What to See & Do
The Bale region of Ethiopia, is as diverse and varied as the numerous cultures of Ethiopia. Here lies dramatic landscapes, diverse ecosystems, unique wildlife, diverse birdlife and numerous cultural and historical destinations. Details regarding the highlights of this area can be found below.
Bale Mountains National Park
Bale Mountains National Park comprises about 2,177km2 of land in South-Eastern Ethiopia and lies in the heart of the Bale Mountains Mastiff. The park spans an altitudinal range of 1,500m a.s.l. to 4,377m a.s.l. and its span over this gradient gives rise to several distinct ecosystems including afroalpine moorland, Erica heath, grasslands, juniper/Hagenia woodlands, cloud forests, moist-tropical montane forests, and natural coffee forests. In addition, the Bale mastiff’s relative isolation from other Ethiopian highlands has allowed for the development of the park’s currently supported and impressive levels of biodiversity and endemism. Bale Mountains National Park is an ecological gem that houses spectacular landscapes, diverse ecosystems, active bird and plant life and exciting wildlife, including the world’s largest populations of the endemic Ethiopian wolf (the world’s most endangered Canid species) and Mountain Nyala. For more information, please visit the Bale Mountains National Park website at www.balemuntains.org.
Sof Omar Caves
Located about 115km from Bale Mountains National Park, this attraction can be easily visited in a day via private or hired transportation. The cave system is one of the largest known in Africa with a total length of about 1.5km. The caves and its system of elaborate columns and pillars have been carved out of the surrounding limestone by the Weyb River, which has slowly altered it course to reveal a navigable passage. During the dry season (December-May) the caves can be traversed, if you are willing to cross the waist deep waters. This site holds both natural beauty and cultural significance as a Muslim holy site.
Holy Shrine of Dire Sheik Hussein
This cultural and spiritual attraction is located about 180km from Bale Mountains National Park. It can be easily visited via private or hired transportation but will require an overnight stay in the small village adjacent to the holy shrine. The shrine’s significance is derived from the man who it is named after, Sheik Hussein Bin Malka, who is noted for his religious teachings, high devotion and miraculous deeds. Local lore states that he lived for 250 years, 70 of which he spent at the shrine. More recently, the shrine serves as a pilgrimage site for thousands of the devoted, some of whom travel thousands of kilometers via foot, horseback or mule, to pay homage and to partake in the biannual celebrations. In June a celebration is given in commemoration of the death of and to honor Sheik Hussein and in October a celebration is held to honor the birth of the prophet Mohammed. The exact dates of these celebrations are dependant upon the lunar calendar and vary slightly every year.
Wabe Shebele Gorge
About 10km from the Holy Shrine of Dire Sheik Hussein, the Wabe Shebele Gorge, is a seldom visited yet breathtaking landscape feature in Bale. As the Wabe Shebele winds 1,000m below the upper rim of the gorge, visitor will be presented with dramatic landscapes which can be further explored via car along the rarely traveled road. This is remote and rugged terrain so come prepared if you plan on exploring this destination.
Another dramatic gorge in Bale that has been carved out of the surrounding landscape by the Wabe Shebele River, the Gasera Gorge is about 65km from Bale Mountains National Park and can easily be visited in a day via private or hired transportation. The gorge itself is located only 4km outside of the town of Gasera and with its steep drops, vertical cliffs and rugged terrain, it can be argued that the Gasera Gorge offers more dramatic views as compared to the Wabe Shebele Gorge.
Flora & Fauna
As mentioned above, the Bale Mountains span over a large altitudinal range which gives rise to numerous distinct ecosystems and it remains relatively isolated from other Ethiopian highlands. This isolation and unique mosaic of habitats has given rise to an impressive array of floral and faunal life much of which is endemic to the Bale mastiff. The best place to experience this is in Bale Mountains National Park which in its entirety, supports 78 mammalian species including 20 (10 to the Bale Region alone) Ethiopian endemics. It also harbors 1,321 species of flower plants of which 163 (23 to the Bale Region alone) are Ethiopian endemics. It is 1 of 69 Important Bird Areas within Ethiopia with over 310 species being recorded to date, including 57% of the Ethiopian endemics. Little is known of the herpetofauna within the park but of the 29 documented species, 17 (6 to the Bale Region alone) are Ethiopian endemics.