The Bale Mountains are a remarkable wildlife hotspot in Ethiopia. It’s home to many animals, including the Ethiopian wolf. This is the most endangered predator in the world, but they’re relatively easy to spot. There are more than 60 mammals in the Bale Mountains. This area has a scenery that doesn’t first come to mind when people think of Ethiopia, but it’s the largest alpine region in Africa, bigger than the Kilimanjaro.
It might not occur to many people that Ethiopia has amazing natural beauty, as it’s not widely known for its landscapes and wild animals, but it should. The images used in the eighties to bring attention to this country’s famine have stuck with us, and it’s the first impression many people think of when they hear this country’s name. But there is so much more to this nation, and especially in the Bale Mountains, where many trees, plants and animals are endemic (can only be found here). It’s a paradise for nature lovers.
Those who visit this special part of Africa will notice there are three different kinds of landscapes in Bale Mountains National Park. In the north near Dinsho between 2.500 and 3.300 metres altitude, you’ll see lowland forests and valleys with several rivers and waterfalls. In this region there are lots of special trees such as the hagenia abyssinica and juniperus procera.
The famous Sanetti Plateau is located in the heart of this national park, and is the location for many a nature documentary, in which the Ethiopian wolf often plays a lead role. This predator only lives in this alpine region. The trees and plants have adapted to the cold and wet climate. Many of these species have gotten smaller, but the impressive giant lobelia (lobelia rhynchopetalum) can reach up to five metres.
The third ecosystem in Bale is the Harenna Forest. It’s a humid, subtropical and extremely dense forest, with a few grassy plains. This forest in the south of the park is full of bamboo, and other kinds of flora that only grows in Ethiopia. There has been such little exploration of this forest, that they discovered a new kind of monkey here as recently as 2007: the Bale Mountains vervet.
This speaks volumes of the natural wealth of this area, but also about how little it’s been explored and studied. If you visit the area after the wet season, you’ll see lots of wild flowers, including geraniums. The Abyssinian rose, which perfumes the landscape with a delightful scent, is also remarkable.
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Come face-to-face with an Ethiopian wolf
It used to be just scientists who would visit the Bale Mountains to see the Ethiopian wolf. But these days there are also tourists who do the same, because it’s the only place where you can see this endangered animal in the wild. It’s incredible to see this predator hunt its favourite food: the big-headed African mole-rat. A good place to spot them is the Sanetti Plateau, though you could also see them on the Kotera Plain. Head out early in the morning, and make sure you have lots of time, so you can observe how this animal hunts, how they interact and how they react to humans. The best way to see them up-close is from a car on the Sanetti Plateau, as they are not scared of cars, but if you approach them on foot they often keep their distance.
Make a multi-day trek
If you really want to get to know the area, you can hike the Bale Mountains for several days. You can pitch a tent or use the hikers’ huts. The longest, and most popular, trail takes six days. You can start in Dinsho and take about four hours to walk to Sodota, and spend about the same amount each day walking to Rafu, then Sanetti, Worgona and back to Dinsho. If you’re staying in the huts, make sure you bring your own sleeping bag and food, but pots and cooking utensils are supplied.
Cool down at a waterfall
One of the many waterfalls in the Bale Mountains is the Finch’ Abera. It’s a relatively easy three-hour walk from Dinsho. You can camp nearby at the Sodota campsite.
Wander among dozens of antelopes
This walking safari is special. In the area around the headquarters of the Bale Mountains National Park, many animals have gotten quite used to humans. So this is one of the very few places where you can walk amongst animals you can only find in this part of the world. The impressive mountain nyala or balbok, for example, and the bohor reedbuck and imbabala. If you’re lucky, a graceful Colobine monkey might come and say hi. You can generally get within twenty metres of most animals. If you’d like to take photos, go early in the morning or in the late afternoon. The Bale Mountains headquarters are in the northern part of the park near Dinsho. You’ll only be allowed to head out with an assigned wildlife guide, so make sure you check in at the headquarters to do so. Another place to walk amongst wildlife like this is in the Gaysay Valley, just outside Dinsho.
Climb a mountain
Mount Tullu Dimtu (Tulluu Diimtuu) is the fourth highest peak in Ethiopia, and is 4.377 metres high. If you’ve got an all-wheel-drive car you can drive to the top where there is a small meteorological station. You can also walk up. Make sure you say hi to the park ranger here, and perhaps give him a treat, he’s always happy to see people and will appreciate your gesture very much.
The wet season in the Bale Mountains starts in March and lasts until September, but if you go straight after you’ll see lots of wild flowers.
The best chance of nice weather is in between December until march, but this cannot be guaranteed in the mountains. It can get misty any time and completely ruin the view. It can also get misty in the lowlands, even when the sun might shine of the Sanetti Plateau.
The Bale Mountains are at a high altitude and it can get very cold here. It can freeze at night time and it might not get any warmer than 10 degrees Celsius on a cloudy day, and there’s also the wind-chill factor. You could also experience heavy rain or hail. So make sure you wear appropriate clothing, and always take rain gear.
If you go on a hike (especially for several days) please keep in mind that all waste (including natural waste) can have a big impact on the environment. Make sure you take your rubbish with you, and dig a hole of at least 15 centimetres for faeces, away from water sources as both animals and humans drink from these.