Although travel in Ethiopia tends to be a very outdoorsy experience, there are few opportunities for organized sports and adventure activities. An obvious exception is hiking, a rewarding experience in several national parks and other mountainous areas, notably Bale and the Simiens.
Ethiopia has produced some of the world’s finest long-distance runners, including the pioneering Abebe Bikila, who earned the country its first Olympic gold in 1960 running the marathon barefoot, the double Olympic gold medallist Haile Gebrselassie, and the relative newcomer Tiki Gelana, who set the Olympic record for the woman’s marathon in 2012. This phenomenon is often attributed to the high altitudes at which Ethiopian athletes train, something that should be borne in mind by visitors planning on doing a few casual runs while they are on holiday here. Still, if the altitudes and slopes don’t deter you, Ethiopia has a wonderful climate for running, and you’ll find plenty of locals trotting along the roads of Addis Ababa in the early morning. The 10km Great Ethiopian Run (ethiopianrun.org), held in Addis Ababa every November, claims to be the biggest road race in Africa with more than 40,000 participants, and it is almost certainly the highest in terms of altitude.
The best sites for overnight hikes are Simien and Bale mountains national parks. In both cases, these can be organized in advance through operators or put together on the spot at the park headquarters. Both parks are very scenic and offer great opportunities to spot endemic wildlife and birds in their natural habitat. Keen walkers will find that Ethiopia offers plenty of scope for testing day hikes, for instance to the many old monasteries around Lalibela or to the rock-hewn churches on the Gheralta Escarpment in Tigrai.
Overnight horse- or mule-back excursions are one of the best ways to explore Bale Mountains National Park. Day-trips on horseback are also offered at Wenchi Crater Lake, to the west of Addis Ababa.
Although Ethiopia has tremendous potential as a mountain-biking destination, this is limited at the moment by a lack of facilities. Unless you bring your own mountain bike to the country, the only opportunities are provided by a couple of lodges in Simien Mountains National Park and at Lake Langano.
Ethiopia has no coastline and most of its lakes cannot be recommended for swimming as they have bilharzia. An exception is Lake Langano, whose (reputedly) bilharzia-free waters are lined by several resorts. A few hotels in Addis Ababa and elsewhere have swimming pools, but the temperate to cool highland climate isn’t really conducive to lazing around a pool in a swimsuit.
As is the case in most of Africa, football is a national obsession and the only spectator sport that arouses much public interest. These days, however, enthusiasm seems to be focused less on the domestic game than it is on the English Premier League, as well as on the many other international league matches that dominate satellite television in bars and hotels. Nonetheless, several large towns, including Addis Ababa, Arba Minch, Hawassa, Harar and Gondar, have teams that feature in the hotly contested Ethiopian Premier League, and it can be very exciting to catch a game in a local stadium – not to mention the international fixtures occasionally held at Addis Ababa Stadium in the centre of the capital.