Administrative capital of the ethnically diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, HAWASSA (known as Awassa prior to 2009), 270km from Addis Ababa, has a population estimated at 170,000, making it probably the largest town in southern Ethiopia. Modern and attractively laid-out, it lies on the eastern shore of the freshwater Lake Hawassa, which is lined with resorts catering primarily to Addis Ababa weekenders.
Despite its proximity to town, the lakeshore supports a cover of lush ficus forest alive with guereza and grivet monkeys. It also offers perhaps the finest suburban birdwatching in the country, with an astonishing array of avifauna. Woodland endemics such as black-winged lovebird, yellow-fronted parrot and banded barbet are commonly seen alongside the water-associated birds such as the African fish eagle, blue-headed coucal, pygmy goose and various pelicans, waders and waterfowl. Private boatmen at the jetty west of the main roundabout will take you out onto the lake to look for hippos.