Dive deep into Ethiopia’s incredible culture and history - 13 Days

In the northeast of Ethiopia is the little visited region of Tigrai. Over the centuries a Series of churches of differing sizes and architectural Styles were carved into cliff-faces and rocky- outcrops, many still in use today. Whilst following Ethiopia’s classic northern circuit through Lake Tana’s monasteries, Gondar’s castles, the Simien Mountains and Lalibela’s monolithic churches, we set off the beaten path and explore this beautiful region in the heart of Ethiopian history.

Highlights

  • Rock hewn churches of Tigrai and Lalibela
  • Castles of Gondar
  • Spectacular scenery in the Simien Mountains
  • Stelae of Axum
  • Monasteries on Lake Tana

Key information

  • 10 nights comfortable hotels, 2 nights basic hotel, most with en suite facilities
  • Travel by mini or coaster bus or land cruiser
  • Off the beaten path in the Tigrai region

In the northeast of Ethiopia is the little visited region of Tigrai. Over the centuries a series of churches of differing sizes and architectural styles were carved into cliff-faces and rocky-outcrops, many still in use today. Whilst following Ethiopia’s classic northern circuit through Lake Tana’s monasteries, Gondar’s castles, the Simien Mountains and Lalibela’s monolithic churches, we get off the beaten path and explore this beautiful region in the heart of Ethiopian history.

This is a busy trip and requires a certain level of fitness and agility, especially due to the heat and altitude. There are several walks that are easy to moderate in difficulty. The harder walk in the Simien Mountains is optional. When visiting the rock hewn churches in Tigrai and Lalibela passengers have to walk on uneven ground and climb on rock faces that can be slippery. Clients who suffer from vertigo should be aware that the Simien Mountains is famous for its dramatic sheer cliffs, however you do not have to walk close to the edge. The maximum altitude that we walk at on this trip is 3250m (although our drive on Day 10 will take us to 3500m). Clients with heart or respiratory problems should consult their doctor.

The optional mule ride to visit Ashetan Maryam follows the same rocky trail used for walking. This is a steep and exposed trail where the consequences of a slip of the mule could be severe. Walking the trail would take at least 2 hours. You will need to dismount the mule for a few sections of the route where the terrain is particularly steep or rocky. This route is not suitable for those nervous about or unfamiliar with steep mountain routes or riding animals such as mules. There is a heightened level of risk on this activity due to both the terrain and the level of local safety standards.

Roads are not as well maintained as in Europe and combined with the distances covered on this itinerary, we have some days with long drives. The longest drive by some margin is between Mekele and Lalibela which can take approximately 12 hours including stops for tea/coffee, lunch and photos. However, the views on en route are spectacular and should make for a memorable journey.

What tourism exists is quite well organised and in places you may be Surprised at the standard of services and personnel. However, you should never forget that you are travelling in one of the world’s poorest countries. Water and electricity can be erratic and hotels usually have set times when hot water is available. Please leave behind your western comforts and bring with you a sense of adventure, humour and flexibility for the experience of a lifetime!

Festival Departures

Certain departures are scheduled to coincide with Ethiopia’s festivals such as Meskal, Mariam Tsion and Ethiopian Christmas (these are highlighted on the Dates & Prices page on the website). Witnessing these festivals is a great experience but please note that some time may be spent in crowded areas. The below itinerary is not altered for these dates.

Following a review of all our trips we have categorised this trip as generally not suitable for persons of reduced mobility. However if you are a regular traveller on such trips, please contact customer services to discuss the trip and your personal condition.

Day 1
Start Addis Ababa; city tour

Early morning arrival in Addis. Please note that if you are being picked up at the airport (either on the group transfer or private transfer) you will have to exit the terminal to find our representative with The Ethiopia board. You may see people with signs inside the terminal but they are generally people with special permission such as the UN, Government or hotels with

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tour of Addis Ababa. We will visit the National Museum which houses some of the country’s historic treasures. The collection of fossils and bones of early hominids discovered in Ethiopia include the 3.5 million year old remains of ‘Lucy’, the oldest hominid every found. We will also visit the Holy Trinity Church, Ethiopia’s main cathedral and home to the remains of the last emperor, Haile Selassie. Finally we will visit Menelik’s Mausoleum.

Hotel

Day 2
Fly to Bahar Dar; free afternoon with option of Blue Nile Falls visit

Today we will take a spectacular flight to Bahar Dar. From the air we can gaze across the extraordinary nature of the Ethiopian Plateau, repeatedly cut by immensely deep gorges. Bahar Dar is a small but fast growing town on the southern shore of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. It has long attracted religious men and the area contains numerous churches and monasteries, many of them on the thirty or so islands of Lake Tana. The afternoon is free to enjoy the fantastic bird-watching around the lake or head into Bahar Dar itself and explore its local market. There is also the option of doing a half day excursion to the Blue Nile Falls (usually in the morning).

Hotel

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 3
Discover Lake Tana’s famous monasteries

We have a full day boat trip on Lake Tana to visit the monasteries of Narga Selassie & URA KidaneMehret. We’ll travel by boat to visit some of the more remote monasteries and churches, most of which date back to the thirteenth century. The monasteries are fascinating and unlike any others outside Ethiopia,

fascinating and unlike any others outside Ethiopia, often decorated with bright mural painting. Because of their isolation they were used to store art treasures and religious relics from all over the country. Local history says the Ark of the Covenant was kept on one of these islands when the city of Axum was under threat, and the remains of five emperors are to be found at DagaIstafanos.

Hotel

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 4
Drive to Gondar; visit the castles, Fasilides’ bathhouse and the church's ceiling

This morning we drive north to Gondar, the former capital of Ethiopia.

After lunch we will explore Gondar and visit the castles, which were built in the 17th and 18th century by several generations of Ethiopian kings. Nearby is DebreBirhan Selassie church with its sensational angelic ceiling, and the bathhouse of Fasilides where thousands of Ethiopians celebrate Timkat festival every January. Our hotel is up on a cliff top with wonderful views looking over the town.

Goha Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 5
Drive to Simien Mountains; afternoon hike along the plateau

After breakfast we drive to Debark on the edge of the Simien Mountains. The road has considerably improved and the drive should take about 2hrs. In the late morning we drive up into the mountains for some spectacular views of this unique ecosystem. The highland plateau is capped by a dramatic skyline of jagged volcanic plugs and split by deep gorges andjagged volcanic plugs and split by deep gorges and gullies. On a good day, the views are sensational and the striking towers and formations have been described as the ‘chess pieces of the Gods’. We take an optional 2hr walk, mostly flat or downhill, and hope to see the endemic Gelada baboons and Klipspringers before returning to Debark. The maximum altitude we reach is 3250m.

Simien Park Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 6
Continue to Axum

Continue on a full day’s drive to the fabled city of Axum via the lowlands of the Simien Mountains and Tekeze River gorge. Though this is a long journey, the spectacular views make time slide away. Arrive in the late afternoon.

YaredZema Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 7
Full day visiting the ancient capital of the Axumite Kingdom

Axum is the seat of the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Axum, which was once one of the most powerful in the ancient world. Located at the centre of the trading routes between the Mediterranean and India, and the great port of Adulis on the Red Sea, it was economically, politically and technically advanced and at times had control over both sides of the Red Sea.

Axum is also the origin of Christianity in Ethiopia and believed to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. The old church of St Mary of Zion was the first church to be built in Sub-Saharan Africa around 330AD. Its ruins can be seen in the precinct of the church compound.

We visit the famous monolithic stelae of Axum, the tallest one still standing reaches over 21 meters and the greatest one of them all, once 34 metres highnow lies toppled on the ground. It is still, however, the largest monolith ever erected by man. The subterranean tombs, stone inscriptions of ancient Axumite kings and the small archaeological museum are also living witness of the ancient Axumite history. We will also visit the ruined palace of the Queen of Sheba who is said to have given birth to Menelik the First, fathered by King Solomon, the founder of Ethiopia’s ruling family until the late Emperor Haile Selassie.

YaredZema Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 8
Visit Yeha Temple and through eaternTigrai to Wukro

We leave for Wukro visiting some of the rock hewn churches of Eastern Tigrai on the way. We first pass through the Battle field of Adwa, where the Ethiopians defeated the Italian colonial army in 1896, and then stop to visit the 500 B.C. pre-Christian Temple of Yeha. We will have lunch at Adigrat and proceed on to Wukro. En route we visit the beautiful rock-hewn church of Medhane-AlemAdiKesho in TsaedaImba. Overnight stay at Wukro.

Fiseha Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 9
Visit Wukro’s rock-hewn churches and on to Mekele

This morning we start by driving about 20Kms North West of Wukro to visit the famous rock-hewn church of Abreha Wo Atsebeha and WukroCherkos, on the northern outskirts of the town, before proceeding on to Mekele in time to explore this fast growing city.

Planet Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 10
Drive through mountains and gorges on the way to Lalibela

Today is a long day’s driving but the scenery, once again, is spectacular as we pass through mountains and river gorges, seeing for ourselves why Ethiopia’s landscape is completely different to anywhere else. We eventually reach Lalibela, possibly Ethiopia’s most famous site.

Roha Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 11
Explore Lalibela amazing churches

We spend the day exploring Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches. Whilst they may feel busy compared to the ones we’ve visited in Tigrai they are still spectacular and well worth visiting. The churches are mostly cut from solid rock, and therefore have the appearance of being underground. The most famous church is BeteGiorgis (St George, patron saint of Ethiopia), carved in the form of a Greek cross. It is exceptionally well preserved and visually almost flawless.

The churches are quite dark inside, with little artificial light, and in some cases limited natural light. In each one there is a resident priest, who is usually happy to put on richly embroidered vestments and pose for a photo with his crosses, ancient bibles and sunglasses (due to constant camera flashes!). Although the churches are remote, they are not short of worshippers: most Ethiopians, certainly of the older generation, are devout Orthodox Christians, and the services in the churches on religious festivals are of marathon length: sixteen hours is not unusual!

Roha Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 12
Mule trek up to Ashatan Maryam

In the morning we enjoy an optional (no extra cost) adventurous mule journey to visit Ashetan Maryam (St Mary), built on a ridge with excellent views over the surrounding countryside. The trip takes approximately 6 hours (round trip) and will start early to avoid the heat. We will ride the mules up the mountain for approximately an hour, before hiking the rest of the way up the mountain to the church. After visiting the church we will walk back down to the village on slippery mountain paths. This is a tough walk and is optional. If you choose not to do the walk there is plenty to do in Lalibela: There is the opportunity to walk into the town and visit some of the many shops or relax in a Tej bar to sample the local fermented honey drink or a local café to socialise.

The rest of the day is spent absorbing the atmosphere of this extraordinary town with its Tukul or round houses. Made as two storey buildings, they are unusual in Africa.

Roha Hotel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 13
Fly to Addis Ababa. End

An afternoon flight takes us back to Addis Ababa. We are then transferred to the hotel for day rooms and get settled before enjoying an optional final dinner at a well-known local Ethiopian restaurant. Transfer back to the airport in the late evening for our international flight back home. Please note that due to flight schedules, some departures may include an extra night at the end of the trip for flight inclusive clients and a day-time return-flight.

The extension to the Islamic city of Harar starts today with an overnight in Addis Ababa.

Meals included: Breakfast

Post-trip Extensions

Harar

What's included

  • All breakfasts
  • All accommodation (see below)
  • All transport and listed activities
  • Tour leader throughout

What's not included

  • Travel insurance

You can send your enquiry via the form below.

Dive deep into Ethiopia’s incredible culture and history

Trip Facts

  • Travel by mini or coaster bus or landcruser
  • 10 nights comfortable hotels, 2 nights basic hotel, most with en suite facilities
  • 16
  • Min group size: 1 Max group size: 16

Contact Info

Grum Walle | General Manager
Phone number : +251918774668 / +251910053200

info@grumethiopiatours.com

Address: Gondar Piassa west of Central Hotel

 

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