Trip Summary and Itinerary Map
Our Christmas in Lalibela itinerary is an extension of the classic northern highlights trip. The itinerary is built around the 7th January, the date of the magical Genna celebration (Ethiopian Christmas). Experiencing this celebration from within the churches at Lalibela is an experience you'll remember for a lifetime. Outside Lalibela, the trip takes you to all the historic cities in the north of Ethiopia (except Harar, which can be included as an add-on), and finishes with a night overlooking the Gheralta Mountains at the luxury Korkor Lodge.
- You start your adventure in the bustling capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Most international flights arrive in the morning at Addis, so we'll collect you from the airport and take you to your hotel where you can relax and freshen up after your flight. In the afternoon you can take your first steps into the city and explore some of the sites of Addis, before heading to one of the capitals wonderful cultural restaurants.
- From Addis, you head to Bahir Dar, a charming lakeside town that's great for some light adventuring. You can take a boat trip out onto Lake Tana and the visit the Blue Nile Falls.
- You then head to Gonder, an ancient capital city of Ethiopia and home to the crumbling castle ruins of ancient kings and queens - Gonder is known as the Camelot of Africa.
- After Gondar, a short flight takes you to Axum, the original capital city of Ethiopia. Axum was once a hugely influential city back in the days of the Axumite empire. Its glory days are long gone, but the relics that remain from that time are fascinating, and it's one of the most culturally significant regions of Ethiopia. The drive passes through incredible scenery.
- Next, head to Lalibela, one of Ethiopia's most famous destinations home to the incredible rock-hewn churches and the fantastic Ben Abeba restaurant. Spend 2 nights in Lalibela as you experience Ethiopian Christmas in the rock-hewn churches.
- Your trip ends with a bang as explore the rock churches and landscapes of Tigray. You will base yourself at Korkor Lodge, a beautiful boutique lodge, wonderfully designed with the backdrop of the Gheralta Mountains providing a great view from your veranda. The rock churches in Tigray are built into the cliffs, with some even requiring some short rock climbing (all safe and supported by your guides) to access - the views from the top are amazing.
3rd January: The adventure begins
Fly to Addis Ababa, where you will be met at the airport. After a transfer to your hotel, enjoy a little downtime by the pool, before taking your first steps into the city.
The Italian-built Piazza sits next to the famous markets and bustling streets. Nearby are the Grand Anwar Mosque and the Ragual Church. The Mosque and church are within a stone’s throw of each other, highlighting the peace between different religions in Ethiopia. Get lost in Mercato, the largest open air market in Africa. Its labyrinthine alleys are perfect for people watching or enjoying a coffee. Coffee ceremonies here are famous and a source of pride, be sure to try to experience this at least once on your trip!
Venture to the National Museum to see how it all started. Meet Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old fossilised skeleton. Her discovery re-wrote the story of human evolution, as she was found to have walked on two legs. See the Holy Trinity Cathedral, famed for its copper dome and neo-baroque architecture. It houses the tombs of the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassi, and the British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.
A short drive up Mount Entoto will take you to the Palace of Emperor Menelik II. From this vantage point, you have an excellent view of the city. On the way back to Addis, perhaps stop by Shiro Meda, the biggest garment market in the country, where hundreds of vendors line the busy Entoto Road and sell hand woven traditional cloths.
In the evening, head to one of the cultural restaurants in Addis for an introduction to Ethiopian food and dance.
Overnight: Skylight Hotel or similar
4th January: Bahir Dar
Visit some of the beautiful monasteries nestled on the islands and peninsulas around the lake and wander through the coffee plantations. Enjoy some of the local brews and meet the local farmers.
As the monasteries were used for religious retreats, the lake and its islands serve as an unofficial nature reserve. Look out for white pelicans and ‘air breathing’ catfish. Your boat tour will end at Zege peninsula. There is a short path walk towards Ura Kidrane Mehret, arguably the most beautiful of all the churches on the lake, with hundred-year-old characterful frescos.
Later venture towards the only outflow of the lake: Blue Nile Falls. These 42 metre falls create such large amounts of spray that they are known in Amharic (Ethiopia’s official language) as ‘Tis Abay’ meaning ‘Smoking Water’, which can leave you soaked from a kilometre away.
A short distance down the Blue Nile lies a stone bridge built in 1626, potentially one of the famed seven stone bridges built by the emperor Fasilides. This river and another, the White Nile, are the two main tributaries to the Nile, the world’s longest river.
Overnight: Kuriftu Resort Bahir Dar
5th January: Gondar
An early morning drive (approximately 3.5 hours) takes you to Gondar, the old capital of the country. Your first stop will be Debre Berhan Selassie Church, whose heavy and unassuming stone facade hides the colourful frescoes inside.
After this you will head to the well-preserved Fasil Gebbi in Gondar, described by some as the ‘Camelot of Africa’. Now known as the Royal Enclosure, this was initially founded in 1636 and built by Emperor Fasilides as his home, but successive emperors and rulers added to his blueprint. Now, the buildings span over 70,000 square metres of land and include palaces, libraries, two lion houses, royal baths, and a women’s vocational school built by Mentewab, the Empress of Ethiopia. Within the enclosure there are multiple architectural styles and influences jostling for position. The influences include Indian, Portuguese, Moorish and Aksumite.
There is an option to make a visit to the fantastic Awramba community.
Overnight: Goha Hotel or similar
6th January: Axum
Catch a morning flight from Gondar to Axum. Spend the day exploring Axum, Ethiopia’s most religious city which is home to an impressive display of Obelisks. The city is purported to have been the home of the Queen of Sheba. Rumour has it that the lost Ark of the Covenant is in the Church of St Mary of Zion. A short walk through the cobbled streets brings you to the stelae fields. Some of the 4th century AD granite structures rise to over 23 metres.
Overnight: Sabean Hotel
7th January: Lalibela
A short flight takes you to Lalibela, home of the rock-hewn churches and a World Heritage Site. These eleven structures are world-famous, having been built in the 12-13th century and carved out of single pieces of rock. Haile Selassi reportedly risked his life to make a solo pilgrimage here during the war with Italy, seeking clarity and guidance.
Discover Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the world), believed to be the world’s largest monolithic church, before navigating through the system of trenches to arrive at Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), the most famous and isolated of all the structures.
It’s worth spending a day wandering through these mazes of rock and soaking up the heritage. If you’ve time, there is also a wonderful hike to a monastery up on the mountainside.
Today is Christmas Eve in Lalibela. In the late afternoon, head to the rock churches and gather around the edge of the churches to witness the ceremony and procession.
Overnight: Mountain View Hotel or similar
8th January: Lalibela
Today is the magical Christmas in Lalibela.
Finish the day with a delicious dinner in the famous Ben Abeba restaurant, a crazy structure of steel and concrete overlooking the hills and valleys of the mountains.
Overnight: Mountain View Hotel or similar
9th January: Tigray
Leave Lalibela behind as you catch a mid-morning flight to Axum. Your driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to Hawzien (~4 hours).
En route, visit some historical sites in Tigray, including many fascinating rock churches. Your base for exploring Tigray is Korkor Lodge, one of Ethiopia's finest lodges.
Overnight: Korkor Lodge
10th January: Tigray
Spend the day exploring around Tigray, which could include a visit to the famous Abuna Yemata Guh monastery. There is an optional hot air balloon ride as well which offers amazing views over the Tigrayan landscape.
Overnight: Korkor Lodge
11th January: Addis Ababa
As your time in Ethiopia draws to a close, do some final exploring, or relax around the lodge before transferring to Mekele (2 hours) to catch an evening flight to Addis Ababa and connect with your international flight home.
Ethiopian Christmas in Lalibela
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.
- Domestic flights.
- Airport transfers and road transport by private minibus.
- Accommodation based on a shared twin room.
- Meal plan bed and breakfast. Full board at Korkor Lodge.
- 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 and visa fees.
- Lunches and dinners, unless stated as included above.
- Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary.
- Fees for photos and video.
- Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities, etc.