The Historic Route through northern Ethiopia offers travelers a chance to delve into the mystery and intrigue of sub-Saharan Africa's rich and storied history. Journey through the cities of Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela and unravel their legends as the beautiful landscapes dotted with ancient sites, rolling valleys and rocky mountains unfold before your eyes.
Bahir Dar curves along the shores of Lake Tana, which has been deemed the official source of the Nile River. Paddle your kayak across the lake while watching local fishermen, who still use traditional papyrus reed boats, catch tilapia, barbs and catfish. As the sun rises above the misty lake, take in the sounds of grunting hippos, melodic songbirds and diving waterfowl, all before venturing into the city to see the Tana Chirkos monastery, the mummified emperors on display at Daga Estiphanos and the wall paintings of Ura Kidane Mehret.
The city of Gondar, once the capitol of Ethiopia, houses a fascinating imperial compound that has several castles built for Emperor Fasiladas. Marvel at the architectural feats that date back to 1636 that are considered true treasures today. These include the 18th century Palace of Ras Beit, the Bath of Emperor Fasiladas, the crumbling Palace of Kusquam and the ornately adorned Debrebirhan Sillassie church.
Escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and go for a brief trek through the Simien Mountains National Park where centuries of heavy erosion has left the dramatic Ethiopian Plateau amid the deep sweeping valleys that lie between the sharp peaks. It is the only place in the world to see the Walia Ibex, but there are also gelada baboons, Ethiopian wolves and caracals.
Axum is the country's oldest settlement, and is known for its influences from European culture and Christianity. The ancient ruins of the once powerful city can still be seen with its 300 towering monolithic obelisks decorated in identical, hand-carved designs. Stone slabs with engraved inscriptions, ruined palaces and ancient currencies of gold, silver and bronze are all among the historical gems this city offers. It is also home to the St Mary of Zion Church, believed to be of the original biblical Ark of the Covenant, which draws many pilgrims.
Lalibela, named for King Lalibela, is the final stop on the route, and offers a remarkable eleven monolithic churches from the 12th century. They were chipped and carved by hand from the solid volcanic rock upon which they sit. The impressively difficult and arduous work is considered to be a testament to the dedication of religious devotion that has be integral to Ethiopia's history. Anthropologists have excavated deep into the earth to unveil the magnificent churches, and revealed that several are connected with a winding maze of tunnels.