This large national park is among the most beautiful game reserves in Africa, encompassing parts of Lakes Chamo and Abaya, as well as the mountainous ‘Bridge of God’ that lies between the two lakes. The name Nechisar means white grass, and it derives from the Nechisar Plain which lies within the park boundary to the east of the lakes. A wide variety of animals are present; some 70 mammal and 350 bird species have been recorded.
How to get there
Ethiopian Airlines flies to Arba Minch. From the airport you will have to hitch or walk into town. Arba Minch lies at the foothills of the Rift Valley wall, on a cliff overlooking the mountainous sliver that separates Lakes Chamo and Abaya. With mountains rising to almost 4,000m in the west it is difficult to think of a more perfectly sited town anywhere in East Africa. The park headquarters lie about 2km from Arba Minch.
By road it is easy enough to cover the 250 km between Shashemene to Arba Minch in a day.
Although you can walk to the headquarters, you need a 4×4 vehicle to enter the park itself. The warden is normally able to organise private hire for around US$ 70 – US$ 100 per day inclusive of fuel.
Where to stay and eat
Decent accommodation can be found at the Bekele Mola Hotel, which lies about 2 km out of Arba Minch, above a cliff with views across the lakes to the eastern Rift Valley wall. Self-contained double bungalows with hot water cost US$ 15.
For those who want to camp, there are several options. You can camp in the grounds of the hotel. There are also two little-used unfacilitated campsites about 5 km from the headquarters on the forested banks on the Kulfo River. If you have your own vehicle and food, you may want to camp inside the park itself.
What to see and do
Nechisar National Park protects a wide variety of savannah habitats. This means a wide variety of animals are present, including Swayne’s hartebeest and Burchell’s zebra, which is regularly seen in herds of 100 or more.
Guereza and vervet monkeys are common in the lush groundwater forest near the park entrance. The forest is a very rewarding area for birds, but it is frustrating trying to see many of them in the dense cover.
Lake Chamo, with its volcanically formed islands, supports substantial numbers of hippo and crocodile. The part of the park between the lakes and Arba Minch is covered in dense riparian forest.
Even without a vehicle you can visit the hot springs which lie at the base of the cliff near the Bekele Mola Hotel. The area around the springs is covered in dense forest which gives you an excellent opportunity to explore this habitat on foot, and you can swim in a pool at the springs.
Also of interest is the Arba Minch Crocodile Farm which lies about 6 km out of town near Lake Abaya. About 8,000 animals are kept on the farm.
Where to go from there
If you have your own vehicle you can go from Nechisar to the small Senkele Game Sanctuary which is set aside to protect the country’s largest concentration of Swayne’s hartebeest. There is no campsite or accommodation in the reserve but you could visit Senkele as a day excursion from Shashemene, or en route to Arba Minch.
You may also want to visit the highland town of Sodo, which can be done by public transport from Shashemene or Arba Minch. Sodo lies at the base of a large mountain and offers excellent views down to Lake Abaya. The town is small enough that you need only walk a kilometre in any direction to find yourself on quiet, lushly vegetated country roads with fantastic views to the Rift Valley floor. Note that many locals refer to Sodo as Walaita.
The town of Chencha, set at an altitude of 2900m, is home to the Dorze people, whose tall beehive-shaped dwellings are among the most distinctive traditional structures anywhere in Africa. There is no normal transport to Chencha but several 4×4 vehicles make the journey each morning, except after heavy rain when the road becomes impassable.
Source: Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide – third edition by Philip Briggs http://www.bradt-travelguides.com