Ethiopian Highlands Northbound Trip Notes

Ethiopian Highlands Northbound

Ethiopian Highlands Northbound
Trip code: YDOE
Validity: 01 Jan 2017 to 31 Dec 2017
Travel to Africa and tour Ethiopia on a trip from Addis Ababa to Gonder. Discover fascinating places and beautiful scenery on this journey across the heart of Ethiopia's countryside. Experience a land like no other, from the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and the untouched wilderness of the Simien Mountains, to the sophistication of Gonder and the history of ruin-peppered Aksum. Along the way, encounter, proud Samburu warriors and take in the spectacular Blue Nile Falls. Traversing through a rarely visited and very special part of the continent, this is an adventure like no other.
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Overland, Wildlife

Day 1-2 Addis Ababa
Border Information: If joining in Addis Ababa, you will most likely enter Ethiopia at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (IATA code: ADD). 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. Please note that many of the options listed below will only be possible for those with extra time in Addis Ababa before the start of your trip with us - please contact the Sales team if you would like to book pre-tour accommodation with us to have extra time exploring Addis Ababa.
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
Tel - +251 11 126 2088

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 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!
Day 3 Debre Markos
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 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,

The times given are approximate estimates only and whilst given with thebest 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!). 

Activity Approximate Cost
Overland journey north of Addis Ababa, passing through the immense Blue Nile Gorge Included in Kitty
Day 4-6 Bahir Dar
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 - 5-6 hours.

On our first full day in Bahir Dar, we will have an included boat trip on LakeTana 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 take optional visits to 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:
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.
Day 7-9 Lalibela
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 - 7-9 hours.

On our first day in Lalibela, we will have an included full-day guided tour of the world-famous 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 Yemrehana 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 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

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.
Day 10-11 Woldiya
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 Times - 6-8 hours each day. 

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.
Day 12-13 Aksum
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 - 8-10 hours.

The next day we will have an included 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 make optional visits to 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, 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!
Day 14-15 Adi Arkay
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 that 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 Times - 5-7 hours each day.

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,
Day 16-18 Simien Mountains National Park
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. 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
Day 19-20 Gondar
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 - 4-6 hours.

On the next day, we will have an included 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 a magnificent city of castles and palaces, and is sometimes known as the 'Camelot of Africa'. This was once the capital of Ethiopia during the reign of King Fasilidas in the mid-17th Century, who built the incredible European-style castle in the centre of the town. Successive kings put in their own additions to this royal complex, and Gondar remained Ethiopia's royal capital until Emperor Tewodros II moved it to Magadala to the south east.

On the outskirts of the town there is also the Fasilidas' Bath complex - an interesting building that stands in an artificial pool which is still filled for occasional religious ceremonies. At the Debre Birhan Selassie 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. 
Day 21 Gondar
Border Information: if finishing in Gondar, you will most likely exit Ethiopia at Gondar Atse Tewodros Airport (IATA code: GDQ). Today is the end day for passengers finishing their trip in Gondar. 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.

For passengers continuing their journey north on to Khartoum, the trip will continue on to Gedaref in the Sudan today. For passengers continuing south back to Addis Ababa on the Ethiopia Loop, we will leave today to reach Bahir Dar.
Itinerary disclaimer
Physical rating

Group size
Maximum of 22 travellers per group.
Bush camp (no facilities) (5nt), Hotel (15nt)
No meals included
Joining point
Sarem International Hotel
Belay Zeleke Street (around Semien Mazegaja)
Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa
Phone: +251 11 126 2088
Finish point
Lammergeyer Hotel
Near Kebele 16, Keha River
Finishing point instructions
A taxi from the hotel to the airport should cost approximately 100 Birr (US$5).
Emergency contact
Dragoman: +44 (0) 1728 86222
Travel insurance
Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.

When travelling on a trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and the insurance company's 24 hour emergency contact number has been seen by your leader.

If you have credit card insurance your group leader will require details of the participating insurer/underwriter, the level of coverage, policy number and emergency contact number rather than the bank's name and credit card details. Please contact your bank for these details prior to arriving in-country.