You have to see Ethiopia

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Ethiopia should be on your list of must-sees this year.  It is affordable and easy to get to, with an amazing coffee culture!  One could say Ethiopia is the top emerging African travel destination.

Ethiopia has the largest selection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the continent.  Let’s take a closer look at 3 of them:

All photographs courtesy of Iga Motylska.

Lalibela

You simply have to walk through a winding passage and then through a rocky entrance to find yourself standing in front of the St George’s Church.  This particular church is the most popular of the 11 rock churches and 2 chapels that form part of the Lalibela church complex which was literally carved out of volcanic rock.  This painstaking task took 23 years and 6 months to complete and was a result of King Lalibela’s dream to build a new Africa Jerusalem.  After 9 centuries, these awe inspiring creations are still standing for us to behold.

Travellers are actually silenced by the grandeur of it all.

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Aksum

Though Lalibela is regarded as a very important religious and pilgrimage site, the kingdom of Aksum – which was founded more than 3 000 years ago  – was one of the world’s first Christian countries, when the religion was adopted in fourth century. You can wander amongst towering granite obelisks and admire engraved tablets before entering the royal tombs at Aksum Stelae Park.

Just across the street from Aksum, is Ethiopia’s oldest church. The walls of the cathedral are brightly painted with Bible scriptures simply because a lot of individuals were illiterate. Both sites free to enter.

Behind the cathedral you will find the Chapel of the Tablet.  This is guarded night and day as it’s believed to house the Ark of the Covenant – a gold covered receptacle for the 2 stone tablets which are actually inscribed with the ten commandments. Based on the legend, which any Ethiopian will be able to tell you, this was brought to Ethiopia by the son of Queen Sheba and King Solomon.

Gondar

Ethiopia is a land of royalty. Fasil Ghebbi, also known as the Camelot of Africa, is based on the 17th century fortress city of Gondar – the former capital city. Although impressive, it’s normally Debre Birhan Selassie Church that is the most impressive.  The tiny church appears quite humble from the outside, but the insides are adorned with biblical murals, and the ceilings are painted with the faces of angels.



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Coffee in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, not Brazil, and it resonates through every part of every day living.  You don’t just grab a quick coffee, here coffee drinking is down to a long standing ritual, a fine art.  Coffee is sold to you by white cloaked female coffee sellers busy hand roasting coffee beans in clay pans on street corners, in restaurants and cafes, airport lounges and

hotel lobbies. You need no convincing when that aroma grabs you!

Local cuisine

Rather than sticking to your hotel’s international meal options, try the wide selection of affordable and traditional dishes.

Christian Ethiopians fast on Wednesdays, Fridays and during religious holidays by not consuming animal products so there are plenty vegetarian options available to travelers. One of the favourites are Bayenetu, a kind of vegan, lactose free platter consisting of a big injera (pancake made from fermented teff flour) topped with Shiro (chickpea paste) and sauces called Wats. Expect large dollops of curried potatoes, spinach, beetroot cubes, cabbage, and also pureed lentils and pea stews.

Locals normally share communal meals so expect your waiter to bring a jug of water, a bucket and a towel to your table so you can wash your hands.  Also join in the local tradition of eating using your left hand only!

Budget

While Ethiopia isn’t the cheapest African nation to visit, it is still pretty very affordable for South African travellers and is frequently be found on lists of the’ ten cheapest African countries’. Local food and public transportation are also very affordable so you have no excuse to not visit this African gem!

 

Mauritius: an island oasis

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Step away from the rush of urban life with a visit to the charming country of Mauritius. This beautiful Indian Ocean island nation, situated in East Africa, is famous as an island holiday destination, with a range of gorgeous beaches and islands, such as Blue Bay, Belle Mare Plage and Trou aux Biches.

Experience all that this island nation has to offer with a visit to some of its major cities and towns:



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One of the major cities of Mauritius is the capital and largest destination – Port Louis. Explore this tourist hotspot and discover a blend of various countries and cultures, including India, Africa, Europe, China and the Middle East. Celebrated for its lively commercial spirit, you’ll experience a vibrant hub of activity in Port Louis.

Another major destination is the town of Curepipe, which is, though situated inland, a major tourist attraction. It offers nature lovers the Curepipe Botanic Gardens and easy access to the amazing Trou aux Cerfs crater and the Monvert Nature Park.

You’ll surely want to spend time at one of Mauritius’s scenic beaches, and for that, one of the best destinations is Flic-en-Flac. This quaint seaside town sits on the western part of the island nation, and includes one of the longest and most gorgeous beaches in the world!

Why visit Mauritius

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Historic Architecture – Mauritius was ruled by the Dutch, French and the British. Visit the sites that reflect these former periods, such as the Kalaisson Temple in Port Louis, Maison Eureka in Moka and the Martello Tower Museum in Riviere Noire.
A Coastal Paradise – One of the crowning attractions of this island nation is its wonderful collection of alluring beaches and islands. Relax and soak up the sun at coastal hotspots such as Grand Baie, Trou aux Biches and Île aux Cerfs.

Exceptional Nature – Mauritius boasts a wealth of breath-taking natural areas that will be sure to astound you, such as the Black River Gorges National Park, the Frederica Nature Reserve in Bel-Ombre and Seven Coloured Earths in Riviere Noire

 

Best time to visit

Mauritius enjoys warm weather all year round with moderate to high rainfall. Get the most comfortable weather conditions and the lowest rainfall by visiting the island nation during the seasons of winter (May – October) and early summer (November – December). These months will give you a break from the intense heat of the rest of the summer (January – April). With the conditions offered during this time, you can still enjoy the beaches and nature areas while avoiding the crowds that come during the mid to late summer season to enjoy the perfect beach weather, as well as the high hotel costs.

Visa & Customs

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You will not need a visa to visit Mauritius. Make sure your passport will be valid for six months after your return date.  For more information, contact the Mauritius High Commission in Pretoria (phone: +27 12 342 1283). The High Commission of South Africa is in the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis. Address: 4th Floor, British American Insurance Building, 25 Pope Hennessy Street, Port Louis.

Health & Safety

Before your trip, check with your doctor about getting all the routine vaccinations for travellers to Mauritius. Make sure to also receive immunisations for hepatitis A and typhoid, both of which are transmittable through contaminated food and water.

While enjoying the beautiful landscapes, lakes and beaches of Mauritius, make sure to stay alert at all times. Watch out for suspicious behaviour. Consider organising comprehensive travel insurance and confirm what activities and circumstances are not covered by your policy.

In addition, practise these basic safety tips while in Mauritius:

• Stay away from remote areas.

• When leaving your valuables in a vehicle, lock them in the boot to keep them out of sight.

• Refuse all offers of free guided tours.

• Do not use unlicensed taxis, as they are unsafe and drivers may overcharge you.

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