A trip to eastern Ethiopia is a journey that tickles the heart, boggles the mind and challenges the soul – no less than that. In stark contrast to the green, densely populated, Christian highlands, the east is largely arid, wild, low-lying and Muslim. In it lies eastern Ethiopia’s piéce de résistance: the old walled city of Harar, which seems straight out of a story from the Arabian Nights. This gem of a place is shrouded with a palpable historical aura that will appeal to culture vultures. And after nightfall, the hard-to-believe ritual feeding of the Harar hyenas will leave you gasping in awe.
True, if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you might find eastern Ethiopia is a bit low on active pursuits. There is potential, but it’s still largely undeveloped. But the Awash National Park, with its outstanding birdlife, offers ample compensation. Be sure to squeeze it into your itinerary.
For wannabe National Geographic wanderers, the seemingly endless ribbon of bitumen leading northeast to Asaita offers opportunities for remote exploration. Follow Wilfred Thesiger’s steps and head to the mesmerisingly desolate area known as the southern Danakil region, which is home to the fascinating Afar people and remains adamantly off the beaten track.
But if all you want is to please your palate, the east could also prove your Shangri-la: it is known as the home of the best coffee in the world – we agree. Or you could unleash your inner rebel and dare to try chewing chat, the mildly intoxicating stimulant.
So go ahead, dive in!