Mark Solomons

Why don’t more tourists visit Ethiopia?

It's beautiful, cheap and has an extraordinary history

  • From Spectator Life
The Simien Mountains in Northern Ethiopia [iStock]

Standing on a cliff edge looking at where the Blue Nile is just a trickle, watched by a gelada baboon on a distant rock and staring over miles upon miles of some of the most beautiful countryside I’d ever seen, one thought struck me: why is there hardly anyone else here? Ethiopia is stunning to look at, once you get out of the capital, Addis Ababa. It offers history, culture, architecture, religion and everything in between. Yet when you tell anyone you’re going there the most common response is: ‘Really? Why?’

In a country twice the size of France and with a population of 120 million, there were times when I felt I was the only tourist in town

In a country twice the size of France and with a population of 120 million, there were times when I felt I was the only tourist in town. Perhaps it’s the hangover of nearly 40 years ago when the images of starving children dominated the headlines around the world and led to the unprecedented international effort of Live Aid. But that was then. When I went the news in Britain was about a shortage of tomatoes, but there were stalls packed with them in Addis (I’m told that’s the in-the-know way to refer to the city).

The plane to Addis Ababa was packed, but on arrival it turned out that the vast majority of passengers were not stopping but transferring on to flights heading to Eritrea, Kenya, Nigeria and anywhere but Ethiopia, this largely forgotten gem in a continent famous for diamonds.

A gelada baboon in the Simien Mountains [iStock]

It’s a shame but not surprising. After two years of Covid keeping tourists at home, there followed two years of a brutal civil war that saw an estimated 600,000 deaths and shocking reports of rape, torture and other atrocities.

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