Travel through the untouched beauty and fascinating culture of Ethiopia

Travel to Ethiopia and discover a beautiful country, barely touched by modern society. Visit the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and the rugged landscapes of the Simien Mountains. Discover the ancient history on display at Aksum and relax among the vibrant culture in Gonder. This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and travelling in Ethiopia is an experience not to be missed.


Start
Gonder, Ethiopia
Finish
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Country
Ethiopia
Style
Basix
Theme
Overland
Code
YDOB
Physical rating
Ages
Min 18
Group size
Min 4, Max 22

Why we love this trip

  • Indulge in a sweet Ethiopian coffee in Addis Ababa

  • Explore the spectacular Blue Nile Falls

  • Discover the ornate history of Gondar

  • Travel through Ethiopia’s rugged scenery

  • Trek in the spectacular Simien Mountains

  • Discover the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

Itinerary

Border Information: if joining in Gondar, you will most likely enter Ethiopia at Gondar Atse Tewodros Airport. There will be a group meeting at the joining hotel at 6:00pm. Please look out for a note from your tour leader at the reception when you arrive giving more details about this important meeting. If you are continuing to Kenya or beyond, your leader will need to check the validity dates of your Ethiopian visa. On the next day, we will have a half day guided tour of the historical sites of Gondar, including Gondar Castle, the King Fasilades' Baths and the Debre Birhan Selassie church. In Gondar we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.Hotel for the night: Lammergeyer Hotel
Lammergeyer Hotel
PO box 57
Gondar
Ethiopia
Tel: 0581 12 29 03


Activity Approximate Cost
Learn all about medieval Ethiopia on a half-day guided tour of the castles, churches and baths of Gondar Included in Kitty
Enjoy a tour of the local Dashen brewery in Gondar USD 8


About Gondar:
The historic city of Gondar is known as the city of castles and palaces. This was once the capital of Ethiopia in the reign of King Fasilidas who built the first castle. Successive kings added their own castles to the complex. On the outskirts of the town there is also Fasilidas' Bath, which is an interesting
building standing in an artificial pool which is still filled for occasional religious ceremonies. At the Debre Berhan Sellassie Church we can see the famous ceiling which is painted with hundreds of faces of angels and hear about the church's fascinating yet violent history.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (2 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today marks the start of our 3-day excursion into the Simien Mountains National Park. We will first drive to Debark, where we will have a briefing from our local mountain guide explaining the various trekking options we will have during our excursion, before heading into the National Park. Estimated Drive Time - 3-5 hours (please note that all drive times given here are the approximate number of hours that the truck will be in motion only, and does not include any time taken for coffee or lunch stops, border crossings,
photo stops, activities en route, comfort breaks, shopping stops, toilet stops, etc. The times given are approximate estimates only and whilst given with the best of intentions, the drive times are heavily dependent on traffic, road conditions, weather, police roadblocks, and many other factors - flexibility is
essential on any overland trip!).

The area is home to some of Africa's most jaw-dropping mountain scenery and is a great opportunity to enjoy some incredibly beautiful treks and breathtaking views! The area is also home many indigenous animals, and during our time here we hope to spot Lammargeyer vultures, geladas, Walia ibex, and (if we are very lucky) klipspringers and Ethiopian wolves. We will spend 3 nights in the incredible Simien Mountains National Park. On each day we aim to provide an option for a long trek (of 5-8 hours), a short trek (2-5 hours) or no trekking.

On our first day, we aim to wild camp at the area of Sankaber. On our second and third days, we aim to wild camp at the area of Chenek (underneath Ras Bwahit, the second-highest mountain in the Simiens, which we hope to get the opportunity to summit). Please note that we must keep a flexible itinerary in the Simien Mountains, as our options will largely be determined by the weather. Please also note that the camping areas in the national park are very basic, and are essentially wild camps with long drop toilets. Please also note that the food and provisions available in Debark and the National Park are very limited,
and it is also likely to be very cold at night (often dropping below freezing), so please be prepared!

Activity Approximate Cost
Head out on 3 days of guided treks in the phenomenal scenery of the Simien Mountains National Park Included in Kitty


About Simien Mountains National Park:
The Simien Mountains are known throughout the world for their dramatic and spectacular scenery - jagged mountain peaks flank deep valleys and high altitude plains where only grasses, junipers and giant lobelias grow. The Simiens are one of the major mountain regions of Africa, home to the mountain
Ras Dejen, which at 4,543m is the highest mountain in Ethiopia. The National Park was created initially as a protection area for the Walia ibex, a very agile wild goat that inhabits the area. Other wildlife that are commonly seen in the area are geladas (a baboon-type primate with long hair), klipspringers, Ethiopian wolves, and Lammageyer vultures! Perhaps the best highlight of the National Park is the phenomenal mountain scenery, best seen by trekking through the wonderful landscape - standing on top of a sharp precipice and gazing out over the magnificent landscape here will take your breath away, so it's definitely worth taking a bit of time to explore.


About Debark:
Debark is a tiny settlement that was built in the 1840s along the busy GondarMassawa trading route. There is not much of interest in the town, but it is the gateway to the magnificent Simien Mountains National Park and a decent place to stock up on supplies before visiting the park
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (3 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is our final day in the Simien Mountains National Park, and we make our way back to Debark for the night. In Debark we will stay in a basic local hotel.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leaving Debark behind us, we continue our journey with 2 days of driving through the foothills of the Simien Mountains to reach the ancient town of Axum in the far north of Ethiopia, via a wild camp en route. The roads here are very tough, but we are rewarded with more truly breathtaking scenery!  On the first night of this journey, we aim to wild camp somewhere nearby to the village of Adi Arkay. On the second day we will stay in a basic hotel in Axum.

Estimated Drive Time - 5-7 hours each day (please note that all drive times given here are approximate estimates only and are given with the best intentions - however please be aware that the drive times are heavily dependent on traffic, road conditions, weather, police roadblocks, and many other factors - flexibility is essential on any overland trip!).

About Axum:
Axum is the site of Ethiopia's oldest city, and was once the centre of the mighty Axumite Empire. This empire flourished in the area between the 1st and 8th Centuries CE, and by the 5th Century controlled much of present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia! The town retains some impressive obelisks from the Axumite era carved from single blocks of granite - the tallest still standing is 23 metres high and was probably transported by elephants from a nearby quarry. The scale of the
monuments in this stelae field are testament to the enormous importance that the ancient kingdom of Axum once enjoyed. Close to the town are the extensive ruins of a palace that is said to have belonged to the biblical figure of the Queen of Sheba, who was said to have travelled to Jerusalem to test the wisdom of King Solomon.

Also in the town are a complex of several ancient churches - the most famous of these is a small unimposing building known as the Church of St. Mary of Zion, which is rumoured by devout Coptic Christians to house the original Ark of the Covenant (the legendary box that contained the original Ten Commandments), although apparently only one appointed guardian is ever allowed to see it!
Accommodation
  • Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will have a half day guided tour of the incredible historical sites of Axum, the capital of the once-mighty Axumite Empire - included in this tour will be seeing the Stelae Field, the Tomb of King Kaleb, and the Palace of the Queen of Sheba. We will have a free afternoon to visit other places such as the Church of St. Mary of Zion, the supposed resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.


Activity Approximate Cost
Visit the Church of St. Mary of Zion at Axum ETB 200
Take a guided tour of the ancient 4th-century tombs and palaces of the Axumite Kingdom in Axum Included in Kitty
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will continue through the breathtaking mountain scenery of the Adwa mountains and visit one of the famous rock-hewn churches of Tigray (either the Abraha Atsbeha or Wukro Chirkos church) near to Mekele. In Mekele we will stay in a decent local hotel.Estimated Drive Time - 7-9 hours.

Activity Approximate Cost
Freely explore the ancient rock-hewn churches of Tigray at Mekele Included in Kitty

About Mekele:
Mekele is the cultural, economic and political hub of the northern region of Tigray. Historians date the town of Mekele back to the 13th Century CE, and it is famous for its rock-hewn churches in the surrounding desert landscapes - these churches are stunning and remote, some of them dating all the way back to the 4th and 5th Centuries. We will aim to visit at least one of these atmospheric old Coptic churches on our journey through the province of Tigray.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
From Mekele we have 2 days of journeying through more incredible mountainous scenery in central Ethiopia to reach the small medieval town of Lalibela. On the first night of this journey, we aim to wild camp near the town of Woldiya or Korem. On the second night we will stay in a local hotel in Lalibela. Estimated Drive Times - 6-8 hours each day.

About Lalibela:
Hidden in the hills of northern Ethiopia is the small town of Lalibela. This medieval village has grown up around 13 monolithic churches hewn from rock in the 12th Century CE. The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem, which has led some experts to date the churches to the years following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Muslim leader Saladin. The rock-hewn churches are an awe-inspiring feat of engineering, and each is uniquely-designed and beautifully carved - the legend goes that King Lalibela completed all the work in 12 days with the help of a band of angels, but in reality the project took many years and thousands of labourers to complete.

The village is small, the churches largely visited by devout Ethiopian pilgrims rather than masses of foreign tourists, and therefore retains its original Ethiopian charm and incredible atmosphere. The monastery of Asheten Mariam is hidden in the rugged hills behind the village, and there is a wonderful trek up the cliffs to reach it and take in the incredible views at the top. Near to Lalibela is the ancient church of Yemrehana Kristos, uniquely located in a cave - this can be visited during our free time in Lalibela.
Accommodation
  • Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
On our first day in Lalibela, we will have an included full-day guided tour of its world-famous 13th-century rock churches. Our guide will be able to explain the fascinating history of Lalibela and its churches, and there will be plenty of time to explore, absorb the haunting atmosphere inside the churches, and take plenty of photographs of the incredible architecture and the religious rituals within.

On our second day, we will have a free day for further exploration or optional activities. We will have opportunity to hike up the nearby mountains to the Asheten Monastery, visit the Yemrehana Kristos cave church outside the town, or freely explore the Lalibela churches again at your own pace. Activity

Approximate Cost
Take a full guided tour of the 12th-century rockhewn churches and monasteries at Lalibela Included in Kitty
Explore the highlands of Lalibela on foot, possibly walking to the nearby Asheten Monastery ETB 500
Visit Yemrehana Kristos, the very unique 'church in a cave' near Lalibela ETB 600
Accommodation
  • Hotel (2 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will drive to Bahir Dar, a small town on Lake Tana, the source of the mighty Blue Nile. Estimated Drive Time - 8-9 hours. On our first day in Bahir Dar, we will have an included boat trip on Lake Tana to visit the famous old monastery of Gabriel Ure Kideth and to visit the spot where the lake outflows into the start of the Blue Nile. On our second full day, we will head off in the truck to visit the Blue Nile Falls
and take a short walk around the area to the historic Portuguese Bridge. We will have some free time in the afternoon to visit some other spots around Bahir Dar such as the 'Hippo bridge' and the Tigray war memorial. In Bahir Dar we will stay in decent local hotel.

Activity Approximate Cost
Explore the stunning Blue Nile Falls just downstream of Bahir Dar Included in Kitty
Head out on a boat trip on Lake Tana to visit the ancient Coptic churches and monasteries nearby Included in Kitty

About Bahir Dar:
Bahir Dar is a small city located on the banks of Lake Tana, a beautiful lake that is famous as the source of the Blue Nile. A few kilometres down the river from Bahir Dar are the spectacular Blue Nile Falls - locally known as Tissisat Falls (literally translating as 'water that smokes'), these waterfalls are located in a stunning area which is excellent to trek around.

On the lake itself are a number of monasteries on islands and peninsulas, and we take the opportunity to visit at least one on a boat trip on the lake. These churches feature the traditional murals and decorations of the Ethiopian Coptic Church - as Christianity in Ethiopia was isolated after the emergence of Islam in the 7th Century, the religion here took a distinct style and the decorations of the monasteries of Lake Tana reflect that perfectly.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (3 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will continue our journey south towards Addis Ababa. We will break the journey with a nightstop in a basic local hotel in the small town of Debre Markos or Dejen en route. Estimated Drive Time - 4-6 hours.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will complete our journey to the bustling Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. En route we will drive to the bottom of the dramatic Blue Nile Gorge and up the other side! In Addis Ababa we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities. Estimated Drive Time - 7-9 hours.

About Addis Ababa:
Referred to more commonly as simply "Addis", the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa lies amongst wooded hills at an altitude of about 2,300 metres, giving it a pleasant climate. Addis has many sights to offer visitors - get a fascinating glimpse into Ethiopia's many tribal groups at the Ethnological Museum, see the stunning fossil collection at the National Museum, and don't miss the chaotic bustle of the Mercato, one of Africa's largest open-air markets. All manner of arts and crafts can be found in the souvenir shops on Churchill Avenue, and there is often some excellent live music to be found in the centre of the city!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will have a free day to explore Addis Ababa and visit the city's many museums and sights.

Activity Approximate Cost
Visit "Lucy", one of the oldest complete hominid skeletons ever found, at the National Museum ETB 10
Stroll through the Addis Ababa Mercato, one of the largest markets in Africa Free
Visit Africa Hall, a symbol of African independence and optimism Free
Visit the St. George's Cathedral (Giorgis Cathedral), built to commemorate Ethiopia's victory over the Italians in 1896 Free
Visit the Menelik Mausoleum, built to serve as the tombs of emperors and princes Free
Explore the fascinating Ethnological Museum, one of the best museums in Africa set in a former palace of Haile Selassie ETB 100
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Border Information: if finishing in Addis Ababa, you will most likely exit Ethiopia at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (IATA code: ADD). Today is the end day for passengers finishing their trip in Addis Ababa. Please note there is no accommodation included on the trip tonight - please contact the Dragoman Sales team if you are interested in booking extra nights of accommodation in order to fully explore and take part in some of the optional activities listed below.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

No meals are included on this tour

Transport

Overland vehicle

Accommodation

Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nights), Camping (with facilities) (3 nights), Hotel (15 nights)

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. Please note that this trip requires minimum numbers to depart, and may be cancelled up until 56 days prior to departure. The places showing on the dates and availability page are an indication only so please contact Intrepid to check if your preferred date will depart before making any final arrangements, such as booking non-changeable flights.
2. A single supplement is not available for this trip.
3. This trip is run by our experienced overland partner Dragoman

Essential Trip Information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

Reviews

Our Ethiopian Highlands trips score an average of 3.5 out of 5 based on 2 reviews in the last year.

Ethiopian Highlands, April 2016

Angela Konert