Enjoy the convergence of tradition, legend and history in Ethiopia by stepping into an ancient East African nation like Ethiopia. All-inclusive guided tours are available (U.K.-based Cox & Kings travel provides packages), or one can opt to explore a sampling independently.
Begin in the capital, Addis Ababa, and explore the city's renowned marketplace or learn more about the history of the Rastafarians, who migrated to Ethiopia four decades ago during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. Axum (Aksum), which is directly north of Addis Ababa and close to the border with Eritrea, has a rich history as a kingdom and major trading post, is the site of what many locals believe is the preserved the Ark of the Covenant in a guarded church (tourists are not allowed inside). Legend says it was brought from Jerusalem by the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Tours are available at the tallest stelae in the world: a six story monolith carved from a single stone.
Along the same lines, Lalibela is home to well-known 12th century churches hand-carved into rock in the ground, inspired by those constructed in Jerusalem. For some natural beauty, start in Gondar, for a guided hike to the Simean Mountains, Africa's third largest, where you'll see baboons and spectacular scenery. Gondar is also home of a 17th century castle, Fasil Ghebbi, also known as the Royal Enclosure. Last but by no means least, Baher Dar overlooks Lake Tanna, a revered source of water at the mouth of the Blue Nile. Boat tours are available to monasteries located on the lake. Blue Nile Falls, a majestic waterfall in a tropical area, is a must-see for spectacular scenery (but visit soon, as dams along the river are gradually causing it to shrink).
PHOTOS: Radu Sigheti - Reuters, Andrew Heavens - Reuters, Euan Denholm - Reuters, Karel Prinsloo - AP, John Auchard
NOTE: As always, check the State Department's Web site to ensure that locations are currently safe for travel and tourism.