Southern Ethiopia is a regional state that officially houses 56 of the 80 ethnic groups some of them Hamer, Karo, Surma,Ethiopian Mursi girl Bodi and Mursi.

Its capital is Awasa, a city located 273 km south of Addis Ababa. It is a beautiful city situated by the shore a lake and enjoying a moderate climate.

The city is  a good place to stay the first night or for a stopover as you drive to southern Ethiopia and Omo valley.

There are also important attractions in Ethiopia’s south like wildlife parks, lodges, lakes and number of recreation centers.

Another option one could head to is Arbaminch a city located 505km south of Addis Ababa. One can drive directly from Addis or after staying the first night at Awasa.

Arbaminch and Konso

An important stopover before reaching Arbaminch is Dorze village, people much known for their typical colorful woven clothes.

The huts they are living in, are exciting to watch as they are huge and shaped like bee-hives. One can also visit this place on the last day as he/she drives back to Addis.

Arbaminch is an Amharic word meaning ‘forty springs’. Though not proven how many really, it is said that there were forty springs when the town was founded. At Arbaminch, one stay at Tourist or Bekele Mola hotel.

It worth a day or half before you immerse yourself deep into the south. Early morning, before heading to the valley, you can take time for a boat trip on Lake Chamo where huge crocodiles could be seen.

Then for the trip ahead, you might proceed either to Turmi or Jinka. Also Konso, Woito, Arbore and some other villages are on your way and an important Thursday market at Key Afar.

Konso village is found 90km south west of Arbaminch. The district has an abundance of outstanding natural and man made features that attract visitors.

It is recorded on UNESCO world heritage list for its impressive landscape and terraces built of dry stone walls.

Though the terraces aged hundreds of years, they are still recognizable. But I don’t think they are currently in use due to the dryness of the soil.

However, the whole extent of the Konso highlands bears witness to the almost unthinkable toil of many generations to build those terraces.

Another most outwardly distinctive feature of Konso is the aesthetically pleasing towns and villages.

The Konso traditionally live in closely packed centralized settlements, typically situated on the top of a hill and enclosed by stone walls measuring up to 4meters high.

There are about 32 villages with massive walled stones and the walled towns have 1-8 concentric walls, with the central walls being taller than the second, and the third.

These walled hilltop settlements usually have three or four entrance gates. And they can only be reached via their limited number of steep footpaths. I guess this helps  the villages to defend themselves against invaders.

Gesergio, one of the villages of Konso, is 17 km from Karat. The village is of interest primarily for the adjacent formation of sand pinnacles sculpted by occasional water flow in a normal dry gorge.

It is a magnificent and very unusual natural phenomenon. The superficial resemblance to a row of ‘skyscrapers’ led the phenomenon to be named ‘NewYork’. No one can tell when the formation took place as it gradually happened.

One can make Konso a stop over while heading to the lower Omo otherwise you could access it when you return back to Arbaminch.

Villages, tribes and markets

After visiting Konso you will headed to the heart of the valley where many of the people seen almost naked, decorated in a white bark belt, leather straps, and other materials.

They ornament themselves with notches, short skin garments and paint their bodies with artful designs adorned with jewelries made of bone and all sorts of metals.

If the day is Thursday, you can see the live market at Key Afar. There you can meet and greet as well as take pictures of the tribal groups such as Hamers, Tsemay, Bennas.

Hamer women wear headdress with a metal plaque over the forehead and leather side flaps plus feathers for added decoration. The edge of their leather skirt is decorated with bent nails which also make a pleasant sound when they walk.

If it is Monday, is good to head to Turmi, Hamer’s main town. The people are beautiful and stylish. You can either camp or stay at one of the two lodges, Buska or Turmi lodges.

It is very interesting to visit the colorful market of the Hamers and watching their famous traditional party named Evangadi which is held at night.

The Hamer women wear heavy metal bracelets, anklets and things like bead necklaces, iron coils around their arms and skins decorated with shells.

The iron twists around their necks are worn by only married or engaged women whilst young unmarried girls wear a metal plate in their hair.

The women also mix animal fat with ochre and rub their hair to create coppery-colored twists. Many of them form a ridge of plaited hair and clay to hold their feathered headgear in place.

70 km south of Turmi, the road takes you to stylish tribes named Geleb. They shave off their head except for their topknot covered with mud, and they put a colobus hair cap and ostrich feather.

They also wear necklaces made from light-weight aluminum beads. Also close to the Hamers, live Bume tribes. The girls adore themselves with elaborate bead and button decoration on leather with little dots to highlight their eyes and cheekbones.

A south Ethiopian trip could not be complete with out the Mursi people. They are popular and have been subjects of many TV documentaries and photo projects.

One has to reach Jinka, the main town in the lower Omo, and where the tourist office of Mago National Park is located.

The Mursi people live some 70kms south west of Jinka inside the park. What is special about the Mursi people, the women put a clay or wooden plate in their lips and ears.

There are many others, interesting people and villages in the southern Ethiopia. A typical tour could take 8 days from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Places are safe and electricity and mobile networks are available except at Turmi, Hamers main town. But one can find a wireless telephone and electric generators if stay at Turmi lodges.

Roads all the way from Konso are under construction and believed to be completed in the coming two years.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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