Have you ever wondered what natural attractions Africa holds outside of the usual safari circuit? Well, wonder no more, as below you can find out all about the natural wonders of Ethiopia.
Spot Gelada monkeys in the Simien National Park
A destination that falls far from the beaten track for most tourists, Ethiopia possesses great cultural and historical wealth. Contrasting and complementing these qualities are its terrific natural landscapes, which house yet more treasures of their own in the form of their wonderful endemic wildlife.
So, today we are going to introduce you to Ethiopia’s most incredible natural attractions, which, for the sake of simplicity, we will be splitting into two – the Simien National Park and the Bale Mountains National Park.
The Simien National Park
Located in Ethiopia’s north, the Simien National Park is the better known of the two natural attractions we are telling you about today. Possessing Unesco World Heritage Site status, this destination is fantastic for scenic, rewarding treks and wildlife spotting. Indeed, its variety of endemic species make it a particularly exciting choice for the latter, which we will go into more detail about in a moment.
Before we do so, let’s first take a look at the landscape and heritage of the Simien National Park. Its dramatic landscapes of sharp precipices, deep valleys and imposing mountain peaks have been formed by centuries of erosion. Outstanding natural beauty is the result; in fact, so dramatic is the scenery here that it is not uncommon to hear it spoken of in similar terms to the Grand Canyon in the US.
Treks through the Simien Mountains can include the Imetgogo viewpoint, which offers breathtaking vistas over the towering peaks of the range – including some that stand over 4,000 metres tall – as well as Ras Dejen, which is the highest point in Ethiopia. They can also feature visits to Chenek, which is one of the finest spots in the park for viewing wildlife.
And indeed, the biodiversity that this Unesco World Heritage Site houses in the form of endemic wildlife is just as big a draw for travellers – as is the fact that you will have the freedom to spend a significant amount of time searching for it. This is because, unlike popular African safari destinations such as Botswana, the Simien Mountains are little-frequented by tourists and, as such, restrictions on things like how much time you spend exploring are much fewer and further between, while you are also likely to come across far fewer fellow holidaymakers.
In terms of the wildlife you can see, there is an impressive range, but the species that should top your list are those that are endemic to the region, such as the Gelada monkey. Also known as the bleeding heart baboon owing to a heart-shaped red patch on its chest, the Gelada monkey is only found in the Ethiopian highlights, which means that this is a creature you won’t spot anywhere else in the world.
Luckily, it is extremely easy to see them during your time in the highlands, as they group together in quite high numbers, forming herds known as bands, which are typically 200 monkeys strong. They can be found all over the mountains, are very distinctive and this, combined with their strong population, means you are virtually guaranteed to come across them.
Look out for the Walia Ibex, too, which is also found nowhere else in the world. An endangered species, they forage and graze in open areas, and you have a particularly good chance of spotting them in Chenek.
Bale Mountains National Park
Located in the south of Ethiopia, Bale Mountains National Park tends to be less frequented than the Simien National Park – largely because it is quite out of the way. However, while it might not have such an established reputation as the Simien Mountains, it offers no less in terms of wildlife; in fact, this is the finest place in the country to see endemic birds, and is home to numerous endemic mammals. Indeed, this area actually boasts Ethiopia’s densest concentration of large mammals.
Spanning more than 2,000 sq km, this park is home to a variety of habitats, which of course is the reason behind its diverse wildlife. During your time here, it is worth trying to visit a number of these to get a feel for the different landscapes it possesses, not to mention the range of animals that live here.
The Bale Mountains is divided into five vegetation areas, including the Harenna Forest, which is the second largest forest in the country. However, while this is home to plenty of wildlife, the density of the greenery means that it is not easy to spot. The Gaysay Grasslands are a much better area for seeing wildlife, particularly the mountain nyala – another endemic species. Here, you should also be on the lookout for bohor reedbuck, warthog and golden jackal, as well as birdlife such as the Abyssinian longclaw, Rouget’s rail, wattled ibis and spot-breasted plover.