The Great Rift Valley is the single largest geographical feature on the African continent, and was the only such feature visible to the first astronauts to reach the moon. The process of rifting started some 20 million years ago along a 4,000km-long fault line that stretches from the Red Sea south to Mozambique’s Zambezi Valley.
The Ethiopian portion of the Rift Valley runs forms the Read Sea to Lake Turkana on the Kenyan border. In northern Ethiopia, it forms the Danakil Depression, and inaccessible and inhospitable desert that dips to an altitude of 116m below sea level, one of the lowest points on the earth’s surface. South of the Danakil Depression, due east of Addis Ababa, the Rift narrows around Awash National Park to bisect the Ethiopia as Eastern and Western Highlands.
The southern part of the Ethiopian Rift Valley is lower, warmer and direr than other densely populated parts of the country. Covered in acacia woodland and studded with lakes. The six main lakes of the Ethiopian Rift formed during the last lce Age, originally as two large lakes, one of which embraced what are now Lakes Ziway, Abiata, Shala and Langano, the other Lakes Abaya and Chamo.
Like a chain of pearls, the lakes cover the bottom of the Rift Valley stretching from Djibouti to Mozambique with a width of 50km. All the Lakes are full of fish like Tilapia and Nile Perch and thus attract many different bird species, making them a paradise for bird watchers. They are also altideal places for a real vacation with relaxation, swimming, boat trips, fishing, watching crocodiles and hippo’s and enjoying the serene, romantic views, especially at sunset, with only the voices of the birds or crickets as background music.
Coming from Addis Abeba, you first pass the artificially-made lake where the Koka Dam provides electricity for the capital. Not long after passing this lake, the first Rift Valley Lake comes into view: Lake Zway. Here you can observe many birds such as white pelican, saddle bill, yellow bill, storks and kingfishers. Hippo’s can also be seen. Traveling further to the south there is an excellent opportunity to relax at the shores of Lake Langano. This lake with its reddish brown water is free of Bilharzia, so it is safe to swim. There are several good hotels and Lodges in a beautiful setting where you can relax on the sandy shores and where boats, pedalboats, fishing equipment and cycles can be hired. It is an ideal base to make trips to the nearby Lakes Shala and Abiata. Lake Abiata provides a stunning spectacle of untouched, UN spoilt Ethiopia. It hosts an extraordinary number of birds like wild duck, geese, cormorants, flamingos and great numbers of Great White Pelicans.
These pelicans come only to Abiata to feed; they nest and sleep on islands in neighboring Lake Shala. These islands are home to the most important breeding colony of Great White Pelicans in Africa. Lake Shala which is a crater lake has many bays fringed with wild fig, acacia and euphorbia, overlooking dark waters which are the deepest in Ethiopia, 200 meters or more. It breathes an untouched, mysterious beauty. In its surroundings several sulphurous springs bubble up. There are excellent places for camping on its shores, ideal for people who seek rest and silence in unspoiled nature. There is not much wild life around the lakes but the beautiful Grant’s Gazelle and different species of monkeys can regularly be seen.