Ethiopia is a country with unparalleled natural beauty, unique wildlife, rich cultural experiences as well as a wealth of Unesco World Heritage Sites. Yet, it remains largely overlooked by many American travelers. 

The country features an incredible cultural heritage, including the medieval, rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Gheralta; palaces and temples dating back 3,000 years; the magnificent 17th-century castles of Gondar; and some of the oldest human fossils unearthed anywhere on the planet. From a nature and wildlife perspective, the Simien and Bale mountains as well as the Danakil Depression offer incredible experiences. 

A unique way to discover Ethiopia's natural beauty is by participating in walking tours. Lonely Planet's Best in Travel List for 2021 features Tesfa Tours as the best community trekking. The company offers perspective-altering walks through Ethiopia. Tesfa employs local guides in towns like Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela and endeavors to use locally-owned lodges and hotels. 

Lalibela, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a small town that is located in the Lasta mountains, adjacent to eleven ancient churches that were built in the 12th century. These churches were carved out of gigantic lumps of volcanic rock under the directive of King Lalibela.

In the basalt mountains around Lalibela, travelers will be able to witness how communities still farm with ox-drawn ploughs and hand tools. The trek will take travelers to Mequat Mariam, a remote parish where it is possible to visit a "rock bar," a smooth, sheltered ledge that is warmed by the afternoon sun and invites guests to sit with a drink to watch the golden glow at the end of the day turn red as the sun sets over Mount Guna. Lunch will be offered by the local community, and travelers will be invited to try enjara (a sour pancake made from local grains, notably teff) and vegetarian stews. 

There are further trekking opportunities in the Tigray with its red sandstone mountains and the Wof Washa forest in the Rift Valley escarpment. In the Wof Washa forest area, an NGO called Sunarma has supported forest cooperatives to develop guesthouses to accommodate tourists. Travelers will stay in the guesthouses and interact with local communities as well as witness a variety of incredible wildlife, including gelada monkeys, hyrax, jackals and a wonderful selection of birds. 

The Simien Mountains National Park is a must for anyone wanting to see the Simien jackal. Also called Ethiopian wolves, these animals are the descendants of the European wolf that became stranded in the mountainous areas of Ethiopia when the last ice age ended. Although Tesfa Tours organizes treks in the Simien Mountains, the treks are definitely not for the faint-hearted: It is rugged, far from the developed towns and people, while friendly and welcoming, are not so used to being service providers. Tesfa's guides are all local, extremely willing and conscientious, but not as experienced as in other places, and with more broken English.

For travelers wanting a more laid-back experience of the park, Simien Lodge is a great option. Sitting at a lofty 10,800 feet, Simien Lodge is the highest elevation lodge in Africa. Opened in 2006, this is the only permanent accommodation available inside the park. With its hot running water and hearty portions of food, Simien Lodge offers a very attractive alternative to camping. 

Besides the Simien jackal, the national park is also home to gelada. These spectacular monkeys live in family groups made up of a dominant male and up to eight females with their young. They come together in larger bands, and during the dry season these bands can be as many as 800 animals. By sunset each evening, most of the gelada have retreated over the escarpment, where they remain all night protected from predators.

U.S. travelers can visit Ethiopia, as the country reopened its borders Sept. 23, but a quarantine will be required. All passengers, whether foreigners or nationals, must present proof of a negative PCR test before boarding their flight to Ethiopia and at customs upon arrival. The test needs to be taken with results available no longer than 120 hours prior to the flight's departure. Even with presenting the negative PCR test, all arriving passengers must also self-quarantine in their place of residence or hotel for seven days after arrival.

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