Compared to what is found in Ethiopia, a more perfect combination of history, tradition, culture and nature couldn’t be created. Ethiopia is an incredible look back into history of the earth and humans. From 3 million-year-old fossilised hominid remains in Addis Ababa to incredible rock-hewn churches, hidden crypts and grottoes in Lalibela, this trip uncovers the 500-year-old monastery islands of Bahir Dar, the elegant castles and palatial complexes that stand guard over the city of Gondar, the majestic geological formations of the Simien mountains, the giant obelisks that rise of Axum, and even the rumoured home of the Ark of the Covenant. Take in views of the Blue Nile, the peaks of the Simien Mountains and the Rift Valley. Cross the savanna, look out for wildlife, taste the famous coffee and delectable cuisine, and encounter the genuine and friendly people along the way – in the Omo Valley, meet a diverse and fascinating range of distinct tribal groups. Explore by 4WD with your local leader, stopping at local markets and villages to discover one of Africa's last great wilderness areas. This is an adventure like no other. NEW UPDATES FOR 2020 In 2020 this trip will be cancelled and replaced with the shorter Experience Ethiopia, 14 day trip. Trip code PFLE.
Travel Dates: From 27/09/2019 to 14/11/2019
Duration: 19 days
- Enjoy an afternoon tour of Addis Ababa, including National Museum, Holy Trinity Cathedral and the public square, then a traditional Ethiopian dinner at local project helping the youth of Addis Ababa
Take a cruise around Lake Tana - Ethiopia's largest body of water and a source of the Nile - enjoying an on-deck sundowner after checking out island monasteries
Venture out on a game walk through the grasslands of the Nechisar Plain in search of zebra, kudu and gazelle
Walk through the Simien Mountains National Park and up to Sankaber before staying at our feature stay - the architecturally designed Limalimo Lodge
Enjoy a sundowner, local music and dancing on the terrace of our Konso lodge
Uncover the eight distinct tribes that call the Omo Valley home, and gain a deeper understanding and respect for their lifestyle and traditions
Learn about the importance of scarification and hair grooming for the Karo and the Hamer people in the market town of Turmi
See the amazing rock-hewn churches of Lalibela with a guided tour over 2 afternoons before an open-air dinner with spectacular views looking over Lalibela
Breakfasts Included: 18
Lunches Included: 2
Dinners Included: 8
Comfortable Hotel (4 nights),Tourist Hotel (5 nights),Lodge (5 nights),Feature Stay Lodge (4 nights)
Private vehicle,4WD vehicle,Boat,Plane
Group Size: 1 - 12
Addis Ababa - Afternoon City Tour
Addis Ababa - Bahir Zaf Dinner
Arba Minch - Dorze Village Visit
Axum - Full Day Tour
Bahir Dar - Blue Nile Falls
Gondar - Church & Castles tour
Jinka - Ari villages
Konso - Local Music & Sundowner
Konso - Village Visit
Lake Tana - Boat Cruise
Lake Tana- Sundowner Boat Drinks
Lalibela - Afternoon Tour
Lalibela - Sunset drinks
Nechsar National Park - Game Viewing Walk
Nechsar National Park - Lake Chamo Boat Cruise
Omorate - Daasanach community
Simien Mountains National Park - Walk
Turmi - Hamer village
Turmi - Market Visit
1 Addis Ababa
Begin this Ethiopian adventure in the capital of Addis Ababa with a welcome meeting at 1pm. Upon arrival you will be met and transferred to your Jupiter Hotel (approximately 30 minutes). In the afternoon you’ll take a tour of this bustling city, dotted with Italian architecture, interesting churches and friendly inhabitants. This relatively new city, established by the Emperor Menelik II in 1887, is one of contrasts – the Addis Sheraton, with its ‘singing fountain’, is one of the most luxurious in all of Africa, yet you only need to travel a few streets away to find yourself among busy markets, dirt roads and the odd goat or two wandering the street. Although Ethiopia was the only African nation never to be colonised, the Italians briefly occupied parts of it, including Addis, in the twentieth century. In many parts of the city the Italian’s legacy lives on in the form of old art deco buildings and coffee shops, particularly in the area known as the Piazza. Addis can seem daunting at times, but even the briefest foray into the busy streets can reveal interesting new insights. Your tour will include the National Museum, Holy Trinity Cathedral and drive around the main public squares of the capital. The museum contains the remains of the fossilized hominids “Lucy”, a female hominoid that lived some 3.2 million years ago and who is a key discovery on the origin of early mankind. The cathedral houses impressive stained- glass windows and beautifully carved imperial thrones, and is also the final resting place for Emperor Haile Selassie and his family. In the evening you'll have dinner at a local restaurant.
2 Bahir Dar
This morning you will be met and transferred to the airport for a short flight to Bahir Dar, one of the most attractive towns in northern Ethiopia. Drive the short distance to your hotel, lying on the shores of the lush setting of Lake Tana. This afternoon, board a sightseeing boat for a cruise around the lake. Covering over 3,500 square kilometres, this is Ethiopia’s largest lake and is home to 37 islands, 20 of which house some of Ethiopia’s most venerated monasteries. Many of these monasteries are believed to date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and feature superb ecclesiastical art. Legend has it that the Ark of Covenant was hidden here for protection during the times when Muslim forces invaded from the east. Your boat trip will take you to the monastery of URA-Kidane Mehret, which dates from between the 16th and 18th centuries. It is renowned for its collection of crosses and crowns, and its incredible painted walls that offer up a virtual 'who’s who' of Ethiopian saints. The boat returns to your hotel via the source of the ‘Blue’ section of the Nile. End the day with a sundowner drink on the boat as you float across Lake Tana.
3 Bahir Dar
After breakfast you will leave for the Blue Nile Falls. Located 32 kilometres south of Bahir Dar, the Blue Nile Falls measure over 400 metres wide and descends 48 metres in full flood. These falls are known locally as Tis Isat (Smoking Water) and are a spectacular sight when in full flood. New hydro-electrical plants and dams have somewhat impacted on their magnificence, but the sight is still a memorable one. You can take a longer scenic walk past the main viewpoint (1.5 kilometres) or a shorter walk to reach the foot of the falls. You will then cross the Nile River by boat to reach your vehicle. A leisurely afternoon is then spent in Bahir Dar. There’s will be the option of visiting the local market and taking in a panoramic view of Lake Tana and the Nile from a nearby viewpoint.
Travel north around the edge of Lake Tana this morning and head for the regal city of Gondar. This drive will take approximately 4.5 hours, including stops for photos along the way. Gondar was the 17th and 18th century capital of Ethiopia, and is famed for its medieval castles and churches. The city's unique Royal Enclosure is a World Heritage site, home to dramatic Emperor-built castles unlike any other in Africa. The architecture shows the richness of Axumite traditions as well as the prosperity of Ethiopia in those two centuries. Spend the afternoon visiting these medieval castles, and stop by the famous church of Debre Berhan Selassie. The church is one of the finest in Ethiopia, with walls and ceilings covered stunning in ancient murals. Later, if there is time, perhaps visit Project Ploughshare, which helps disadvantaged women rekindle the area’s once famous pottery craft.
5 Simien Mountains National Park
Continue North in the morning, making a 3-hour drive into the Simien Mountains. Once you arrive in your National Park hilltop lodgings, the rest of the day is free for you to explore the beautiful surrounds. If you’d like, you can take a walk through the park that will last between one and three hours, or perhaps you’d prefer to attend a traditional coffee ceremony and learn to make spongy enjera (sour dough-risen fatbread). Either way, the wild and rugged landscape is captivating.
6 Simien Mountains National Park
Today you will enjoy a scenic walk within the Simien Mountains National Park. The park is a majestic series of undulating amethyst peaks, including Ethiopia’s highest point – Ras Dejen. The peaks have been eroded over millions of years and have left strange and wonderful geological formations behind. The park is home to some of the world’s most elusive animals, and while you're here you might encounter troops of the endemic Gelada monkey. Found exclusively in Ethiopia, Gelada are often referred to as the ‘bleeding heart baboon’ or the 'lion monkey’ as their coat is shaggy and their chest has a marked ‘red heart’ patch. Gelada monkeys have no natural enemies, so they can be found in good numbers and are quite easy to approach. Enjoy a pack lunch and then take a scenic walk along a dramatic escarpment, before returning to the lodge in the late afternoon.
Take the asphalt but winding road up to the fabled city of Axum, crossing the lowlands of the Simien Mountains and the Tekeze River gorge (approximately 4.5 hours). Though this is a long and winding journey, the spectacular views of the mountains makes the time slide away. You’ll arrive in Axum in the late afternoon. Axum was once the capital of Africa’s oldest empire – the Kingdom of Axum lasted from 1 AD to 700 AD and grew to rank among the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world. It was positioned at the centre of an important trading route that stretched from Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea and all the way to India and Sri Lanka. Axumite society was rich, well organized and technically advanced. In this period, bronze, silver and gold coins were produced, amazing tombs and monoliths constructed and Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia.
Today you will tour the incredible historical sites of Axum. Visit the stele fields, several tombs, the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an archaeological museum. The field is home to over 100 stele – the largest one measuring 33 metres and weighing an incredible 517 tones. Stele (or monoliths) are carved from a single piece of granite, and are often elaborately decorated to resemble a multi-story house complete with windows, doors, locks and structural beams. Their scale reflects Axum’s once great importance, and they were probably transported by elephants from a nearby quarry. The mausoleums in this area include the tomb of the false door and also the tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, while the archaeological museum gives you further insights into this incredible society. An unimposing building with a green picket fence is the St Mary of Zion Church, the first built in sub-Saharan Africa. This holds the crowns of various former Ethiopian emperors and is even said to house the most fabled biblical relic in history – the Ark of the Covenant.
Take an early morning flight from Axum to Lalibela (approximately 140 minutes), where you will stay for two nights. Despite the town of Lalibela being isolated in the Lasta Mountains at 2,630 metres above sea level, it is still the home of Ethiopia’s top sight, and one of the world's greatest historical and religious sites. Between 1137 and 1270, several astounding rock-hewn churches were constructed in Lalibela; astonishing because most are not built from carved freestanding rocks, but instead created from huge single blocks of stone unearthed by the digging of enormous pits. You will spend two afternoons exploring the extraordinary churches that look like they've been dropped down from the sky. The Northern Group contains seven churches, a tomb, a chapel and a sunken chapel. At the centre of the group is Bet Medhane Alem, measuring 33.5 metres by 23.5 metres and said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world. A tunnel connects three of the churches in a courtyard to the east, whilst another tunnel connects two other churches to the west of Bet Medhane Alem. However it is Bet Giyorgis (St George's), carved in the form of a Greek cross and lying slightly apart from the main northern cluster, which is the most famous and frequently photographed. This church is exceptionally well-preserved and is probably the most visually perfect. The Eastern group of five churches includes the only hypogeous church, where only the roof remains attached to the overhead rock.
This morning there is an option to trek to the rock church of Asheten Mariam, which sits atop the 3,150-metre-high Abune Josef mountain that overlooks Lalibela. You will climb for 2.5 hours to the summit, where the church is carved out of a cleft into the cliff face. The monastery houses ancient parchments and crosses, but the real treasure is the setting and the view. You may see Ethiopian wolves and gelada baboons on your hike. Descend the mountain and return to the hotel for lunch. Depending on which church group you visited yesterday (North or East cluster), you will spend this afternoon exploring the other, absorbing the haunting atmosphere inside the churches, and taking plenty of photographs of the incredible architecture and the religious rituals within. This evening you will enjoy sundowner drinks and a special dinner at Ben Ababa restaurant.
11 Addis Ababa
A flight (approximately 1.5 hours) takes you back to Addis Ababa for arrival in the early afternoon. As this is a combination trip there will be another welcome meeting on arrival at your hotel in Addis Ababa to run through the next stage of the itinerary and meet travellers joining your journey. The afternoon is then yours to relax and perhaps find the perfect Ethiopian coffee shop.
12 Arba Minch
Begin the day by travelling to the town of Arba Minch in the south of Ethiopia (approximately 9 hours), a region noted for its enormous variety of peoples and cultures. Many of these populations are nomadic or semi-nomadic and, far from the influence of the modern world, their ancient traditions have remained intact. While the small southern Ethiopian town of Arba Minch is rather unremarkable, its setting is not. The surrounding are undeniably dramatic – lying at an altitude of 1,300m above sea level, on green hills overlooking Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya and with mountains forming a backdrop rising to 4,000m to the west. The town is also well situated as the gateway to Nechisar National Park. You will arrive at the Paradise Lodge - our Feature Stay - early this evening.
13 Arba Minch
With some of the most dramatic scenery in Africa, Nechisar National Park lies at the heart of the Rift Valley, covering Lakes Chamo and Abaya and the mountainous causeway between them known as the 'Bridge of God'. Today you will visit Nechisar for a game viewing walk, and experience its thrilling beauty. The open grasslands of the Nechisar Plain offer the best viewing of the diverse wildlife on offer, which numbers at 70 mammal and 342 bird species, and include Burchell’s zebra, gazelle and kudu. Lions are also found in the park but it’s rare to catch a glimpse. Waterbuck gather near the lakeshore, and there are many smaller species of buck located in the forest areas. You’ll also enjoy a boat trip on Lake Chamo, the country’s third largest, which is inhabited by a significant number of hippo and crocodile.
Before leaving the dramatic surrounds of Arba Minch, make a stop at a Dorze village. The Dorze are known for their cotton weaving skills and their beehive style huts, which are some of the most distinctive traditional dwellings on the continent. Made of bamboo and a thatched roof of leaves, the conical structures are at least 6 metres tall, can be moved, and can last up to 60 years. Then, get on the road to the South Omo region and the administrative capital of Jinka (approximately 7-8 hours). You’ll pass through the territories of several different tribes on your way to Jinka, including the Konso, who are famous for their terraced farming. Jinka is a small mountain town virtually isolated from the rest of the country. It’s remote and rustic, yet its cling to the rest of the county is accentuated by the grass airstrip in the middle of town. People come from across South Omo to visit the local market in Jinka, particularly Ari, Bana, Besheda and Besketo people. You'll spend the night here in Jinka.
In the morning, pay a visit to one of the Ari villages around Jinka. The Ari people are not inundated with tourists in the manner of similar communities, though their style of dress and houses are frequently colourful and eye-catching. Their villages are typically verdant because of the enset - known colloquially as the Ethiopian banana or false banana – they are known for cultivating. While you’re there, watch the locals prepare Ethiopian staple enjera (sourdough-risen flatbread). In the afternoon, visit South Omo Research Cenre Museum, where a small but illuminating collection of instruments, tools and information from a variety of tribes that occupy the Omo valley.
Today you will drive south (approximately 3 hours) to the town of Turmi, an important market town. The two main tribes that live in the area are the Karo and the Hamer, both of whom practise elaborate body decoration. Today you’ll visit a nearby Hamer village and learn more about this tribe. The women roll their hair into dreds called goscha using fat and dark red ochre, and their arms are wrapped in beads and copper bracelets. The tribe practise scarification, with women having scars cut into their arms or shoulders to make themselves more beautiful and as a display of their strength. They wear beaded goatskin frocks over their upper body, and married women wear thick copper necklaces. The men are also adorned with scars, for beauty or traditionally representing the number of enemies they have killed, and courageous men wear clay hair buns on their heads. The Hamer also have a similar annual ceremony to the Mursi’s stick fighting – here a young man must jump back and forth on the backs of bulls to prove himself worthy of the family's pride and of a wife, while women are ritualistically whipped in voluntary support of the initiate. You will spend the night in an eco-lodge in Turmi.
This morning you’ll journey south, driving 75 kilometres (47 miles) to Omorate, a dusty river town where wildlife roams freely. Pass through acacia forests, where you will see Hamer tribespeople herding cattle. Then, visit a Daasanach community, where you’ll see people wearing avant garde wigs and headpieces constructed from bottlecaps and other discarded materials. Both the Hamar and Daasanach communities here are fiercely independent and culturally unique - you may witness evidence of scarification practices and body modification in both communities. The Daasanach live a traditional way of life, abandoning the irrigation systems set up by missionaries after the end of colonialism and eschewing technology. Return to Turmi in the afternoon, where depending on the day you might be able shop at a vibrant local market, savouring the smells and tastes while bumping shoulders with the Karo, Homer and Benna people.
Today head northeast on a drive that offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding scenery, including the terraced hills of Konso. Along the way, you may be lucky enough to see the small dik-dik antelope and the impressively-horned lesser kudu. All roads into South Omo pass through Konso, and this unprepossessing small town of 3,000 inhabitants is a good base for exploring the unique and complex culture of the hillside villages in the surrounding countryside. The Konso people, who historically had little contact with the rest of Ethiopia and so retain a traditionalist character, live in walled hilltop settlements with maze-like stone fences. Each village is made up of sub-compounds, and there is a central communal building called a mora, the ground floor of which is used by the men, boys and girls as a social area; adult women are excluded. Each village will have important poles or stones erected to mark special events like the initiation of a new generation or victories over enemies. Famous are the carved wooden grave markers, or waga, erected over the burial place of an important warrior. The deceased's facial features are carved into the waga and enhanced by using teeth made from animal bones. This evening you will enjoy sundower drinks, local music and dancing on the terrace of your accommodation.
19 Addis Ababa
We drive back to Arba Minch in the morning and take the flight back to Addis Ababa in the afternoon. From here you can take a transfer with us to your additional accommodation or wait for your flight home.
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