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The West – Lush Nature and Coffee Routes

Western Ethiopia is an underpublicised wildlife-lover’s paradise, where colobus monkeys swing though roadside trees, elephants and buffalos lurk in forest glades, and an alluring bird checklist includes many forest endemics along with the spectacular shoebill and Egyptian plover. Nourished by a plentiful rainfall throughout the year, the loamy fertile soils of its lushly forested slopes are the natural home of the arabica coffee bean and the origin of the world’s favourite hot brew - which still remains the region’s main export crop.

 

  • More than 5,000 plant species have been identified in the lush montane rainforests of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve and the Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve, including many varieties of wild coffee, which still grow profusely in the forest understory.
  • Africa’s second-largest antelope migration occurs from March to June, when around a million white-tailed kob cross from South Sudan into Gambella National Park, which is also home to rare birds such as the shoebill and Egyptian plover
  • Day hikes, mule excursions and boat trips are offered by a community tourism program at the 3,386m Mount Wenchi, an extinct volcano topped by a gorgeous crater lake and 13th century island monastery.
  • The sleepy, steamy tropical river port of Gambella, set on a wide, fig-lined tributary of the Nile inhabited by traditional Anuwak fishermen and Nuer pastoralists.
  • Little-visited Chebera-Churchura National Park offers a rare opportunity to track elephants on foot, while its rivers and crater lakes support plenty of hippos and birds.
  • Bebeka Coffee Estate, Ethiopia’s largest, 45 minutes from Mizan Teferi, is of interest to birdwatchers, and a population of small red-brown buffaloes can be spotted in the surrounding hills.
  • Kibish is the springboard for excursions into Southwest Omo, home to the culturally fascinating pastoralist Surma people.

Once a favourite retreat with Emperor Haile Selassie, Ambo is famed for its therapeutic hot springs resort and also offers access to the pretty Guder and Teltele Falls.

Getting There

Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com ) flies between Addis Ababa and the western towns of Jimma, Assosa and Gambella. Privately owned local airline companies can also arrange non-scheduled or chartered flights upon request.

Many trunk roads through Western Ethiopia are asphalted, but others remain unsurfaced and can be tough going in the rainy season. Gambella National Park, Southwest Omo and some other areas are accessible only on a 4x4 expedition organized with an experienced operator.

Accommodation

Midrange and budget rooms are available in larger towns such as Ambo, Nekemte, Metu, Gambella, Bonga, Woliso and Jimma. Very basic budget accommodation can be found in most other towns and larger villages. The Kafa Biosphere Reserve as well as the Bebeka and Tepi Coffee Estates operate simple but comfortable guesthouses. Camping is the only viable option in Southwest Omo, Gambella National Park and Chebera-Churchura National Park.

Other Practicalities

Malaria is a health risk in the lowlands of Gambella and Southwest Omo, so prophylactic drugs are highly recommended.

The climate of Western Ethiopia varies widely, depending largely on altitude. Bring a mix of summer and spring clothing - as well a good rain-jacket in the wet season.

Further Information

Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority: (www.ewca.gov.et ).

Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society: (www.ewnhs.org.et ).

Wenchi Eco-Tourism Association: (www.wenchi-crater-lake.com ).

Kafa Biosphere Reserve: (www.kafa-biosphere.com ).

Chebera Churchura National Park: (www.cheberachurchura.com ).

Oromia Culture and Tourism Bureau: (www.oromiatourism.gov.et ).

Further Reading

Bradt Guide to Ethiopia: (7th edition 2015, www.bradtguides.com )

  1. Once a favourite retreat with Emperor Haile Selassie, Ambo is famed for its therapeutic hot springs resort and also offers access to the pretty Guder and Teltele Falls.
  2. Day hikes, mule excursions and boat trips are offered by a community tourism program at the 3,386m Mount Wenchi, an extinct volcano topped by a lovely crater lake and 13th century island monastery.
  3. Nekemte is a bustling green town whose Welega Museum houses an extensive collection of leatherware, carvings, musical instruments and other traditional Oromo items.
  4. Named after the main river flowing through it, Didessa Wildlife Reserve is home to hippos, monkeys and a varied birdlife.
  5. Asossa, capital of Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State, boasts a worthwhile ethnographic museum, and a lively Wednesday and Saturday market.
  6. A colourful market typical of small-town Benishangul-Gumuz is held at Bambasi every Wednesday and Saturday. Nearby Goshmandu hosts a vibrant Thursday livestock market.
  7. Built in the 1970s by an Islamic healer and spiritual leader from Nigeria, the striking Yamesera Mosque has a peaceful rustic location in an artificial forest of fruiting trees.
  8. The leafy university town of Metu lies on a stretch of the Sor River teeming with monkeys and birds.
  9. A popular picnic site near Metu, the spectacular Sor Waterfall crashes over a steep rock face into a misty gorge lined with tree ferns and forest.
  10. The Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve comprises fragments of montane rainforest whose understory supports one of the world’s last wild populations of arabica coffee.
  11. Gambella, set on a stretch of the Baro River frequented by the rare Egyptian plover, is a sleepy tropical riverport and regional capital known for the traditional cultures of its Anuwak and Nuer residents.
  12. Africa’s second-largest antelope migration occurs from March to June, when around a million white-tailed kob cross from South Sudan into Gambella National Park.
  13. Tepi Coffee Estate, the country’s second largest, is a good place to learn about coffee production, and to ramble through dense montane forests alive with birdlife.
  14. The Sheka Biosphere Reserve incorporates substantial tracts of montane rainforest inhabited by several primate species including the very localised DeBrazza’s monkey.
  15. Bebeka Coffee Estate, Ethiopia’s largest, 45 minutes from Mizan Teferi, is of interest to birdwatchers, and a population of small red-brown buffaloes can be spotted in the surrounding hills.
  16. Kibish is the springboard for excursions into Southwest Omo, home to the pastoralist Surma.
  17. More than 5,000 plant species have been identified in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, the sole home of many wild coffee varieties which still grow profusely in the forest understory. Several hiking routes are available.
  18. Bonga, the gateway town to Kafa, hosted an important coffee market in the 19th century and is today the site of the soon-to-open Bonga International Coffee Museum.
  19. The largest city in western Ethiopia, Jimma is the former capital of King Abba Jiffar, whose restored palace can be visited on the town outskirts.
  20. Little-visited Chebera-Churchura National Park offers a rare opportunity to track elephants on foot, while its rivers and crater lakes support plenty of hippos and birds.