Ethiopian Hideaway

Ethiopian Hideaway
Image: Michael Waidmann

An interview with Lucas Robinson of Limalimo Lodge in Ethiopia.
Tell us about Limalimo Lodge; what is it, how long has it existed, and where is it located?
We built Limalimo between 2014 and 2016 on the west side of Simien Mountains National Park, in Ethiopia. We are a 12-room boutique ecolodge focused on combining simple luxury and elegant design in a stunning setting.
Image: Mario Balducci

What is the purpose of Limalimo Lodge?
Shiferaw and Meles — my business partners — conceived of Limalimo as being a place for people to explore the beauty of the mountains from within a comfortable setting. So, put simply, we’re a small hotel that enables that to happen.
But more broadly, the lodge is also the centerpiece of our efforts to conserve the natural beauty of the National Park. Fundamentally, we believe the most realistic way of achieving that is to ensure that the local community is benefiting from the park’s conservation. Otherwise you have a situation where the community’s economic incentives and the conservation of the park are at odds. Tourism is therefore a key driver of the park’s conservation, because it’s tourism that ensures the local community are economically connected to the park.
I guess it’s a bit cliché these days, but we genuinely see the business as having a triple bottom-line, and everything we do is measured against these benchmarks: having a positive community impact, supporting the conservation of the park, and then running a business that is profitable. If any of these variables are missing, then the lodge just doesn’t make sense.
Image: Mario Balducci

Tell us about the importance of wilderness conservation in this area of Ethiopia.

UNESCO recognized the Simien Mountains in 1978 as having such spectacular natural phenomena as to be of global significance. They also said that the park was critical for biodiversity conservation because it is home to a number of globally threatened species, including the Walia ibex, a wild mountain goat found nowhere else in the world, the Gelada monkey and the Ethiopian wolf. So, there’s a global recognition that this area is really important in terms of conservation. But for us — for the people that work at the lodge — I think it’s simpler than that: it's about ensuring that the park is conserved so that future generations can appreciate the magic of this place.

Image: Tom Broadhurst

How many people does the Lodge employ?
We currently have about 45 people on staff, 95% of whom are from the immediate local community. Because most of the lodge is made out of rammed earth, which is a very labor intensive building method (and reduces our ecological footprint), we employed over 200 local people in the construction of the lodge. We also have about two dozen local suppliers at the moment, for things like vegetables, fruit, meat and eggs.
Image: Mario Balducci

How do you get there? Where do most of your guests come from?
Most people fly on Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa to Gondar, which is an hour. From Gondar it is about a 2-hour drive to the lodge. Addis Ababa has to be one of the best connected cities in Africa, thanks to the relatively recent expansion of Ethiopian Airlines, so it's a really easy flight from Europe, and there are direct flights from Washington (DC), New York, Toronto, LA - and soon Chicago. For that reason, Europeans and North Americans make up the bulk of our reservations, however we regularly welcome guests from all over the world. 
What activities are there to do at and around the Lodge?
The main attraction is of course the walking / hiking in the area. You have these incredibly beautiful vistas that just seem to never end, with 3000-5000 foot drops, which I find really inspiring. But we also get people who have a special interest in the unique wildlife: you can spend hours hanging out at 10,000 feet above sea level with the Gelada Monkeys on the Simien plateaus. It’s also fun to seek out the wolves, the mountain goats and of course the legendary Lammergeier (the world’s largest bird, otherwise known as the bone crusher). Camping in the area is also great, as is the mountain biking. We try to make the experience as kid-friendly as possible, so families seem to like the little zipline and treasure hunt we set up for them.
We also do these village visits, where guests can head down to the local community (where many of our staff live) and get a better sense for place. People seem to really appreciate the opportunity to sit down for a traditional coffee ceremony with someone who has lived in the area for fifty or sixty years and hear their story. It’s lovely to see that cultural exchange, and I think is one of the most direct links back to our goal of supporting the local community.
Finally, to be honest, while I love doing all those things when I visit, I think the best thing is settling in at the end of the day beside the fireplace and chatting with people over a cold Ethiopian beer. It’s so peaceful.
Image: Mario Balducci

How can someone go about planning a trip to Limalimo Lodge?
Drop us a line at info@limalimolodge.com. We’d be happy to help!
limalimolodge.com

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