In the late 1950s, Ethiopian Airlines launched an advertising campaign in the Western media that touted the ancient kingdom as Africa's "newest travel adventure." More than half a century later, the huge East African nation has yet to live up to that lofty billing. But it might not be much longer. The sights, the scenery, the culture are already there. Ethiopian's ancient orthodox Christianity has endowed the nation with thousands of churches and monasteries, some of them enshrined as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A succession of empire and kingdoms added medieval forts, palaces and tombs like the Gondar citadel and the towering stone stele of Axum.
From Lake Tana and the Blue Nile to the red-rock Gheralta Mountains, the arid Danakil Desert and the lush Omo Valley, the landscapes are astounding and incredibly varied. Ethiopia's wildlife riches are also diverse, from typical African savannah animals in the south to unique indigenous creatures like the gelada baboon and Ethiopian wolf. The missing ingredient has always been infrastructure -- the kind of hotels, restaurants and service that tourism rivals like Kenya and South Africa mastered decades ago.
"Tourism was on the back burner for a long time," says Solomon Tadesse, CEO of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO). "The country was going through major changes and the government's priorities were health, education, communication."