Simien Mountains National Park and Limalimo Eco-Lodge – Jewels of the Ethiopian Highlands

Ethiopia is Africa’s “country apart”: it has it’s own unique people; they have their own language (Amharic); a written history dating back to at least the time of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; and they follow an archaic form of Christianity. To vacation there is like traveling back 1,000 years to Byzantium.

Altogether the perceptions of the places you might have will be mostly wrong: rather than being hot and arid it is one of Africa’s most fertile places. The capital, Addis Ababa, is half again higher than Denver.

Together, the Bale and Simien highlands constitute Africa’s largest Afro-alpine biome, with plateaus averaging around 4,000 meters (15,000 feet) above sea level. Given the topography, they harbor many unique species including the Ethiopian wolf, which is Africa’s most endangered large predator.

The Simien Mountains National Park (established 1969) also protects the only grass-eating primates, the impressive, shaggy, galado baboons that graze on the high montane grasslands. Although not endemic, extremely rare eagle-vultures or lammergeyers find refuge among the lofty peaks and rugged ridges of the Simien massif.

The one thing about national parks here is that Ethiopians have a rather contrary idea about what a national park is. People have been living in these highlands for millennia, whereas conservation is a new-fangled idea. If ever there was to be an antidote to the increasing human footprint in this delicate ecosystem it was always going to be Byzantine.

When you have a problem of this complexity you call in the cavalry: in this case an organization named African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). It is active in 16 countries helping wildlife authorities curb poaching, blocking illegal wildlife trade, providing data-driven solutions to human-wildlife issues as well as on-ground support.

In 2003 AWF, working with government and indigenous groups, agreed to re-demarcate the national park by excluding some villages and agricultural areas, then bolting on two new wildlife reserves, Mesarerya and Limalimo. In 2014, with funding from African Wildlife Capital (AWC, the investment arm of AWF), ground was broken at Limalimo eco and community lodge, with local man Shiferaw Asrat appointed CEO of the project.

Part of the 200-strong workforce recruited locally was schooled in methods such as rammed-earth construction in order to ensure the development had a minimal negative impact. The resulting boutique eco-lodge provides a sustainable land use for the region.

“In Ethiopia, tourism is still in its infancy and rarely have we been able to engage in a country during this stage of tourism development,” says AWC investment manager Giles Davies. “The Simien Mountains will benefit, both from a socioeconomic and conservation perspective.”

Ethiopia and the Simien Mountains are unequivocal bucket-list destinations. But, if you have not yet had the chance, fear not. In partnership with AWF, Bushtracks has designed a conservation-led safari there during which time (from the end of October to early November this year) you’ll stay at Limalimo Eco-Lodge.

Malikami guzo (bon voyage).

This article was written by African travel and nature specialist David Bristow.

Sign up for our African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) safari in Ethiopia on our AWF-led safari booking page: https://info.bushtracks.com/awf

The first version of this article was posted on 01 Jan 2019 at 10:49 PM.