THE RIFT VALLEY (MID-SOUTH-EAST)
The Rift Valley system is the only natural site that can be seen from space. Here varied plant and wildlife is scenically interspersed with glamorous bodies of water and diversified marine and bird life.
The Ethiopian Rift Valley divides Ethiopia into two almost equal parts. It extends from Mozambique to the Middle East for about 2,500km and runs from the south-eastern to the north-western tips of Ethiopia. It encompasses unique bio-diversity: the lowest point on earth is located in the north-east (the Danakil Depression is 116m below sea level); Ethiopia’s second highest peak (Mount Tuludimtu at 4373m above sea level) is located in the south-east. About four national parks, more than six crater lakes, and rivers with breathtaking marine and bird life are found at either end. The Rift Valley is also rich in various land forms such as gorges, rolling plains, cliffs, and escarpments.
The cradle of humankind, homeland of Lucy, the oldest hominid fossil on earth at 3.5 million years, this valley is still an ideal hunting ground for culturally rich ethnicity. The most colorful cultures and people, which account for more than 50% of the total number of tribes, are found in this part of the country. The most colorful and best preserved cultural peoples, the Mursi, Hamer, Karo, Konso, Erbore and others inhabit this area.
The Rift Valley lakes provide pleasant areas for bird watchers in particular and nature lovers in general. Big game birds such as flamingos, pelicans, storks, herons and cormorants have settled in these lakes. They also provide nesting grounds for other birds: starlings, weavers, eagles, kingfishers, love birds, sun birds, swallows, swifts, plovers, etc.
The Awash, Netch Sar, Dinsho (Bale Mountains) and Mago National Parks are home to exotic wildlife. Apart from the diversified flora and fauna, animals ranging from big game to small mammals can easily be seen in their natural habitat: elephant, buffalo, lion, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, kudu, nyala (endemic), jackal, baboon, oryx, gazelle, bushbuck, etc.
SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK (NORTH-WEST)
Great gullies and gorges split the highland plateau, while old volcanic plugs break up the skyline. Three endemic animals can be visited here: Gelada baboon, Ethiopian wolf and Walya ibex. Apart from the wildlife experience, the Simien Mountains provide some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. That is probably the reason why UNESCO considers it a world heritage site. It is easily accessible from the historic towns of Gondar and Axum.
AWASH NATIONAL PARK (CENTRAL)
Awash National Park is geographically located in the main Rift Valley system. Dominated by savannah vegetation, it is home to various mammal and bird species.
Mammals found in the park include lion, leopard, water buck, Anibus baboon and Colobus monkey. The Awash River crosses the park and is home to hippopotamus and crocodile. In the park, numbers of lowland birds such as kingfisher, emerald spotted wood dove, secretary bird, fish eagle and tawny eagle, francolin and about 300 other species of birds can be seen.
With the main highway dissecting the northern and southern parts, Awash National Park has extra treasures to offer. The hot springs near Fentale Mountain in the northern section make an enjoyable half-day trip. The Awash River falls into the southern section of the park and is a perfectly refreshing addition to an interesting game drive through the 756sq. km. area. The Afar and Kereyu nomadic tribes are an additional sight in the park.
BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK (SOUTH-EAST)
This park is home to the endemic mammal species of the mountain nyala, Ethiopian wolf (simien fox), Menelik’s bushbuck, lion, Bhor reedbuck, greater and lesser kudu, leopard, warthog, etc.
Hygiene Abyssinica and juniper trees dominate the park giving a suitable environment for birds such as thick-billed raven (endemic), Roget’s rail (endemic), wattled ibis (endemic), etc. Mount Tuludimtu, the second highest peak in Ethiopia (4373m), adds to the beauty of the landscape. The mountain is surrounded by forests and escarpments, which are ideal spots for trekkers.
ABYATA SHALLA NATIONAL PARK (RIFT VALLEY)
This park is located about 200km south of Addis. Situated in the main Rift Valley, it has two beautiful lakes, Abyata and Shalla. The park is home to a few mammal species and many birds. The two lakes in the park are found side by side yet have different features. Lake Shalla is the deepest lake in the Rift Valley (260m) and Lake Abyata is the shallowest (13m). Lake Abyata is home to enormous numbers of big game as well as nesting birds whereas Lake Shalla is devoid of birds. An ostrich farm is another charm in this national park and it is the only park where ostriches can be seen in large numbers.
NETCH SAR NATIONAL PARK (SOUTH)
This park is found near the southern end of the Rift Valley system. Bordering the two beautiful Rift Valley lakes, Abaya and Chamo, it possesses extraordinary landscapes as well as exotic flora and fauna. The endemic mammal Swayne’s hartebeest is exceptionally found in this park. Lion, leopard, gazelle, baboon and other mammals are also commonly sighted here. The two lakes in the park are also home to exotic marine life. Hippos and crocodiles live here in colonies.
OMO and MAGO NATIONAL PARKS (SOUTH)
Located at the southernmost part of Ethiopia, Omo National Park extends along the banks of the Omo River. Unlike the other national parks, this park has a rich wild animal reserve of big game such as elephant, buffalo, lion, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, etc. This park is also home to the Mursi people, who are regarded as the most interesting in the Omo Valley. Wearers of clay lip plates, this tribe settled by the banks of the Omo River. The park offers wildlife and virgin culture in one package.
Mago National Park is situated in the same corner as Omo National Park and the two are separated by the Omo River, which drains into Kenya. This park features the same wildlife as Omo National Park. However, Mago National Park is not inhabited by Omotic tribes as in the Omo National Park. The two adjacent parks can be seen in the same tour package and are East African treasures.
YANGUDIRASA NATIONAL PARK (NORTH-EAST)
This park is situated in the north-eastern part of the Rift Valley system. It is quite near the Danakil Depression (the lowest site on earth) and possesses a lowland climate. Dominated by an acacia tree cover, it is home to the rarely seen wild ass, an Ethiopian endemic mammal, and the Dorkas gazelle.