Legends live in a cloud of uncertainty, loosely believed by many, even though they are unverifiable. Ethiopia, the oldest country on the continent of Africa, is a land full of legends, believed to be the birthplace of mankind, coffee, and the Queen of Sheba. Whether or not the legends are true or merely myth is not the point; legends espouse human values and the search to understand them is always a transformative experience. No matter what you learn or believe of the legends, the truth is that Ethiopia is a land of captivating people, wilderness and spirituality. Here are 8 reasons why you should experience Ethiopia:
1. Venture onto the "roof of Africa" to view endemic wildlife
Walk on the "roof of Africa" over the continent's highest mountain range and through the deepest gorges in the Simien Mountains, part of Ethiopia's northern highlands. Offering expansive vistas and panoramic views, the area is also a critical habitat for several of Ethiopia's endemic species: the walia ibex, gelada baboon, and the rare Ethiopian wolf. Other resident mammals include rock hyraxes, jackals, bushbuck, and klipspringers. Ras Dashen, the fourth highest peak in Africa, rises to almost 15,000 feet, amongst several other impressive peaks.
2. See the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
Lalibela is arguably one of the most important religious and historical sites in Africa, and certainly in the entire Christian world. Although it's not widely known in the west, Ethiopia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Legend has it that King Lalibela was exiled in Jerusalem and returned to Ethiopia to build a New Jerusalem. The Church of St. George was carved from a type of volcanic tuff and has been referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."
3. Visit Lake Tana & Bahir Dar
Bahir Dar rests on the shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, and is one of the most scenic cities in the country, with its wide avenues, palms, jacaranda trees, and lake views. For centuries, Bahir Dar has been a trading center for the region; the tankwa, the traditional papyrus boats, still transport goods across the lake adding a sense of timelessness to city. Visitors can also explore the ancient monasteries that remain on some of the 21 islands dotting Lake Tana.
4. Wander through the castles of Gondar
King Fasiledes named Gondar capital in 1636 ACE and by his death in 1667 ACE Gondar's population had reached 65,000, its wealth and beauty well known throughout the land. Visitors can walk among the castles of the royal nnclosure, ornate churches adorned with Ethiopian cherubs, and royal baths. It's still easy to imagine Gondar in its glory days as capital of Ethiopia.
5. Explore Axum, the home of the Queen of Sheba
Axum, once the ancient capital of Ethiopia, holds many mysteries and ancient relics for archaeology lovers and legend seekers. According to local legend, Axum was the home of the Queen of Sheba, written about in the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quran, who Ethiopians believe was Queen Makeda. Many also trace their roots to King Menelik, believed to be the son of Queen Makeda and King Solomon, who started the Solomonic dynasty that ruled Ethiopia for over 3,000 years. Visitors can explore the ruined palace of the Queen Of Sheba and St. Mary of Zion complex, the oldest Christian site in Africa.
6. Get close to the alleged Ark of the Covenant
There are many legends surrounding the Ark of the Covenant and many have searched for it, including Indiana Jones in the movie Raiders of the lost Ark. The Ark of the Covenant allegedly contained the 10 commandments, among other things, given to Moses of the Hebrew/Christian Bible. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Axum, now claim to be the holders of the Ark of the Covenant and while you can see many replicas in churches throughout Axum, the real one is kept in a guarded chapel in the city of Axum.
7. Get caffeinated in the birthplace of coffee
Many legends surround the origins and history of coffee but most point to the Horn of Africa as the coffee plant's native origin. According to popular Ethiopian legend, Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder discovered coffee's energizing effects when he saw how excited his goats became after eating beans from the coffee plant. Coffee lovers will be in caffeine heaven as they savor espresso with the locals, reveling in a legendary cup of coffee.
8. Experience the Timkat Festival
Timkat is the most important festival of the Ethiopian calendar and celebrates Epiphany, when the 3 kings of Christmas gave their gifts to the baby Jesus. The festival is celebrated all over the country but most spectacularly in Lalibela, where crowds dress in white and dance to drums while priests parade a replica of the ark of the covenant through the streets in a grand procession. Timkat is held on a different day each year but usually falls in mid-January. Space fills up fast so plan on booking at least a year in advance or considering celebrating Timkat in a smaller city or town in Ethiopia.
No matter what you believe about its legends, Ethiopia offers visitors authentic experiences with nature, people and spirituality. To learn more about Ethiopia check out our Land of Legends trip itinerary or contact Chris Moriarty, our Africa expert, about a custom trip to Ethiopia!
"My time in Ethiopia was enlightening, exciting, tiring and remarkable. Ethiopia is a destination that leaves images imprinted in your mind; vibrant and impossible to erase. It is also beautifully lonely, in a way that true adventure travelers seek. The traditions are rich, the cultures intact and the people friendly, diverse and captivating. I hope I can return soon, and again and again for years to come." - Wildland Alumni