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Safaris to Omo valley Ethiopia
Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa, is a rugged, landlocked country split by the Great Rift Valley. With archaeological finds dating back more than 3 million years, it’s a place of ancient culture. Among its important sites in Lalibela with its rock-cut Christian churches from the 12th–13th centuries. Aksum is the ruins of an ancient city with obelisks, tombs, castles, and Our Lady Mary of Zion church. A remote area in Southern Ethiopia spanning several national parks amidst a steamy tropical landscape, despite the magnificent nature of the Omo Valley, it’s the people of this place that always clinch the top spot for an extraordinary safaris experience in Africa.
A long-standing land of migration for the communities of East Africa, the Omo Valley boasts over 20 unique and distinct cultural groups, which for a geographical area of this size, is unparalleled.
As such, many travelers coming to this area want to focus their time around cultural village tours, local markets, and traditional ceremonies.
The Omo River in southern Ethiopia is the largest Ethiopian river outside the Nile Basin. Its course is entirely contained within the boundaries of Ethiopia, and it empties into Lake Turkana on the border with Kenya. The river is the principal stream of an endothecia drainage basin, the Turkana Basin.
Omo River located in southwestern Ethiopia in eastern Africa arises in the Ethiopian Plateau and flows southward for about 400 miles (644 km) into the northern end of Lake Rudolf; it is the lake’s only perennial affluent. The lower Omo valley is rich in wildlife and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.
The main water feature of Southern Ethiopia is the Omo River which, as I said, runs through the Valley, perhaps unsurprisingly gives it its name!
This is perhaps no surprise since migration across these low-lying areas has been common for thousands of years; so that as well as geographically, the communities and cultures living in the Omo Valley also seem to have more in common with their East African neighbors than their northern fellow countrymen.
A huge waterway, crucial for life-giving in this hot climate, the Omo River is also what brings a lot of wildlife to this part of the country.
Lake Chamo safari experience
In particular, Lake Chamo offers the opportunity to spot some of the more classic animals you’d expect in a country like South Africa, but which are certainly less common in Ethiopia! A lake safari experience here can bring you into close proximity with some wonderful birds, as well as some scary-looking crocodiles and huge hippos.
Tribes’ Omo valley Ethiopia.
The Lower Omo River in southwest Ethiopia is home to eight different tribes whose population is about 200,000. They have lived there for centuries.
And rightly so, for there are not many other places in the world where rare, indigenous cultures are so exciting, authentic, and accessible… and that’s without mentioning the natural world and the wildlife you can experience too!
The main reasons most visitors want to travel to Omo valley is the experience offered by over 20 distinct cultural groups living in a relatively small area, the diverse and unique atmosphere of the Omo Valley that makes it one of the most fascinating places to experience and see the most unique humans on earth.
The Tsemai, the dominant people of Weito village on the Konso-Jinka road, are regarded to be among the least known ethnic groups of Ethiopia. Estimated to be a total of some 5000 people, their territory extends along the western bank of the Weito River, known in Tsemai as the Dulaika River.
Although relatively large, Erbore is far more rustic and unaffected than many similarly sized towns in South Omo, with the police station on its outskirts more or less the only building that isn’t constructed along traditional lines.
In common with their linguistically and culturally affiliated Tsemai neighbors, the Erbore migrated to their present homeland from Konso perhaps two centuries ago.
The Dasenech, alternatively known as the Geleb or Galeba, Marille, and Reshiat, live just north of Lake Turkana, the region where Ethiopia borders Kenya and Sudan. These names all concern the same people, in total 24.000 souls. The Dasenech is neighboured by Turkana and Bume and is Ethiopia’s most southern people.
The Bume is also known as the Nyangatom. the Bume live west of the Dasenech people, southwest of the Karo people, south of the Surma people, and North of Ethiopia- Kenyan boundary. They occasionally migrate into the lower regions of the Omo national park when water or grazing is scarce.
The Mursi number about 5,000 and are primarily pastoralists categorized in the Nilo-Saharan language family. The Mursi are known for their lip plate tradition; an unmarried woman’s lower lip will be pierced and then progressively stretched over the period of a year. A clay disc indented like a pulley wheel is squeezed into the hole in the lip. As it stretches, ever-larger discs are forced in until the lip, now a loop is so long it can sometimes be pulled right over the owner’s head. The size of the lip plate determines the bride’s price, with a large one bringing in fifty head of cattle.
Broadly speaking, the Benna belong to the Hamar-Bashada cultural group. Numbering about 35,000 they are primarily settled farmers living in the highlands to the east of the major national park they enter the Park to hunt during the dry season; if they manage to kill a buffalo they adorn them with clay and have a celebration.
The Banna people, who are closely related to the Hamar, are known for their entrepreneurial skills and run many markets across the Omo region, which the Hamar generally attends. As such, this is a key place to see and pick up some amazing jewelry!
A tribe living on the east banks of the Omo, the Karo number about 1000. Tourists enjoy watching the Karo preparing themselves for a celebration of traditional dance when they decorate their bodies with chalk paint, often imitating the spotted plumage of Guinea Fowl. The Karo excel in face and torso paintings.
Dorze is a tribe of skillful cotton weavers and potters who live in the mountains just outside Arba Minch. Their houses, standing up to 6 m tall and built in the shape of the elephant’s head, are the most unique traditional structures in Africa. The staple food of the Dorze tribe is enset or false banana. The Dorze dwellings are entirely organic: they are built using bamboo, grass, and false banana leaves. A visit to the Dorze house is a pleasant and memorable experience for the tourists.
Hamer is a tribe that occupies the large territory of South Omo. They speak a language that belongs to the Omotic group of languages and display an elaborate and unique style of body decorations and clothes. Women wear leather skirts decorated with cowrie shells. Their braided hair is painted with ochre, and their arms are decorated with 15 or more copper bracelets.
Konso is a tribe that inhabits the area of basalt hills about 85 km to the south of Arba Minch. They speak a Cushitic language. Konso lives in villages usually located on top of a hill and surrounded by a 2 m stone wall. Konso is famous all over Ethiopia for its advanced methods of land cultivation, which include irrigation and the building of terraces. Also very famous are the Konso’s waqa – carved wooden monuments erected on the graves.
Most popular tourist attractions and activities in the Omo valley of Ethiopia
Mursi Tribe – As aggressive as the Mursi is, staying with them, seeing their way of life, walking to the watering hole with them was quite the experience.
Donga – Donga is something that’s difficult to plan for but I would ask your guide about it and whether they have any inside scoop on if there will be many chances to see special ceremonies while you’re there and whether you should adjust your schedule to align with them.
Bull Jumping Ceremony – Bull-jumping ceremony was quite interesting although less intimate than I had imagined since there are a ton of tourists there.
Hamar Tribe – Spending a night under the stars with the Hamar tribe family was quite a special experience.
Lively Markets – I enjoyed the Dimeka Market the most where Hamar tribespeople would travel up to a full day to get there to sell their wares
Things to Know When Visiting the Omo Valley
As well as ethical considerations, there are a few other useful things to know in advance when visiting the Omo Valley.
- Appropriate clothing to start with is one of the things you should take with, which include loose-fitting long clothing that is good for protecting you from the hot sun and respectful when visiting other cultures. Clothes should also be comfortable to deal with the dry and dusty conditions and the bumpy roads you’ll experience when in the area.
- Some light walking shoes would also be a good idea to pack and likewise a sunhat, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
- Always consult a health professional before traveling to Ethiopia as there may be vaccinations and medication you require. Buying a suitable travel insurance policy is also key.
- Do be in mind that conditions in Ethiopia are often very basic and may be different from what you are used to. Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and a small first aid kit might well be useful things to pack as well.
- In addition, ATM machines are limited in this part of the country, so I highly suggest bringing all the cash you think you might need with you.
- Small change is a rarity in Ethiopia, so do keep hold of any you get, as it will be useful for any tips or guide fees required.
- And finally, do make sure you bring your camera, but consider leaving an obtrusively long lens at home. If you want to take aerial photography, always check the rules of the country first.
- Drinking beer in the village.
Remember what you are seeing here is local peoples’ daily lives, you’ve been invited into their home (even if it looks very different from yours) so remember you are a guest.
The benefits of tourism in the Omo Valley, however, are that it does provide an income for an otherwise very economically disadvantaged area. It has also given the communities here some political standing and voice because now these people have a large part to play in developing the nation of Ethiopia as a travel destination.
However, as tourist numbers swell, we do need to remember the dangers of swamping this culture and of traditional
Ethical Considerations When Visiting Ethiopia’s Omo Valley
Because, as travelers, we are just that – strangers – and so us visiting other cultures and peering in with our cameras and sense of fascination, does raise a lot of ethical travel questions, especially when there’s usually a large wealth disparity evident in that dynamic too.
Showing respect and consideration when you get up close and personal with the Omo Valley tribes is, therefore, crucial is maintaining more ethical travel practices.
Good practices include following your guide, asking before taking any photos, and not wandering off to areas you’ve been asked not to go.
Payment of Entrance fees and guides fees
Entrance fees and guide fees for each village apply and are a key way these communities are able to support themselves financially. Often such fees will be included in your tour price, although do check this. Sometimes visitors are also lucky enough to experience the tribes of the Omo at community gatherings – either at local markets (which markets depend on which days you are in the region plus your overall itinerary) or traditional ceremonies.
However, before leaving Addis Ababa ensure you take a little more to shop and small handouts the trips.
How to Visit the Omo Valley of Ethiopia
Taking a tour in and around the Omo Valley is undoubtedly the best way to see the region, giving you the opportunity to combine many different community villages with national parks, wildlife spotting, and local markets however you must hire the services of a local guide and an advance booking may apply during the months of November to February when the area is in the peak of tourism season.
Getting to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia
The Lower Omo Valley lies some 800km from Ethiopia’s modern capital Addis Ababa. Tours to this region will usually see you taking an hour’s flight to the nearby towns of Arbaminch or Jinka, from where the tribal villages are a few hours’ drives. Alternatively, you can reach the valley overland from Addis via the beautiful Bale Mountains.
It will take a couple of hours to drive between each of the Omo Valley villages, so you can expect to spend around four hours a day being bumped along in a 4×4. Ideally, you’ll want to spend at least a week in the Lower Omo Valley to make the most of your visit and to ensure that economically your stay is as beneficial as possible to the host communities. Usually, you’ll spend a day or two in each place, or at least half a day if you are tight on time.
In that time, you’ll visit a variety of communities; you could be exploring the Monday market in Turmi, marveling at the legendary fine pottery and the Hamer tribe’s intricate, butter-and-ochre-coated hairstyles, for example. Or perhaps visit Dimeka’s colorful Saturday market, which attracts elegant, bead-wearing Benna women selling handicrafts and jewelry. You will travel overland to traditional Mursi villages, famous for the fierce stick-fighting between tribesmen, or – if you’re lucky – be invited to a Hamer wedding celebration complete with bull-jumping and ladies in exquisitely adorned leather skirts.
Where to stay in Omo Valley
Accommodation is usually in several of the lodges which dot the valley; they employ local staff and source provisions from the local area. In the Omo villages the lodges are basic but clean and comfortable, although as is to be expected in a remote, rural Ethiopian valley, they can’t always guarantee Wi-Fi, reliable hot water, or electricity supplies. Camping in the Lower Omo Valley is also a possibility.
An alternative to the basic lodges in the Omo Valley is Lale’s camp and the fly camps nearby. Lale’s camp is a luxury tented camp set up near the Omo River. The camp gives exclusive access to otherwise inaccessible regions of the Omo, and the accommodation is better and more exciting than the usual lodges. Only a few operators can access the camp, so staying here costs significantly more than staying at the standard lodges.
When to Visit the Omo Valley
Weather is one of the most important things to consider when visiting the Lower Omo Valley since there are areas that are inaccessible during the rainy season, which lasts from March to June (the rains come earlier in the Omo than elsewhere in Ethiopia).
The best time to visit Omo Valley is at the end of June through September or from November until early March. October tends to have slight rains that may at times hinder accessibility. Temperatures in the Omo Valley range between 14°C and 41°C over the course of the year, with the hottest months of the year being June, July, and August.
THINGS TO DO
|Boat cruise at Lake Chamo|
|Visit Mago national park and Mursi tribe|
|Visit the Hamer tribe|
|Visit the dimeka Market|
|visit the Karo tribe|
|Visit Abidjatta-shala national park and Lake Langano|
WHERE TO STAY
|Luxury Leila’s Camp & Fly camps|
|Eco Omo resort|
WHEN TO GO
|Best time to visit Omo valley Ethiopia|
|4 Days Famous Tribes of Omo Valley|
|5 Days Rift Valley Lakes Ethiopia Tour|
|7 Days Rift Valley & Birding Tour|
|14 Days Ethiopia Expedition|