Trekking in Wof Washa, Ethiopia

Set high in the mountains of Amhara just 130km north of capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s oldest state forest, Wof Washa (meaning Bird Cave Forest), is diverse in both animal and plant life and covers some 6000ha of the Rift Valley escarpment. Supported by NGOs, local communities have developed a series of guesthouses around the forest, and guides lead tourists around the many walking trails. These tailor made trips take you past massive juniper and olive trees, up steep hillsides and through remote, mist-soaked village communities where the welcome is both warm and genuine.

What does trekking in Wof Washa entail?

Treks in Wof Washa typically last five days and are tailor made, allowing you to tweak or extend your itinerary as you see fit. If you’re traveling as a group, there’s a maximum of six to eight people allowed on any one trip to limit the impact on the environment and local communities.
You’ll trek from guesthouse to guesthouse with a mule and/or a porter to carry your luggage. A local guide will walk alongside for all your translation and organisational needs, as well as to provide any assistance in case of an emergency. Walks will take between three and six hours a day along good trails with some steep ascents and descents. You’ll move at a relaxed pace, with plenty of time to soak up the surroundings, stop to appreciate the views and settle down for leisurely picnic lunches.

What’s the terrain like?

You’ll be walking through mostly agricultural land with altitudes peaking at around 3500m above sea level, and it’s fascinating to see the variety of landscapes and forest terrain as you change altitude. On higher ground the hills are shrouded in mist, and you’ll find wild grasslands dotted with giant heather and lobelia trees. Lower down, juniper and African olive trees are common, some of which are more than 500 years old, while regular rains ensure a profusion of wildflowers. Wildlife around these parts includes large troops of gelada baboons, little seen Ethiopian wolves, hyenas, civet cats and Rock hyrax, while the skies above are patrolled by mighty raptors.

Walks in this area are more about nature than heritage but culture buffs can walk to the base of the valley to visit a Falasha monastery, where the people claim to be Orthodox Jewish in origin. For a further cultural fix, you can drop into a school or join the crowds on market day.

Where will I sleep?

You’ll bed down in community run guesthouses, which have simple double rooms and shared compost toilet and washing facilities, as well as an area for dining and relaxing. All of the lodges are different - the highest is shrouded in mist at 3400m - and most offer incredible panoramas as well as wildlife encounters right on the doorstep. You might see gelada baboons grazing around the guesthouse, for example, or get an unusual alarm call courtesy of the enthusiastic rumblings of local colobus monkeys.
Community members will prepare traditional meals for you, including freshly made coffee, and you might get to try a shot of araki (the local liquor).

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Tailor made:
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Wof Washa forest is around 140km northeast of Addis Ababa, near the town of Debre Berhan, which can be reached via a good road either by private car (pick ups from the capital can be arranged) or by public transport. The forest is on the way to one of Ethiopia’s most popular tourist destinations, Lalibela.
The best time to visit is the dry season of November to March, but even during this time you could be subjected to rain. It also gets pretty chilly, especially at high altitude, and the wind can be bitterly cold. Make sure to bring layers so you can wrap up accordingly. Good walking boots that are already broken in are a must and consider bringing energy snacks for high altitude days.
Written by Nana Luckham
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