Ethiopian Highlands – Roof of Africa (04.01.14)
Spectacular, wonderful and ever-changing, the Ethiopian Highlands are without doubt one of the most rewarding of African destinations. This is especially true when a trek through the rural villages and highland settlement regions is included in the itinerary.
‘Spectacular’ due to their sheer size, panorama and feeling of remoteness.
‘Rewarding’ as the opportunity to travel to the less visited areas – mainly on foot, guided by locally trained guides – allows visitors to engage, share and learn from an impressive indigenous culture.
The Highlands, firmly wedged in the Horn of Africa, form the largest high altitude area on the continent, with peaks over 4,500m and plateaus spreading across huge areas above 1,500m. Fertile soil (offering three harvests a year), a temperate climate (with heavy rains causing the flooding of the river Nile in the summer) and a distinctive range of ‘Afromontane’ flora and fauna all combine to produce a plethora of different pastures, pleasures and panoramas, depending on the time of year you visit.
The first time I visited the region – trekking high above the Lalibela mountain ranges with my family – we enjoyed glorious views across a landscape not unlike the Grand Canyon. As these photos show, the sun-soaked mountains and valleys offer very different scenery to the lusher harvest landscapes of the post rainy season, later in the year.
With such memorable personal experiences fresh in our minds, we at Nomadic Thoughts have encouraged a steady stream of clients to venture into Ethiopia over recent years. And although the country has a variety of other exciting destinations on offer, the Highlands remain one of our ‘top of the list’ experiences. Whenever possible we encourage clients to visit them as part of any Nomadic Thoughts’ trip to Ethiopia.
While we are delighted to have seen a steady growth in client traveller interest in this most magnificent of African destinations over the past decade, the delicate balancing act of introducing clients to this region as sensitively as possible is always at the forefront of our minds. The local landscape, flora and fauna are as rich and fascinating as the local Amhara ethnic culture – a culture that has managed to preserve its highland ways largely uninterrupted by outside influence over the past millennia.
Keeping one eye firmly on the sustainability of the Ethiopian Highlands’ travel industry development, we have successfully arranged client trekking excursions through an exciting variety of Highland regions. We have done this mainly by joining forces with local eco-development organisations such as TESFA (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives), which initially operated as part of a Save the Children project to develop rural livelihoods.
Initially receiving grants from the Royal Netherlands Embassy and Irish Embassy/Irish Aid, the development of local guiding expertise, running parallel with locally-owned village accommodation projects, has allowed for the successful development of tourism trekking to the remoter areas. With the distinct aim of bridging the gap between offering an impressive tourism experience and benefiting the local community, the Highland trekking experience, often the highlight of a trip to Ethiopia, has been one of the most successful sustainable tourism projects in Africa.
Where else can you engage with a people living off the land by means of agricultural practices which date back 7,000 years? And this to a backdrop as stunning as the Main Ethiopian Rift, from the Tigray and Amhara regions to the Semien Mountains and source of Blue Nile (Lake Tana). Trekking the lowlands, highlands and rising escarpments you should also encounter the Gelada ‘lion baboons’, as well as unique variety of birdlife. The highlight of which for my family was the vast lammergeyer eagle (bearded vulture) – which swept past our noses as we trekked the highland cliff tops.