Awash national park is one of the oldest in Ethiopia and is only about 200km east of the capital Addis Ababa. We visited in November 2017 for a weekend trip leaving Friday afternoon. The drive takes about 3 hours. The first part of the drive is along the new excellent Adama expressway toll road.
After Adama the road becomes a regular two way road and driving slows down quite a bit. This road goes all the way to Djibouti and is the main route for all trucks going to Djibouti port. There are also tricycles, horse drawn carriages, cattle, camels and people crossing or walking along the road making driving on it not the most relaxing task.
The drive was very scenic with stunning views of escarpment as we descended from the highlands and headed towards hotter lowlands.
We stayed in Awash Falls Lodge located at the south-western edge of the park near to the park’s entrance gate. The park is divided in two parts by the road that goes through it and this lodge, Awash river and the main game viewing area are all south of the road. The lodge is in a beautiful location overlooking Awash falls. The accommodation is pretty basic with limited facilities but there is running water and electricity.
The restaurant area has a very nice view of the falls and the crocodiles congregating at the bottom of the falls. There were probably 20 Nile crocodiles hanging on the beach or floating at the bottom of the falls. It is possible to walk down to the beach to get a closer look at the crocodiles some of which were easily 4 meters long.
Awash river serves as a southern boundary of the national park and there is a nice trail starting at the lodge and going along the river. There is incredible variety of bird life along the river as well as baboons and monkeys and crocodiles in the river. Baboons and grivet monkeys seemed quite relaxed and one could get really close to them. Colobus monkeys were very shy mostly hiding in the top of tree canopy as it seems they get poached fair bit.
There is a game drive loop around the park and we drove in our vehicle but with the guide from the park. We saw a few oryxes and a small group of Soemmering gazelles. Guide told us that quite a lot of animals died in the drought that hit the are in 2015 and 2016. People with their cattle encroach on the park and poaching of the wildlife is a problem also. The enforcement is weak and fines are quite small even if applied.
The game driving loop takes you to the Kereyu lodge with a nice view over Awash river gorge. It seems the lodge was going to get upgraded and expanded adding pool and proper rooms to the trailer cabins it had before. At the time of the visit though there was no sign of any construction continuing. And with unrest that started in 2015 and periodically flairs up it seems fewer tourists make it to the park.
Similar to the Abijatta-Shalla park we saw cattle grazing in Awash national park. Generally it seems Awash situation is better though as there was still plenty of long grass and we saw only one herd of cattle – unlike Abijatta-Shalla with its manicured-lawn look.
About 10km from the national park there is lake Beseka with good birdlife, Mount Fentalle and hyena cave at the foot of the mountain. We headed for the sunset on the lake and a look at the hyena cave. Hyenas emerge from the cave at sunset and head out to hunt.
Mount Fentalle is a dormant volcano that last erupted probably in early 19th century. The scenery is quite stark with old lava flow and vents surrounding the mountain. It is possible to hike up the mountain to see the crater. The lake at the foothills of the mountain has lots of birds but is also quite polluted with the growing town of Metahara on its shore.
To see the hyena cave we joined a small group of local tourists with a guide and drove from the lake towards the Fentalle mountain for about 2km. We then parked and hiked. The walk involved crossing the newly constructed railway line connecting Addis Ababa with Djibouti. The terrain at the foothill of the mountain is rocky with solidified lava flows. There are also massive volcanic fissures in the ground that seem to go very very deep with bats popping out of them. We reached the hill providing a good view of the cave as sun was setting. We saw about 5-6 hyenas emerge from the cave and trot away hunting. It was too dark to get a good picture of them unfortunately. As we started going back it was already dark. Hopping over volcanic fissures and stumbling around rocky solidified lava with a phone torch as the only source of light was quite an adventure.
Next day we headed to the northern part of the park to Doho lodge and hot springs passing some traditional Afar homes on the way.
Doho lodge has ostriches wondering around the grounds and nice looking cabins. The hot springs are concreted in several pools – the water was super hot boiling temperature and given it was a hot day we did not quite feel the need to jump into these hot pools. The hotsprings drain into a nice little lake and the lodge’s restaurant is set up so that you have a nice view over the lake. It seemed that the place would be very good for bird watching too.
After having a nice lunch overlooking the lake we headed back to Addis Ababa enjoying more impressive scenery on the way back.