A semi-arid landscape of dry acacia woodland and savannah, the scenic, 756-square-kilometre Awash National Park was set aside in 1996 to protect the gaping Awash River Gorge. On its northern horizon, Mount Fantalle is a dormant volcano whose sheer walls are set around a deep caldera pockmarked with active steam vents. Other landmarks include the impressive Awash Falls at the head of the gorge, the palm-fringed pools of Filwoha Hot Springs, and the shallow, boulder-strewn Lake Beseka to the southwest of the park.

Wildlife is relatively scarce and skittish. The most conspicuous large mammals are baboon (both hamadryas and Anubis), beisa oryx, Soemmerring’s gazelle and Salt’s dik-dik. Predators are very seldom seen, but spotted hyena and black-backed jackal are present, and lion and cheetah might occasionally venture through. Awash is a superb birding destination, with at least 450 species recorded. Fantalle is the best place in Ethiopia to look for the endemic yellow-throated seedeater and sombre rock chat, though of greater interest to casual visitors are the waterbirds associated with Lake Beseka, and colourful savannah species such as Abyssinian roller and northern carmine bee-eater.

The park lies 190km east of Addis Ababa, and is bisected by the main road to Dire Dawa and flanked by the small towns of METEHARA to the southwest, close to Lake Beseka, and AWASH SABA to the east. Set on the edge of the Awash Gorge, Awash Saba hosts a busy Monday market that attracts hordes of traditional Afar people. Both towns have a few hotels and are easily accessed on public transport, though realistically the park can be explored only as part of a tour or in a private vehicle (ideally 4×4) out of Addis Ababa.

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