Much of the tourism in Ethiopia is focused on history. The country is in the region of the world where humankind originated – the ‘Cradle of Civilization.’ From the Rift Valley, which yielded the 3.5 million-year-old fossil of Lucy, to 11th century churches hand-carved out of granite, the country fascinates. Add in some very interesting fauna such as the critically endangered Ethiopian wolf and the gelada baboon, and you have a winning destination.
Digging into Ethiopia’s history is fascinating, but part of any trip is finding special places to pause and take it all in…perhaps with a beer. Here are five of my favorite spots around the country to do just that.
Ethiopia is home to the highest bar in Africa: Simien Lodge. Perched atop the Simien Mountains at 10,700 feet, they serve Africa’s highest elevation drink in a cozy, circular room in front of a roaring fire. The fire is absolutely necessary, as nighttime temperatures at this altitude can be extremely cold, and the Lodge’s solar heating system leaves a bit to be desired during the wet season. After an evening enjoying local beers, wines or creative cocktails, you can grab a hot water bottle and head to your chalet for a good night’s rest. You’ll want that sleep so that you can enjoy the next day, when you will be trekking to see gelada baboons, a unique monkey species only found in the Ethiopian Highlands.
Ben Abeba is a totally inexplicable structure perched high on a cliff edge in legendary town of Lalibela. Having no idea what is was, but naturally curious once we spotted it, we set off on a walk through back roads and alleys to reach the otherworldly-looking restaurant/bar. Winding ramps take guests up to gently swaying balconies with magnificent views. Beers are cheap at about $1 US, and the food is delicious and served piping hot, which is most welcome once the sun sets and the temperature drops. Ben Abeba is much lower than the Simien Lodge, but at 8,500 feet, it still can be a bit chilly at night. There are blankets on offer for diners should you need one. And if it’s too chilly to walk back to your hotel, you can grab one of the ubiquitous blue tuk-tuks for just a few Birr.
I visited the Dashen Brewery in Gondar on New Year’s Day. We had driven by the day before and things looked quiet, with a few scattered picnic tables around the grounds and a smattering of visitors. On September 12th, however — and I’ll explain this in a moment — there were more than 1,000 people making merry on the grounds. Live music, professional and amateur dancers, and endless food and drink made for an enthusiastic crowd. It was quite a treat to be a part of the celebration while sipping a frosty Dashen Lager.
My visit happened to coincide with the Ethiopian New Year, observed on September 12th in 2014. If that sounds odd, here’s where things get more complicated. This September 12th was New Year’s Day…2007. Ethiopia observes the Julian calendar, a 13 month calendar (with one month being only 5 days) which I am not really capable of explaining beyond those facts. What I do know is that I’m seven years younger when I’m visiting the country, and they have ’13 months of sunshine.’ Good enough for me!
Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia, and the fourth largest in Africa. At its southern end, you’ll find the town of Bahir Dar, which is a great base to explore the historic monasteries along the lake and on its islands, as well as to visit the source of the Blue Nile. After a day of sightseeing, the best place to indulge in a beer is back at your hotel, at least if you’re staying at the Kuriftu Resort & Spa. Kuriftu has a stunning swimming pool and terrace that overlook Lake Tana. The real attraction of this spot is the view – the calm waters, bird life, and traditional fishing boats provide a tranquil and exotic setting that is unforgettable.
If your travel to Ethiopia includes spending time with the tribes in the south, you’ll need to stop somewhere en route. Lake Langano, with its latte-brown waters, is a great spot to shake off too much time in the car and indulge in a bit of relaxation. Its shores are the perfect place to kick off your shoes and lean back with a St. George’s Lager, another of Ethiopia’s delicious, crispy beers. Bird lovers will do well here, too, as the area supports a great variety of species. There are watersports on offer (this is the only freshwater lake in Ethiopia that is safe for swimming), as well as nearby hiking in Abiata-Shala National Park. There are plenty of resorts on the lake to choose from, and I promise you that they all have beer.
Gretchen Healey gave up a window office in the IT industry to embrace travel as a profession. When not traveling, she runs Pangolin Media, a full service copywriting development and online strategy consulting company. She has visited more than 30 countries, and each travel experience has enriched her life immeasurably. When she as home, she can be found hiking with her dog, cooking, gardening or skiing.
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