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Stuart Messham
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Whether you’re experiencing it as a budget backpacker or a luxury traveller, there’s plenty of epic things to see and do in this landlocked country in the Horn of Africa…
And to think this masterpiece was constructed with just chisels and hammers. Astonishing.

Epic sculptures and ancient workmanship

A place of pilgrimage for orthodox Christians, Lalibela – aka “the New Jerusalem”, situated in the north of the country – is home to some rather astonishing monolithic churches entirely carved from a single rock.

The biggest of these ancient structures is Bete Medhani Alem, but the most stirring is surely Bete Giorgis – the Church of St George – a 40ft-high structure with a rooftop in the shape of a cross. Considering the churches’ sculpturs would only have been armed with a chisel and a hammer, the incredible workmanship and sheer patience really is something to behold. (Andy Dufresne himself would be proud.)

Speaking of awe-inspiring construction, Gondar City, previously the country's capital in the northern regions, is also well worth a visit. It was founded by King Fasiledes in the 17th century, has sweeping views of Lake Tana from the emperor’s castle – natch! – and is a memorable gateway to the Semien Mountains National Park.

It's hard not to fall a bit in love with the Simien mountains' gelada monkeys.

Epic trekking and scenery

Also known as “The Roof of Africa”, the wonderfully jagged Semien Mountains – a UNESCO heritage site – truly are a sight to behold.

On guided treks you can chance upon the endemic semien fox, the Ethiopian wolf, the gelada baboon or maybe even the endangered Lammergeyer, an imposingly sized vulture traversing the skies above. You’ll also likely encounter Ras Dashen: not a nomadic Star Wars character, but the highest point in the country at an elevation of 4,550m.

The Bale Mountains National Park in the south-eastern part of the country is equally enthralling and particularly epic for bird spotter’s and animal lovers alike. There’s over 160 species of bird in the Harenna Forest, including the uber-rare blue-winged goose – and giant mole-rats, too!

The salt and sulphur formations in Dalliol are a thing of true wonder.

Epic heat and epic adventure

You’ll find the hottest place on Earth in the Danakil Depression. Daytime temperatures rise to a toasty 50ºC in summer and it’s home to world’s oldest active volcano, Erta Ale – or “smoking mountain” in the local tongue. This place may have been dubbed “the gateway to hell” by the indigenous Afar people, but there’s plenty of heavenly sights to behold, too.

If you can stand the testing temperatures, visiting the salt mines in Dalliol and experiencing the marvellously multi-coloured landscapes really is something else.

There’s more bewildering natural architecture in the southeast at Sof Omar, the country’s longest cave at over 9 miles long. Its intricate interior has been formed by the movements of the Weib River over hundreds of years and the formations inside are equal parts supernatural and overawing: It’s like you’re entering a giant new underground world and are the first to discover it.

Ethiopia is a real eye-opener, that's for sure.