That’s right, you can feel 8 years younger the minute you step foot in Ethiopia without the need for surgery or expensive cosmetic treatments!
The reason? Ethiopia uses a different calendar, called the Ge’ez, which is 8 years behind the international calendar. How cool is that?
Besides being known for its exquisite coffee and its Olympic runners, Ethiopia is home to one of the oldest Christian civilizations on the planet. This, combined with a very small tourism industry, makes Ethiopia one of the most exotic travel destinations in the world.
If you love exploring archeological sites like Indiana Jones, then you will enjoy Ethiopia’s historical route, which features three main cities: Gondar, Axum, and Lalibela. This is, by far, Ethiopia’s main attraction.
Where to Begin
You can start this tour in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital city. Depending on your time, you can either visit each location comfortably by plane, or be more adventurous and go by land.
If you choose the former, Ethiopian Airlines has direct flights to and from each of the three locations. Their planes are very new and comfortable and the service onboard is top class. Besides, all three destinations are only a short flight away from Addis Ababa, about one hour on average.
However, if you have more time available and wish to be more adventurous, I strongly recommend you hire a driver with an all-terrain vehicle and hit the road. Even though most parts of the country do not have paved roads, the scenery is spectacular, especially when you drive through the majestic Semien Mountains.
European Elegance in Gondar
The first place along the historical route is Gondar, located in the northwestern part of the country. As you enter the city you will discover the art-deco style of many structures built in the 1930’s during the short-lived Italian occupation.
But the real magnet that draws people to Gondar is a very well preserved medieval castle which belonged to Emperor Fasilides when he made Gondar the capital of Ethiopia in the 1600’s. Many guide books refer to this place as the Camelot of Africa because the architecture of the castle is very similar to those in Great Britain.
Near the castle, in Gondar, you can find the Debre Berhan Selassie church or “Trinity at the Mountain of Light”. This religious site was built in the 17th century and inside you can admire the colorful paintings of Haile Meskel, one of Ethiopia’s most revered artists. Here in Gondar, you can take advantage of your time and try the injera, the traditional Ethiopian dish.
Pilgrimage to Axum
After you visit Gondar, the drive to Axum is about six hours heading north, close to the border with Eritrea. You’ll be driving through the awe-inspiring Semien Mountains National Park, yet another spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll know you’ve entered the mountain range the moment you start smelling the fresh scent of eucalyptus.
Axum is to the Orthodox Christians what the Vatican is for the Catholics. It is a holy site where you’ll find the most important church in Ethiopia, the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this church is that it is said to house the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the tablets with the Ten Commandments.
Other sites you must visit in Axum are the ruins of the Palace of Queen Sheba and the impressive Axumite monuments at the Northern Stelae Park. If you are invited, attend a coffee ceremony, this is one of the most beautiful expressions of friendliness in the Ethiopian culture.
Be Indiana Jones in Lalibela
Saving the best for last — your final destination of the historical route is Lalibela, famous around the world for its rock-hewn monolithic churches built during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Lalibela is often labeled as the “Petra” of Africa due to the similarity of architectural structures that exist in Petra, Jordan.
Each of the 12 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela has a name and a purpose, but the two most important for both archeologists and tourists are Bet Medhane Alem (the biggest rock-hewn monolithic church in the world) and Bet Giorgis, or Saint George, the best preserved of all.
Don’t be surprised if you start singing the Indiana Jones tune unintentionally as you walk through the hallways of this fascinating archeological complex. It’s almost inevitable!
Believe it or not, Ethiopia actually has a wine industry. Their most famous red wines are the Gouder and the Dukam, both produced by government initiative. Even though there are no native grapes in the region, the Gouder is made from a blend of grapes and has a strong, dry taste almost going towards a Côtes-du-Rhône.
Among other wines, Ethiopia also produces the Tej, a golden color wine made out of honey. It is semi-sweet to sweet and the alcohol content by volume varies from 13 to 14%.
Planning your trip
If this article entices you to make the journey to Ethiopia, know that it’s a place you won’t regret visiting! Remember that Ethiopia is located in a politically fragile region of the world, so as with all destinations, it is highly recommended you ‘put your ear to the ground’ and check travel reports/warnings before you go.
Unless you have several weeks or all the time in the world to travel around Ethiopia by bus, we suggest going through a reputable travel agency to book your trip. Hiring a private guide/driver during your time in Ethiopia is very affordable. A recommended travel agency is Paradise Ethiopia Travel.
Teanaste’lle’n and have a safe trip.