Below are some of the major travel highlights for Nile and Rift Valleys. For more in-depth attractions of each country on this route, click on the country names below or select a route to see the highlights on this section of the journey. Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
|In-depth highlights: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya|
Highlights of Rift Valley
The small town of Axum in the north of Ethiopia was once the capital of the Axumite Empire which flourished between the 1st century BC and the 7th century AD. The Axumites traded with Rome, Persia and India and was one of the great civilisations of its day. There are many historical sites in and around Axum dating from this time, most notably the stelae of the Axumite kings, giant granite obelisks marking their tombs. According to legend, Axum was also the birthplace and home of the Queen of Sheba in the 10th century BC and her son Menelik (fathered by King Solomon) returned from Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant. Ethiopians believe the Ark still resides in Axum, located in a building of the Church of St. Mary of Zion.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Aksum
The Simien Mountains are one of the best trekking destinations in Africa, a stunning mountain range characterised by jagged peaks, huge gorges and panoramic views across the landscape from atop the escarpment that bisects the park. It is especially beautiful just after the wet season when the green landscape is at its most vivid. The National Park is home to some rare animals endemic to this region including the shaggy-haired gelada baboon (the highest-dwelling and most social primates on earth), the Walia ibex and the rare Ethiopian wolf. Some trips to Ethiopia include a brief period of trekking in the Simiens as a taster but longer, dedicated tours are available that comprise an 8-10 day trek from the town of Debark to Ras Dashen, at 4543 metres the fourth highest peak in Africa.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Simien National Park
The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are unquestionably one of the world's most extraordinary sites. Built in the 13th century by King Lalibela to create a 'New Jerusalem', the 11 churches in the village have been carved out of cliff faces, hillsides and into the ground with an incredible level of detail and beauty, on the exterior and interior. The most famous and beautiful is the crossed-shaped Bet Giorgis. Lalibela itself is today a small mountain village, isolated from the world and tourist masses, and the churches themselves are very much still in use, with priests, pilgrims and religious ceremonies regularly seen. The surrounding countryside contains more churches for exploration, such as Ashatan Maryam.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela
The fortress-city of Fasil Ghebbi is located in the city of Gonder which was the imperial capital for over 200 years. It was built in the 16th and 17th centuries by King Fasilides and his successors. Known as The Royal Enclosure, the compound contains well preserved castles, palaces, a banquet hall, library, lion house and other buildings, the Gonderian architecture displaying Arab, Hindu and European influences. Nearby in Gonder lies Debre Berhan Selassie, a beautifully preserved 17th century church, and Fasilidas's Pool, which is filled with water and worshippers every year during the Timkat Festival.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region
|Lake Tana Monasteries|
The islands and shores of Lake Tana contain numerous centuries old monasteries reached by boat trips from Bahir Dar. The monasteries were used as a refuge for emperors and their riches at times of upheaval and according to legend the Ark of the Covenant was kept here when Axum was under threat. Today the monasteries contain numerous religious treasures including Axumite crosses and manuscripts.
|Blue Nile Falls / Tississat Falls|
The Blue Nile originates in Lake Tana and 30 kilometres from its source it forms a 45 metre waterfall known as the Blue Nile Falls. Once second only in Africa to Victoria Falls in terms of magnitude, the construction of a nearby hydroelectric plant has dramatically reduced the Falls' volume. Nevertheless they are still an impressive site and with an evocative journey through villages and fields and over a 16th century Portuguese bridge to reach them, and barely a tourist in sight, they are well worth the visit.
The Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia offers the chance to meet the diverse and colourful tribes of the region, one of the best places in Africa to explore traditional lifestyles. Among the tribes are the pastoralist Mursi, whose women are famous for extending their lower lips with clay discs and men for stick fighting, the Karo known for their elaborate body painting, the photogenic Hamer with their ornate dress and hairstyles and the Konso, known for their beautifully constructed walled villages and stone terraces.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Lower Valley of the Omo
|Lake Turkana National Parks|
The three national parks around Lake Turkana are stopovers for migrant waterfowl and major breeding grounds for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus and a variety of venomous snakes while the Koobi Fora deposits are rich in mammalian, molluscan and other fossil remains.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Lake Turkana National Parks
|Samburu/Laikipia National Reserve|
Samburu is one of Kenya's lesser known national parks, located north of Nairobi in desert bush with views of Mount Kenya. The Ewaso Ng'iro river runs through the reserve, which is home to numerous crocodiles and attracts the "red elephants of Samburu". Leopard sightings are common in the acacia trees that line the riverbank and in addition to the usual game, Samburu also hosts the rare Grevy's zebra, reticulated giraffe and the gerenuk antelope.
Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa at 5199m. The trekking route up Mount Kenya has been described as more beautiful than that of Kilimanjaro. The trekking peak reached is Point Lenana at 4985m, higher are the technical peaks of Batian (5199m) and Nelion (5188m). For the less adventurous, the slopes of Mount Kenya makes for excellent hikes through grasslands, moorlands and dense forests.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest
Lake Naivasha is a picturesque lake in the Great Rift Valley, that allows boat trips to view hippos and the abundant birdlife here, home to over 400 species. Nearby is Crescent Island Sanctuary where you can go on walking safari to view zebra, giraffe and wildebeest, Hell's Gate National Park for bike riding amidst spectacular canyons and hot springs and Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson of 'Born Free' fame, where you can learn about her life and work.
Lake Nakuru is a beautiful national park, best know for its huge population of pink flamingos which are attracted to the algae of its soda lake - one of the greatest bird spectacles on earth where entire portions of the lake can be turned pink due to the vast numbers. Over 400 other bird species are also resident here, including 13 globally threatened species and is a major nesting and breeding ground for great white pelicans. On dry land, it's an excellent place to view black and white rhinos, as well as buffalo, cheetah, lion, greater kudu, zebra and the endangered Rothschild giraffe.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley