Rift Valley

The Rift Valley stretches along a 4,000 km long fault line stretching from the Red Sea south to Mozambique’s Zambezi Valley. A rift valley is a lowland region that forms at places where Earth’s tectonic plates move apart. Rift valleys differ geographically from river valleys and glacial valleys in that they are created by tectonic activity and not the process of erosion.

The Ethiopia portion of the Rift Valley runs from the Red Sea to Lake Turkana on the Kenyan border. In northern Ethiopia, it forms the Danakil Depression, the inaccessible and inhospitable desert that dips to an altitude of 116m below sea level, one of the lowest points on the earth’s surface.

South of the Danakil Depression and due east of Addis Ababa, the Rift narrows around Awash National Park and splits to become the Eastern and Western Highlands. The southern part of the Ethiopian Rift Valley is lower, warmer and drier than the other densely populated parts of the country.

As well as the valleys, another geographical feature of the Ethiopian Rift Valley is the lakes. There are six main lakes that formed during the last ice age, and originally they were just two lakes. Out of all of the African Rift valley lakes, the Ethiopian lakes are the northernmost.

These Rift Valley Lakes contain a great natural diversity and they are also very important for the local economies in the region. Travelling out of the capital, Addis Ababa and visiting the Rift Valley lakes is a popular excursion for many city dwelling Ethiopians.

Overlooking Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo, the town of Arba Minch is to be found in the beautiful surrounds of the foothills and is often used as a base of locals and tourists to explore further. Leaving Addis by the Butajira road to the south it is about 460 km to Arba Minch.

More popular with foreign tourists, Konso is one of the latest World Heritage sites to be awarded in Ethiopia. You may well find that you have a local guide from this region as they are well accustomed to foreign tourism and have excellent knowledge of the area. The Konso people live in compact walled villages on the top of a hill. These unique, maze like settlements are unique for the region and it is here that you will find ‘generation poles’ which are erected every 18th year to mark a new generation.

As Seen in…


Places to visit on our Ethiopia Holidays

Travelling to the Simien Mountains National park was the highlight of our tour in Ethiopia. I had sen pictures and thought that I knew what to expect but the reality was so much more. My only regret was not having more time there.

R. Steele, UK

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Why visit Ethiopia’s Rift Valley?

So why should you want to visit the Rift Valley area in Ethiopia? Well, to begin with the lakes are great for bird watchers with people travelling from all over the world to experience and view the huge variety of different species. Another special reason to visit is to discover the different tribes and cultures. As an example, the Karo people are among the smallest ethnic groups in southern Ethiopia with only between 1000 and 3000 estimated individuals remaining.  Tourism has had some negative effects on the tribes in the south and you need to be careful if, how and when you visit.

Unknown to many who travel to the Rift Valley area, most of the lakes are suitable and safe for swimming and other water sports. As previously mentioned, it is also great for bird watching and Lakes Abiata and Shalla are ideal places for any keen twitcher. In fact for anyone with just a passing interest in wildlife or birds in general, this is a fantastic location to spend a bit of time.

Most of the Rift Valley lakes are not (yet) overly exploited for tourists. The one exception to this is Lake Langano where there are a number of tourist class hotels.

Due to the geographical nature of the region, the Rift Valley is also the site of numerous natural hot springs. As with hot springs anywhere in the world, the chemical contents of the springs are highly valued. The therapeutic effects are still not fully understood and in this part of the country, they are not fully utilised.

There are of course many entrepreneurial Ethiopians and it will not be long before there are further developments and changes to the current situation.

The Rift Valley is endowed with many beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs, warm and pleasant climate and a variety of wildlife. For any visitors to Ethiopia, whether on an organised tour or visiting friends and family, the area is certainly worth adding to your itinerary. It can be done as a day trip from the capital but we would suggest that you really need a week or longer to explore and discover the best of the rift valley.

Remember that the distances are huge and that travel by road should only be done in daylight hours. Give yourself plenty of time and you will really enjoy your trip to the Ethiopian Rif Valley.

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