Northern vs Southern Ethiopia

Northern and Southern Ethiopia offer fascinating insights into indigenous culture and the opportunity to delve into a rich history. Experience religion etched into the landscape and the people, and see breathtaking architectural wonders. Both offering unparalleled travel experiences, our African Travel Specialists share with you what you can expect from these two unique regions…

Northern Ethiopia

Often referred to as the “Historical Circuit”, Northern Ethiopia is known for its vast history that stretches back over two millennia. Boasting both incredible natural and man-made wonders, the north includes an array of sights. However, it is most famous for its unique churches hewn from rock.


Our African Travel Specialists describe Northern Ethiopia as a “journey back to biblical times”.  This is certainly evident in its many incredible churches. Be sure to see the iconic Bet Giyorgis (St. George’s Church), which was built in the 13th century. Standing at 15m tall, the church is carved from a single piece of volcanic rock. It is one of eleven churches built by King Lalibela that are still used by the town to this day.

Boasting an incredible history and tale of survival is Debre Birhan Selassie Church in Gondar. Built in the 17th century by Emperor Eyasu II, legend tells that it survived Sudanese raiders when a swarm of bees surged from within the church and attacked them. The walls and ceiling of this stone church are adorned with magnificent frescoes that you simply have to see for yourself…

Finally, and not for the faint of heart, is the Abuna Yemata Guh church in Tigray. In order to reach it, you must scale 5.5m of sheer rock– but don’t worry, guides are on hand to assist! Carved from the rock in the 6th century, it sits at a height of 2,580 metres. It is decorated with typical Ethiopian Orthodox artwork and houses the holy Miracle of St. Mary book.

Natural Sights

If you’re looking to get out amongst nature, our specialists can’t recommend the Simien Mountains National Park enough. Boasting a diverse landscape of gullies, peaks and plains, the park is a fantastic place to enjoy a trek and seek out the native wildlife.

For those looking for something a bit different, ensure you add a visit to the Danakil Depression to your list. One of the hottest places on earth with very little rainfall, this hostile landscape produces some stunning natural phenomena. You will feel as if you have entered an alien world as you pass by sulphuric green salt deposits and bubbling lava lakes. Travel by Afar villages, never-ending saltpans and cooled lava formations. This is certainly an otherworldly experience you can’t pass up!

Southern Ethiopia

As you venture further south, step into a spectacular world steeped in timeless culture and natural beauty.  The Great Rift Valley divides Southern Ethiopias landscape where you can see striking scenery and fascinating tribes that still practice ancient traditions.


Situated in the Omo River basin is a mix of ethnicities, people and languages that is unparalleled. Many tribes such as the Konso, Borana and the Bumi live here.  These are communities that have been isolated for hundreds of years. Sequestered away, they have developed their own unique cultures. The Surma and the Mursi women wear the iconic lip plate. The Karo warriors decorate themselves with white markings and engage in elaborate dances with the women. Don’t miss a unique opportunity to experience the incredible depth of culture and vibrant spirit of the people who live here.

Scenic Wonders

The Bale Mountains are an incredibly diverse landscape and offer something for every traveller. Although you need to be aware of the high altitude, this park offers some of the best trekking and the chance to see the rare Ethiopian wolf. Explore the misty forests or seek out the other unique species that populate this area.

Further west lies Omo National Park, featuring hot springs, roaming plains and the Omo River. Although this park is remote and access can be difficult, an incredible array of birdlife, wildlife and flora lives in this area.  Look out for the leopard, lion and elephant as well as hippopotami and the giraffe.

Ethiopia is a country unlike any other. Expect a diverse landscape full of amazing sights, a rich history and many unique cultures. Both the north and the south offer distinct experiences. For those interested in delving into the rich religious history, we highly recommend the north. If you’re looking for a cultural experience like other, there’s no place like southern Ethiopia…

References:  Thank you Lonely Planet Southern Ethiopia, Lonely Planet Northern EthiopiaAtlas ObscuraSacred DestinationsWorld Travel Guide, BBCSimien ParkLonely Planet Bale MountainsBale, and New York Times.

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