Ethiopia: a mosaic of cultures and ecosystems with its own identity

May 09, 2020    Anibal Bueno

Ethiopia's cultural diversity is one of the largest worldwide. In addition, it not only houses the oldest fossils of the first hominids (such as the famous Lucy, which can be visited at the Addis Ababa National Museum), but also incredible architectural constructions listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco (the famous churches excavated in the rocky soil of Lalibela).

Additionally, in this fascinating country we find the hottest place on the planet: the Danakil sulfur and salt desert.

But, of all the national wonders, human and social stand out above all: its more than 80 different ethnic groups and cultures make Ethiopia an amazing and rich place to visit.


The south of this nation, known as the “cradle of humanity”, is an incredible garden of cultures. The Surma ethnic group is one of the remotest in the Omo Valley. Their social and economic capital is the Ethiopian city of Kibish, close to the border with South Sudan, a region from which they migrated some 200 years ago.

If there is a ritual that stands out in this culture, it is the celebration of the Donga, an annual combat, in pairs, between the youth of the region, who decorate their bodies hours before with paintings they obtain from clay rocks in the area. Children imitate them, dreaming of participating in a future in such a contest.


At the other end of the nation, to the northeast, is the holy city of Harar, being the Islamic capital of the region. Its motto "city of peace" makes clear the intentions of a population so different from the rest of the country and with so much identity of its own that it surprises anyone who visits Ethiopia.

The walls that delimit the medina are passable through any of the 5 gates that, with their different history each, make up another UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a culmination to this experience, every night it is possible to see the legacy of Yusuf Mume, a man who, for decades, feeds wild hyenas outside the walls, making them act as docile pets.


And entering one of the most remote corners, in the extreme north of Ethiopia, near the convulsive border with Eritrea, we find a unique area on the planet, at a geological, natural and cultural level: the Danakil region. It is the hottest point on the globe, exceeding 60 degrees at certain times of the year. There, there is the possibility of touring the enigmatic and infinite salt lake, get into a land where the sulfur stains yellow and green landscapes that seem from another planet and towering active volcanoes. No wonder it is the only place in the world where there is no microscopic life of any kind.

Photos by Anibal Bueno.