Active + Adventure

World's Most Controversial Destinations

by Susan Hack


Why go: To visit Addis Ababa's Merkato, Africa's largest open-air market, and the historic towns of Axum, supposedly where the lost ark ended up, and Lalibela, the site of 11 spectacular rock-cut churches linked by underground tunnels (pictured). Bahir Dar is the site of the Blue Nile's largest waterfall, while Simien Mountains National Park is simply one of the most beautiful places on earth: Plateaus, clouded amethyst peaks, grass-covered volcanic cones, and deep canyons shelter unique species, including shaggy-haired Gelada baboons. In the southwest, the Omo River Valley is one of Africa's last repositories of authentic tribal culture. A safari by 4x4 and delta boat will take you to the Karo, known for their chalk-white body painting; the hippo-hunting Mugiji; the Nyangatom, crocodile hunters who wear lip plugs and blue and ochre hair buns; Mursi women, famous for their lip disks; and the bull-jumping Hamar.

Why not go: The Tigrean minority government is reportedly engaged in dubious and morally repugnant activities. According to Human Rights Watch, security forces use rape, torture, public executions, and village burnings to quell a long-simmering rebellion by ethnic Somalis in the eastern third of the country, where the Ogaden National Liberation Front is demanding independence and has attacked government convoys and foreign oil workers as part of its campaign. In Oromia State, where the Oromo Liberation Front has also been demanding independence, it's reported that government forces imprison, harass, and abuse government critics. Ethiopian troops deployed to Mogadishu in 2006 to prop up Somalia's secular interim government against Islamic militias have indiscriminately shelled and fired rockets on civilian neighborhoods, killing hundreds and displacing 400,000 people.

Experts say: Major tourist sites lie outside the conflict zones. According to the Canadian Foreign Ministry's travel Web site, visitors should stay clear of the Eritrean, Somali, and Kenyan border zones and avoid Harar, the 16th-century walled Islamic city and UNESCO World Heritage site southeast of Addis Ababa, which is on the front line of the government-ONLF conflict.

If you go: Will and Joan Weber, directors of Journeys International, are former Peace Corps volunteers who specialize in culturally respectful African travel that goes beyond mere sightseeing (Tel: 800-255-8735;

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.



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