Summary Itinerary: Ethiopia Cultural Adventure
Day 1: Arrive in Addis Ababa
With group members arriving during the afternoon and evening, today is a ‘free’ day for you to arrive, be transferred to the start hotel, and to shake off any travel fatigue, before the start of your adventure in earnest, tomorrow.
Day 2: Addis City Tour
After breakfast and a welcome briefing, your adventure begins with a tour the highlights of this liveliest of cities including the Ethnological & Red Terror Museums, and the magnificent panoramic views from Entoto Mountain. We are invited on an optional visit to Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis, run by the charity HamlinFistulaEthiopia. Please see our Adventure Pack for more details on Worthwhile Travel. In the evening we will watch traditional musicians and dancers performing different tribal dances in a culture house before dinner at a restaurant and a jazz club or two for any interested parties.
Day 3: Fly to Gondar
After the short national flight, today is a full day exploring the sites of Gondar, including a visit to the Royal Enclosure, with six castles and several other buildings. Additionally, visit Fasilidas’s Pool, still used for Timket celebrations today, Ras Gimb Palace Museum, the ruins of Kuskuam in the surrounding hills of Gondar and the Debre Birhan Selassie church, with the most famous ceiling in Ethiopia. Time permitting, take a short trip out of town to the Ploughshare Women’s Training Center to see local women learning their trades, such as cotton spinning, weaving and pottery.
Day 4: Drive to the Simien Mountains
Enjoy some light hiking near to the Simien Lodge where we are staying. The Simien Mountains are arguably Ethiopia’s most dramatic range – almost like a one-sided Grand Canyon: Sheer drops lead down to rippling waves of lower mountains dotted with foliage and a few green barley fields. Rocky pinnacle-like tabletop mountains or ‘ambas’, Ethiopia’s impregnable natural fortresses, glisten in the sunshine, supported at their bases by the pale yellow fields of ‘teff’ grain that grow at the lower altitudes.
Day 5: Short hike in Simien Mountains
Start your morning from Buyit Ras, for a 3-4 hour hike to Sankober, which passes close to the escarpment edge. Nearing Sankober, you will have beautiful views on both sides of the escarpment ridge and where you will likely see the endemic gelada baboons. From here, continue to the Geech Abyss, where you will see a large waterfall where the Jinbar River plunges into the abyss. Enjoy a picnic lunch along the way. In the afternoon, drive to Chenek, where you might see the rare endemic walia ibex and the impressive lammergeiers soaring above.
Day 6: Drive to Axum
After breakfast we depart north for Axum (6hr drive), enjoying the spectacular views of the mountains. We proceed driving through the dramatic Tekeze Valley, offering some of the best landscapes in the country, and an opportunity to see life in the smaller villages of the country. We arrive for dinner in the picturesque city of Axum, home of the ancient Axumite Empire, the Queen of Sheba, and the Ark of the Covenant. Here is a good place to experience the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony and the country’s delicious coffee.
Day 7: Tour of Axum
Today will be a full day visiting the sites of Axum, including the famous obelisks (one that was recently erected after being returned from Italy) and the archeological museum, the Queen of Sheba’s Bath (which supplies water to Axum year-round), Ezana’s enscription, King Kaleb’s tomb, King Bazen’s tomb, and the Queen of Sheba’s Palace. You will also visit the St. Mary of Zion church, where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. Men only are allowed to visit the old church. Unfortunately, no one (except one specially chosen guardian monk) is allowed to enter the chapel where the Ark is kept. Time permitting, you may also visit the Church of Arbuta Ensessa.
Day 8: Drive to Gheralta Mountains
Drive to visit the ruins of Yeha, dating from the 8th to 5th centuries BC, and thought to be the capital of Ethiopian civilization before Axum. Afterwards, proceed through the state of Tigray to Hawzein. Visit the church of Medhane Alem Adi Kesho. One of the finest and oldest of the rock churches found in the region, it’s also one of the biggest. The door has a unique mechanism which can be locked from the inside. We will stay in beautifully-situated mountain lodge.
Day 9: Short hikes to stunning rock churches
In the morning, before the heat of the day rises, visit either Abuna Yemata Guh or Maryam Korkor. Both churches require a challenging 1-2 hour hike to reach. The reward is commanding views of the surrounding areas and visiting some of the most remote churches in the world in the most unsuspecting of places. The Gheralta region is absolutely beautiful and we can visit some local villages to try their injera – the savoury pancake made from ‘teff’ grain and try their ‘talla’ – homemade beer made from barley and millet.
Day 10: Campfire under a beautiful sycamore tree
In the morning we visit the other of Abuna Yemata Guh “the scariest church in the world”or alternatively Maryam Korkor church. You can decide on the day which one you fancy visiting. We will stay overnight at our favorite camping spot (in our modern tents) beneath an enormous sycamore tree for local dancing and music before our dinner and a campfire so you can say you have camped in Ethiopia!
Day 11: Tour of Mekele
On the way we will visit the easily-accessible churches of Abreha we Atsbeha and Wukro Chirkos. Enjoy a tour of the city of Mekele, exploring the charming cobblestone streets built by the Italians. Time permitting; you can visit the museum palace of Emperor Yohannes IV, who established his capital here since he believed he was conceived in the area. The people of Mekele are exceptionally friendly (in an already friendly country) so it is a great place to chat and get to know the local people.
Day 12: Fly to Lalibela
We take a national flight to Lalibela to miss out the 12 hours of driving it would otherwise demand! In the afternoon with a local specialist guide we begin our tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site of eleven 13th Century rock-hewn churches, which are undeniably the cultural highlight of the country.
Day 13: Tour of Lalibela
In the morning, start your tour of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, including the Northwestern Cluster of churches – Bet Medhane Alem, Bet Maryam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danaghel, Bet Mikael & Bet Golgotha. After lunch, continue with the Southeastern Cluster of churches – Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Bet Merkorios, Bet Amanual, and Bet Abba Libanos. Finally, you will visit the most famous of all the churches – Bet Giyorgis, constructed in honor of the patron saint of Ethiopia – Saint George in the perfect shape of a cross carved out from the very mountain itself.
Day 14: Fly to Addis Ababa
After a leisurely morning in Lalibela we will take the short national flight back to Addis Ababa with a rest in the afternoon before our final group dinner together in Addis’ best Italian (second-generation!) restaurant Castelli’s, where Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt number among it’s celebrated clientele. There is the opportunity to further explore the city’s lively nightlife also!
Day 15: Fly out from Addis Ababa