Ethiopia’s Top Incredible Places to Visit: Hiking up Gheralta Mountain in Tigray Region

19 Days Ago
Ethiopia’s Top Incredible Places to Visit: Hiking up Gheralta Mountain in Tigray Region

By Kassahun Chanie

Tigray is a historically rich region with modern culture steeped in customs and faiths that date back thousands of years. It is also an ideal location for those who appreciate outdoor activities. Hiking, camping, and cycling are just a few opportunities for exploring Tigray’s Gheralta Mountains' expansive pastures and steep-sided sandstone plateau (Ambas). From the Yeha temple, a unique survival of the early Ethiopian civilization, and the stone stelae that commemorate the graves of Aksumite monarchs to lonely mountain monasteries and Africa's first mosque, this is a place with many stories to tell, as well as stunning landscapes to match. The air is dense and dry, making breathing difficult.

The piercing westerly winds carry the sound of marmots and coyotes howling in the far desert, while fine grains of sand whirl up and into the sky. Despite the bleak, Mad Max-esque environment that stretches beyond the horizon, the red rock mountains that encircle the desert hide one of Ethiopia’s secret treasures. Within these mountains is a vast complex of churches and temples carved from stone many millennia ago. So it would be crucial to clarify to visitors to Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) - that is the Debretsion (Debrecen) Church, which is claimed to have been erected during the 14th and 15th centuries, and the well-known Abraha and Atsbeha monasteries, which were established during the time of the brother kings, are two instances.

Gheralta’s other rock-built churches include Degum Selasse, Yohannes Mequdi, Debre Mariam Qurqur, Abune Yemata, and Abune Gebremichael. Parchment books and paintings in churches commemorating the old and modern boldly display the historic art expertise of Ethiopian forebears and foremothers of the time. Everyone in Ethiopia knows about the Gheralta Lodge in Tigray as one of the top tourist spots in the country. The location is so popular that it is best to book weeks, if not months, in advance.

Gheralta is an area of Tigray best known for its rocky mountains, which hide ancient rock-hewn churches. It takes about three hours to get there, as it is located midway between Axum and Mekele cities. If one could fly to Axum and drive right from there, with a brief stop in town to see the old stelae (more on that in the future post), When you pass through Adwa (on the major route to Adigrat), which is famed for being the site of the dramatic battle in which King Menelik II defeated the Italian troops in 1896, preserving Ethiopian independence, Adwa is a medium-sized town with little to offer visitors except the fact that it was the birthplace of the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, as evidenced by the numerous life-size posters of him throughout the town. For these reasons, Adwa continues to resonate with Ethiopians and fuel their nationalistic pride.

Other churches in Gheralta formed of rock are Degum Selasse, Yohannes Mequdi, Debre Mariam Qurqur, Abune Yemata, and Abune Gebremichael. Parchment writings and paintings in churches commemorating the old and modern, of course, proudly show the ancient art expertise of Ethiopian forebears and foremothers of the time. Even Ethiopians refer to the Gheralta Lodge in Tigray as one of the country's greatest tourist spots. The location is so popular that it's best to reserve weeks, if not months, in advance.

From Adwa, take the 90-kilometer narrow and winding gravel route to Gheralta. That was the longest leg of the voyage, but the scenery was stunning, with expansive vistas of the surrounding valley. The entire area is mountainous, so you’d be traveling along the escarpment and overlooking huge gorges. As a visitor, you will reach Gheralta at 2:30 P.M., just in time for a late lunch. The lodge is also well-known for its cuisine, which features locally farmed organic ingredients.//


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