The Omo Valley
Omo National Park is one of the most well-known but remote parks in Ethiopia, despite it having almost no tourist infrastructure or amenities. If a traveller can ensure their self-sufficiency, the experiences they will encounter here are well worth the trouble. Avoid visiting directly after or during the rainy season in April and October, as travel during this time is difficult as roads become nearly impassable, even with a 4-wheel drive.
Considerably more remote than even Bale National Park, Omo has wildlife that is still being discovered. The indigenous peoples of the area: the Me’en, Mursi, Dizi, Nyangatom and the Suri are another highlight, having many traditions, festivals, and ways of life that are interesting to some travellers. Birdwatching, as with many other parks in Ethiopia, is arguably at its peak in Omo, with over 300 species of bird recorded.
Wildlife and Birding
While the true breadth of Omo National Park’s wildlife is yet to be discovered, a dedicated explorer can find monkeys, apes, zebra, kudu, topi, water buffalo, elephants, giraffes and if with some luck, predators such as lions, leopards, and cheetahs. The park is also the home to over 300 species of bird, making it one of the best locations in Ethiopia for birdwatching. Many of the species are endemic to the region and are not found anywhere else. Experienced birders get particularly excited about the sightings of the sparrow-weaver, kingfisher, hoopoe, thrush, and heron species.
The Hamer people
The nomadic Hamer people in the south of Ethiopia live primarily in the Omo River valley. They are mostly pastoralists; raising and caring for their cattle is a centerpiece of their existence. A red-colored clay is mixed with their hair, creating a remarkable style for both women and men. But perhaps they are most well-known for their Jumping of the Bulls ceremony.
As a pastoral people, it is not surprising that their main initiation ritual has to do with their herds. A man’s status and eligibility for marriage requires that he partake in the ritualized running over the backs of cattle. Organized by the older men throughout the year without a fixed date, this spectacle is fascinating and exciting to behold. The young men must run and hop, while naked, from back to back to back of the cattle in the herd, with the tribe looking on. He is not considered a man until he completes this task four times, which is followed by a great celebration. The marriageable young women, for their part, tease and encourage the men in this task, and are merciless with those that fail.
Ready to plan your trip?
Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region
BEST TIMES TO VISIT:
December - March (The Park)
August - January (The Hamer People)
July - August (The Mursi Tribe)
WHY TRAVELLERS LOVE IT:
Traditional dancing, house construction, dressing style and food
The most remote park in Ethiopia
- The Hamer People
- The Mursi Tribe
- Mago National Park
- Omo National Park
- Cultural Activities
- Large mammals, predators and primates
- Vast array of wildlife
The Mursi Tribe
Most of the indigenous Mursi Tribe live in and around the Omo National Park, close to the Omo River. Tourism has become part of their existence. While many of the tribe’s ancient traditions are still on display today, some of the more popular villages with tourists have felt the pressure to modernize and abandon their ways.
Travellers typically find opportunities for exposure to their unique dress and ways of life fascinating. Visitors are often drawn to the lip and ear plates of the Mursi tribe, as well as the ritual scarification. Young women in the tribe pierce their lip and ears in their teens and insert a wooden plug, which they can choose to increase in size, often to the size of a saucer.
The young men of the tribe practice a form of traditional dueling, known as thagine, and it continues to be a popular activity for men in the tribe and a popular photo oppourtunity for tourists. Much of a tribal man’s status is determined by their abilities in this activity and the ceremonial components are especially interesting.