Natural Attractions of Ethiopia

Apart from its historical sites, Ethiopia offers exceptional natural features and a rich bio-diversity. The country’s scenery varies from high mountain ranges with alpine flora and fauna, like the Simien and Bale Mountains, to deep gorges, wide valleys, volcanic lakes, savannahs, and semitropical forests, to the lowlands of the Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression (Dallol), one of the earth’s hottest places. Connected with Ethiopia’s extraordinary geography are its diverse ecosystems, placing the country among the foremost in the world for its numerous endemic mammals, birds and plants. While the Rift Valley Lakes are famous for bird-watching, the Awash and Nechisar National Parks are fine places for game drives. Not far from its origin in Lake Tana, on the outskirts of the city of Bahirdar, the Blue Nile River turns into the spectacular Blue Nile Falls. A paradise for birds and definitely a must for every ornithologist! Indulge in trekking or horse-back riding in the national parks, marvel at the fascinating endemic animals and revel in the breathtaking scenery!

Petra Tours Ethiopia - Sof Omar Cave

120km east from Goba is one of the most spectacular extensive cave system in the world. Created by the Web River in the limestone rock, the caves are an extraordinary natural phenomenon and a place of breathtaking beauty. Great caverns have been carved out of the rock creating soaring underground chambers. The caves, now an important Islamic shrine, can be visited with local guides.

Petra Tours Ethiopia - The Blue Nile River

It is this spectacular flood of the Blue Nile that sets it apart from many other great river systems of the world. Each year during the heavy rains, the Blue Nile swells to over 50 times its dry season size and carries with it a staggering 140 million tonnes of rich, fertile silt as it rages, thick and brown, towards the Mediterranean sea.

The Blue Nile from the highlands of Ethiopia, and the White Nile from Lake Victoria meet in Khartoum, and merge in what Arab poets call 'the longest kiss in history', to form the Nile river.

For most of the year, the Blue Nile provides little water compared to the White Nile, but in summer it is very much the dominant tributary.

The Nile River is 6,700km long, and hence is the longest river in the world. Despite the fact that the Nile flows through one of the harshest deserts, and travels the last 2,400km without a single tributary, it never runs dry.

The Nile river is said to be the life of the Egyptians. There is an old saying that 'Egypt is the gift of Nile'. The entire long history of Egypt, even as far back as the days of the Pharoes and the Pyramids, is closely linked to the Nile river. This is still true even to the present day, as the Blue Nile is vital to the livelihood of Egypt. Almost 60% of the water that reaches Egypt originates from the Blue Nile branch of the great river.

The river is also an important resource for Sudan, where dams produce 80% of the country's power as well as irrigation for the Gezira Plain, a project delivering water to over 2 million acres. The Gezira Plain is most famous for the production of its high quality cotton. It also produces wheat, but animal feed crops dominate the production of this vast and rich farmland

It is ironical that although the Blue Nile has such a big economic impact for Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia as yet has not benefited from the Blue Nile. This is more eloquently put in an Ethiopian saying, "Ye Abayin lij wuha temat", which means "the daughter of Blue Nile is thirsty".

Besides the natural features of the Nile river, the fact that so many peoples and countries have vested interest in the river, makes it an extremely interesting geopolitical issue.

Petra Tours Ethiopia - The Blue Nile Falls

Besides the natural features of the Nile River, the fact that so many peoples and countries have vested interest in the river makes it an extremely interesting geopolitical issue.

The power of the Blue Nile may best be appreciated just thirty kilometers downstream from the point where the river first leaves Lake Tana. There, a rumble of sound fills the air and the green fields and low hills on either bank tremble to the Blue Nile Falls. It is one of the most dramatic spectacles on either the White or Blue Niles, a vision of natural strength and grandeur.

Four hundred meters wide in flood, the Blue Nile plunges forty-five meters down a sheer chasm to throw up a continuous mist that drenches the countryside up to a kilometer away. In turn, this gentle deluge produces rainbows that shimmer across the gorge under the changing arc of the sun - and a perennial rainforest. The pillar of cloud in the sky above, seen from afar, explains the local name for the falls, 'Tissisat', water that smokes.

The Blue-Nile Falls is the second largest of its kind in Africa, and is one of the best sceneries in the entire continent.

Petra Tours Ethiopia - Omo River

The Omo River tumbles its way 350 kilometers through a steep inaccessible valley before slowing its pace as it nears the lowlands and then meanders through flat, semi-desert bush, eventually running into Lake Turkana. Since 1973, the river has proved to be a major attraction for white-water rafters.

Petra Tours Ethiopia - Rift Valley

The Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is part of the famous East African Rift Valley, comprises numerous hot springs, beautiful lakes and a variety of bird life. The valley is the result of two parallel faults in the earth's surface between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened, and the land subsided.

Petra Tours Ethiopia - Dallo Depression

The Afar area where the Ethiopian Rift Valley meets the Red Sea is one of the most inhospitable parts of the earth. Much of this area was flooded by the Red Sea, a flood that was subsequently stemmed by fresh volcanic activity that raised barriers of basaltic lava. Behind these barriers, the trapped inland sea that had formed began to evaporate under the fierce heat of the tropical sun - a process that is almost complete today.

Petra Tours Ethiopia - Abaya and Chamo

Arba Minch meaning ‘forty springs’ is situated at an elevation of around 1300m in the foot hills of the Rift Valley and amid a country with abundant water, on a high, cool ridge overlooking two of the southern Rift’s most beautiful lakes Chamo and Abaya. The town is directly opposite Nechisar National Park entrance. ‘Nech’ means white and ‘Sar’ means grass- and the combination ‘white grass’ clearly describing the broad plains area of Nechisar National Park supporting a good number of mammals including, the large greater kudu, with spectacular spiral horns and white-striped flanks, the tiny Guenther’s dik-dik, usually seen in pairs, herds of Burch ell’s zebra, which mingle with Grant’s gazelle and an occasional Swayne’s hartebeest – an endemic subspecies.

The two lakes are divided by a hilly ridge with the delightful name of the ‘Bridge of Heaven’. . Many small rivers empty into both lakes. Crocodiles and hippos abound and hippo hunters from the local Ganjule and Guji tribes carry on a lucrative trade in those parts of the lakes not inside the national park. There is also a crocodile market at the mouth of the small Kulfo River which flows into Lake Chamo. Further north on the shores of Lake Abaya is a crocodile farm, also outside the park boundary.

The birds of this area are many and varied, reflecting the different habitats within the park. Hornbills are particularly striking; the fish eagle is ever-present; kingfishers are numerous along the Kulfo River, and rollers can be seen in the bushes. The shores and islands of Abaya and Chamo are populated by farming peoples such as the Ganjule and Guji, both of whom also have ancient traditions of hippo hunting.