Addis Ababa, the temperate and well watered "New Flower" founded by Emperor Menelik II at the close of the 19th century is the world's third-highest capital city and is set below the Entoto hills. It is the diplomatic capital of Africa, having served as the headquarters of the Organization of Africa Unity (now the African Union) since its inception in 1963. Today, the capital is a cosmopolitan modern city steeped in ancient Ethiopian traditions, boasting world-class tourist amenities and a lively nightlife, yet also offering access to forests, well-maintained botanical gardens and other green spaces. Addis Ababa offers you historic churches including Sellasie (Trinity) cathedral, with its Arabesque facade, is where Emperor Haile Sellassie was buried in 2000. Another relic of Emperor Menelik II's reign is St. George's Cathedral which later served as the coronation site of Empress Zewditu and Emperor Haile Sellassie. The capital is also studded with interesting museums including the National Museum of Ethiopia displaying 'Lucy' the hominid skeleton dating back 5.5 million years. The Institute of Ethiopian Studies Ethnographic Museum has a wealth of fascinating displays exploring the cultures of South Omo, as well as the country's largest collection of traditional musical instrument, costumes and medieval ecclesiastic artworks. Mount Entoto houses the historic churches of St. Mary and Raguel; and provides a stunning view of the capital.
Protected by imperial decree since the 15th century reign of Zara Yaqob, Menagesha is the most substantial indigenous forest in the vicinity of Addis Ababa. A network of footpaths provides an opportunity to see black-and-white colobus monkeys, Menelik bushbuck, and endemic birds such as the yellow-fronted parrot, the black-winged lovebird, the banded barbet and the Abyssinian catbird. The possible activities include walking through the indigenous forest with a good chance of bird watching and wildlife viewing; and cycling.
An extinct volcano, Mount Wenchi, rises to 3,386m and the Afro-alpine moorland of its upper slopes, studded with relict patches of natural forest, can be accessed along a 4x4 road connecting the towns of Ambo and Woliso. The densely cultivated cater encloses a large and beautiful crater lake and the island Monastery of Wenchi Chirkos, founded in the 13th century by Tekle Haymanot, an Ethiopian saint recognized in foreign churches including Egypt. In addition to boating across to the monastery, a local ecotourism association offers a selection guided day hikes and pony treks ranging from the 4km Fincha trail to the 16km Bagoba-Abagalalcha Trail, which follows the lakeshore before heading to the Dawala hot springs and waterfall. Therefore the experiences here include horseback riding, walking, village tour and brief boat trip. This trip is doable in one full day starting very early morning and back late afternoon. However, overnight at Negash Lodge in Woliso (with beautiful garden) is highly recommended.
The monastery was founded by Ethiopian Saint Abune Tekle Haymanot, within a steep riverine canyon in 1284. Later it became the political centre of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and it is where Emperor Lebna Dengal received the first Portuguese mission to Ethiopia in 1520. The Italian army destroyed the original church in the 1937 massacre that claimed the lives of 800 monks, deacons and lay worshippers. The modern church, its domed roof decorated with stained-glass windows, remains an important pilgrimage site. Also of interest are the medieval cave church where Tekle Haymanot used to pray, the 'Portuguese Bridge' built in the 1890's by Ras Darge, and the gelada baboons and abundant birdlife that inhabit the gorge. Located 90km from Addis, it can be visited in a day trip.
Lake Ziway is one of the Rift Valley Lakes and is located south of Addis Ababa. You will be welcomed by the community guides and can enjoy a short boat ride around the lake with stops at Bird Island, Debre Sina Island, and, finally, visit Womecha on the mainland. At Bird Island you will see the seasonally submerged island that is home to thousands of aquatic birds. On Debre Sina Island, you can go on a short hike and learn about the history of the island, which some say once held the Ark of the Covenant. You will be able to visit the church on the island and see some of the artifacts associated with the Ark. Finally, you will see beautiful views of the lake and surrounding areas at Womecha on the mainland. And if you are lucky, you may even get to see some hippos bathing in the lake! Overnight, you stay at the Batu Haile Hotel. Next morning head south to Lephis Forest - a Sanctuary of the Senses - 2 to 3 hours' drive from the town of Ziway. Tucked away in Ethiopia's Central Rift Valley, Lephis Forest is situated just south of Lake Langano- far enough for the bustle of urban life to fade into the slower pace of the traditional village. The forest is amongst the region's most pristine and secluded natural wonders, with breathtaking views, endemic bird and wildlife species, and a natural waterfall. There are two options for overnight stays, either at a lodge on the shore of Lake Langano or camping in the forest (best for bird watchers!)
The closest UNESCO World Heritage Site to Addis Ababa, the mysterious Tiya Stelae Field, located 88km south of Addis Ababa, comprises 36 megaliths erected to mark mass graves of young males and females, possibly soldiers, who were laid to rest in a foetal position. Little is known about the constructors of these monuments, or the meaning behind the stylized swords, unadorned circles, leaf-like symbols and other features engraved upon them, but they are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture. Oddly, the stelae are roughly contemporaneous with nearby Adadi Maryam (68km south of Addis Ababa), Ethiopia's southernmost functional rock-hewn church, attributed by legend to King Lalibela. Adadi Maryam is easily visited en route to Tiya, along with Melka Kunture prehistoric site, where a museum documents the many important fossils and Stone Age artifacts uncovered there.
Bordered to the south by the gaping 150 meter deep Awash River Gorge, the 756km Awash National Park protects a semi-arid tract of Rift Valley floor inhabited by dry-country antelope such as the handsome Beisa Oryx and magnificent spiral-horned greater kudu. A bird checklist of almost 500 species includes Arabian bustard, African swallow-tailed kite, northern carmine bee-eater, Abyssinian roller and the endemic yellow-throated serin and near endemic rock chat. Scenic highlights include the spectacular crater of Fantelle Volcano and peculiar Lake Beseka set amidst stark black volcanic rubble at its base, as well as the surging waterfall at the head of the Awash Gorge and a field of palm-lined hot springs regularly frequented by Hamadryas baboons. A dusk visit to Aga Edu Cave might reveal some of 20 plus spotted hyenas that have their dens there. An overnight at Awash Falls Lodge at the center of the park is recommended in order to explore the national park.