Any trekkers with a love of history should consider visiting the East African country of Ethiopia. Trekking holidays in Ethiopia offer an opportunity to visit a wealth of sites, from rock-hewn churches to castles and underground tombs — making this one of Africa’s hidden gems. Organised tours allow easy access to the best sites. Three such places that should definitely not be excluded from any Ethiopia trekking holiday’s itinerary are outlined below.
Dating from King Lalibela’s reign in the 12th and 13th centuries, this site is famed for its churches hewn out of local rock – some carved into the rock face, others freestanding. All of the churches are uniquely captivating. Quite remarkably, compared to some other historic churches around the world, they are still used by priests, locals and pilgrims alike. Visitors on Ethiopia trekking holidays are likely to see Ethiopians, who have made the pilgrimage to Lalibela, prostrating themselves inside and outside the churches. Perhaps the most memorable of all the churches is Bet Giyorgis – 15 metres (49 feet) tall and three-tiered, when viewed from above this building is in the shape of a Greek cross.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Axum was the capital of the Axumite kingdom that endured for almost a thousand years. These ancient ruins comprise towering stelae, palace ruins and underground tombs – and are one of Africa’s most important archaeological sites. The stone monoliths, carved from single pieces of granite and scattered throughout the city, are among the most famous. According to legend, the celestial powers of the Ark of the Covenant were required to transport the monoliths and place them where they stand today. The Ark may remain nearby, in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Sion. The ruins at Axum contain many individual points of interest to see on Ethiopia trekking holidays, such as the tallest fallen stelae in the Stelae Park. Originally standing 33.5 metres (110 feet) high, it represented a slender 13-storey building with rows of windows and doors. One theory concerning its purposes suggests that it was a dwelling for the spirits of the dead.
Gondor is often dubbed Africa’s Camelot and is another must-see location on Ethiopia trekking holidays or cultural tours. In 1636, Emperor Fasiladas made Gondor his capital – he has left behind a great Royal Enclosure containing castles, a banqueting hall, stables, a library, a chancellery and three churches, as well as the nearby Fasiladas’ Bath used for baptisms. Visitors are also recommended to take a look at Debre Berhan Selassie Church, notable for its beautiful frescoes depicting the story of Christ and a unique ceiling decorated with cherubs. Surrounding the church is a wall with 12 towers, each one representing an apostle.
Jude Limburn Turner is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company who run several Ethiopia trekking itineraries. Operating in Asia for over 20 years, they now offer treks and tours worldwide, including destinations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central and South East Asia.