A list of the top 10 things to do in Ethiopia, from visiting one of the most active volcanoes in the world to trekking in the Simien mountains, known as  ‘Africa’s Grand Canyon’.

10 things to do in Ethiopia

1. Erta Ale volcano: Erta Ale is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and one of the best things to do in Ethiopia. It looms above a deadly desert. Is it worth the risk? Honestly? Yes.

Visiting Erta Ale is challenging, but it’s also thrilling, enchanting and life affirming. We’ve considered before the pros and cons of risky travel and concluded that we should explore as much as our nerves allow. This, ladies and gentlemen, this is adventure.

2. Dallol: Dallol is a collapsed volcano crater filled with acid ponds, poisonous chlorine and sulphur gases, inside the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia. It lies 116m (380ft) below sea level in the Danakil Depression of the Afar region in Ethiopia and is part of the East African Rift where three continental plates are being torn apart. 

It is a dizzying riot of colour created by rain and seawater from the nearby coast, heated by magma. Awesome!

3. Trekking in the Simien Mountains: Known as  ‘Africa’s Grand Canyon’, Simien Mountains National Park is one of the finest trekking destinations in the Africa. Carved by massive erosion over millions of years, the park is a vast cauldron of jagged peaks, plunging gorges and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500m (4,920ft).

The park is also home to several rare species including the gelada baboon, the walia ibex and the Ethiopian wolf, which is the world’s rarest canid. With a range of trekking options available, from day trips to mammoth multi-day thru-hikes, choosing a Simien Mountains trek can be a bewildering process alone.

4. Churches of Lalibela: The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are the most extraordinary man-made sites in sub-Saharan Africa. The 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are a focal point and a place of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Christians.

In mid-January, during the Timkat (Epiphany) festival, thousands of white-clad worshippers descend on the churches. For tourists, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are an unmissable stop on tours of Ethiopia’s historic northern circuit.

5. Hiking to the Tigray churches: To reach the Tigray churches, one must scale sheer rock, inch along narrow ledges and skirt around yawning chasms – all in bare feet. There are around 120 Tigray churches that were carved into cliff faces, caves and improbable plateaus between the 4th and 15th centuries. The lofty perches were chosen we’re told for their natural protection against enemies of the Church.

6. Gondar castle: Gondar castle could easily be mistaken for the set of Robin Hood and in many ways, it is the least expected sight in Ethiopia. Gondar served as the capital of Ethiopia from c.1636 to 1855, and today is home to not only Gondar castle (also known as Fasiladas castle), but several other castles, churches, monasteries and royal buildings constructed by Fasiladas’ successors.

7. Blue Nile Falls: The Blue Nile Falls – or Tis Abay in Amharic, meaning “great smoke” – is a somewhat poor relation to the famous waterfalls found in listicles. It’s no Angel, Iguazu, Victoria or Niagara, but the 42m-high (138ft) Blue Nile Falls still offers a dramatic display.

8. Lake Bishoftu: Lake Bishoftu is a glittering fortress of calm just 45km southeast of Addis Ababa. Bishoftu is a town of seven crater lakes created by a series of volcanic explosions in the vicinity of Bishoftu town. In the landlocked borders of Ethiopia, the lakes provide a much welcome connection to water and a weekend retreat for frazzled Addis Ababans in desperate need of peace.

9. Bale Mountains: It’s a long, bumpy drive to Bale Mountains National Park, located 400km southeast of Addis Ababa. Known for its wildlife more than any other park in Ethiopia – it is only the second place on the continent where you can see an Ethiopian wolf – the park is also home to some of Ethiopia’s finest montane scenery.

10. Addis Ababa: The capital is home to Lucy, the famous fossil that rewrote the story of humanity; it houses over 110 international embassies; and is the headquarters of the African Union.

Addis Ababa offers excellent cuisine, absorbing museums and a unique insight into the many contradictions of Ethiopia. It’s both international and parochial, progressive and religious, developing but struggling. We recommend a DIY Addis Ababa walking tour.

Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Djibouti includes a comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Ethiopia.

Independent travel isn’t easy in Ethiopia given the huge distances. If you prefer to travel on a tour, we recommend G Adventures and their small group Ethiopia tours.

Lead image: Atlas & Boots