Here you can find thoushadns years old monuments that are as evidence of the rich history of this country.
Incidentally, it is in Axum where the Ethiopians have hidden the true Ark of the Covenant (the legendary, bilblic portable altar with two stone boards - the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses). But they won't let you look at it. ? That's why some people dispute this fact/claim.
It was in today's Ethiopia where the famous, legendary Queen of Sheba lived. Many people believe that the old palace complex found near Axum was her palace. We also know, according to the Bible, that this Queen from Africa visited King Solomon in Jerusalem. She was to conceive with him a son - Menelik I. He brought the Ark from Jerusalem totoday's Ethiopia and became the local king. The other Ethiopian rulers until the 20th century were from this dynasty of King Solomon (the exception of the 12th century). Interesting, pre-old history with a touch of mystery. ?
Another place in the north that you should visit is Lalibela. Here another Ethiopian dynasty - Zagwa - literally cut several Christian temples into the ground in the 12th century. It is very spiritual and historical place that is called Jerusalem or Petra of Africa!
Local history is sometimes submitted in an African style. Let me explain it on a some example: The priest simply gives you a book from the 12th century from the ground to your hands and allow you to browse through it. In Europe it would be somewhere in a museum behind bullet-proof glass, but you are in Africa here, so you can check it as some kind of guestbook at the entrance.
Ethiopia is otherwise the only country in Africa that has not been colonized by Europeans. Ethiopia defended itself against the Italians in the north of country. Ethiopians are really proud of that. In practice, this also means that Ethiopia didn't have such stronger external European influences and still lived its own lives - it's helped to preserve their culture and traditions.
Certainly it is necessary to mention the fact that human comes from this region - East Africa. Our oldest predecessors - which lived about 3 and more million years ago - were found in Ethiopia. ? You can find these magnificent finds, their bones or their appearance how we looked, at the local National Museum in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
Old, old religion
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (as local Christian comunity) is one of the oldest churches in the world! Christianity was in Ethiopia even before our region of Central Europe! And Ethiopians are really happy about their religion and traditions. Being at the Ethiopian mass/during praying time in a typical Ethiopian temple there - it is something unique and literally a cultural experience. They play music with religion sticks and with big drums during the christianiy mass. Everything has a special atmosphere that I haven't seen in Christian temples before. You can enter to the temples only barefoot without shoes, women have a white scarf on their heads and sit separately from men - elements that we have previously associated with Islam, but these things are also part of the old Christianity here.
In addition to old Ethiopian Christianity, there is also a very strong Muslim community or still the remains of the original African religions, which are focused on worshiping ancestors. I am interested in religions - what and how people believe in the world - so Ethiopia has added a further point to its peculiarity and uniqueness! 🙂
Simply, true Africa!
I really love Africa in last years and Ethiopia is still such a true Africa, if I compare it - for example - with South Africa or Morocco, where I often go. So here you can find typical African villages, simple non-easy African life that you may know from some cliché photos or movies. Here the kids will run to you, because in these parts the white face is still a big attraction and something unique that can have some candy in its pocket. 🙂 Here you will really feel the true spirit of Africa!
The roof of Africa and unique nature
The capital of Addis Ababa, where you will probably arrive, lies at an altitude of over 2200 m above sea level and the hills around the city have over 3000 m above sea level. But the highest peaks of Ethiopia are more north-west, in the magnificent Simien mountains. Ethiopia is also known as the roof of Africa. Although Ethiopa does not have the highest peak of the continent (Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania), but no other country of Africa has more hills above 4000 m than Ethiopia. It is no wonder that Ethiopians are so good runners when they train at such heights. ?
When I talk about Ethiopian nature, I can truthfully say - most of Ethiopia is grubbed up and used for growing food for the many, many people living in Ethiopia (because of the huge population boom in recent decades, Ethiopia has already over 100 million inhabitants). But you can still find some national parks and areas where nature is minimally affected and where you can even find some local endemic species - so animals that live only in Ethiopia!
My favorite ones are the most decent monkeys of Africa, which have a mane around their heads like a lion - the gelada monkeys live high in the Simian mountains. They often graze as one big group that can have hundreds of individuals. You can quietly come to sit or sleep between them and they will continue to tear the grass around you.
If you are lucky, you can also see a local endemic wolf or a local endemic mountain ibex. In Ethiopia you can also see typical African animals as lions, hippos or elephants, but in my opinion, who would like to go to Africa for these African four-legged symbols, Ethiopian neighbor - Kenya - is a better choice for it.
Fun and dance
I am young and I like to have fun. 🙂 I like to enjoy music and dance. I like to go somewhere out in night. And this kind of fun life is what really surprised me here! I did not find something about it in any encyclopedia or book before travel here, but I had a really great evenings here! ?
Find a bar - where they play music, dance and drink - was possible in every a little big city. Some of the bars are focuse on local music and local dances - in the north they like to shake with their shoulders, without much foot movement, and I really liked the weird dance!
Or you can choose more modern bars/clubs with modern music. Some of them really looked like some luxury disco bars in Europe. Especially such Addis Abeba is as a paradise for good disco. I went alone several times on a party. So you can imagine that I was the only white guy on the party. I didn't have any problem, quite the contrary. I will not talk about it more - I just want to say that I had also a great fun in this country! ? Who would have said it about Ethiopia???
Curly women ?
Since Ethiopia is a nice mix of nations and tribes, you can find different types of women here. I confess personally, I reall like beautiful, curly hair and darker types of girls - not black, darker. Women from the north of the country - Amhara and Tigrey - look exactly like this (see photo above). Yes, this is also one of the reasons why I will remember Ethiopia. ?
TOP coffee & local food
"Not only human is from Ethiopia, but also coffee," as I usually tell people. Coffee is simply an essential part of this country! It is number 1 for Ethiopian export. And many people consider that Ethiopian coffee is the best in the world! I'm not an expert on coffee, but a few people who work with coffee have confirmed these words to me. I can only confirm that I really like the local coffe! ?
I also want to a little mention the local kitchen. The most typical Ethiopian food is a injara. It's a sour pancake made from local cereal that is called teff. Often it is a sharing food, where the group sits around one larger plate and each tears the injara with hands and then take with the injara the side dishes which are placed on it. The sour taste of this pancake will surprise many Europeans and also me… but I got used to it very quickly and especially when I found my favorite side dishes - beef pieces and bean sauce - and then my Ethiopian day couldn't be without the injara. 🙂 + really good local beer Habesha (it is former name of Ethiopians, when I translate it: "tanned face") and local lunch or dinner was without a mistake. ?
Bonus: The nature wonder of our planet - Danakil
Let me mention at least one more reason why Ethiopia is the best country of the year for me - this place is called Danakil. We can find it in the north-east of Ethipia, in the land of the Afar people. It is a depression (so "height" is below sea level), which is also a desert and the hottest place in Africa! Nature and our planet made a test lab at this place, where they are trying volcanic activity, mixing colors in sulfur lakes or creating beautiful, large salt plains... and not just that! These places are like from another planet you may not have seen before. Geological miracle and for me other natural wonder of our world (video from Danakil here):
As you can see, Ethiopia is a mix of several amazing and incredible elements that you will find in only one country. It is not just about nice natural places, mountains, interesting history or interesting people… but it is a mix of everything and much more! I found here everything why I love traveling. That's why Ethiopia is my top destination of the year - and I believe that it will retain this primacy for a while! ?
Text & photos:
František Fefe Kekely