In this third part of the trip we discovered the Bale National Park, visited the Awash National Park and finally Harar, a medieval walled city, known as “the fourth holy city of Islam” where we appreciated its people’s special way of living. Here you’ll find the most interesting things to see and do in these fascinating places.
BALE NATIONAL PARK
The Bale Mountains National Park, located south of the Great Rift Valley in the Bale Region, 400 km southeast of Addis Ababa. It covers an area of 2,200 square kilometers. Here are the highest mountains of Ethiopia, Batu (4.307 meters) and Tulluy Deemtu (4.377 meters) surrounded by several valleys and alpine lakes.
Good to know, up here is freezing cold, so don’t forget to bring warm clothes, and your camera so you miss the impressive views and endemic animals. This beautiful National Park Bale comprises 3 well-differentiated areas depending on the altitude and shape of the terrain so that according to them we can appreciate unique landscapes, fauna, and flora.
– To the north, we find plains, with forests and bushes.
– In the central area, stands the central Sanetti plateau with an average altitude of over 4000 meters with volcanic peaks, alpine lakes (Garba Guracha and Hora Bachay Hala Weoz, among others), waterfalls and many streams. Most Ethiopian wolves (canis simensis) live here, a specie unfortunately in extinction.
– In the south, the Harenna area, known for its great varieties of wildlife including mammals, amphibians and birds.
Essentially, we made a kind of safari where we saw many endemic mammals of Ethiopia as the Nyala Monkey, Simen Fox, Ethiopian wolf … We could also see camels, antelopes, rodents, primates of different species, really a unique experience.
We went on to enjoy seeing more wildlife and nature along the Rift Valley when we reached Awash, another National Park.
AWASH NATIONAL PARK
We continued on our road-trip to the Awash National Park and Awash City. This scenic park places north of the Great Rift Valley, 225 km east of Addis Ababa. It covers an area of 825 square kilometers, with an altitude ranged between 750 meters to 2000 meters.
The Awash Park stands between two tectonic structures, the African and Somali plates. Because of this, geologically it’s a very active one, highlighting the Fantalle Crater, the Filwoha hot springs and Lake Basaka.
We stayed inside the Awash National Park, at the Awash Falls Lodge with stunning views of the Awash river home of enormous crocodiles, and we could appreciate up close… but at a safe distance.
Fauna and Flora
Walking through the Awash National Park you can easily find gazelles, Byssa Oryx, wild boars, also giant tortoises, baboons, and near the river also hippopotamus.
As for the birds, they have over 400 different species cataloged. Among them you can see ostriches, and a great diversity of smaller endemic birds. If you are a birdwatcher, this is your place!
One of the principal attractions of the park are the Awash Falls, spectacular for the flow of the Awash river which falls raising clouds of steam in the middle of great noise.
This fortified city, capital of the Harari Region, locates in the country’s east, 500 km from Addis Ababa. Within the walled city the predominant ethnic group is the Harari.
For centuries, Harar has been an important commercial centre because of its strategic location between Djibouti and the north of Somalia, acting as a crossroads for the commercial routes coming from the Arabian Peninsula that wanted to enter Africa. Its decline began when it was decided that the new railway line between Addis and Djibouti would pass through Dire Dawa, leaving it isolated from the trade routes.
Harar is said to be the fourth holy city of Islam, behind Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, with over 90 mosques, 3 of them dating from the 10th century, and 102 shrines.
Regarding the walled enclosure that surrounds Harar, built between the 13th and 16th centuries, the access to the city is through 5 gates, with small cobbled streets and labyrinths that transport you to the past. The old town, known as Jugal, is the major point of interest declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006.
Today Harar remains as a very commercial town. The city holds distinct types of markets in the old town, among them the camel market is very important.
There’s also another one, the spices market, always very colorful and crowded of people.
A key role in their economy is the chat, the leaves of the chat plant are chewed for stimulant effects, consumed throughout Ethiopia and sold freely at open markets. Dealers take the chat to Djibouti and from there they export it to other countries where vast communities of Ethiopians live.
Harar Historical Data
Personalities of all times have passed through the city. The explorer Sir Richard Burton, in 1855 was the first European to enter the forbidden city of Harar.
The 16th century was a golden age, the local culture flourished, and many poets lived and wrote here. Among them was the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who settled as a merchant in the town in 1884.
Besides, trading in ivory, coffee, gold, he also took up photography. The house (museum) exhibits several images of the inhabitants and the old city of Harar.
Although if Harar is known for something is for being the city of hyenas, today one of the biggest tourist attractions of the city.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN HARAR
Here you can find the most interesting visits to make inside the fortified city.
– Explore the city
An excellent start to take the city’s pulse is diving into its intricate streets, observe the commercial activity of its streets, the colorful clothes of the women, see the different markets, contemplate the details of the doors, windows and woodwork of the traditional houses, visit the 5 access doors and those through which the hyenas also enter; in short, do not miss any detail of everything you see.
– Visit the House (Museum) of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud
It’s an immense house built of wood in the historic center. The guide told us that the French poet did not live here for real, but anyway is a very interesting building: with excellent views of the surroundings, colorful frescoes on the roof, colored windows and a museum with old photos of Harar.
– Get to know the inside of a traditional house
The mixture between African and Islamic traditions results in creating a particular and unique habitat in terms of the design of the interior of the houses. We visited a traditional Harari house to appreciate how they decorate their houses and their way of life.
The decoration of the houses is very colorful, overdecorated with ornaments, carpets and even a golden faucet.
– Hyena Man feeding the hyenas
We had been told about this curious exhibition, and we didn’t want to miss it. Here I explain to you how the show unfolds once you’re there.
Although the origin of the tradition is unknown, it’s believed that it resulted from a famine that forced the villagers to feed the hyenas, so they would not attack them or their livestock.
A man from one family in Harar started feeding them regularly until he “tamed” them, feeding them from his hand. He passed this skill on to his nephew, who kept up the tradition until the present day.
Today the exhibition takes place in an esplanade outside the wall between the Erer and Sanga gates.
When night falls, every day at the same time the man known as Hyena Man comes to this spot carrying a bucket of meat, sits down and waits for the hyenas to appear. First one appears shyly, then two arrive, until it forms a group of them.
Meanwhile, the lights of the tourists’ cars illuminate this field. The number of hyenas increases, and after feeding them with pieces of meat, it’s the turn of the intrepid tourists.
They sit next to the man, who offers the meat punctured on a stick to the hyena which eats it avidly, while resting its front legs on the traveler’s shoulder.
Up close the hyenas are huge and impress with their eyes glowing in the dark. Even more so if we consider that still is a wild animal and that at any moment can do something unexpected… better not to think about it.
– Visit a coffee factory
Let’s not forget that Harar is also famous for its natural processed coffees that bear its name. Here, 10% of Ethiopia’s coffee production is manufactured and all its coffee is natural.
Coffee from this zone is popular for its fruity taste and characteristic blueberry flavor.
In the factory they will show you the processing and packaging of it. Besides, you can buy it at a very good price.
Ethiopia Guide Wrap Up
We really enjoyed the trip to Ethiopia and I’m sure you’ll surprise too! Its nature, friendly people, churches, cultural diversity and variety of things to do, are just some reasons I encourage you to visit this country.
For full information check out the blog post series dedicated to Ethiopia:
* Ethiopia. Itinerary and a Complete Travel Guide
* Northern Ethiopia. A complete Guide best cities to explore
* Southern Ethiopia. The OMO Valley Tribes intriguing culture