As interesting as it is, you probably will not want to stay in Addis too long unless you have some serious shopping to do. Better venture out to the surrounding countryside. The five roads fanning out of the city each has different things to offer from crater lakes to ancient monasteries, spectacular gorges, wildlife, spa resorts and even rock-hewn Churches.


The first Tabbot of Debre Libanos, with whom the monastery is strongly associated, is an important figure in Ethiopian history. He convinced the Kings of the Zagwe Dynasty of Lalibela to abdicate to return the throne to the Solomonic line, and was involved in spreading the Orthodox faith south. Abune Tekle-Haimanot (1260 A.D) was later canonized for all his deeds. A cave where he is supposed to have prayed for seven years standing on one foot is one of the sacred spots of Debre Libanos that pilgrims flock to. Perhaps because of these beginnings, Debre Libanos has been one of the most important and influential monasteries in the land while its titular head has been regarded as the premier monk of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Wonchi Crater Lake and Mountain so far could prepare us for the truly enchanting and picturesque Wonchi Crater Lake hidden in the 3,386m-high extinct volcano 30 km south of Ambo. The mountain is high enough to have a characteristic forest zone with an area of heath moorland and other associated vegetation and wildlife. You can get down to the Lake by walking or on horseback hired at the village on the rim of the crater. Once down, dugout wooden canoes can take you to the ancient Church on an island and to the mineral hot water springs.

Lying on the south bank of the Awash River near the town of Melka Awash, is Melka Kunture regarded to be one of the most important Stone Age archaeological sites of Ethiopia. Thousands of tools in the form of hand axes and cleavers found here are dated back to 1.5 million years old. There is a good display of these at the National Museum in Addis Abeba.

This is the southern most rock-hewn Church in Ethiopia, and the local stories and traditions associate it with King Lalibela’s visit to nearby Mount Ziquala in 1106 AD. Like so many other Churches, Adadi Mariam was attacked by Ahmed Gragn in the 16th century. This led to its disuse for several centuries until it was discovered by hunters at the time of Menelik II.

Prehistoric cave paintings, rock art, stone engravings and monuments are found all over southern Ethiopia. The area around Tiya is particularly rich in anthropomorphic monoliths. What makes the stelae of Tiya special is their number in one place (40), the enigmatic symbols engraved on them along with their size, up to two meters high. Tiya has been declared a world heritage by UNESCO, one of seven such sites in the country, to highlight the widespread presence of mysterious engraved stelae stretching across this region of southern Ethiopia.

There are no less than seven of these lakes, one up on the Ziquala Mountain but most are sunken below ground level (Bishoftu, Hora, Abanquadi or the Green Lake). All the lakes support a variety of bird colonies.

In so many places all along the Great Rift Valley, the volcanic fires underneath the surface manifest themselves in various forms: as smoldering fumaroles, as crackling geysers, gushing hot water streams and as bubbling hot springs.Ethiopia’s potential for geothermal power generation and therapeutic facilities are known to be immense. However at present, the Langano Geothermal Project and the modest Sodore hot springs Resort are the only such developments to speak of. Most go to Sodore for its hot water treatment facilities and to swim in the Olympic-size pool. To others, its nature and wildlife (crocodiles, grivet monkeys and birds) along the Awash River banks are the main attraction here.


The Awash National Park, the first to be developed, is located 220 km east of Addis with an area of 837 sq km. Nearly 50 large mammals and 400 bird species characteristic of the dry thorn scrub ecosystem have been recorded in the park. Another interesting feature is the Awash River Gorge that makes up the park’s southern boundary with a waterfall at its head. There is also a palm-lined, shimmering, aquamarine hot spring pool and the Fentalae Volcano with steaming fumaroles. The mystical frankincense (Gum arabica) tree grows in the park - the nearest location to Addis where it can be found.


Literally the largest valley on the earth, the Great Rift Valley is one of the planet’s most outstanding features, running supposedly from Lake Baikal in Russia to Mozambique in Africa and harboring a prolific variety of animals and plants. It also contains many interesting geological features.

In prehistoric times, humans and animals lived along the shores of the rift’s rivers and lakes, making it today a favourite of paleontologists. Already they have made many fascinating finds such as the 3.5 million-year-old Lucy or Dinqnesh, the “most complete and best preserved skeleton of any human ancestor yet discovered”