With a land area of 1,098,000 square kilometers, Ethiopia is five times as big as Britain. Two principal geographical zones can be found in the country: the cool highlands and the hot lowlands that surround them.
The vast central mountain-plateau – the Ethiopian Highlands – has an average elevation of between 1800-2400 meters. It is here that the country’s major mountain-peaks are found, including the highest mountain: Ras Dashen (4620 m), Ethiopia’s highest mountain and the fourth highest in Africa. In fact, Ethiopia has 20 mountains peaking above 4000 meters. But the country is also home to one of the lowest points on the Earth’s surface: the inhospitable Danakil Depression, which lies at more than 100 meters below sea level.
Southern Ethiopia is ‘divided’ diagonally by the Rift Valley. This valley is – on average – 50 kilometres wide and runs all the way down to Mozambique. Several lakes can be found – as a ‘chain’ – on the valley floor. These lakes are much loved by bird-lovers. The northern end of the East African Rift Valley opens into the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth.
Ethiopia’s climate reflects its’ topography. The highlands have a very different climate than the lowlands. In the highlands, the average daytime temperature is considered as ‘moderate’. Most of the year, temperatures will be just over 20 degrees Celsius, slowly getting hotter as the rainy season is approaching.
The rains start in June and usually end in September. Rainstorms can be very strong. In the north-east of the country, where there are often droughts, one can rely less on the rains. Rainfall in the lowlands is around half that of the highlands, but some areas also experience small rains in March and April.
The southern Rift Valley is classified as moderate to hot and shares a similar rainfall pattern to the highlands. In the Bale Mountains in the south, snow sometimes falls. At the other end of the scale, temperatures in the Danakil Depression can go up to 50 degrees Celsius and the rainfall here is almost zero.
The far south and eastern lowlands are hot and dry.
The western lowlands on the other hand, are hot and humid.