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Monday, 28 February 2011 19:00

Eastern Ethiopia’s Cultural Heritage

Written by  Lisa Loverro
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The country of Ethiopia, with its ancient history and culture, varies immensely across its geographical regions. While most head to the North to savor the cultural richness of this destination, a trip to Eastern Ethiopia’s low-lying, arid land brings a sharp contrast from the lush green landscape found in other parts. While this may not be the ideal place for the active traveler, for the coffee addict it’s pretty close to Heaven on Earth—as it is known as home to some of the best coffee in the world. Religion varies here as well, as most of the population in Eastern Ethiopia is Muslim. Combined with palaces and Mosques, Eastern Ethiopia is truly a unique destination.

The Walled City
The main attraction in this section of the country is the old walled city of Harar. Housing 99 mosques and shrines, it’s considered the fourth most sacred center of the Islamic World. This is a city where wild hyenas roam freely at night and “hyena men” take to the streets with meat-filled baskets for an unusual and unscripted show. It’s not as touristy as it may sound—it’s all about tradition and survival for the locals. Hyenas aside, along with its superb architecture, charming people and ambience, this is one of those places where your clients will feel completely foreign, like they are in another world. The women in Harar are known for basket weaving and the town’s silversmiths are famous for jewelry.
While there are few accommodations in Harar, there are some worth noting. The Tana Hotel, recently re-opened in 2005, offers nicely appointed rooms, clean bathrooms with hot water and a bar and restaurant that serve regional cuisine. Tucked away on a side street in the heart of Old Town, The Rewada Guesthouse is warm and welcoming, though reservations are critical. The Heritage Plaza Hotel, one of the newer hotels in New Town Harar, is comfortable and spacious.
The small town of Babile, about 20 miles from Harar, is noted for amazing rock formations. On Saturdays, there is a bustling market, ideal for tourists to meander through. There’s also an Elephant Sanctuary that houses other interesting creatures such as black-maned lions and antelope.

Markets Galore
Dire Dawa, the second most populated city in the country, is an important center of trade between the port of Djibouti and Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. It’s filled with tree-lined streets, plazas, colonial buildings and several market centers. The enormous Kafira Market in Megala is one of the most bustling, attracting herders, farmers and even large camel caravans from the Somali desert.
For accommodations here, the Mekonen Hotel is housed in an Italian colonial building opposite the train station, with spacious rooms overlooking the main square. A bit removed from the center of town, the Tsehay Hotel & Restaurant features clean rooms within manicured gardens. The Paradiso Restaurant is one of the best in town, serving Italian and local dishes.

Houses of the Holy
There are other sites worth visiting during a trip to the Eastern portion of Ethiopia, some of them the holiest and oldest in the country. The architectural site of Melka Kumture, dating back to over 1.5 million years, lies approximately 30 miles south of Addis Ababa on the bank of the Awash River. It’s a remarkable prehistoric stone tool factory discovered in the 1960s and perfect for a day trip.
Situated about 45 miles to the south of Addis Ababa and surrounded by beautiful hills, Adadi Mariam is one of the holiest places in Ethiopia. It is known for its Adadi Mariam cave church, which dates back to the Lalibela era. The city of Ankober, a bit more Central than Eastern, holds the ruins of Menelik’s palaces and beautiful views across the eastern escarpment of the low land and the high land.

Getting There and Tour Information
Ethiopian Airlines operates the web portal “See You in Ethiopia” (, a useful resource for all bookings and ground excursions.
With a recently acquired Boeing 777-200 LR, Ethiopian Airlines ( now offers non-stop service from Washington, D.C. to Addis Ababa, eliminating their stop in Rome. Total flight time duration is 12 hours and 25 minutes, which slashes overall travel time by over two and a half hours. The return trip from Addis Ababa to Washington Dulles will continue to make a stop in Rome.
U.S. Citizens need a visa to enter Ethiopia. Single entry 1-3 month tourist visas can be issued upon arrival at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. Visit

Read 2123 times Last modified on Thursday, 27 December 2012 11:53
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