The Omo valley is a place like no other. The variety and diversity of life – truly a melting pot of humanity – will blow you away. We think its a must visit, if you want to understand Ethiopia and Africa more broadly. The concentration of experience and variety, often so juxtaposed to your own daily life, forces you to reflect on what it means to be human in today’s world.
The Lower Omo Valley region has been as UNESCO World Heritage site since the discovery of human remains dating back nearly 2.5 million years. As you explore the region, you’ll discover fortified hilltop settlements, terraced fields, anthropomorphic grave-markers, and rock engravings dating back 5000 years.
The Omo valley also has some beautiful landscapes; Nech Sar National Park frames much of the region with mountains, lakes and forests, and harbours 70-plus mammal species, as well as prodigious crocodiles and the endemic Nechisar nightjar – the latter arguably the world’s rarest bird.
Is visiting the Omo valley ethical?
Without tourism, the Omo would be even poorer. The region mostly lives on meagre resources and over the years has been victim to cattle-rustling, violence, ethnic struggles, drought and is often one of the last areas to receive support or infrastructure from a national level. Tourism is vital to help support the communities, providing a basic income, and so we strongly encourage you to think about visiting the Omo if you want to experience a part of Africa like no other.
That being said, certain interactions and the manner of certain tourists can leave some feeling a bit like they’ve visited a ‘human zoo’. Disrespectful travellers have been known to wander into villages and stick their lenses into peoples’ daily lives with a feeling of entitlement, gawking at a life that is very different. There is, amongst some visitors an expectation that in every village you should be shown a ceremony, or a dance so that the tourists can tick off an experience they’ve read about, or seen in a magazine.
However, in most places – as is often the case in many parts of the world – a ceremony, or dance is a pleasure to give, and a useful part of the tourist trade. It is a transaction, but a good one.
Life is extremely different from those of most visitors, and as such you should be prepared to be shocked and even disturbed by what you see, whilst remembering that these things could be totally normal in this region and context. By way of example, large families live in small huts. Sanitation is poor. Disease, illness and destitution is, unfortunately, common here. Many tribes think nothing of not covering their bodies – women and men. Piercings, body markings and circumcision is a way of life. It’s worth remembering alongside this, that simple lives are often very happy, and free from the distractions many tourists suffer in their home countries.
The lens you see the world through may, in fact, be as odd to them as theirs is to you. One of the reasons why visiting this area is so fascinating and rewarding is that it will challenge your belief systems and understanding of the world.