Travel through Ethiopia's dramatic countryside from Addis Ababa up to Aksum and back

A country that counts 13 months to the year, never came under the yoke of colonialism and boasts the Queen of Sheba's hometown. Ethiopia really is an African land like no other. Ancient rock-hewn churches pepper the landscape of Lalibela, elegant castles and palatial complexes stand guard over the city of Gonder and mysterious giant obelisks rise out of Aksum's dry and dusty terrain. Then there's the magnificent Blue Nile Falls, the deep gullies and peaks of the Simien Mountain Range, the secluded island monasteries of Lake Tana and the time-worn grandeur of Addis Ababa. No matter where you've been before, travel to Ethiopia makes for an adventure apart.


Start
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Finish
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Countries
Style
Basix
Theme
Overland, Wildlife
Code
YDOLC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 18
Group size
Min 6, Max 22

Why we love this trip

  • Cruise out by boat to visit Lake Tana's island monasteries

  • See Blue Nile Falls – 'The Smoke that Thunders'

  • Weave through the mystical churches of Lalibela

  • Hike through the spectacular Simien Mountains

  • Explore Gonder's ornate castles and palaces

  • Spend a night camped out in the bush near Woldiya

  • Marvel at the giant granite obelisks of Aksum

Itinerary

Border Information: If joining in Addis Ababa, you will most likely enter Ethiopia at Addis Ababa Bole International 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. On the next day, we will have a free day to explore Addis Ababa and visit the city's many museums and sights. If you are travelling to the Sudan and have arranged to pick the visa up in Addis Ababa, this day will be spend arranging this visa. In Addis Ababa we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities. Hotel for the night: sarem-international-hotel
Sarem International Hotel
Belay Zeleke Street (around Semien Mazegaja)
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
Tel: +251 11 126 2088/99

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

About Addis Ababa:
Referred to more commonly as "Addis", Addis Ababa (220 km, approx 7-8 hours) lies amongst wooded hills at an altitude of about 2300 metres, giving it a pleasant climate. Addis has many sights to offer visitors and we have free time to explore the sites. 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 Merkato (local market). All manner of arts and crafts can be found in the souvenir shops on Churchill Avenue.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (2 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
We will start our journey today with a drive to the small town of Debre Markos. En route we will drive to the bottom of the dramatic Blue Nile Gorge and up the other side! In Debre Markos we will stay in a basic local hotel. Estimated Drive Time - 8-9 hours (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!).

Activity Approximate Cost
Overland journey north of Addis Ababa, passing through the immense Blue Nile Gorge Included in Kitty
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will complete our drive to Bahir Dar, a small town on Lake Tana, the source of the mighty Blue Nile. Estimated Drive Time - 5 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 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
Head out on a boat trip on Lake Tana to visit the ancient Coptic churches and monasteries nearby Included in Kitty
Explore the stunning Blue Nile Falls just downstream of Bahir Dar Included in Kitty

About Bahir Dar:
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'). After walking around the falls, we use local reed boats to cross the river upstream. On the lake itself are a number of monasteries on islands and
peninsulas and we take the opportunity to visit two on our boat trip. These churches feature the traditional murals and decoration of the Orthodox Church. We cross the dramatic Blue Nile Gorge which is 1 km deep, taking a couple of hours to drive down to the bottom, cross the river and drive back up the other side.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (3 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we have a full day's drive through the beautiful scenery of central Ethiopia to reach the small medieval town of Lalibela. Estimated Drive Time - 8-9 hours. On our first day in Lalibela, we will have full day guided tour of the worldfamous 13th-century rock churches of Lalibela. 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 the 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 Yimrehane Kristos cave church outside the town, or freely explore the Lalibela churches again at your own pace. In Lalibela we will stay in a local hotel.


Activity Approximate Cost
Take a full guided tour of the 12th-century rock-hewn 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

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. It’s an awe-inspiring feat of engineering which must have taken many years and thousands of men to complete. Fortunately the village is underdeveloped as a tourist site and still has its original Ethiopian charm. Each of the churches is unique in design and beautifully carved. Legend has it that King Lalibela completed all the work in 12 days with the help of a band of angels who carved the rocks for him day and night.
The church of Asheten Mariam is hidden in the rugged hills behind the village. You may like to trek there on foot or take a mule to this fascinating monastery and enjoy the incredible views on the way.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (3 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leaving Lalibela behind us, we have 2 days of driving through increasingly mountainous scenery to reach the town of Mekele. On the first day of this journey we aim to wild camp near the town of Woldiya
or Korem. On the second day we will stay in a decent local hotel in Mekele. Estimated Drive Time - 7-8 hours each day.

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

About Mekele:
Mekele is a cultral town famous for its churches and desert landscape. Historians date Mekele to be founded in the 13th century and it is a place with a colourful history. Derg The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front Monument is one of the most famous points and can be seen from nearly any place in the town. The palace of King Yohannes IV is a chance to see so much of Mekeles history during the reign of this king. The churches are worth a visit, as they are just beautiful.
Accommodation
  • Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will visit one of the famous rock-hewn churches of Tigray (either the Abraha Atsbeha or Wukro Chirkos church), then continue through the increasingly breathtaking mountain scenery of the Adwa mountains to reach the ancient town of Axum in the far north of Ethiopia. Estimated Drive Time - 10 hours. The next day 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. In Axum we will stay in a basic local hotel.

Activity Approximate Cost
Take a guided tour of the ancient 4th-century tombs and palaces of the Axumite Kingdom in Axum Included in Kitty
Visit the Church of St. Mary of Zion at Axum ETB 200

About Axum:
Axum is the site of Ethiopia's oldest city. It has some impressive obelisks 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 ruins of a palace that is said to have belonged to the Queen of Sheba. There is also a complex of several churches, which have been built over the ages around the same site. The most interesting, is a small
unimposing building with a green picket fence that holds the crowns of various former Ethiopian emperors and is said to house the original Ark of the Covenant.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (2 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leaving Axum behind us, we continue our journey with 2 days of driving through the foothills of the Simien Mountains to reach the small village of Debark, via a wild camp en route. The roads here are very tough, but we are rewarded with more truly breathtaking scenery! Debark is the gateway to the Simien Mountains National Park, and on arrival we will have a briefing from our local mountain guide explaining the various trekking options we will have during our excursion starting the following day.
On the first day of our 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 Debark. Estimated Drive Time - 6 hours each day.


About Debark:
Standing at the gateway to the Simien Mountains is the town of Debark. Many people pass through here to experience the wonders that these mountains have to offer. With this beauty in its landscape, Debark has some of the most amazing scenery in Ethiopia.
Accommodation
  • Bush camp (no facilities) (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. 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. 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, 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 for their dramatic and spectacular scenery; jagged mountain peaks flank deep valleys and high altitude plains where only grasses, junipers and giant lobelias grow. This is one of the major mountain regions of Africa, home to mountain Ras Dejen (4543m), the fourth highest
peak in the continent. The National Park was created primarily to protect a type of wild goat, the Walia Ibex; and the Gelada Baboon and rare Ethiopian Wolf are also found here. 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. The area is a great place to do some trekking, or you can hire mules to go in search of some of the more easily spotted wildlife, like the klipspringer, ibex and baboon.
Accommodation
  • Bush camp (no facilities) (3 nights)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we head back out to the mountains to Debark, and then finally join the tarmac road again to reach the ancient royal city of Gondar! Estimated Drive Time - 7 hours. 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.

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.
This morning we leave Gondar behind us and start our 3-day drive back to Addis Ababa.
We will either take the route through Mersa and Debra Birkan, or the route through Bahir Dar and Debre Markos. We will stay in basic local hotels en route. Estimated Drive Time - 7-8 hours each day. Estimated Drive Time - 7-8 hours each day.
Accommodation
  • Bush camp (no facilities) (2 nights)
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. We continue our drive this morning back to Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.
We are due to arrive around midday, but we recommend flights out are not booked before 4:00pm.
Please note that a hotel is not included in the trip tonight. Estimated Drive Time - 4 hours.


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 the St. George's Cathedral (Giorgis Cathedral), built to commemorate Ethiopia's victory over the Italians in 1896 Free
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) (7 nights), Camping (with facilities) (2 nights), Hotel (13 nights)

Dates & availability

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Important notes

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.

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 Ethiopia Uncovered trips score an average of 5 out of 5 based on 3 reviews in the last year.

Ethiopia Uncovered, January 2016

Nicholas Ledger

Ethiopia Uncovered, December 2015

Marilyn Troth