Omo and Mago

Omo and Mago National Parks lie on opposite sides of the Omo River in the far south-west near the Kenyan and Sudanese borders. They are two of the least developed national parks in East Africa and, although game is quite plentiful, the animals are shy and far less visible than in the more heavily-touristed parks of Kenya and Tanzania.

Omo and Mago are not the parks to visit if you’re a first-time visitor to Africa hoping for a few quick snaps of lions and elephants. Any visit to the area should be treated as an expedition, and the parks will be most attractive to visitors who want to see a holistic picture of the African wilderness as it was before the colonial era and the more recent influx of mass tourism.

How to get there

The gateway to the Mago National Park, the town of Jinka, is about 200 km by road from Arba Minch. The drive takes around eight hours. The simplest way to get to Jinka is by air. Ethiopian Airlines flies there from Addis Ababa. It is possible to reach Jinka by public transport from Arba Minch (for details on how to get to Arba Minch see the Rift Valley section).

However you get to Jinka your onward options will be limited unless you have private transport. It should be possible to hire a 4×4 vehicle at the NTO office in Jinka for around US$ 150 per day.

The bridge connecting the Omo and Mago National Parks has been torn down and that means the only realistic way of getting into the Omo National Park is by travelling south from Jimma, in Western Ethiopia.

The best way to visit the area is on an organised safari. Most safari companies in Addis can organise Omo trips. The accepted period for a drive-down safari is around ten days. It would be possible to hire a vehicle with driver and equipment, and to organise your own safari but there are no real advantages in doing so.

Where to stay and eat

There is no accomodation in or near Mago National Park. You can camp at one of the sites that line the Mago River a few kilometres from the park headquarters for US$ 2.50 per person. The sites are basic (you will need to be self-sufficient), but beautiful.

There are several cheap hotels in Jinka. The better places here charge around US$ 5 for a self-contained room with cold water. The Goh Hotel and the Hotel Orit can be recommended.

In Jimma the Wolde Argaw Hotel, behind the bus station, has self-contained doubles with hot water for US$ 11 and rooms using common shower for US$ 6. The Hoteela Innanu has self-contained rooms with cold shower for US$ 2.

What to see and do

The scenery and vegetation of the Omo region are similar in some respects to the acacia savannah of north-east Kenya, though considerably moister. In addition to animals such as elephant, lion, cheetah and buffalo, the area hosts several unusual large mammals, most notably the beautiful and highly photogenic reticulated giraffe and Grevy’s zebra. The entrance fee for the Mago National Park is Birr 50 per person and Birr 10 per vehicle. A fee of Birr 40 must be paid directly to the mandatory armed scout.

The people of the Omo valley have a different cultural background from other Ethiopians – in fact, until recently, the area was so remote that many of these people were unaware that such a thing as Ethiopia existed.

Omotic speakers are divided into more than ten different tribes or ethnic groups, all of which adhere to traditional animist religions, and many of which have remarkably singular cultural practices, virtually untouched by colonial influences or the Judaic customs of the highlands.

The largest and least isolated of the groups is the Konso. Most Omotic villages welcome visitors, though you will be expected to pay to take photographs.

From Konso it is reasonably easy to visit traditional villages. The best way to do this is through the town’s tourist offices, which will grant you a permit allowing you to visit as many villages as you like for US$ 4.

Where to go from there

One option would be to travel on into Kenya, where you can stop at Lake Turkana. If you are staying in Ethiopia you could visit Lake Chew Bahir which is situated south of Mago, about three hours’ drive from the village of Turmi. The lake is often a large dry salt pan, dotted with islands and hot springs. The scenery here is harsh and inhospitable, but also very beautiful, and there is a fair amount of wildlife to be seen around the Woito River. You could also fly out to Addis Ababa from Jinka.

Source: Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide – third edition by Philip Briggs http://www.bradt-travelguides.com

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