Africa’s Great Rift rips a scar through the middle of Ethiopia forming the Afar Depression in the northeast, and continuing for thousands of km’s southwest until reaching lake Turkana on the border of Kenya. The rift, which is still actively forming today, is said to have first begun around 22 million years ago. It was the last significant movement to shape the Earth’s landmass which expands a few extra millimetres every year, and will eventually tear Africa into two parts. The rift valley in southern Ethiopia is especially rewarding offering experiences to immerse in nature, wildlife and rural village life whilst exploring beautiful lakes, hot springs, volcanic hills, rolling grasslands and forests. The warmth and humidity of the lowlands are a welcome delight if you’re arriving from the cooler climes of the north.
Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes
We recommend factoring in a day or two at one of Ethiopia’s rift valley lakes during your Yared Tour. The lakes, which are mostly alkaline, full of fish and an oasis for bird watchers, bubble up from the floor of the valley in-between highlands of the north and the south. They are the ideal place to swim, enjoy water sports, take boat rides with the chance to spot crocodiles and hippos, or just sit back and enjoy serene lakeside views and gorgeous sunsets. The most remarkable to visit are: Lake Langano, Shala-Abiata Lakes, Lake Hawassa, and Lake Abaya and Chamo in Arba Minch.
Lakes Langano & Abiata and Shala
Around 180km drive from Addis Ababa, the sandy shores of Lake Langano are a popular choice, serving up excellent opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, cycling or simply kicking-back with good food in a beautiful lakeside setting. Langano is also an ideal base to make trips to the twin lakes of Shala and Abiata which form part of a national park. The smaller of the two, Abiata is an alkaline lake with shallow waters but hosts an extraordinary number of birds including; wild duck, geese, cormorants and flamingos. In contrast, Shala is a crater lake with deep, dark waters which exceed 260m in some parts. Fringed with wild fig, acacia and euphorbia, sulphurous hot springs on it’s northeast shores, and islands inhabiting an important breeding colony of great white pelicans. These lakes are a sanctuary for nature lovers and an enjoyable place to stop-over during a tour of the south.
Further afield are the reed-lined shores of Lake Hawassa and its friendly, lively, growing, surrounding city with many hotels and cosy restaurants, making it an ideal addition to your tour in Ethiopia. As with the other lakes, in and around lake Hawassa you can spot many different bird species. Motorboats can be rented for a romantic late afternoon trip to a hippo colony, or enjoy a peaceful row over calm waters at sunset.
Coffee region Yirgalem, Sidama region
Southeast of Lake Hawassa, visit the Sidama people in their unique traditional bamboo huts surrounded by enset “Ethiopian false banana”. Sidama is a large, fertile land producing a number of crops such as coffee, khat, sugar cane, papaya, mango and banana.
Trips can be arranged to nearby Wondo Genet, a paradise of lush, green nature and fruit trees such as avocados and mangos. Set in the mountains with a stunning view of Lake Hawassa in the distance, you can overnight at a hotel located in beautiful gardens, swim in a pool filled with hot spring waters or hike in the surrounding forested mountains.
Arba Minch – Lakes Abaya, Chamo & Nech Sar National Park
Venturing much further south through Wolaita into Gamo Gofa region, is the city of Arba Minch (forty springs). The surrounding area is abundant in beauty and natural resources including two rift valley lakes – Chamo and Abaya, innumerable little springs, Nech Sar (‘white grass’) National Park and huge fruit farms, well worth including in your tour to the south. From the park’s edge, you can take a motorboat on Lake Chamo to see hundreds of huge nile crocodiles (up to 6m long!) bathing in the sun and hippos bobbing in and out of the water. Separated by ‘the bridge of god’, on the other side, sits the much larger Abaya, the longest lake in Ethiopia (72km) providing well-stocked fishing grounds for birds including flamingos.
The Dorze are a small Omotic-speaking community living high up in the Gamo mountains - a short but steep 1 hour drive northwest of Arba Minch. The bumpy climb is worth it for the spectacular views of the Southern Rift Valley. Dorze’s fresh mountain coolness makes perfect conditions for a walking tour or a longer trek in the surrounding mountains. Dorze people are famous for their towering, beehive shaped huts, cotton weaving and indigenous foods such kocho – a fermented bread baked from enset. During a village tour with a Dorze guide you will visit a local family and learn about their unique living style. Dorze’s huts are made from woven bamboo and thatched with enset leaves. Around the huts, typically Dorze grow homegardens with vegetables, spices, fruits and tobacco plants. We will also stop off to see Dorze weaving cooperatives, pottery workshops and local markets. Not to missed!