Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and is considered to be the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ as many studies suggest the origin of Homo sapiens began in Addis Ababa, the capital city. Many archaeologists come to Ethiopia to work on the ruins of the recently discovered Islamic kingdom of Shoa. The oldest fossilized complete human skeleton nicknamed ‘Lucy’ was also discovered in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is not the country to visit for a relaxing holiday. It offers a wealth of experiences but be prepared to be moved and shocked at how the local people exist. The country is best remembered for its periods of drought and severe famines which make world headlines from time to time. Many people who come to Ethiopia do so to offer medical aid and volunteer work to assist in bringing hope to this desperate country. Healthcare is among the least developed in Africa. It continues to suffer from civil war and the ongoing border dispute with Eritrea. Visas are required from any Ethiopian embassy before arriving in the country.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The country has 83 million people and is quite densely populated. It also has 84 indigenous languages, but English is the most widely used foreign language. Arabic is the main language of the local people. There is a good choice of accommodation in Addis Ababa, but elsewhere camping is the best option if you are trekking. Medical treatment and healthcare is only reliably available in the city.

Ethiopia’s main commercial activity is agriculture. Coffee is a key export along with animal hides, cereals, beeswax and sugar.

On a more positive note, several Olympic middle-distance and Olympic runners have come from Ethiopia. The country is also known for its ancient and interesting architecture, particularly in Gonder, an old walled city. The mountains are great for walking and trekking with some amazing scenery.

Typical Ethiopian food includes thick stews called ‘wats’ served on top of flatbread called ‘injera’. The bread is used to scoop up the food. Pork and shellfish are not eaten in Ethiopia for religious reasons.

The best months to visit Ethiopia are from mid September to January and April to mid-June as these are the dry months. The rainy seasons are expected from June to September with short rains in February and March. It is also unbearably hot in the lowlands during June to September.

Visitors come to Ethiopia for bird watching in the national parks and around the lakes. Visitors also enjoy mountain biking and animal spotting in the Bale Mountains. The Danakil Depression also draws visitors as it is 120 metres below sea level and may once have been part of the Red Sea. There are vast deposits of salts in places and the floor is basalt lava from an active volcano nearby.

Paid jobs are scarce in Ethiopia but a good way to experience the country is to visit as a volunteer. Several companies arrange volunteer groups to aid Ethiopia. Skills such as teaching, healthcare, childcare and volunteering on an environmental or agricultural program are all possibilities. There are also opportunities for those with the relevant skills to work on water projects, building and hospital power projects. Volunteers benefit by having an unrivalled experience in a wonderful environment whilst knowing they are enriching the lives of others.