By Maggie Farrand

Thanks to a new National Geographic MapGuide, tourists visiting Ethiopia’s Central and Southern Rift Valleys now have a detailed guide to the attractions and sites available in the area.

This MapGuide – only the second MapGuide to be produced in Africa – is designed to promote lesser-known destinations and attractions, including places where Counterpart International’s Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA) is helping communities to develop tourism products.

Alongside ESTA’s other tourism activity in the area, this MapGuide,  launched in December, will serve as the spring board for further tourism development in the area.

The launch ceremony represented the culmination of a highly-participatory process that began in March 2011 with a series of site nominations. Nominated sites were then vetted using criteria set by National Geographic. Roughly 50 sites were selected and visited  by Counterpart’s ESTA team.

The Ethiopia MapGuide is a product of a partnership with Counterpart International, National Geographic, Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (HoA-REC), Solimar International and FHI360.

The December launch event, hosted by Counterpart Country Director Bedilu Shegen, was attended by the Dutch Ambassador Hans Blankenberg, USAID-Ethiopia representative Randy Chester, organizational partners and tourism industry representatives.

Jim Dion, Sustainable Tourism Program Manager at National Geographic Maps,celebrated the map’s creation by both Counterpart International and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which supports ESTA.

Yonas Desta, Ethiopia’s Minister of Culture and Tourism representative, said at the launch: “For a long time now, we have been saying that lack of information is one of the biggest challenges facing the tourism industry in Ethiopia. We need to promote our vibrant cultures, our unique ecosystems, and our archaeological and historical treasures.”


From the Ark of the Covenant to unknown sites

Sites featured in the map include the Lepis Forest – a juniper forest that offers horseback tours and first-rate bird watching – and Shashemene – a town best known for its large Rastafarian population.

For those in search of the Ark of the Covenant, you cannot miss Lake Ziway and Tullu Guddo. A small village in eastern Ethiopia, Tullo Guddo and its inhabitants boast being descendants of those who hid the Ark of the Covenant when it was supposedly moved from the northern Ethiopian city of Axum in the ninth century.

Distribution of Ethiopia’s MapGuide

Initially 10,000 copies were printed and  roughly half will be given to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to distribute at major international tourism trade fairs.

The other half will be sold through Book World/Shama Books, Ethiopia’s most prominent book store chain and publisher.

The MapGuides will also be available for purchase in the top hotels, bookstores and the international airport in Addis Ababa.

About the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance

The USAID-funded ESTA aims to enhance biodiversity conservation and economic development through sustainable tourism products, services and other opportunities throughout destination regions of Ethiopia. Several important activities, such as facilitation of handicrafts fairs, community enterprise formalization and legalization, launching of the National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide were undertaken to directly promote sales and bring about sustained economic growth.

Counterpart leads the implementation of the ESTA program with the support of an alliance of international and national organizations who share the mission of the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance (GSTA), including FHI360, Solimar International, George Washington University and Aid to Artisans.

The Geotourism MapGuide represents an opportunity for local communities to become directly involved in the area’s success, while also encouraging proper conservation and management skills.