Birds of the Rift Valley and Southern Highlands

Discover the extraordinary bird life in Ethiopia that includes dozens of endemic species. Explore the national parks, rift valley lakes, and highland peaks and valleys that make Ethiopia a world-class birding destination. Boutique and eco lodges place you in the heart of the action. Discover the extraordinary bird life in Ethiopia that includes dozens of endemic species. Explore the national parks, rift valley lakes, and highland peaks and valleys that make Ethiopia a world-class birding destination. Boutique and eco lodges place you in the heart of the action.
19 Days

Birds of the Rift Valley and Southern Highlands - 19 - $8,172

Itinerary Map

Start from Addis Ababa and end at Addis Ababa

Landmarks visited on Birds of the Rift Valley and Southern Highlands


Day 1: Addis Ababa

Upon arrival at Bole International Airport, your driver will meet you just outside the airport terminal and transfer you to the luxury Sheraton Hotel. Freshen up in the hotel before taking your first steps in the bustling capital city, Addis Ababa (meaning 'New Flower'). The city lies in the central highlands at 2700m above sea level and is Africa's diplomatic capital.

Founded in 1887 by Emporer Menelik II, it is now the home of over 3 million people, along with a portfolio of fascinating museums, historic sites, churches, and sprawling markets. The Mercato market is the largest open-air market anywhere in Africa, and the surrounding Entoto hills offer dramatic views over the entire city. 

Entoto Hills offers the best introduction to Addis. Mount Entoto is the highest peak around the capital with stunning views over the city and the surrounding area from the summit. It was the first settlements of the city back when Menelik II built his palace in 1887; a unique place which offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Ethiopia’s distinct culture. The compound at the peak hosts the Entoto Mariam church, an Ethiopian artefact museum as well as Menelik II’s palace.  As you drive up the hill there is an appreciable drop in temperature and the air is filled with the scent of the Eucalyptus trees which line the road.

Roadside stalls offer fresh Ethiopian coffee (the best in the world). If you have an interest in Ethiopian traditional clothes it may be possible, depending on time, to stop by at Shero Meda Market, where there is a wide variety of beautiful fabrics, shawls, scarves, dresses, tops and jewelry, offering good ideas for gifts. 

After lunch you’ll visit the famous open-air market in Africa, Mercato, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people in 7,100 business entities. 

Overnight at Ghion hotel which affords the opportunity to see Ruppell's and Hooded Vultures, and the Peculiar endemic Thick-billed Ravens, plus less obtrusive species such as Brown rumped seed eaters, Grey-headed Sparrows, Baglafecht's Weavers, Abyssinian Slaty and Dusky Flycatchers, Africa Rock Martins, Tacazze Sunbirds, Red-eyed and Dusky Turtle Doves, and endemic Wattled Ibises and White collared pigeons.

Day 2: Addis Ababa

After breakfast, travel a short distance to Gafersa Reservoir, situated just outside Addis, a magnificent and rewarding habitat where a range of bush and wetland species can include as many as a quarter of Ethiopia's 29 endemic birds. Blue-Winged Goose, Wattled Ibis, Rouget's Rail, Abyssinian Long claw, Banded Barbet and Black-headed Siskin are amongst the endemics that may be seen.

As the evening draws in, return to Addis for overnight stay. 

Day 3: Ankober

Today we drive North East out of Addis to the small town of Ankober, home of Ankober Lodge, a simple lodge built amongst fantastic scenery with great trekking and birding opportunities. 

From the town of Anokober, there are marvellous views over the escarpment, and for ornithologists there is the chance of seeing the very rare Ankober Serin, as well as other species such as Smith's Francolin, Yellow Throated Serin, White billed Starling, Black-winged Love Bird, Lammergeyer, Mountain Buzzard, Peregrine, Red-breasted Sparrow Hawk, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush.  

Beyond the birds, there is plenty of other wildlife to be found at Ankober, including Leopard (rarely seen), Colobus and Vervet Monkeys, Gelada Baboon, Menelik’s Bushbuck, Klipsringer and Rock Hyrax, which despite its small size is a distant relative of the elephant.

Overnight at Ankober Lodge. 

Day 4: Awash National Park

After breakfast in the lodge we head to Awash National park, one of the best birding destinations in all of East Africa. 

Among some of the bird species you'll likely encounter are: Augur Buzzards, Long-crested Eagles, Carmine Bee-eaters, Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers, Ostriches, Buff-crested, White-billed Kori, and even Arabian Bustards, Lichtenstein's and Chestnut-billed Sand grouse, Rosy-patched and other Shrikes, plus many species of hornbills, Weavers, Woodpeckers Vultures, doves, Pigeons, guinea fowl, glossy starlings, parrots, bee-eaters, barbets, mouse birds and finches, and the endemic Yellow throated seed eater.

Overnight at Doho Lodge, a well-designed lodge situated in a thick of the national park.

Day 5: Awash National Park

Today is a full day birding around Bilen, over 440 species of bird have been recorded in the Bilen area including rare species such as Yellow Throated Serin, Sombre Chat and Arabian Bustard.

Return to Doho lodge as the sun sets. 

Day 6: Langano

As you leave Awash National Park behind, we head for the Great Rift Valley

Driver down to the lake shores of Ziway and then to Langano (~4 hours) where huge numbers of water birds congregate. Among the species you'll find are: African Pygmy Gees, Yellow-billed and marabou Storks, Lesser and Greater Jacanas, African Jacanas White Pelicans, Fish Eagles, Crowned and Common Cranes are some of the species to be seen here in impressive numbers.

Overnight at Hara Langano Lodge. 

Day 7: Langano

After breakfast visit lakes Abijatta and Shalla, two lakes which together with the surrounding woodland make up the Abijatta-Shalla National Park. 

These enormous lakes attract huge numbers of birds. Spend the morning enjoying this spectacle of color, and looking carefully amongst the flamingoes, pelicans, cormorants, storks, herons and waders for unusual vagrants in the distance, to the east and west, loom the great walls of the Rift Valley. 

Return to Hara Langano Lodge. 

Day 8: Wondo Genet

After breakfast, drive to Wondo Genet, the home of sunbird, wood peckers, Silver-cheeked Hornbills, White-browed Robin Chats, Double-toothed Barbets, African Fire finches and a host of other species. 

In the forested valley close by, four endemics may be found: Black-headed Forest oriole, yellow-fronted parrot, white-winged Cliff Chat and Golden-backed Woodpecker. Half-collared Kingfishers, Spotted Creepers, African Hobbis, Crowned Eagles and Olive Pigeons are amongst other specialties of the region.

Overnight at the simple Wabe Shebelle Hotel. 

Day 9: Bale Mountains National Park

In the morning we drive to the Bale Mountains National Park, one of the most visually compelling and exciting national parks in the country. 

As you approach the park, the environment becomes increasingly mesmerising. Magnificent forests cling to the sides of deep valleys; high peaks, rocky outcrops, pinnacles and ridges pierce horizons; and moorlands, grasslands and peaty pools sit in plains and hollows. 

Dinsho (also called Gurie) is the Park Headquarters; a village in South-central Ethiopia. Located in the Bale Zone of the Oromia Region in the heart of the Bale Mountains, it has an elevation of 3207 meters. 

In the afternoon there will be time for a walk around to see some of the endemic mammals, including Menelik's Bushbuck or Mountain Nyala Dinsho. If time permits you may explore the Geysay Valley, observing a wealth of bird species: Blue-winged goose, Spot-breasted lapwing, Abyssinian long claw, Wattled ibis, Black-headed siskin and Rouget’s rail.

There are plenty of birds in the mountains, including: Abyssinian Long-eared owl, White-backed black Tit, Abyssinian catbird, Black-winged Lovebird, Golden-backed woodpecker and, if very fortunate, you may even see a Black-headed Siskin or two.

Amongst these are eleven of Ethiopia's 29 endemics: Blue winged Goose, Rouget's Rail, Spot-breasted plover, white -collared pigeon, Black-winged Lovebird, Golden-backed woodpecker, Abyssinian Long claw, Abyssinian Catbird, White-backed Tit, Black-headed Siskin and Thick-billed Raven.

Your accommodation in the Bale Mountains is the beautiful Bale Mountains Lodge. Nestled into the Harenna Forest, this lodge has a romantic cabin feel, with wood burning fires in the rooms and beautiful views of the forest all around. 

Day 10: Bale Mountains National Park

After breakfast in the lodge, spend a full day exploring the park with your guide. The Bale Mountains contain the largest tract of high moorland in Africa. Virtually uninhabited, they are entirely unspoilt and were set aside as a national park to protect the endemic Mountain Nyala. 

The Bale Mountains possess an exceptional beauty and charm, reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. They are green and spacious, decorated with rocky peaks and crags, numerous small lakes, extensive heathland, magnificent cloud forests and bogs. Within the park is Mount Batu which sits at 4307m, making it one of the highest mountains in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Wolf is the real star of the show and is regularly sighted here. 

The Sanetti Plateau is home to Ethiopia's second highest peak, Mount Tulu Dimtu, which sits at a staggering 4377m. 

Explore the high-altitude Sanetti Plateau, home to the largest population of endemic Ethiopian Wolves anywhere in Ethiopia. The road is lined with the orange-blossomed Lenontis and in the wet season the red hot pocker (Kniphofia) is blooming beneath the trees and attracting the brilliant iridescent Tacazza and Malachite sunbirds. Aquila eagles are amongst the birds of prey that you may see, and almost all Ethiopian vulture species are regularly spotted.  

After spending the morning on the plateau, drive back to your lodge and visit the spectacular Harenna Escarpment where there are some remarkable views. For bird lovers, endemic birds may be seen, such as white-backed Black Tit, Abyssinian catbird, Black-winged Lovebird, Golden-backed wood pecker and Black-headed Siskin.

Return to the lodge for dinner over the roaring fire. 

Day 11: Bale Mountains National Park

Take a day trip from the lodge to the fascinating but lesser-visited Sof Omar extensive underground cave system. Formed by the Web River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved a new channel through lime stone foot hills, the cave system is fascinating not only for its geology but for the wealth of bird life in the area. 

Return to the lodge and spend the evening at leisure. 

Day 12: Negele

Enjoy a relaxed morning around the lodge before beginning the drive to Negele, a great birding spot within the Rift Valley. 

Overnight at Turacho Hotel. 

Day 13: Negele

Today is a full day birding around Negele. You'll drive from central Negele to Wadera before pressing on to the Liben Plains. 

En route, look out for roadside Coqui Francolin – a rare and localized bird in Ethiopia. Its powers of concealment rival those of the Sidamo Lark. At dusk the savanna come alive with starlings. Flocks comprised of at least three species streamed overhead.

As the sun edges towards the horizon, return to Turaco Hotel. 

Day 14: Yabelo

Between Negele and Yabello lies a rugged swatch of savanna punctuated by the slightly lush vegetation of the Dawa River valley. En route, meet the flock of Magpie Starlings, White-winged Dove, Black-bellied Sunbird, and Salvadori’s Weaver, Bare-eyed Thrushes and the more unexpected male Black Cuckooshrike. African Pied Wagtails hop on the rocky banks of the river.

Approaching Yabello, you enter the range of two of Ethiopia’s most sought-after species: Stresemann’s Bush-Crow and White-tailed Swallow. The first of these birds that you encounter is the Bush-Crow – a small flock. Moving slightly closer to Yabello, spot a small group of White-tailed Swallows – the last sighting of an excellent day in the wilds of southern Ethiopia.

Overnight at Borena Lodge. 

Day 15: Yabelo

From our base at Borena Lodge, we take an excursion to Mega. Here you will find countless birds including Red-naped Bush-Shrikes that sing from the tops of acacia bushes, D’Arnaud’s Barbet, Rufous Chatterer,  White-bellied Canary, White-tailed Swallows, Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow. A night drive revealed a correspondingly active nocturnal crowd. Incredible numbers of nightjars, Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjars and several African Scops-Owls.

Return to Borena Lodge. 

Day 16: Awassa

Drive to Arba Minch with a stop at a large local lake that holds Black Egret, White-headed Vulture, and African Cuckoo-Hawk.  

Arba Minch (Forty Springs) is the largest town in Southern Region of Ethiopia. Head out on a boat trip over Lake Chamo where you'll find hippos and crocodiles at a close range.  This place known as Azo-Gebeya, meaning Crocodile Market, and it offers one of Africa's most impressive displays of big crocs.

Overnight stay at Haile Resort, a great lakeside resort on the shores of Lake Awassa. The resort has great lakeview rooms. 

Day 17: Awassa

Today is a full day exporing the Nech Sar National Park, one of the top birding parks in the country. There have been 342 species of bird recorded in this park. 

In the late afternoon, retrun to Haile Resort for sundowners. 

Day 18: Addis Ababa

After breakfast in the resort, you'll drive back to Addis where you'll spend your final evening in the country. 

Tonight you will have a wonderful cultural evening at one of Addis Ababa's fantastic cultural restaurants. Ethiopia is a mosaic of people with more than 80 languages, different lifestyles, costumes and cultural dances. Take a chance to experience some of these cultural dances and traditional meals with a drink of Tej, a type of wine made from Honey. 

Overnight at the lovely Capital Hotel and Spa. 

Day 19: Addis Ababa

Services available in Addis and transfer to airport to connect with your international flight home.

Prices, Departures and Inclusions

Prices are per person based on 2 people travelling together. Price is guideline only. Price will depend on your final itinerary, group size, accommodation choices, and time of year. 

Single Supplement And Child Policy

Single Supplement: 487 USD pp.


  • Airport transfers and road transport via air-conditioned vehicle.
  • Accommodation based on double/twin room sharing.
  • Meal plan full board.
  • Fees for entrances, local guides and compulsory scouts for activities mentioned in the itinerary.
  • All government taxes for the services included in the tour price.


  • International flights, domestic flights and visa fees.
  • Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary.
  • Fees for photos and video.
  • Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities, etc.

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