The most popular tourist attraction anywhere in Ethiopia, the awe-inspiring complex of rock-hewn churches in and the around the small highland town of Lalibela has been billed as sub-Saharan Africa’s answer to Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu. True, Lalibela is not quite as ancient as either of these sites, but its medieval churches improve on both insofar as they are not mute ruins of a half-forgotten civilization but active shrines that have remained in continuous use ever since they were hand-carved into the pink volcanic ruff underlying the town.
Lesser-known but worthwhile attractions near Lalibela include the cluster of equally historic but less frequently visited churches around the village of Bilbilla, and a recently proclaimed community reserve protecting the endemic wildlife that inhabits the windswept upper slopes of Mount Abune Yoseph. Elsewhere, the twin towns of Dessie and Kombolcha are useful overnight stopovers that provide access to the pretty Lake Hayk and seething Bati livestock market, while modest Weldiya is of interest primarily as the main springboard for public transport to Lalibela.
Top image: Lalibela © Barbara Barbour/Shutterstock