As one of the most physically and biologically diverse places in the world, Ethiopia’s territory of over one million square kilometers consists of a dissected highland massif surrounded by arid lowlands. Some experts recognize as many as 36 different agro-climatic zones. Its dramatic geographical features and fascinating fauna and flora consisting of hundreds of species unique to Ethiopia enhance this uniqueness.
Ethiopia has about 80% of all land above 3000 m altitude in Africa. Its landscape ranges from the truly unique Afro-Alpine moorlands of the Bale Mountains, to sizzling deserts as low as 120 m below sea level, representing the lowest point on earth. Ethiopia has been described as the water tower of Africa. This is because of its 12 major river systems, at least 15 lakes and its heavy monsoonal rainy season lasting for four months (June -September, with light rains in March – April). The following are some of the major natural attrations in Ethiopia.
The Blue Nile Falls
Known locally as Tis Isat – ‘Smoke of Fire’ the Blue Nile Falls is the most dramatic spectacle on either the Blue Nile rivers. Four hundred metres (1,312 feet) wide when in flood, and dropping over a sheer chasm more than forty-five metres (150 Feet) deep the falls throw up a continuous spray of water, which drenches onlookers up to a kilometre away.
This misty deluge produces rainbows, shimmering across the gorge, and a small perennial rainforest of lush green vegetation, to the delight of the many monkeys and multicoloured birds that inhabit the area.
To reach the falls, which are about thirty-five kilometres (22 miles) away, drive south from the town of Bahir Dar for about half an hour and stop at Tis Isat village. Here travelers will quickly find themselves surrounded by a retinue of sometimes overzealous youthful guides who, for a small Fee, will show the way and point out several places of historic interest en route.
After leaving the village the footpath Meanders first beside open and fertile fields, then drops into a deep rift that is spanned by an ancient, fortified stone bridge built in the seventeenth century by Portuguese adventurers and still in use. After a thirty-minute walk, a stiff climb up a grassy hillside is rewarded by a magnificent view of the falls, breaking the smooth edge of the rolling river into a thundering cataract of foaming water.
A rewarding but longer trek is to walk along the east bank all the way to the back of the falls; crossing the river by papyrus boat known as ‘Tankwa’.
Dalol (Denakil Depression)
This part of Ethiopia is called the Danakil Depression, one of the remotest and lowest places in the world. It is a unique land formation within the Great Rift Valley system. Until today, this part of the earth is unstable pulling each other to the opposite side.
Erta Alle is particularly a unique Lave Crater Lake that erupts all the time. Erta Alle is the best place to study geology particularly the volcanic eruption, besides it has a great adventurous value.
Erta Alle means Smoking Mountain according to the local Afar Language. Normally, the caravan is taking of late afternoon and will travel the whole night with some stops. Along the route, while walking at night, one can admire the reflection of the volcanic lave that frequently erupts from the Crater Lake situated on the hill 613 meters high. Without over exaggeration the journey, walking on strange but amusing extensive dry lava feels like walking on the moon.
Dalol is, 100 km from North West of Erta Alle, the lowest part of Danakil Depression, 116 meters below sea level. It is an extremely hottest (with average temperature of 30-50 degree centigrade) and inhospitable but enjoyable place. It is an extraordinary colorful landscape for real adventures. Another wonderful event is the salt extraction from the nearby lake Asale. The local people supply salt to the Tigray dwellers. The only means of transportation in Camels.It is an unforgettable experience to see the hundreds of camels’ passing by.
Ethiopian Rift Valley
One of the most striking geographical features of Africa is a giant tear across the earth’s surface: the Great Rift Valley. Extending from the Middle East to Mozambique, the Rift Valley passes right through Ethiopia, endowing the country with some spectacular features that range form hot, dry, and barren places to a string of beautiful lakes.
Volcanic activity, which greatly contributed to the formation of the Rift Valley, continues up to present times. In Ethiopia, it finds expression in the presence of hot springs in many parts of the country, as well as volcanic cones in the Danakil Depression in the north-east.
Sof Omar, a tiny Muslim village in Bale (south east of Ethiopia), is the site of an amazing complex ofnatural caves, cut by the Weyb River as it found its way from the nearby mountains. The settlement, which is a religious site, is named after a local Sheikh.
Armed with torches and an official map, visitors to Sof Omar Cave make their way underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream, and there can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high eroded ceilings and deep echoing chambers.