Today’s Travel Tuesday destination is Ethiopia, courtesy of the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day calendar.
1. Gonder: Strategically positioned at the foothills of the Simien Mountains, one of the highest ranges in Africa, the fortress city of Gonder became in the 17th century the first capital of the Ethiopian empire, under Emperor Fasilides. Surrounded by towering stone walls and filled with juniper and wild olive trees, the Royal Enclosure lies at the heart of Gonder and contains the country’s most important imperial buildings.
- Where: 471 miles/758 km north of Addis Ababa.
- Best Times: September-November for nicest weather; January 7 for Ethiopian Christmas; January 19 for Timkat (Epiphany).
2. Lalibela (pictured above): The subterranean rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are Ethiopia’s most popular—and mysterious—attraction. They have been in continuous use by Orthodox priests since the 12th century, when this remote mountain town was the capital of the Zagwe dynasty. Unique for the technical expertise used in their construction, they are also remarkable for their own refinement and are decorated with handwoven rugs, colorful paintings, carvings depicting saints and Christian symbols, and cross-shaped windows. The oft-photographed flat roof of St. George’s church (Beta Giyorgis) is carved with concentric Greek crosses.
- Where: 454 miles/730 km north of Addis Ababa.
- How: U.S.-based Adventures in Africa has scheduled tours featuring Lalibela. Tel: 866-778-1089 or 303-778-1089; www.adventuresinafrica.com
- Best Times: September-November for pleasant weather; January 7 for Ethiopian Christmas; January 19 for Epiphany; April or May for Fasika (Easter), corresponding to the Gregorian calendar.
3. Omo River Valley: A trip to the South Omo River Valley, much of it accessible only by boat, takes you back thousands of years through a kaleidoscope of vanishing nomadic cultures. Because Ethiopia is the only African nation never to have been colonized by Europeans, the tribes here haven remained nearly intact. The few thousand people who live in these green hills have preserved their culture to a remarkable degree, even as their numbers dwindle. Those who come to glimpse their distinct way of life before it disappears make one of the few tented camps or basic lodges their base, hiring guides to take them on trips to the communities nearby.
- Where: The riverside town of Omurate is 457 miles/736 km southwest of Addis Ababa and is accessibly via private air charter.
- How: U.S.-based Africa Adventure Company offers a 10-day Omo River safari. Tel: 800-882-9453 or 954-491-8877; www.africaadventure.com
- Best Time: July-October for nicest weather.
4. Simien Mountain National Park: The Simien Mountains, know as the “Roof of Africa,” offer some of the continent’s most dramatic scenery: great volcanic plugs, formed 40 million years ago and eroded over the eons into fantastic crags, pinnacles, and flat-topped peaks stretching from Ethiopia’s northern highlands to Eritrea. This is the only place in the world to see many animal species, including the endangered walia ibex and troops of gelada, commonly known as the bleeding-heart baboon for the red patch on its chest.
- Where: Trek begins in Debark 75 miles/120 km from Gonder.
- How: Ethiopian Quadrants organizes treks of various lengths. Tel: 251/11-515-7990; www.ethiopianquadrants.com
- Best Time: September-April to avoid the rainy season.
Read more on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and the calendar line here.