Bale Mountains National Park
Ethiopia's most important biodiversity hotspot, Bale Mountains National Park supports a rich mosaic of high-altitude habitats including lush evergreen forest, stands of giant bamboo, pastel-shaded moorland, and sheltered river valleys swathed in fragrant juniper-hagenia woodland. Nominated as a tentative UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 2009, the park is the most important stronghold to three endemic large mammal species - the charismatic Ethiopian wolf, handsome mountain nyala and delightful Bale monkey - while its incredible avifauna is reflected by the African Birding Club having listed it as one of the continent’s top five birding hotspots.
- Bale’s high-altitude centrepiece is the Sanetti Plateau, a vast lava plateau interspersed with several 4,200-plus metre volcanic cones.
- Sanetti is the world’s most extensive Afro-Alpine moorland, comprising tussocks of heather interspersed with icy tarns and ethereal giant lobelias. The northern slopes below Sanetti support a mix of juniper-hagenia woodland and Afromontane grassland, while the southern slopes are layered with altitudinal bands of Erica, bamboo and Afromontane forest
- Bale's 1,300-plus plant species include 160 Ethiopian endemics and 23 unique to the park.
- Bale is the main global stronghold for the endangered Ethiopian wolf, a handsome red-and-white canid often seen trotting through the heather of the Sanetti Plateau, where it feeds on rodents such as the endemic giant mole-rat.
- Bale is the last main stronghold for the endangered mountain nyala, a large spiral-horned antelope most often seen on the short walking trail that runs through the juniper-hagenia forest around the park headquarters at Dinsho. Other mammals often encountered at Dinsho include warthog, Bohor reedbuck and Menelik’s bushbuck.
- The Harenna Forest south of Sanetti supports the park’s richest variety of large mammals, These include the remarkable giant forest hog (the world’s largest swine) and the very localised Bale monkey, a vulnerable endemic whose tiny range is attributable to its specialised diet of bamboo.
- Bale stands out as the best place in Ethiopia to see endemic birds. Six national endemics are present, alongside another 11 species shared only with Eritrea, and several others unique to the Horn of Africa. Juniper-hagenia forest around Dinsho hosts woodland species such as white-cheeked turaco, yellow-fronted parrot, black-winged lovebird, and Abyssinian catbird, while high-altitude specialties on Sanetti include Rouget’s rail, chestnut-naped francolin, spot-breasted plover and alpine chat.
- Bale supports the only known sub-Saharan breeding populations of golden eagle, ruddy shelduck and red-billed chough, underscoring the Palaearctic affiliations of Ethiopia’s wildlife.
- Bale is a superb destination for hiking and mule back treks. A good starting point for walkers is the undemanding trail around Dinsho, or the half-day Bamboo and Waterfall Trail in the Harenna Forest. Longer trails out of Dinsho, mostly above the 3,000m contour, take from two to eleven days.
- Bale is surprisingly easy to explore by vehicle, with all-weather roads offering access to most of its more alluring habitats - indeed all-weather road across the Sanetti Plateau to the 4,377m peak of Mount Tulu Dimtu is the highest in Africa.
Dinsho, the park headquarters, is 370km from Addis Ababa via Adama and Asela, the quickest and least trafficked road route.
An alternative 420km route via Shashemene is preferred by tours that also include the Rift Valley lakes. Tours can be booked with local tour operators in the main towns.
An all-weather road runs from Dinsho via Robe to Goba before continuing south to traverse the Sanetti Plateau and then descend into the Harenna Forest. This road offers good wildlife viewing and birding, and comes with a good chance of spotting many endemics, but the likes of Dinsho and the Harenna Forest will be more productive explored on foot. Multi-day hikes can be organised at the guides association and ticketing office at Dinsho.
An Islamic pilgrimage to Sof Omar Caves takes place every November.
A world-class Bale Mountain Lodge opened in the Harenna Forest in 2014. Elsewhere, budget to midrange accommodation is available in Goba and Robe, and at Dinsho. Five overnight hiking huts stud the hiking trails through the Adaba-Dodola Integrated Forest Management Project, but the only option for hikers within the national park is camping, using your own gear or equipment hired at Dinsho.
Those heading directly to Sanetti or Harenna should note that all parks fees must be paid, and tickets and guides obtained, en route at Dinsho.
Bale is very cold, with sub-zero temperatures frequently registered on the Sanetti Plateau. Hikers should bring plenty of warm clothing and a windbreaker jacket.
Bale Mountains National Park: A Traveller’s Guidebook by Eliza Richman & Biniyam Admassu (2013), www.fzs.org - detailed 80-page booklet with hiking and trekking routes.
Bale Mountains National Park: Birding Booklet by Addisu Asefa, Eliza Richman, Biniyam Admassu & Thadaigh Baggallay (2013), www.fzs.org - 52 pages of detailed birding information covering the park and environs.
Bradt Guide to Ethiopia by Philip Briggs, (7th edition 2015), www.bradtguides.com - detailed background information and up-to-date hotel, restaurant and other listings.
Bale Mountain Guides Association - tel +251 (0)22 1190758 or +251 (0)913 958802.
Bale Mountains National Park - www.balemountains.org.
Oromia Culture and Tourism Bureau - www.oromiatourism.gov.et.
- The Adaba-Dodola Integrated Forest Management Project offers wonderful hiking opportunities between a series of five overnight huts on the northern slopes of the Bale Massif.
- The park headquarters at Dinsho are the site of the guides association, a lodge and campsite, and a small natural history museum, interpretation centre and library. The Web River near Dinsho is one of the nine rivers and streams where anglers with permits and their own gear can fish for rainbow and brown trout.
- The untaxing Dinsho Walking Trail leads from the headquarters through a juniper-hagenia forest frequented by the endemic mountain nyala and Menelik’s bushbuck along with many forest birds.
- Bisected by the main road from Addis Ababa, the Gaysay Extension, named after the 3,543m Mount Gaysay, is a good place to spot Ethiopian wolf, mountain nyala and Abyssinian longclaw.
- Named after a large stream originating in Bale, the Web Valley, 10km from Dinsho along a track, is prime Ethiopian wolf territory; here also are the attractive Fincha Habera Falls.
- The largest town close to Bale, Robe, on the main road between Dinsho and the Sanetti Plateau, is equipped with several hotels, restaurants, shops, a small museum and an airport.
- Carved by the Web River, Sof Omar, Ethiopia’s largest cave system and a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site, is named after a revered sheik took refuge there in the 12th-century.
- Goba, is a popular base for day drives to the nearby Sanetti Plateau.
- Climbing verdant slopes seasonally studded with beautiful red-hot pokers (Kniphofia), the ascent road to Sanetti is a reliable spot for Rouget’s rail and the best place to find Bale parisoma.
- Bale’s chilly high-altitude centrepiece is the Sanetti Plateau, the world’s most extensive Afro-Alpine moorland, and home to a wealth of endemic wildlife including the largest remaining population of Ethiopian wolf.
- Accessible by all-weather road, the 4,377m peak of Mount Tulu Dimtu the highest point in southern Ethiopia, offers a splendid view over the moorland of Sanetti.
- The Harenna Escarpment at the southern end of the Sanetti Plateau offers incredible views over cliffs frequented by soaring eagles and buzzards to the lush green forest below.
- Recently opened to tourism, the vast Harenna Forest, blanketing the southern half of the national park, is a superlative birding destination and the only habitat of the endemic Bale monkey.
- Riverine woodland at Genale, to the south of Harenna, is renowned among birders as one of the best sites for Prince Ruspoli’s turaco, a beautiful and very localised endemic.