Explore rock-hewn churches in Lalibela and castles in Gondar, admire the monasteries of Lake Tana, visit the Blue Nile Falls, discover the Simien Mountains and historical Axum
Tour description provided by G Adventures
Rich with natural contrast, captivating human history and countless surprises, Ethiopia has long been an intersection between the civilizations of North Africa, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. This 15-day adventure is perfect for the traveller looking to delve into the history and culture of this incredibly diverse land like few others do. In fact, we’ll help to take some of the infamous bumps out of African travel through a combination of flights and comfortable land transport. Prepare to have your preconceptions challenged.
- Day 1 Addis Ababa
- Arrive in Addis Ababa any time, an arrival transfer is included. A brief departure meeting will be held in the hotel reception area on Day 1 of your tour. Upon arrival look for information from your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) on the hotel bulletin board regarding meeting time. Addis Ababa, founded more than a century ago, means 'New Flower' in Amharic. At an elevation of 2400m, the third highest capital in the world, the climate is pleasantly cool. The city mixes past and present, statues from the imperial times coexist with placards from the former Marxist Regime. Huge billboards advertise current activities in the city and modern businesses, as well as development organizations' goodwill projects. The streets are a mesh of expensive cars, old Russian “Lada model” taxis, along with donkeys, sheep and goats. Traditional mud houses stand not far from austere Fascist buildings and private-sector banks. The National Museum contains a wide array of Ethiopian historical artifacts focusing on the pre- Aksumite, Aksumite, Solomonic, and Gonderine periods. It also has a wide array of Ethiopian art ranging from 14th century parchment to 20th century canvas oil paintings by leading modern Ethiopian artists. The museum houses anthropological and archaeological displays including Lucy, the fossilized hominid discovered in 1974. Entoto, about 3000m above sea level, is the highest point of the capital and the seat of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. Here you enjoy panoramic views of the capital and the museum adjacent to the church of St. Mary. Merkato is the largest open market in Africa where you can find a bit of everything. The spice market is very interesting for its colourful displays and aromas. One of the highlights of the Merkato is the “recycling market” where old tires are turned into sandals, corrugated iron is made into metal buckets, and olive oil tins from Italy are made into coffee roasters and scoops.
- Day 2 Bahir Dar (1B)
- Estimated Travel Time: about 1 hour flight Approximate Distance: 565 km This morning we embark on a short early morning flight to Bahir Dar so you have to be up very early in the morning for your breakfast and 2 hr before departure airport transfer. You may visit the market in Bahir Dar, where you can see colourful woven clothing, basketry, cereals, spices and other local goods. Opt to climb up to Bezawit, the palace of Haile Selassie which lies on a hill 5km outside of Bahir Dar. The panoramic views of the Blue Nile River, Lake Tana and the town are beautiful. There is a chance you’ll be able to see some hippos while along the Blue Nile. Monitor Lizards and otters are also in the area, but not as common to see, make sure to keep an eye out. Bahir Dar is a fast-growing town, considered one of the more attractive towns in Ethiopia due to its ideal location on the shores of Lake Tana and its palm tree-lined streets. At 68 km wide and 73 km long, Lake Tana is Ethiopia's largest lake and is dotted with several islands, many of which are home to old monasteries. The open-ended papyrus boat (tankwa) has been used for centuries and continues to be used on Lake Tana today. In the afternoon depart on an excursion to the Blue Nile Falls, about 35kms from Bahir Dar. Upon driving to the entrance, you can take a 1-2 hour hike to the falls crossing over the Blue Nile via the historic Portuguese bridge. Proceed along a path that takes you to the bottom of the falls so you can experience it up close. These falls are some of the most spectacular in Africa. During full flood (July - September) the falls increase to 400m across and a 45 meter drop. Unfortunately, in drier times of the year, the water has been reduced by three fourths of its natural flowage due to the recent construction of an electrical dam.
- Day 3-4 Gonder (2B)
- Estimated Travel Time: 3-4 hours Approximate Distance: 180 km On the morning of Day 3 visit three monasteries on Lake Tana. Both men and women can visit the first monastery, Ura Kidane Mihret. Near Ura Kidane Mihret is a traditional house museum that we will visit, along with two island monasteries, Kibran Gabriel and Entos Eyesus. Kibran Gabriel can only be visited by men, so while the men are visiting that one, the women will visit the neighboring Entos Eyesus. Depart for Gonder following lunch. Once in Gonder we visit the "Fasiladas" Castle compound which covers an area of over 70,000 sq metres, and surrounded by high stone walls. Emperor Fasiladas' Palace is the oldest and perhaps most impressive of the castles. It is two stories high, has a crenellated parapet and four small domed towers. It is said to have been designed by an Indian architect and shows synthesis of Indian, Portuguese and Moorish, as well as Aksumite, influences. Following the castle visit, we drive to Emperor Fasiladas’ bath where we wander around the grounds shaded by huge fig trees. You will then have time for an optional tour of Gondar market, some time to explore Gonder town on your own or simply relax and try to strike up a conversation with the locals. Later in the afternoon, we continue to Debre Berhan Salassie Church. Debre Berhan Selassie Church lies 2km northeast of the castle enclosure. It is probably the country's most famous church and a highlight of Gonder. Its ceiling is covered with famous paintings of Ethiopian cherubs and the walls portray nearly all Ethiopian saints, martyrs and lore. Gonder has been called "Africa's Camelot". It is one of the main attractions along the northern historical route. For 200 years it was Ethiopia's capital after Emperor Fasiladas founded it in 1636, well recognized for its wealth, splendor and fame at the time.
- Day 5-6 Simien Mountains National Park (2B)
- Estimated Travel Time: Day 5: 4-5 hours Approximate Distance: Day 5: 130 km Day 5: After breakfast in Gonder, depart for Debark, the starting point for our trekking. After lunch, we register with the park authorities and head to the Simien Lodge to relax before a full day in the Simien Mountains tomorrow. Day 6: Enjoy a full day visit of the Simien Mountains National Park. In the morning we hike from Sankaber campsite to the Jinbar waterfalls before driving as far as Chenek campsite for a picnic lunch and short excursions in search of Walia Ibex and the Ethiopian wolf. Return to Simien Lodge for the evening. The scenic Simien Mountains are a good break from the historic architecture and monuments of the cities. Known as the “roof of Africa” they rank as one of the continent’s most beautiful mountain ranges. A number of peaks reach well over 4000m, and Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia, is one of Africa’s highest mountains. The Simien Mountains have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can see some of Ethiopia's remarkable flora and fauna including Gelada baboon, Walia ibex, and if you're lucky, the Ethiopian wolf. The huge lammergeyer is also found soaring over the valleys here. It is cold in the mornings, evenings and nights, and during the day when there is cloud cover or sleet. Ice often forms on water in the early mornings during the cold period of December through February and afternoon spurts of hail frequent the beginning of the rains (April -May).
- Day 7 Gonder (1B)
- Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 130 km Travel towards Gonder, en route we make a short stop at the Ploughshare Women Crafts Training Centre in a Falasha village, a centre for giving handicraft skills to underprivileged single mothers. You have the option to purchase arts and crafts here and sit in on a coffee ceremony. A small donation (20-50 Birr) is appreciated. Upon arrival back in Gondar we visit Kusquam, Queen Mentawab's 18th century residence. Kusquam is found on the outskirts of Gondar. Empress Mentawab built both the church and castle here. The church is dedicated to St. Mary. The skeletal remains of Empress Mentawab, Emperor Iyasu II, and her grandson Iyoas are all found underground inside the church. The impressive banquet hall castle with outer wall cross relief are also very interesting to visit.
- Day 8-10 Lalibela (3B)
- After an early morning start, we have a long drive from Gondar to Lalibela stopping for scenic views and lunch en route, arriving in Lalibela in the early evening. The churches inside Lalibela town are grouped as the first and second cluster. In the morning of Day 9 we explore Lalibela’s first group of churches, then in the afternoon we drive to Yemrehana Kristos (2 hours) for a half hour hike to the church. The morning of Day 10 you will have a chance to take an optional tour to Ashetan Maryam, set at 3150m on top of the highest peak surrounding Lalibela with panoramic views of the town and countryside. In the afternoon, we'll continue our included visit with the second group of churches. Lalibela is considered by many as the greatest of the religio-historical sites. It is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is the 8th Wonder of the World. Lying in the rugged Lasta Mountains at 2630m, Lalibela remains an isolated and undeveloped area. Among the dimly lit passageways of tunnels and medieval churches you find robed priests and monks meandering and there is a lingering aroma of incense and beeswax candles. The churches, carved out of single rocks, date back to the 11th and 12th century AD and are still being used. Lalibela is a good place to taste the local beverage, Tej, or honey wine with local traditional song and dance. All church entrances and visits in Lalibela are included activities.
- Day 11-12 Mekele/Hawzien (2B)
- Estimated Travel Time: Day 11: 9- 10 hrs; Day 12: 5 hrs Approximate Distance: Day 11: 409 km; Day 12: 109 km The winding road through breathtaking mountain scenery takes us past spectacular views of Sekota and Alamata Mountains. We stop for lunch on Day 11 at a local restaurant in a small town called Woldia. Mekele has been the capital of Tigrai since Emporer Yohanis IV (1871-1889) designated it so, and it has recently grown to be fifth largest city in Ethiopia. After breakfast on Day 12, we take a short tour of Mekele then drive to Hawzien after lunch, visiting Abraha Atsbera on the way. In the afternoon we have the option to walk to Debre Tsion Abraham or Abune Yemata guh depending on the group preference. Hawzien has a 3,000 year history. Originally an old trading centre, today the area is exclusively agricultural. Many ruins in the area still bear testimony to the day in 1988 when the dictator Mengistu wanted to punish the rebels and over 2,500 people died under napalm bombs.
- Days 13-14 Axum (2B)
- Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 194 km After breakfast visit Maryam QorQor before returning to Hawzien for lunch. The church of Our Lady Mary at Qorqor (Maryam Qorqor) is a fascinating rock-cut church of the monastery founded by Abba Dane'el of Gar'alta (in Tegre) during the second half of the thirteenth century. In the afternoon we drive to Axum via Yeha, the area believed to be the site of Ethiopia’s oldest civilization, dating back to between the 5th and 8th century B.C. Spend all of Day 14 exploring the Axum historical site, including visits to main stelae field, Queen of Sheba’s palace and bath, and Church of Tsion Maryam (St. Mary of Zion), which is believed to be the first church in Sub Saharan Africa and claimed to house the Ark of the Covenant. Axum is Ethiopia's oldest city, dating back some 2,000 years when it was the hub of the Axumite Empire. The Queen of Sheba made it her capital 1000 years before Christ. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded here in the 4th Century and Axum remains the holiest city of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
- Day 15 Addis Ababa (1B)
- Estimated Travel Time: 1 hour flight time Approximate Distance: 1000 km After breakfast we transfer to the airport and fly from Axum to Addis Ababa. The tour ends upon arrival to your post-tour hotel in Addis Ababa, please arrange ongoing travel after 3pm today.