“The most marvellous of all Abyssinian landscapes”, wrote the Edwardian travel writer Rosita Forbes of the Simien Mountains, a spectacular range of jagged plateaux and peaks incised by a series of vertiginous river gorges. Situated about 100km north of Gondar, this is Africa’s fifth-highest massif, and includes a dozen peaks that top the 4000m mark, notably Ras Dejen – at 4550m the tallest point in Ethiopia. The western park of the range has been protected in the Simien Mountains National Park since 1969, and the entire massif was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It’s also Ethiopia’s most popular trekking destination, partly due to its proximity to Gondar, and is traversed by an all-weather road that leads east from the gateway village of Debark all the way through the national park to near the base of Ras Dejen.
Ecologically, the Simien Mountains are notable for supporting some of Africa’s most extensive high-altitude habitats, with erica bushes and trees dominating at 3000–3600m, and a low cover of Afro-alpine grassland studded with 10m-high giant lobelias at the highest altitudes. Though it’s best known to travellers for its spectacular scenery, the park is also an important stronghold for endemic wildlife. It forms the last refuge of the Walia ibex, the most numerically important stronghold for the gelada monkey, and is second only to Bale in terms of its Ethiopian wolf population. Six endemic bird species have been recorded, including the localized Ankober serin and striking thick-billed raven. And the tall, jagged cliffs of the Simien are perhaps the best place in the world for close-up views of the spectacular lammergeyer.