what to do in ethiopia

Experience the traditions of the Hamer tribe. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Beyond Addis Ababa: 7 Must-Do Ethiopia Experiences

No trip to Ethiopia is complete without a pit stop in Addis Ababa. Besides having to fly into the capital city’s International Airport, it showcases some of the best things Ethiopian culture has to offer. From the cuisine to the live music and even the coffee, there’s no place in the world quite like it.

It’s without a doubt the perfect place to start any Ethiopian adventure, but it can’t be where it ends. There are so many more points of exploration beyond Addis that need to be on every traveler’s list.

Go ahead, book some domestic flights and start getting to know the “Horn of Africa” on a deeper level.

The OG Locals

It’s possible for tourists to visit the dozens of tribes within the Omo Valley, despite its disconnection from the outside world. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site after archeological discoveries of prehistoric artifacts proved it was inhabited as far back as over three million years ago.

What makes the region even more impressive is the people who continue to carry out their ancient traditions. A well-known event is held by the Hamer tribe, in which a boy jumps over the backs of bulls four times to symbolize his transition into manhood. Getting there typically takes two days by car or four hours by plane, but either way, it’s certainly worth the effort.

Respect the Coffee

what to do in ethiopia
Take part in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. (Photos: Getty Images)

Considering this is the birthplace of coffee, the drink means so much more to the people of Ethiopia. Across the country, coffee is not merely drunk — it’s made and presented through ceremony. These traditional ceremonies occur on a daily basis, and many families love inviting foreigners to their homes to witness the one-of-a-kind process.

The event tends to last two hours, as each ceremony is complete with important Ethiopian coffee-making steps. Expect the hot beverage (there’s no such thing as iced coffee here) to be roasted, brewed and served to you three times in one sitting. It’s also usually paired with peanuts or popcorn and never with any milk.

Live It Up in Lalibela

what to do in ethiopia
Travel to the churches of Lalibela. (Photo: Getty Images)

Make time to head north to the sacred stone churches of Lalibela, which is also a place of pilgrimage for Coptic Christians. Here you’ll find 11 massive subterranean stone buildings dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries.

While they may seem like simple structures from afar, up close you’ll notice the spectacular craftsmanship that went into creating them. At 40-feet high and shaped like a grand cross, the church of Saint George is the one you can’t miss.

Shout from the Simien Mountaintops

Beware of altitude sickness as you trek up the Simien Mountains. The range features some of the highest points in Ethiopia, with the tallest being the Ras Dejen, at more than 14,000 feet high.

As you might imagine, the views are spectacular once you hike up. As you go along, look out for the endangered Simien fox and the gelada baboon, a rare species often referred to as the “bleeding-heart” monkey for its red chest, which can only be found in Ethiopia.

In Awe of Aksum

Aksum is one of Ethiopia’s most fascinating cities. If you were amazed by seeing Lucy (the oldest skeleton ever discovered) in Addis, Aksum will blow you away.

It’s lined with gigantic ruins, including monolithic obelisks, enormous stelae, royal tombs and so much more from the first to the 13th century. There’s so much history behind every formation that it definitely deserves several visits.

Dare to Go to the Danakil Depression

what to do in ethiopia
See the otherworldy Danakil Depression. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ever wondered what the hottest place on Earth is like? You can find out on a steamy trip to the Danakil Depression in the northeastern part of Ethiopia where temperatures reach 125 degrees.

The depression is actually a huge desert spanning more than 52,000 square miles, so it’s best to break it down to the key spots to visit. The first is Dallot, the iconic salt mines with standout landscapes that will make you feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie. Next is Erta Ale, also known as the world’s oldest active volcano.

For travelers interested in seeing the greater scope of Danakil, take a helicopter ride for the most unbelievable views.

Feed the Hyenas of Harar

It’s clear that Ethiopians are all about keeping their traditions alive, and in Harar, locals have been feeding hyenas outside of their city’s walls for centuries. The feedings originated as a trick to keep the ruthless animals from eating the city’s livestock.

Now, thanks to a group known as the “hyena men,” tourists have the chance to experience feeding the wild animals themselves. The men call out to the hyenas, and moments later, a herd arrives waiting for scraps of meat.

Apparently, the hyenas have become so used to this exchange that they’re not interested in attacking anyone; all they really want is food.