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Lakes & Rivers

From the jewel-like string of crater lakes around Bishoftu to the oceanic expanses of Lake Tana, Ethiopia supports a wealth of freshwater habitats and associated birds and other wildlife.

  • Ethiopia’s largest water body, Lake Tana extends across the northwestern highlands for 3,670 square kilometres and forms the centrepiece of a UNESCO biosphere reserve created in June 2015. Serviced by the bustling port town of Bahir Dar, Tana is one of Ethiopia’s most popular and engaging tourist destinations, thanks to its balmy tropical climate, fabulous birdlife, excellent amenities, and wealth of atmospheric mediaeval island monasteries.
  • Tana is the primary source of the Blue Nile, which starts its lengthy course to the Mediterranean close to Bahir Dar. Known locally as the Abay, the Blue Nile is widely identified with the Biblical river Ghion, which flowed out of the Garden of Eden to ‘encircle the entire land of Kush’ (an alternative Biblical name for Ethiopia). The Blue Nile Falls, downstream from where the river exits the lake, ranks among the most spectacular waterfalls in Africa, especially during the rains.
  • The Rift Valley south of Addis Ababa supports a string of seven large and scenic freshwater and soda lakes. Of these, bilharzia-free Langano, its shore lined with upmarket resorts, is a popular weekend retreat from the capital, while Lake Ziway houses an island monastery established in 842 AD to provide temporary sanctuary to the Ark of the Covenant. All the Rift Valley lakes support a rich birdlife, with Abijatta in particular hosting one of Africa’s great ornithological spectacles, when hundreds of thousands of beautiful pink-hued flamingos collect to feed in its shallows.
  • Only 50km from Addis Ababa, Bishoftu - formerly Debre Zeyit - is set amidst a quartet of beautiful crater lakes whose steep volcanic rims are lined with resorts catering to all tastes and budgets. On the west side of Bishoftu, a non-volcanic lake called Chelekleka hosts thousands of migrant European cranes from November to February.
  • In the far west, the wide and sluggish Baro River, a tributary of the Nile, supports the sleepy tropical riverport of Gambella, which was once connected to Khartoum by regular cargo boats. Noted for the traditional cultures of its Anuwak and Nuer residents, Gambella is also the gateway to Gambella National Park, a remote wetland reserve that hosts Africa’s second-largest antelope migration, comprising around a million white-tailed kob, between March and June.