Ethiopia Tours - 15 Days
15 Days 14 Nights
This adventure takes in all the very best that Ethiopia has to offer! From thriving Addis to the C16th walled city of Harar; be guided around the stunning 13th Century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela; walk in the peerless Simien Mountains alongside Gelada Baboons and Walia Ibex and spot the endangered Ethiopian wolf in the striking Bale Mountain national park. All the while taking opportunities to visit local villages and people, learning about their history, culture, and trying their delicious cuisine.
Explore 13th Century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
Walk in the Simien & Bale Mountains
Visit Lake Langano in the striking Rift Valley
Safari Drive in Awash National Park
Guided Tour of C16th Harar, Gondar & Addis Ababa
With group members arriving during the afternoon and evening, today is a ‘free’ day for you to arrive into Addis, be transferred to the start hotel, and to shake off any travel fatigue before the start of your adventure in earnest, tomorrow. Addis Ababa is the 3rd highest capital in the world (2500m) and one of the largest cities in Africa. It has a pleasant climate with an average temperature of 16ºC year round. Time allowing following your arrival and check in, you might enjoy a visit to the Holy Trinity Church, a beautiful church with a baroque style of of European architecture which houses the coffins of Emperor Haile Selaisse-1 and his wife, as well as the fascinating Ethnological museum. This is to be found in the main campus of Addis Ababa University and serves the respectable purpose of preserving the country’s historical and cultural heritages, describing the traditions and lifestyles of the various tribal groups in Ethiopia. Your local guide will be on hand to welcome you in the evening with an Adventure briefing, and tonight you have the opportunity to watch traditional musicians and dancers performing different tribal dances in a culture house and to try traditional Ethiopian dishes for dinner.
Addis City Tour
Your adventure begins in earnest today, with a tour of this liveliest of cities. Accompanied by Tesfaye, an engaging guide with excellent English, your tour includes panoramic city views from Entoto Mountain (3200m), plus visits to the Red Terror Museum and, time permitting, the vibrant Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa. For those that would like to, we have an optional visit today to the serene and thought provoking Hamlin Fistula Hospital. Here you can learn more about the fantastic work they do to support pregnant women and girls from remote villages such as the ones we will see later in our adventure. For those not wishing to visit the hospital, you can enjoy a tour of the National Museum, which comprises many archaeological and historical findings including the complete hominid fossil remain of ‘Lucy’ known locally as Dinknesh, meaning ‘wonderful’.
Fly Addis to Gondar
The Simien Mountains, your destination today, are arguably Ethiopia’s most dramatic range, and probably the most well known – almost like a one-sided Grand Canyon: sheer drops lead down to rippling waves of lower mountains, dotted with foliage and a few green barley fields. Rocky pinnacle-like tabletop mountains or ‘ambas’, Ethiopia’s impregnable natural fortresses, glisten in the sunshine, supported at their bases by the pale yellow fields of ‘teff’ grain that grow at the lower altitudes. To get there, after breakfast we jump on a short (1hr) local flight (not included) to the city of Gondar, famous for its walled palace and fortress compound, and C17th castles. We will be exploring the city in a couple of days time, but for today we will drive (2-3hrs with private transport for our group), passing rural villages and crossing mountain passes with magnificent vistas, to arrive in Sankaber; the headquarters of the Simien Mountains National park. This afternoon offers a gentle leg stretch with some guided hiking (for around 2-3 hours at a gentle pace) near to the Simien Lodge, where you will stay tonight, to spot the endemic Gelada baboon, enjoy the breathtaking scenery and get your bearings. The National Park, which occupies a surface area of 180km², boasts varied flora depending on altitude. The highest regions have meadows with sparse vegetation, characteristic of afro-alpine zones. Here we can find the endemic Lobelia rhynchopetalum, small groups of perpetual flowers; Helichrysum, and the striking Kniphofia folios (‘red hot poker’ flowers).
Explore Simien Mountains
Spend the day immersing yourself in, and photographing, the legendary Simien mountains, deep gorges of the Escarpment, and the native wildlife. We will find ourselves surrounded by massive troops of extremely well habituated and photogenic Gelada Baboons. Deeper in the park we will scan the steepest cliffs and highest peaks for the Walia Ibex; an impressive member of the goat family that has been seen by few wildlife enthusiasts. There are opportunities to also encounter Ethiopian wolf, Klipspringer, Guereza Colobus, rock hyrax and two endemic rat species as well as 16 bird species endemic to Eritrea/Ethiopia. Last, but definitely not least, the Simien mountains are home to an important population of the rare and beautiful Lammergeir (bearded vulture) that can frequently be seen soaring above the cliff tops. We will enjoy a mix of short guided walks and private transfers to reach the most scenic spots today.
Drive to Gondar; half day tour
After breakfast in the peaceful environment of the Lodge, we leave the mountains to drive back to Gondar for a fascinating afternoon of sightseeing. Gondar was the first capital of the Ethiopian empire, founded in 1635 by the Emperor Fasilidas. We explore the Royal enclosure and its buildings including the UNESCO Heritage fortress, surrounded by a 300 ft long wall, and the oldest, and arguably most impressive, structure in the compound; the 2-storey Emperors palace. Other royal buildings of interest include the library of Emperor Yohannes 1, the House of Song where royal ceremonies took place, the elegant reception and banquet hall of Emperor Bakaffa, and the Palace of the kings wife. Also visit the nearby bath of King Fasiledes, where modern-day Timkat ceremonies are performed and the Church of Gebre Birhan Selassie, an imposing structure with brightly coloured ceilings.
Fly to Lalibela (via Addis)
Your destination today is the the historic town of Lalibela – one of Ethiopia’s finest ‘jewels’ and arguably one of the most important religious and historical sites in all of Africa and in fact the entire Christian world! It is known for its distinctive rock-cut churches, dating from the 12th and 13th Century and remains a pilgrimage site for Coptic Christians. The mix of religious architecture and the simplicity of the town’s way of life, gives Lalibela a distinctive, timeless and almost biblical atmosphere. We transfer to the airport and fly North to Lalibela (flight not included) where you will be met by Fikru, our local guide and expert on the churches in Lalibela (of which there are over 200, some hidden in enormous caves). Transfer to your hotel to check in and freshen up before the start of your tour of the first of 2 clusters of rock hewn churches, which represents earthly Jerusalem. This group includes Saviour church (Bete Medhanialem), Bete Mirian, Bete Denagel, Bete Meskal, Debra Sina and Bete Golgotha. Last, but certainly not least is Medhane Alem, which is not only the largest church in Lalibela, but is also the largest monolithic rock-hewn church in the world. It houses remarkable reliefs of figures; early Christian art rarely seen in other parts of Ethiopia. It is not hard to see why these brilliant feats of engineering and architecture are often referred to as the ‘Eigth wonder of the world’
Continue to explore Lalibela
After breakfast at your hotel, you continue your fascinating tour of the incredible church structures. Included in the second group, representing heavenly Jerusalem, are Bete Gabriel & Raphael, Bette Merquorios, Bete Emmanuel and Bete Abba Libanos. You will also visit the famous cross shaped church of Bete Giorgis (St George), said to be the symbolisation of Noahs ark. It is perhaps the most perfect and beautiful church you will see here – carved downwards out of the ground in one unbroken piece of stone, it’s interior dominated by depictions of Saint George killing the dragon. This afternoon you will have the wonderful opportunity to see a full demonstration of Ethiopian cooking within a local Lalibela household. Take part in cooking delicious Ethiopian dishes such as spicy vegetable & lentil stews or slow simmering meats, as well as tasting, of course the delectable end results.
Travel to Harar (via Addis)
We have some distance to cover during our time here, in order to see the most fascinating and striking destinations of central Ethiopia. So, after breakfast we are transferred to Lalibela airport to jump on a short international flight back to Addis, and connect to fly North East to Dire Dawa. We are met at the airport and driven 55km to arrive at the 16th Century walled town of Harar; a city ‘within a city’, given UNESCO Heritage status. For centuries it has been a major commercial hub, linked by trade routes to the rest of Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Horn of Africa. With 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th Century, and 102 shrines, it is considered the 4th most important city in the Islamic world. This afternoon we will visit the colourful home of Arthur Rimbaud, the French poet known for his transgressive and surreal themes, who worked and lived in Harar as a “gun runner” during the 19th Century. We start to get our bearings with the views from his home extending out over the city. “Eternity; it is the sea, mingled with the sun”. (A.Rimbaud, 1854-1891)
City Tour of Harar
We renew our city tour of Harar in earnest after breakfast this morning, first visiting the colourful Islamic market before enjoying the National and Harari museums. We also visit the house of Ras Makonnen, a Shewan royal, military leader, governor of Harar province and the father of Emperor Haile Selassie I, a defining figure in modern Ethiopian history who ruled from 1930 to 1974, attempting to modernise the country through a series of political and social reforms. These included the abolition of slavery and Ethiopia becoming a charter member of the UN, although he has also been criticised by Human Rights groups for his actions against the Harari people and his preferential views of Amhara culture. This evening we enjoy the unique spectacle that is “Hyena Man” feeding the group of hyenas that gather nightly outside of the town.
Awash National Park
We indulge in African flora and fauna with our journey to Awash National park, in the centre of Ethiopia, and named after the Awash River that passes around the city of Awash. It covers 756km2 of acacia woodland and grassland, and is home to a wide variety of mammals and birds including lions, cheetah, leopards, East African Oryx, Soemmerrings gazelle, Salt’s Dik-dik, the lesser & greater Kudu, Warthogs, Anubis & Hamadryas baboons and 453 species of native birds. We have 300 kms to get under our belt today, but we take our time, enjoying the stunning African scenery we experience en-route, and pausing for comfort stops. After settling into our hotel, we enjoy a game drive in the early evening, with photogenic light. This is Africa!
Hawassa & the Rift Valley
Hawassa is a city on the shores of Lake Awassa, known for its resident hippos, in the Great Rift Valley, a branch of the East African rift that runs through Ethiopia. Our 350km drive from Awash takes us past many of the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes, of great importance to Ethiopia’s economy and essential to the survival of local people. We pause at Lake Langano, at an altitude of 1585m to stretch our legs. It is 18 x 16km and is popular with visitors for water sports as it is free of the bilharzia snail that carries schistosomiasis, and hippos are rare. Expect to see monkeys, baboons, warthogs and a huge variety of birds however.
Tour of Lalibela
In the morning, start your tour of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, visiting the Northwestern Cluster of churches – Bet Medhane Alem, Bet Maryam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danaghel, Bet Mikael & Bet Golgotha. After lunch, continue with the Southeastern Cluster of churches – Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Bet Merkorios, Bet Amanual, and Bet Abba Libanos. Finally, you will visit the most famous of all the churches – Bet Giyorgis, constructed in honor of the patron saint of Ethiopia – Saint George in the perfect shape of a cross carved out from the very mountain itself.
Bale Mountains National Park
Today will be a day of great contrasts with amazing scenery and birding. We leave the lodge early, and climb up onto the Bale Massif onto the Sanetti Plateau, at between 3800 and 4377m above sea level. It is an important area for both birds and mammals, supporting seven globally threatened species and nearly all of Ethiopia’s Highland biome species. Our goal today is to see the plateau’s most celebrated resident; the Ethiopian wolf, crowned with the unenviable title of ‘the world’s rarest canid’. Your guide, Ayuba, is local to the area and has been working on projects around the conservation of the Ethiopian wolf for many years. Watching these vibrantly coloured animals, most closely related to the European Timber wolf, exhibiting their hunting prowess while pouncing on Giant Mole Rats (also endemic to the Sanetti Plateau) is surely amongst Africa’s greatest wildlife experiences. Don’t forget your camera & your binoculars!
Return to Addis (flight)
After a leisurely morning in Bale, we will take the short national flight back to Addis Ababa. You will have time to reacquaint yourself with Addis, do a last bit of souvenir shopping or simply organise yourself for your journey tomorrow, before our final group dinner together in Addis’ best (second-generaration!) restaurant Castell’s, where Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt number among its celebrated clientele! For those that wish, there is also the opportunity to further explore the city’s lively nighlife also!
Leaving the beauty of Ethiopia is going to feel all wrong but ‘normal life’ awaits you. We will transfer you out to Addis Ababa airport for your journey homeward. Time to plan your next escape!
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