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Traveling in Ethiopia: 10 Things for Kids to do

Friendly people, interesting sights, safe, affordable, and easy transportation. Traveling with kids in Ethiopia is an enriching experience. Ethiopia is twice the size of France, and is located in the Northeastern side of Africa, just above Kenya and the equator. Accessing the country is through Addis Ababa, and short flights and buses link the four main cities in the north, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Lalibella and Axum. Northern Ethiopia’s attractions are a delightful mixture of unique African culture, history, architecture and outdoors, and Ethiopians are very family-oriented. The country has plenty to offer that appeals to kids.

  1. A Mule Ride Through Lalibella: Just the name itself is fun for kids to say. The town of Lalibella is located on a mountain plateau with beautiful views, and is famous for a series of 800-1000 year-old, cave and rock-carved churches which are similar to Petra, Jordan. There are also monasteries located in the mountain tops above the city. A mule ride through the city will put a smile on everyone’s face. Wondrous place.
  1. Exploring the Royal Enclosure, Gondar: Ethiopia has a long history of Kings and Castles. Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar contains several castles as interesting as those in Europe, only much less crowded, more affordable and less restrictions. Ethiopians call it their “camelot”. The castles have stone staircases, turrets, and a bath house surrounded by a giant swimming pool. The bonus is that all of it is accessible for kids to walk around and explore. They can crawl through the fireplaces and discover the nooks and crannies of the castle.
  1. Eating Injera and Wot: Ethiopians love injera, a steamed pancake made from a grain called teff, and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Served on a big circular platter, injera is topped with 3-5 different stews called wot. The wot contains ingredients such as: meat, lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach and/or carrots, and the variety of dishes gives kids a chance to sample and pick the ones they prefer. It is eaten by hand by wrapping the stew in the injera like a mini-burrito. There is also western food readily available at most restaurants for tourists.
  1. Trekking with Baboons in Simien Mountains National Park: Seeing animals up close in their natural habitat is always a wonder for kids. Gelada Baboons are found only in Ethiopia. The “bleeding heart” baboon is a gentle creature that lives in large troops and is an herbivore. A short walk through the national park with a guide and scout allows for an up close encounter that is non-threatening, positive and memorable.
  1. Visiting “Lucy,” National Museum, Addis Ababa: The famous fossilized remains of Lucy, the earliest human ancestor are in Addis Ababa. Lucy is 3.2 million years old and was discovered in East Ethiopia in 1974. She was named after the Beatles song, “Lucy in the sky with diamonds.” Also, a nice educational exhibit on the evolution of humans and apes is found in the museum. There is a popular restaurant next door for lunch with the same name as the museum’s famous guest.
  1. Eating Cake at a Café in Addis Ababa: Since Addis is the transportation hub of the country, and a big busy city, it requires some maneuvering. But there are plenty of cafes around the city to have a quick snack that serve absolutely delicious pastries. Apple tortes, croissants, brownies, black forest cake, and cream puffs. The best part is, they cost less than a $1.
  1. Having Shoes Cleaned by Locals: On the streets every city in Northern Ethiopia are shoe cleaning stations. In the rainy season, this is a practical and necessary way to get the mud cleaned off the sides and bottoms of shoes, and for kids the experience gives them an opportunity to talk with locals. Cost is 10birr ($0.50).
  1. Visiting the Axum Museum and Ark of the Covenant: Axum is an ancient and holy city. It is located near the border of Eritrea, and is geographically and linguistically different from the other cities on the Northern tourist route of Ethiopia. According to legend, the Ark of the Covenant is housed in a church in Axum, the Cathedral of Tsion Maryam. For kids, the museum next to the church has an interesting collection of royal crowns, some of which are surprisingly large and heavy.
  1. Walking to the Blue Nile Waterfall, Bahir Dar: The source of the Blue Nile River is in Ethiopia, and the waterfall is beautiful. It is located outside of town, and the falls are an easy walk next to villagers with donkeys through villages and footbridges. In the rainy season, the river and falls are brown and muddy, but still fun to experience. For older kids, there is a metal suspension footbridge that spans the gorge across the Blue Nile River. Exciting for kids, and adults too.
  1. Visiting a Local Market: Every city in Ethiopia has a market for locals to come and buy and trade goods, spices, produce and domesticated animals. It is held on different days of the week depending on the city, and it is the cultural heart of most cities. Markets are full of people and animals, and in the rainy season, extremely muddy. But the items sold in the market are fascinating to kids, as well as the simple experience of walking through the stalls and seeing the locals. Yes, watch out for pick pickets. But overall a feast for the eyes and an educational experience for kids.
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