Explore Ethiopia, the ‘cradle of humanity’

Travel to Ethiopia and discover a beautiful country, barely touched by modern society. It’s an incredible combination of history, tradition, culture and nature. From 3 million-year-old fossilised hominid remains in Addis Ababa to the rituals of the Mursi, Hamar, Konso tribes and more through to amazing rock-hewn churches, hidden crypts and grottoes in Lalibela – this trip take you deep into human history. The 500-year-old monastery islands of Bahir Dar, the elegant castles of Gondar, the majestic geological formations of the Simien mountains, the giant obelisks that rise out of Axum, and even the rumoured home of the Ark of the Covenant. This 18 day trip travels through the villages and wildlands of Ethiopia, taking in views of the Blue Nile and trekking to the peaks of the Simien Mountains (meeting red chested Gelada baboons). You’ll be sure to taste the country’s famous coffee and delectable cuisine, and meet the genuine and friendly people along the way. This is an adventure like no other.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Finish
Lalibela, Ethiopia
Country
Ethiopia
Style
Original
Code
YOXEC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why we love this trip

  • Visit Hamar villages, sitting with barely any influence from the outside world. If you're lucky, you might get a glimpse of the energetic 'jumping of the bull' – a long running initiation ceremony.

  • Meet a Mursi tribe and learn about their unique traditions of extending their lower lips and brutal stick fighting.

  • Enjoy a dinner in Bahir Zaf restaurant and support a project that opened its doors to train young people in catering services, thereby generating an income and creating employment opportunities after training.

  • Search for the source of the Blue Nile on a boat cruise at Lake Tana, then discover the churches and unique castles of the regal city of Gondar.

  • Trek the majestic series of undulating amethyst peaks that make up the Simien Mountains, looking out for the distinctive red-hearted Gelada.

  • Explore Lalibela's unique churches - astonishing constructions sculpted from huge slabs of stone - that make up one of the world's greatest historical and religious sites.

Is this trip right for you?

  • Camp in the Mago National Park with basic facilities before visiting the Mursi tribe the following day.

  • We are welcomed into different villages, tribes and ways of life on this itinerary. While very fascinating it is important to show our respects and only take photos once a bond has been created and approval given.

  • Experience the Simien Mountains National Park at night during a night of camping in the park.

  • In Lalibela and Simien Mountains National Park we include day hikes to experience the beauty of the regions on foot.

  • On this itinerary we travel completely by land. There will be some long drives on days 2, 7 & 10.

Itinerary

Welcome to Ethiopia! Begin with a welcome meeting at the hotel – please ask the reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time for this, please arrive a day early so you are able to attend. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting.

If you arrive early perhaps take a tour of this bustling city, dotted with Italian architecture, interesting churches and friendly inhabitants. Established by the Emperor Menelik II in 1887, Addis Ababa is a relatively young city full 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. The optional city tour will include the National Museum, where you’ll find the remains of “Lucy’, the Ethnographic Museum, set within the beautiful gardens of Haile Selassie’s former palace.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
After breakfast, drive south to Arba Minch, 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 remain intact. As the drive pushes onwards to Arba Minch, take a short detour to visit the Dorze people. The Dorze are renowned for their cotton-weaving techniques and beehive shaped houses constructed entirely from organic materials. These native speakers of the Omotic tongue are thought to have occupied this small highland enclave for at least 500 years. On a brief stay here, learn about their life and traditions, including the architecture behind their unique homes before proceeding on to Arba Minch. The road continues, climbing 1600 metres (5249 feet) on a series of switchbacks to provide dramatic views of the Great Rift Valley below.

Set in dramatic surroundings, Arba Minch lies on a cliff overlooking Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya, set under the stunning backdrop of the mountains to the west. Although there’s not much to do in town, it serves as the gateway to the endless green wildlands of the Omo Valley. Arrive at the lodge in the late afternoon where you’ll stay for the night.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
After an early breakfast, climb aboard a boat and travel across Lake Chamo on an excursion to hopefully see the resident hippos, Nile crocodiles, flourishing bird life and local fishermen working their trade on the lake. As today’s adventures continue, travel through the territories of several different tribes while trying to keep an eye out for the lands of the Konso, revered for their famous farming practices.

Head onwards to Jinka to visit an ethnographic museum dedicated to the South Omotic tribes. Jinka is known as a local capital to the South Omotic people, and many inhabitants of the surrounding areas come to visit the local markets to trade. There’s a mix of Aari, Banna, Besheda and Basketo people often seen passing through the area, adding a dash of cultural spice to the lively trading hub. After departing from Jinka, continue on to the Mago National Park where you’ll spend the night listening out for the chirp of birds and the howls of the African wild dogs.
Accommodation
  • Camping (basic facilities) (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Continue on by driving northwest of Mago National Park (1.5 hours) to visit one of the villages sitting on the Mursi planes. Afterwards, return to Jinka and proceed to one of the local Ari villages before continuing to Turmi for an overnight stay.

The Mursi, possibly the most well known tribe in the area, is famous for both their women who practice extending their lower lips with clay discs and their men who engage in ruthless stick-fighting rituals called Donga.

When a Mursi woman reaches 20 years of age, a slit is made beneath the lower lip where a clay plate is then inserted. Every year, a larger plate is added, stretching the lower lip until it juts out so far that a 5 centimetre (2 inch) plate can be worn and the lip can be stretched by the woman right over her head. This is considered to be the height of attractiveness. Mursi men do not escape unscathed however, as they take part in the Donga stick fights that sometimes end in the death of one of the participants. Decorated with white clay, they whack each other with 2 metre (2.1 yard) long poles. The winner is carried off by a group of eligible girls who then decide which one will marry him.

On the other hand, the people of the Ari tribe live in the lush surroundings of Jinka and grow coffee and enset (false banana) for trading and self-consumption. Their villages are some of the most beautiful in the country, surrounded by banana, mango, avocado and enset trees that clasp the colourful traditional huts. A brief stop at these villages offer a glimpse into authentic African life, albeit two very different sides of that coin.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Travel south in the morning towards Omorate along a 75 kilometre (47 mile) stretch of paved road. As you pass through the acacia forests, savour encounters with men and women of the Hamar tribe as they herd their cattle on route before stopping in to meet the Daasanach people further down the road.

Omorate lies on the bank of the Omo River, close to the border to Kenya and serves as a popular base for exploring the rugged area. Wildlife roam freely in the nearby landscapes and there’s a good chance of seeing some form of antelope grazing on the ground or raptor birds stalking their prey overhead. The local tribes, Hamar and Daasanach, both cling to their cultures fairly tightly – you may witness evidence of their scarification practices or witness their more obvious and somewhat elaborate hairstyles.

This afternoon’s visit to one of the Hamar villages proves rewarding, as the chance to inspect one of the local mud houses and small thatched huts offer a glimpse into another way of life divorced from the influences of the outside world. There’s the chance to witness the annual highlight of the Hamar calendar as the annual Bull Jumping Ceremony takes place – the culmination of a three day ‘rite of passage’ ritual where a young initiate has to jump up and down a line of 15 bulls before returning the same way. The ceremony is usually held around December/January and in August, right after the harvest season.

There may be the chance to engage in a vibrant local market, savouring the smells and tastes while bumping shoulders with the Karo, Homer and Benna tribes. There’s plenty of interesting handcrafts on offer too – don’t forget to haggle for a better deal!
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
The drive today offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding scenery, including a glimpse of the terraced hills of Konso. All roads into South Omo pass through Konso, and this small town serves as a great base for exploring the hillside villages in the surrounding countryside. Visit a mora, a central communal building used by men and boys as a social area – women are unfortunately excluded. Keep an eye out for the carved wooden grave markers in the area, a Konso tradition where the deceased warriors features are enhanced by using teeth made from animal bones. As the evening sets in, spend time relaxing in the Kanta Lodge as you share tales with friends on the last night of your adventure.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Return to Arba Minch in the morning before taking a flight back to Addis Ababa. Enjoy a free day in the city before meeting up with your new group in the evening before setting off on the next part of your Ethiopian adventure.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Leave Addis Ababa and head northwest across the Entoto hills, driving through the central plateau that stretches hundreds of miles. Settle in for a long day of driving. Along the way you’ll see villages dotted with traditional grass roof houses and well-laid out farmlands, and locals in colourful dress. The drive also offers some historical and natural sites to break up the long journey (approximately 6 hours). The 13th century Monastery of Debre-Libanos is one of Ethiopia’s holiest sites and sits between a cliff and the gorge of the Jema River. Narby is a 16th century bridge said to have been built by the Portuguese. Pass the spectacular Blue Nile Gorge, which extends nearly 400 kilometres and can reach depths of up to 1,500 metres. Continue on to Debre Markos for the night.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Continue driving (approximately 4 hours) and pass through the lush farmlands of the region in time for lunch at Bahir Dar, one of the most attractive towns in northern Ethiopia. Our hotel lies on the shores of the lush setting of Lake Tana. This afternoon, hop on a sightseeing boat to 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 holiest monasteries. Many of these monasteries are believed to date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and feature amazing ecclesiastical art. Legend has it that the Ark of Covenant (of Indiana Jones fame) 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 between the 16th and 18th centuries. It’s 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Lake Tana - Boat Cruise
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Head out for the Blue Nile Falls today. Located 32 kilometres south of Bahir Dar, the Blue Nile Falls measure over 400 metres wide and crash down 48 metres in full flood. These falls are known locally as Tis Isat (Smoking Water) and are a spectacular sight when the water’s high. 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 lunch back in Bahir Dar, continue on to Gondar in the afternoon. Travel north around the edge of Lake Tana 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.
Included Activities
  • Bahirdar - Blue Nile Falls
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
This morning, there is the option to take a tour of Gondar’s most significant churches and castles. 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 the 17th and 18th centuries. Spend the morning visiting these medieval castles – like the two-storied palace of Emperor Fasilades – 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 of angels. After having lunch in the city, make the drive to Debark (approximately 3 hours), your base for exploring the Simien Mountains. The rest of the afternoon is free to explore the small town of Debark on your own.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Gondar - Church & Castles tour - USD30
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
The optional church & castles tour requires a minimum of 2 travellers.
Enjoy a full day to explore the spectacular scenery of the Simien Mountains National Park. The park is a majestic series of undulating amethyst peaks, including Ethiopia’s highest point – Ras Dejen (4550 metres). The peaks have been eroded over millions of years and have left strange and wonderful geological formations behind. The mountains are also home to much of Ethiopia’s wildlife and are great for bird watching. Once you pass the entrance to the National park, you will hike and drive up to Sankaber and enjoy dramatic views of the mountain landscape. 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 baboons. The baboons, only found in Ethiopia, are often referred to as the ‘bleeding heart baboon’ or the 'lion monkey’. Their coat is shaggy, resembling a lion, while their chest has a marked ‘red heart’ or patch. The Gelada baboon doesn’t have natural enemies and so can be found in good numbers and are quite easy to approach. After the hike set up camp within the park to experience the park by night. The camp has no showers and basic facilities.
Accommodation
  • Camping (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Simien Mountains National Park - Entrance fees
  • Simien Mountains National Park - Hike
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
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 7 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
The 23 Nov 2017 departure will arrive into Axum in time for Mariam Tsion festival in the late afternoon. Here the large gathering of pilgrims praise St Mary with singing and chanting.

Today is a free day with the option to 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 how important Axum once was, 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 houses fascinating displays. 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. The afternoon is free for you to keep exploring – you might like to see some of the handcraft shops or take a walk out of Axum for an hour or so to see Gobodera, the quarry place for the stele and rock lioness relief.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Axum - Historical Site Tour - USD30
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
The optional historical site tour requires a minimum of 2 travellers.

The 23 Nov 2017 departure will wake early to observe the main religious procession of the Mariam Tsion festival. The afternoon will be free for optional activities.

The 24 March 2018 departure aligns with the festivities before Palm Sunday. Today we will witness a demonstration of the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.
Leave Axum for Mekele, looking across to see the spectacular Adwa Mountains and the battlefield of Adwa, where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians in 1896. Stop to visit the Pre-Christian Pagan Temple of Yeha before breaking for lunch at Adigrat. Yeha is though to have been Ethiopia’s first capital and the temple has been dated to around the 6th century BC. After lunch, drive to Enda Teka Tesfay and walk to the rock church of Medhane Alem Adi Kesho (approximately 4 hours). There are numerous magnificent rock-hewn churches in the Tigray region, but Medhane Alem Adi Kesho is one of the best in terms of architectural quality. The outside is roughly carved, but the interior ceiling is elaborately sculpted. Spend the night in nearby Mekele.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Axum - Yeha Temple
  • Tigray - Rock Church of Medhane Alem Adi Kesho
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Start the long journey to Lalibela early in the morning on a smooth paved road and, after a couple of hours, reach the spectacular mountain range of Amba Alaje. Continue through green valleys and flat plains before turning west towards Lalibela at Woldia (approximately 4.5 hours). The road after Woldia offers one of the most scenic routes in the country. It involves climbing on winding roads along steep hills and evergreen lush valleys up to the Delanta Plateau (3,500 metres), then contouring around the valley for a couple of hours, before arriving at Lalibela in the late afternoon (approximately 4 hours). 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today you’ll use the morning and afternoon to visit Lalibela’s amazing churches, which look like they've been dropped down from the sky. 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. 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Lalibela - Afternoon Tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This morning we trek to the rock church of Asheten Mariam, which sits on 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 might see Ethiopian wolves and gelada baboons on your hike. Descend the mountain and return to the hotel for lunch. This afternoon is free to relax or continue exporing this fascinating town. This evening you will enjoy a special dinner at Ben Ababa open air restaurant.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Lalibela - Asheten Mariam Hike
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
This trip comes to an end today after breakfast. There are no activities planned and you are free to leave at any time.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

18 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 4 dinners

Transport

Private vehicle, Boat

Accommodation

Hotel (12 nights), Basic Hotel (1 night), Camping with basic facilities (2 nights), Lodge (3 nights)

Included activities

  • Lake Tana - Boat Cruise
  • Bahirdar - Blue Nile Falls
  • Simien Mountains National Park - Entrance fees
  • Simien Mountains National Park - Hike
  • Axum - Yeha Temple
  • Tigray - Rock Church of Medhane Alem Adi Kesho
  • Lalibela - Afternoon Tour
  • Lalibela - Asheten Mariam Hike

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. Parts of your trip go above 2800 metres / 9200 feet where it is common for travellers to experience some adverse health effects due to the altitude.
2. A single supplement is available on this trip. Please speak to your booking agent for further information.
3. A sleeping bag will be provided for the one night of camping in Simien Mountains National Park. While a blanket & sheet will be provided for the one night of camping in Mago National Park. Overnight temperatures are usually quite mild however if you feel the cold then a sleeping bag from home is also recommended.
4. Days 3-6 of the itinerary are sometimes amended depending on the ceremonies and markets in the area. If this is the case all inclusions and nights at each location will not change.
5. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest information on travelling in Ethiopia before your departure and ensure that your travel insurance covers you for all areas of your itinerary. We have links to prominent government travel advisories and regular updates on issues affecting this trip on our Travel Alerts page - www.intrepidtravel.com/au/travel-alerts

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.