The south is completely different than the north, much greener, full of lakes, rivers, spring waters and culturally more heterogeneous. However, the plane connections are not that many (only 3): you can fly to Jimma (less common), Hawassa (a new destination) or Arba Minch (the most visited), or you can rather drive and see the many towns and lakes along the way.
What the south has to offer is a mix of wild animals (hypos, crocodiles, zebras, elephants), tribes (Omo, Turmi, Mursi, Hammer…), vegetation and tasty bananas and mangoes. Most people would just go south for two reasons: the tribes and birdwatching. I’m not a bird expert so I won’t say much here; regarding the tribes, I have been several times in the south but in 7 years I have never gone to visit any tribe. Why? I’m not sure if I want to do it; I understand that these people need to survive and tourism may be their modern way of doing it, but to dress and behave in a certain manner to make the tourist happy seems a bit awkward to me. I reckon that it must be very impressive from the pictures I’ve seen, but as I am not sure of the impact that this may have on the long term, so I prefer to leave the floor here to others who have been there and can share their experience with us. Anybody? Please add your comment below.
This is is the list of places that I think are worth visiting:
- Shashamane: This is, simply put, the city of the Rastafaris. Probably not only, locals would say, but the truth is that the old emperor Haile Selassie gave the city to them after they claimed that Ethiopia was the promised land and Selassie their Messiah. Lots of Rastas, marihuana and corrupted police in there. Watch out!
- Wondo Genet: I was once unfairly held my driver license by a policeman in Shashamane; being Sunday I could not get it back till Monday (Ethiopian way of doing things), so, looking for a place to spend the night, I found this awesome little town of spring hot waters and green forest where you can go to just enjoy this gift of nature.
- Hawassa: capital of the south, it’s becoming a hub. It’s a pleasant city, full of bajajs (tuc-tuc), resorts by the lake, a new industrial park, airport and soon accesible also through the only international-standard highway in Ethiopia, which is being built, obviously, by the Chinese.
- Jinka: this town is well known for its market. Be aware that local markets don’t happen everyday of the week, so if you want to visit it and do some shopping do ask before when is the specific day for you not to miss it.
- Konso: this town is part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its religious traditions, ancient sculpture and fossil beds.
- Arba Minch: “Arba” means 40 in Amharic and “minch” means “spring water”. There you go the name. Having the main airport of the south (probably now after Hawassa’s), it is the place to come for your visits down south. The climate can be hot and humid here, but you can refresh yourself under the trees that cover the huge forest where the spring water emerge.
- Lake Zway, Langano, Shala, Abijatta, Awassa, Abaya and Chamo are the most visited in the south. They are an excellent opportunity to eat fish in a country that has no exit to the sea (though the offer does not go further than Nile Perch and Tilapia, mostly). I’ve been told that you should swim only in Langano because of Bhilarzia worms are present in most of other Ethiopian lakes. That made Langano the most popular one in Ethiopia, giving space for nice resorts and camping sites (you can bring your tent or they can provide one for you) and being and excellent place to enjoy with your family surrounded by baboons, warthogs and a huge variety of birds. Shala and Abijatta are less populated but they are and excellent opportunity to spot some white pelicans and flamingoes. Further south you’ll find Abaya and Chamo, separated by Nechisar National Park, a paradise for birds and wildlife (nile crocodiles, zebras and hippos!).
- South National Parks: There are several parks in the south, but I will just mention few.
- I remember enjoying the trip to Nechisar, specially because I spotted gazelles and a group of shy zebras that were constantly running away from my camera; I should probably mention that the place was extremely hot, so bring plenty of water with you before crossing there.
- Omo is a UNESCO World Heritage site after some Homo sapiens fossil fragments where discovered there, and is the destination for people who wants to see the Mursi Tribe, a pastorali group well known by its plate and earring decorations in their mouths and ears.
- Mago is the place to go if you want to visit the Hammers, the famous tribe that became famous for its initiation rites of men’s jumping of the bulls and women’s self-flagellation. Again, if I find that the bull jumping could be somehow interesting, I’m not supporting seeing women whipping themselves to show their love to their men. Nope!
- Bale is a bit out of route, as it extends further east. However, people like going there for trekking, wildlife spotting, and to relax as well. I went to do a couple of documentaries and it can be a magic place if you hit the right spots. Nyalas and wolves are less shy here than in the Simien Mountains. Hyenas, lions, monkeys and leopard also habitate the area, though rarely seen. I still have not gone to one spot in Bale that I bet is worth the visit, the Sof Omar caves, a geological wonder that belongs to my bucket list since I once saw the amazing pictures displayed at Bole Airport. Google it and let me know about it if you decide to go!
I can’t help but mention here the excellent job that the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) is doing to preserve parks, endangered places and wildlife in Ethiopia, and also the astonishing accumulated image database that Ethiopian wildlife photographer and filmmaker Aziz Ahmed has collected. I attach one of his videos here for you to enjoy it: