Ethiopian National Parks
With a landscape that ranges from rainforests, to grassy savannas, mountains, and deserts, Ethiopia boasts scenery that is as diverse and fascinating as its people. Splitting the country in two, the Great Rift Valley provides breath-taking views that rival those of the Grand Canyon. At 4,620 meters, Ras Dashen is the fourth highest peak in Africa while the Danakil Depression is the lowest point on the continent. Near Lake Tana, the Blue Nile begins its voyage to Egypt and a string of Rift Valley lakes and rivers belie Ethiopia’s image as dry and parched land. Deserts are an important part of Ethiopia’s ecosystem, but so are the indigenous forests which are the most extensive in all of east Africa. This variety of habitat has resulted in an impressive array of wildlife including over 850 species of birds, many extremely beautiful and exotic.
Simien Mountains National Parks
The Simien Mountains are one of Ethiopia’s most popular destinations. Sitting just north of Gondar, it’s easily accessible along the northern circuit of Ethiopia . Comprising 220 square kilometres of peaks, plateaus, vistas and valleys, the park offers stunning viewpoints and some of the best trekking routes in Africa. The two lodges in the area, simien Lodge and Limalimo Lodeg offer great alternatives to the typical camping and trekking setup, meaning whatever your budget, fitness levels, or accommodation preferences, you can visit the Simien Mountains and enjoy all the beauty the park has to offer.
The entire Simien range is characterized by exceptional scenery. As you advance further into the park, the altitude increases and the viewpoints become increasingly spectacular. The first major viewpoint you’ll encounter is Imet Gogo, sitting at 3,926m between the Gich and Chennek campsites. As you continue your journey, you’ll find Mount Bwahit at 4,430m, and for the adventurous, Ras Deshen towers just east of Mount Bwahit at a staggering 4,550m, making it Ethiopia’s highest peak and the tenth highest peak in Africa.
Trekking and Camping In Simien Mountains
There are three main campsites set up in the park: Sankaber, Gich, and Chennek. A typical route through the Simiens is a 4-day trek through the park. Most visitors add on a night at the luxurious Limalimo Lodge at the end of the trek for some much deserved relaxation. You can explore the great hiking routes of the Simiens regardless of whether you stay at a lodge or camp. If you’re staying at Limalimo Lodge, you’ll need to take a short drive into the park each morning. For those looking to spend more time in the mountains, a number of lesser-visited campsites are set up east of Chennek. These campsites are often used as base camps for treks up Ras Dashen, and then out into the lowlands to the north or south where you can learn more about local life on a community trek .
Flora and Fauna
The altitudinal range, topography and remoteness of the Simien Mountains supports fascinating range of natural habitats, and the park is home to an impressive number of endemic species and plant life. The major endemics found in the park are the Walia Ibex, Gelada Monkeys, and the Ethiopian Wolf. Gelada Monkeys roam in large troops in the Simien Mountains, and these monkeys are quite used to humans so you can sit amongst them as they shout and play in the fields. Walia Ibex are best found near the Chennek campsite – if you are staying in a lodge you can drive to this part of the park thanks to a road that runs through as far as Chennek. The Ethiopian Wolf is seldom spotted in the Simiens, so you have to be quite lucky to spot one here. If spotting an Ethiopian Wolf is high on your Ethiopian adventure bucket list, head to the Bale Mountains where they are found in larger numbers.
Geography and Geology
The Simien Mountains are ancient structures that pre-date the Great Rift Valley. The mountains are part of the Simien Massif, a high plateau of ancient volcanic rock from which dozens of peaks rise to over 4,000m above sea level. Chief among them is the 4,533m Ras Dasehn the highest mountain in Ethiopia and the tenth highest in Africa.
Some 55 to 75 million years ago, volcanic activity pushed the basaltic rock of the Simiens upward, creating a field of active volcanoes. A series of eruptions between 40 and 25 million years ago, deep in the Oligocene period, covered the entire Simien range with thick lava thousands of metres deep. As the volcanic activity calmed, what remained was a jagged and cinematic landscape of cooled lava below which ancient, dormant volcanoes lie.
Bale Mountains National Park
The Bale Mountain National Park is Ethiopia’s premier wildlife destination, offering over 60 mammals and 200 bird species, and offers the best chances of spotting much of Ethiopia’s endemic wildlife (Ethiopian wolf and the mountain nyala). The Sanetti Plateau is a typical Afro-Alpine environment, with Giant Lobelias and everlasting and is home to the Ethiopian Wolf. The tropical Harenna forest offers strong chances of spotting warthogs, colobus monkeys, giant forest hogs and if you are lucky, spotted hyena, leopards and lions. It is possible to arrange multi-day treks and horse treks, but the best way to see the wildlife is really to combine day camping day walks and a 4wd to get around the different habitats. Most people stay in the Dinsho Lodge at the park headquarters. An alpine style chalet with dorm rooms and doubles, the place is bursting with history and faded character, but it is nowadays very basic. Camping is recommended as it allows you to stay in the different locations within the park, rather having to get back to base each day.
The Bale Mountains are situated South East of Addis, although the distance isn’t massive the road from Shashamene to the Bale Mountains is rough, and it usually makes sense to break the journey at a lodge at Lake Langano.
What makes the Bale mountains special !
Rising over 4,000 metres, the Afro-Alpine plateau of the Bale Mountains is the highest mountainous area in southern Ethiopia. The north side of the park is home to the Sanetti Plateau – a high altitude region of glacial lakes surrounded by high volcanic ridges. In the south of the park you’ll find the Harenna Forest , a thick, jungle-esque region home to colobus monkeys, wild horses, forest hogs, warthogs, and even lions and leopards. The beautiful Bale Mountain Lodge – nestled into the thickets of the Harenna Forest – is one Ethiopia’s best boutique lodges. It’s the perfect place to return for sun-downers by the roaring fire after a day’s exploring. In the surrounding villages, makeshift bars serve Tej (honey wine) round the clock and in the surrounding forests you can learn how that incredible Ethiopian coffee is produced. The Bale Mountains are a place of beauty, in both nature and community. If wildlife, scenery, and the great outdoors are high on your Ethiopia travel wish list – the Bale Mountains should not be missed.
Thanks to its altitudinal range, the Bale Mountains can support a huge variety of plant life. There are around 1,300 species of flowering plants in the mountains, of which 12% are endemic to Ethiopia and 14% endemic to the Bale Mountains alone. The Helichrysum (‘everlasting’ flowers) is the most dominant flower in the park, their yellow flowers making for beautiful backdrops as you hike through the forests in search of wildlife. The southern part of the park is heavily forested with wild forest coffee (coffee arabica) and medicinal plants like the hagenia. The most striking of all are the seemingly misshapen Juniper Trees, whose branches bend and contort to create a scene straight out of a Harry Potter film!
The Bale Mountains are one of Ethiopia’s best wildlife destinations.
The endemic (and rather elusive) Ethiopian Wolf is found in large numbers here. The wolf is the rarest canid in the world, and your best bet for spotting one is in the Sanetti Plateau of the Bale Mountains. The conservation of the Ethiopian Wolf, as well as the endangered Mountain Nyala, was a leading reason for the establishment of the national park. It’s not just the Wolf and Nyala – the Bale Mountains are home to 20 endemic mammals, not to mention dozens of reptiles and amphibians, and hundreds of bird species. Other wildlife often spotted in the park includes the Menelik Bushbuck, grey duiker, warthog, African golden wolf, colobus monkey, and spotted hyena.
If you look to the trees, you’ll find countless bird species, monkeys, and chameleons
Awash National park
This scenic national park is situated in the dry acacia savanna of the Rift Valley some 200km from Addis Ababa. A magnificent 150m-deep gorge, carved by the Awash River, forms the southern boundary of the park, including a substantial waterfall. To the north, you’ll see the ragged edges of Mount Fantelle, a dormant volcano whose crater towers above the surrounding bush.
Other highlights include the Filwoha Hot Springs, which feed a series of beautiful translucent blue pools and Lake Beseka. Although 80 mammal species have been recorded in Awash, the game viewing is less of an attraction than the scenery and birdlife. Awash National Park is regarded as one Ethiopia’s top birding destinations, with over 450 species. Including the endemic yellow-throated serin and the Ethiopian cliff swallow.
Mago National Park
Mago National Park is bisected by the Mago River and is dominated by dense acacia woodland and patches of open savannah. Pristine rainforest lines the river and the highest peak is Mt. Mago at 2,528 m.
Over 100 mammal species live here and once the huge herds of buffalo roamed this area but numbers have dwindled dramatically. However, it is still possible to see elephants, Defassa waterbuck, Lelwel hartebeest, greater and lesser kudu and Guenther’s dik-dik.