On the road in the south
Addis Ababa to Arba Minch
Leaving Addis Ababa by the Butajira road to the south, it is about 460 km to Arba Minch. The last 100 km is about to be completed, making it tar all the way. The first part of the journey goes through a fertile area of green rolling hills. Meanwhile passing by the prehistorical site of Melka Kunture, the rock-hewn church of Adadi Maryam, and the stelae field at Tiya. Exploring all of these sites is best done on a day trip out of Addis Ababa or with an overnight in Butajira. Traveling to Arba Minch in one day leaves only time for a brief visit to Melka Kunture and Tiya. The second part of the trip leads down to the bottom of the Rift Valley, with Lake Abaya prominent in sight and a more “African’ landscape of acacia savanna.
The other (longer) option to drive south to Arba Minch is passing by the Rift Valley Lakes, following the road to Hawassa until Shashemene, and branching there for Sodo.
Addis Ababa to Yabello/ Moyale
The Trans African Highway from Addis Ababa to Moyale, the border with Kenya, is 770 km tar road of different quality, and road construction is in process. For most visitors however, Yabello (at 560 km) will be the southernmost destination in Ethiopia. The road leads down the Rift Valley passing by a number of its lakes. It passes Shashamene, home to a small Rastafarian community. Then, climbing out of the valley, the road leads into the fertile green highlands, home to the Sidamu people and famous for the high-quality coffee grown here. This is also home to the beautiful Aregash Lodge, an excellent place for a weekend break out of Addis Ababa or an overnight en route. The road goes down again into the semi-arid savanna, home to the Borana people.
Arba Minch to Jinka
The expansion of the tar road network goes all the way to Jinka. The 245 km between the 2 towns is easily possible in 5 to 6 hours, ample time is available to visit one of the ethnic groups or a market. It is a scenic road, following the Rift Valley and crossing the Weyto River, ending in the hills around Jinka. Meanwhile crossing Konso, Tsamai, Banna, and Ari areas. The Omo Valley lies beyond Jinka.
Now we leave the tar roads behind us and the road conditions vary with the weather and the state of repair. Planned large irrigation schemes in the Omo Valley by the government (which might affect the way of living of the local people) brought a huge improvement to the condition of the road leading to the area where the Mursi people are living. Further exploration of the Mago National Park (towards Turmi) will go into areas with really rough roads.
To Turmi and beyond
Leaving the tar road to Jinka, there are two options to get to Turmi. The first one (115 km, 2,5 hrs) is mostly used to and from Arba Minch and starts from Weito, following the bottom of the Weito Valley (part of the Rift Valley) via a usually well-maintained gravel road. There are however a few seasonal rivers that might disrupt the journey. After the village of Arbore, the road leads through the Buska mountains towards Turmi.
The second option (80 km, 1,5 hrs) is used to and from Jinka and starts from Key Afar. Road construction, including many bridges, is finished and a nice gravel road is available.
Beyond Turmi an asphalt road leads to Omerate (70 km, 1.5 hrs) in the area where the Dassanech people are living. A rough road (50 km, 2 hr, the same one continuing to Mago NP) leads to Murulle in which neighborhood the Karo people are living.
The different roads leading to Turmi and especially beyond Turmi offer good opportunities to spot wildlife, many dik dik (a dwarf antelope) and an occasional gerenuk (long-necked gazelle) are seen. Many birds are seen as well.
Into Bale Mountains and beyond
There are two roads leading into the Bale Mountains from Addis Ababa, the longer one (400 km) being the more convenient one following the tarred Rift Valley road until Shashemene from where 160 km is remaining to Dinsho where the park HQ is found. The shorter option (370 km) goes through Asala This road is scenic but slower, however it makes a perfect round trip from Addis.
Beyond the Bale Mountains, the gravel road leads to the Sof Omar Caves. Another gravel road leads to Negele Borana and eventually the Trans African Highway, this road is of particular interest for birders in search for endemic species found along this road.