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Eastern Ethiopia - A view from our expert author
Harar is the spiritual home of Ethiopia's Muslim community © Eric Lafforgue
Awash National Park is the closest thing Ethiopia has to the savannah reserves of east Africa, and an excellent overnight trip from Addis Ababa.
This covers parts of Ethiopia lying to the east of the capital. You can amble along the surfaced road between Addis Ababa and the large but rather bland town of Adama (Nazret). This 100km stretch of asphalt can be covered in a couple of hours or over several days, with obvious highlights including the wetlands around the Akaki River, the air-force town of Bishoftu (Debre Zeyit) and its attendant crater lakes and the atmospheric mountaintop monastery at Zikwala. All these places can easily form the goal of a self-standing day or overnight trip out of the capital. They can also be visited en route to southern Ethiopia – the junction for the main road south lies at Mojo, 75km from Addis Ababa, while Adama itself is the starting point for an important route south to the highlands of Arsi and Bale zones.
Moving on, Awash National Park is the closest thing Ethiopia has to the savanna reserves of east Africa, and an excellent overnight trip from Addis Ababa. It also covers the arid section of the Rift Valley that follows the course of the Awash River north of Awash National Park to its delta in a series of desert lakes near the Djibouti border. Although little visited by travellers, this is a fascinating and very different part of Ethiopia, home to the pastoralist Afar people, and – somewhat unexpectedly – bisected by what is arguably the best surfaced road in the country.
And finally, further east find the alluring walled city of Harar, the spiritual home of Ethiopia’s large Muslim community, as well as its altogether less inspiring modern twin city of Dire Dawa. Lying more than 500km east of Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa and Harar are accessible from the capital not only by road, but also by daily Ethiopian Airlines flights – not to mention the country’s only passenger train service! The base from which Ahmed Gragn waged his 16th-century jihad against the Christian highlands, Harar formed the most important trade centre in Ethiopia for much of the 19th century – when it was visited by the explorer Richard Burton and home to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud – and it is also the birthplace of the late Emperor Haile Selassie. Today, the old town is one of the most popular tourist sites in Ethiopia. Not only does its labyrinth of alleys and Muslim shrines provide a striking contrast to the Christian pre-eminence in northern Ethiopia, but it is also home to the renowned hyena men of Harar.