Sustainable Travel in Ethiopia

Ethiopia might well be considered the old soul of Africa. It is thought to be one of the earliest sites of the emergence of modern humans, Homo sapiens. It has one of the oldest alphabets still in use in the world as well as being the oldest independent country in Africa. This is the second oldest official Christian nation and is home to the fourth holiest Islamic city. The region is believed to be where coffee beans were first produced. Ethiopia’s medieval rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Gheralta, palaces and temples date back some 3,000 years. The oldest continuously occupied town south of the Sahara can be found here. Ethiopia also boasts of possessing the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa. Even in nature, Ethiopia is impressive. Its highlands encompass the largest continuous mountain ranges in Africa. The Sof Omar Caves include the longest cave, 9.4 miles, on the continent. The lakes in the Great Rift Valley region alone abound with about 262 species of birds and 277 species of mammals, including the Sudan cheetah, Ethiopian lion, civet, serval, elephant, ibex, oribi, Somali wild ass, Grevy’s zebra, baboon and numerous species of monkey. Ethiopia encompasses more than 22,000 species of butterflies and moths, and 6,600 species of plants, many indigenous. Stunning history, dramatic landscapes and a culture worth investigating make Ethiopia worthy of a place on every serious traveler’s bucket list.

What are they doing right?

With its incredibly rich cultural and natural heritage, Ethiopia, as it returns to the world stage and welcomes visitors again, is working hard to ensure that tourism development benefits local people around the country and supports important conservation efforts. With the development of a ten-year national Sustainable Tourism Master Plan (2015-2025), the country is focused not only on developing the infrastructure to better support visitors to the country, but to also focus on poverty alleviation and community benefits, and fostering local participation in tourism, from community-based tour operators to support for cultural handicraft cooperatives.

The Elephant Ranking

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Destination stewardship planning is underway at the national level with multiple stakeholders, including government, NGOs, private sector and communities, to increase understanding and awareness of sustainable tourism best practices.

Ethiopia is a global center of avian diversity, with more than 856 bird species recorded there so far, with just 20 endemic species. Sixteen species are endangered or critically endangered. Many of these birds feed on butterflies. Ethiopia has 31 endemic species of mammals. Prehistorically, the African wild dog was widely distributed in the territory; however, this canid is now possibly extinct locally. The Ethiopian wolf is perhaps the most researched of all the endangered species within Ethiopia. With UNESCO World Heritage Sites dotted around the country, Ethiopia is an excellent destination for wildlife enthusiasts and travelers alike. It is the only place to see the gelada baboon as well as the endangered Walia ibex and the Ethiopian wolf – the rarest canid in the world. Communities are key partners for conservation in Ethiopia and a strong network of participatory forest and wildlife management areas is currently being developed throughout the country.

Why the Elephant Ranking?