Travel to Africa and tour Ethiopia on a trip from Addis Ababa to Gondar. 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 Gondar and the history of ruin-peppered Aksum. Traversing through a rarely visited and very special part of the continent, this is an adventure like no other.


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

Why we love this trip

  • Camp under a blanket of stars in the Ethiopian countryside

  • See the towering obelisks of Aksum

  • Get up to speed on modern Ethiopia in Addis Ababa

  • Cross the epic Blue Nile Gorge

  • See the monolithic churches of Lalibela

  • Hike through Ethiopia's Simien Mountains National Park

  • Discover Gonder's ornate castles and palaces

Is this trip right for you?

  • Travel from each destination to the next on one of Dragoman's purpose-built trucks, this is an overland adventure! There are some long travel days, venturing away from cities and into remote areas, but the rewards are immeasurable.

  • Dragoman overland journeys are designed to offer freedom, and many of our routes have a degree of flexibility depending on the destination.

  • Dragoman uses a broad range of accommodation on our trips from good hotels, basic hostels, family-run guesthouses, well-equipped campsites, local family homestays, or wild camping in more remote areas. Note: some routes are non-camping routes, depending on the nature of the destination. Please see the day to day itinerary for more detailed information about accommodation on the trip.

  • On a Dragoman overland trip you're more than just a passenger - you're part of the team! Everyone on the journey will get involved to help with setting up camp, pitching tents, shopping for food, and cooking. The more you put it the more you get out!

Itinerary

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.

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!

In Addis Ababa we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.

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 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!).
Accommodation
  • Basic 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: 5-6 hours.

On our first full 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 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.

ACTIVITIES:
Included: Boat trip on Lake Tana from Bahir Dar to visit the monasteries
(Included in Kitty)
Included: Explore the stunning Blue Nile Falls just downstream of Bahir Dar
(Included in Kitty)
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: 7-9 hours.

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.

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.


ACTIVITIES:
Included: Take a full guided tour of the 12th-century rockhewn churches and monasteries at Lalibela.
(Included in Kitty)
Optional: Explore the highlands of Lalibela on foot, possibly walking to the nearby Asheten Monastery
(ETB 500)
Optional: Visit Yemrehana Kristos, the very unique 'church in a cave' near Lalibela.
(ETB 600)
Included Activities
  • Guided tour of rock churches & monastery
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leaving Lalibela behind us, we have a full days drive through increasingly mountainous scenery to reach the town of Mekele.

We will stay in a decent local hotel in Mekele.

Estimated Drive Times: 9-10 hours
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
After breakfast meet your 4x4 vehicles and drive to Hamed Ella. On the way you will pass through the beautiful Tigre Villages and the escarpment of the Afar depression, this is commonly known as the cradle of mankind is part of the Great East African Rift Valley. Along the way you will see camel caravans going to the traditional salt minin or to the North Eastern highlands of the country, loaded with salt bars in the old traditional way. We will also stop at Brehalle where we will get our permits and scouts for the trip into the Danakil Depression.

On the second day we drive to Dallol. Here in Dallol you will visit the beautiful land covered by salt, sulfur and different minerals that gives the area a spectactular colour. We will then continue on to Lake Asale to watch the Afar and Tigre men cut the salt into bars and load up their camels before they head to the highlands of Ethiopia.

We will wildcamp at Hammed Ella both nights for this excursion. The final day we will then make our way back to Mekele visiting villages along the way.

ACTIVITIES:
Included: Journey out on an incredible 3 day/2 night excursion to the Danakil Depression.
(Included in Kitty)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we will make our way back to Mekele where we will stay in a basic hotel overnight.
Included Activities
  • Tigray Rock-hewn Churches
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: 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.

ACTIVITIES:
Included: Guided tour of palaces and temples in historic Axum.
(Included in Kitty)
Optional: Visit the Church of St Mary of Zion at Axum
(ETB 200)
Included Activities
  • Guided tour of Aksum
  • Palace and church ruins
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leaving Axum behind us, we continue our journey with a full day of driving through the foothills of the Simien Mountains to reach the small village of Debark. 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.

Here we will stay in a basic hotel.

Estimated Drive Times: 9-10 hours.
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.

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!

ACTIVITIES:
Included: Guided treks in the Simien Mountains National Park.
(Included in Kitty)
Accommodation
  • Camping (3 nights)
Included Activities
  • Simien Mountains trek (2 days)
  • Entrance Simien Mountains National Park
Meals Included
  • Breakfast (3)
  • Lunch (3)
  • Dinner (3)
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.

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.

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. 

ACTIVITIES:
Included: Learn all about medieval Ethiopia on a half-day guided tour of the castles, churches and baths of Gondar.
(Included in Kitty)
Optional: Enjoy a tour of the local Dashen brewery in Gondar.
(USD 8)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Border Information: If you are 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 our 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.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 3 dinners

Transport

Overland vehicle

Accommodation

Bush camp (no facilities) (4 nights), Hotel (12 nights)

Included activities

  • Guided tour of rock churches & monastery
  • Tigray Rock-hewn Churches
  • Guided tour of Aksum
  • Palace and church ruins
  • Simien Mountains trek (2 days)
  • Entrance Simien Mountains National Park

Dates & availability

Trip search is unavailable.

There are currently no scheduled departures on our Ethiopian Highlands Northbound trip. If you are interested in other trips in the region visit one of the links below.

Jump to a departure month
Travel lightly with Intrepid. We’ve offset the main sources of carbon emissions from this trip on your behalf, including transport, accommodation & waste. Read more

Important notes

MINIMUM NUMBERS:
Please note that this trip requires minimum numbers of 6 people 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.

LOCAL PARTNER:
Please note this Intrepid trip is operated by our experienced local partners Dragoman Overland. Your departure will be run in a Dragoman vehicle with a Dragoman crew.

MINIMUM AGE:
The minimum age for this trip is 18 years old and bookings for minors, even if accompanied by a parent, cannot be accepted.

TRIP KITTY:
On this trip it's compulsory to contribute to a kitty. The kitty is an on-ground payment put into a central fund and overseen by travellers and the crew. It helps fund accommodation, camp meals and some included activities.

TRAVEL ADVICE:
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.

Reviews

Our Ethiopian Highlands Northbound trips score an average of 5 out of 5 based on 7 reviews in the last year.

Ethiopian Highlands Northbound, February 2017

Hermann Mueller

Ethiopian Highlands Northbound, February 2017

Jake Bolger