Established in 1969 and made a UNESCO World Heritage Site nine years later, the 220km sq Semein Mountains National Park protects the western part of the eponymous mountain range, a serious of incised plateau characterized by sheer 1,000m-high cliffs and rugged pinnacles and buttresses.
The range includes at least a dozen peaks that top the 4.000m mark, among them the 4,620m Ras Dashen, which is the fourth–highest mountain in Africa. Situated about 100km north of Gonder and best assessed from the small town of Debark.
The park is best known for stupendous scenery lauded Rosita Forbes as ‘the most marvelous of all Abyssinian landscapes’, but it is also the most important stronghold for the endemic Gelada Baboon, Walia Ibex and Abyssinian Wolf, as well as hosting one the world’s densest populations of the spectacular bearded vulture(wammergeyer), which is frequently seen at close range at the campsites.
Another striking feature of Ethiopia is the large number of lakes, almost all of them in the Rift. They include Ziway, Langano, Abijatta, Shalla, Awasa, Abaya, and Chamo, which are situated in their own local systems of ‘inland drainage’.
These lakes were formed by millennia of heavy rainfall that hit Africa during the same period the ‘Ice Age’ was affecting northern Europe. Although they are slowly evaporating – ‘small puddles compared to their shrinkage has exposed huge areas of alluvial soil that allow prosperous and productive, agriculture and created a rich productive, agriculture and created a rich environment for wildlife and birds.
But Ethiopia’s largest lake, Tana, on the other hand, is the result of the damming of the natural drainage from the area on the western plateau now covered by the lake.
The Blue Nile Falls (Tis Isat) are at the point where the overflow from the lake drops over the edge of a lava flow.The country also possesses a number of beautiful lakes formed out of extinct volcanoes, such as that on Mount Zuqualla, or interconnected volcanoes like the one on Mount Wonchi. Both are within easy access of Addis Ababa.
One of the most important features of this region of Africa resulted from faulting and cracking on its eastern side. This has caused the Great Rift Valley, which extends from the Middle East to Mozambique, passing in a north-south direction right through Ethiopia.
This shearing of the earth’s surface occurred at the same time that the Arabian Peninsula, geologically a part of Africa, was sundered from the rest of the continent.
Volcanic activity, which has continued until today, finds expression in volcanoes in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, as well as in the hot springs in many parts of the country.
Earth tremors are often felt, and exposed cones of old volcanic plugs are seen throughout the plateau. After the Rift opened, much of this area was flooded by the inrushing waters of the red Sea, a flood that was subsequently stemmed by fresh volcanic activity that raised barriers of basaltic lava.
Behind these barriers the trapped inland sea that had formed began to evaporate under the fierce heat of the tropical sun – a process that is almost complete today.
Only a few scattered, highly saline lakes – Gamarri, Affambo, Bario, and Abbe remain. Elsewhere, there are huge beds of natural salt – which, at points, are calculated to be several thousands of metres thick.
Formed by the Web River as it changed its course in the past and carved a new channel through limestone foothills, the Sof Omar system is an extraordinary natural phenomenon.
Here, the Web River vanishes into this giant underground world with its arched portals, high eroded ceilings, and deep, vaulted echoing chambers.
These caves, now an important Islamic shrine named after the saintly Sheikh Sof Omar, who took refuge here many centuries ago, have a religious history that predates the arrival of the Muslims in Bale.
Mago National Park is located on the eastern bank of the Omo River. This is Ethiopia’s new National Park, established in 1979. It is 2,162 square kilometres in area, with altitudes ranging from 450 to 2,528 metres. The highest point in the park is Mount Mago situated in the north of the park. Temperatures here swing between 14° and 41°C and rainfall, which falls from March to May and October to December, is low.
Areas along the Omo are populated by ethnic groups, that include the Aari, the Banna, the Hamar, the Karo, and the Mursi people. The park was set up to protect and conserve animals such as the giraffe, the buffalo or the elephants than inhabit this region. Savannah constitutes the main area of the park that also contains some forest areas surrounding the rivers.
The Omo National Park is located on the west bank of the Omo River and is of difficult access. Reason why is seldom visited. The park is home to large herds of eland and buffalo, elephant, giraffe, cheetah, lion, leopard, and Burchell’s zebra.
The Omo River is bordered by thick stands of riverine forests and dense shrubs vegetation. The rivers are bordered with forests, while away from the rivers, the plains vary from extensive open grasslands interspersed with woody savannahs and shrubland vegetation.
The lower Omo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, after the discovery of the earliest known fossil fragments of Homo sapiens dated circa 195,000 years old.
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