Epic Ethiopia

This two week premium experience takes you across the Northern and Southern Highlands of Ethiopia, into the kaleidoscopic landscape of the Danakil Depression, and to the furthest corners of the Lower Omo Valley. You'll travel by private helicopter providing exclusive access to the country's most exceptional destinations, and stay overnight in luxury lodges, hotels, and exclusive tented camps.

14 Days

Itinerary Map

Landmarks visited on Epic Ethiopia

Itinerary

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 is 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. 

In the evening, you have plenty of choice for restaurants and bars, and there are a handful of cultural restaurants that showcase Ethiopian dancing from across the country. Well worth a visit on your first evening in the country. 

Overnight at the luxury Sheraton Hotel, one of Addis's best 5* offerings. 


Day 2: Gheralta 

After breakfast, a private helicopter will take you to the stunning Gheralta region in Tigray. The scenery of Gheralta is spectacular, with massive limestone cliffs rising high out of the far-reaching Hawzein plains. 

Beyond its extraodrinary beauty, Gheralta is home to some of Ethiopia's most amazing rock churches, some of which requiring ascent up a sheer cliff face to access, and yet are still used by locals every day. The churches are famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts, as well as the stunning views of the Tigrayan landscape. While the views from the rock churches are incredible, they're bested only by the views from your chopper that soars above. 

Nestled into the plains of Gheralta is one of Ethiopia's best boutique lodges, Korkor Lodge. Your helicopter will land in the lodge compound, and you have the evening to enjoy the spectacular views and fantastic hospitality of Korkor lodge. 


Day 3: Gheralta

Todays journey takes you into one of the planets most remarkable environments. The Danakil Depression is renowned as being the hottest place on the planet, and is home to lava lakes, bubbling acid lakes demarked by brigh greens, reds, and yellows of salt deposits, and some of the most visually striking salt pans anywhere on Earth. 

The average temperature in the Danakil is 35 degress Centigrade, and the majority of the region sits more than 100m below sea level, making it both one of the hottest, and lowest places on the planet. The region dips to a frazzled nadir at Dallol (-116m), the lowest point of terra firma on the African continent and one of the driest, most tectonically active, and visually striking places on the planet. 

Your helicopter lands briefly to allow you to explore the region on foot. Explore the kaliedoscopic landscape of Dallol, and witness the local Afar people toiling under the searing heat as they cut salt into blocks from the salt pans and load onto camel caravans that transport this vital mineral back to the nearby town of Mekele. 

After exploring this fascinating region, head back to Korkor Lodge for overnight. 


Day 4: Simien Mountains National Park

After breakfast in the lodge, leave the stunning Gheralta mountains and the fiery Danakil Depression behind as you fly to Axum, one of Ethiopia's most historically significant cities. 

Axum is renowned for its cathedral of St. Mary Zion, the home of the original Ark of the Covenant, or so legend would have it. Spend a few hours exploring this ancient city. There are several monolitchi Stelae that rise high out of the ground, and the site of Queen of Sheba’s Palace contains the remains of what was once a massive palace with finely mortared stonewalls, deep foundations and its own impressive drainage system.  It is believed to be the oldest building in Axum.  Axum was Ethiopia's original capital city, and it has a long fasctinating history and plays a significant role in the development and contemporary identity of Ethiopia. Your guide will be on hand to bring this incredible city to life for you. 

After lunch, return to the helicopter and head to the stunning Simien Mountains National Park. Transfer to Limalimo Lodge, Ethiopia's finest lodge perched in the hills of the Simiens. The lodge offers extraodinary views over the Simien range, and is the perfect place to retreat for sundowners after exploring the park. 

The Simien Mountains is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to some of the most impressive scenery in the world. Depending on your interests and fitness levels, there are a wide range of trekking routes and viewpoints on offer, and a dirt road that runs through the mountains allows for easy access to the major viewpoints. Wildlife in the Simiens is plentiful, with dozens of mammals and 180 bird species recorded. The Walix Ibex, Ethiopian Wolf, Menelik Bushbuck and Gelada Monkeys are all endemic to Ethiopia. 


Day 5: Simien Mountains National Park

Today is a full day exploring the park. A dirt road can drive you as far as Chennek camp, and you can stop off at all the major viewpoints. You're certain to encounter large troops of Gelada Monkeys and raports soaring in the thermals below, and it's likely you'll also spot some Walia Ibex or Ethiopian Wolf. The nearby Jinbar Falls is an impressive waterfall that plunges over 500m into the valley below. 

After exploring the park, return to the comfort of Limalimo Lodge for sundowners and dinner by the fire. 


Day 6: Bahir Dar

After breakfast in the lodge, leave the mountains behind and heli transfer to Gondar. Spend a few hours exploring this wonderful city. 

Gondar was the home of Kings and Queens of Ethiopia for about two centuries. The city was the first capital of the Ethiopian empire that began in 1632 with the reign of Fasilidas. 

Today there lies the castle ruins, the majority of which lie in the Royal Enclosure, a fairy-tale like castle compound dating back to teh 17th century. The castles reflect the glory of Gondarine kings and have a characteristic lime mortar style. 

Visit Debre Birhan Silassie church, rewarding for its magnificent murals adorning the roof and the walls of the church. Like many Eastern Orthodox churches, Debre Birhan has an unassuming stone-and-brick exterior with double-arched entrance door and two-tiered thatched roof. Once you enter, angles shine on you with light and colour. Interior walls and ceiling are fully covered by painted images of winged faces (angels) with big eyes and the walls depict biblical scenes and saints. 

Visit the famous Fasilidas pool, in which pilgrims still take a plunge at the issue of Timket (Epiphany) celebrations. It’s a beautiful and peaceful spot, where snakelike tree roots digest sections of the stone walls. Although the complex was used for swimming, it has also been used for religious celebrations, the likes of which still go on today. Once a year, it’s filled with water for the Timket celebration. After the water is blessed by a high priest, the pool becomes a riot of splashing water, shouts and laughter as a crowd of hundreds jumps in. The ceremony replicates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River and is seen as an important renewal of faith. Nearby is a small mausoleum said to have been built for the king’s favorite horse. 

Head back to the heli and transport to Bahir Dar. Bahir Dar is an attractive town, well laid out with tree lined avenues and with the blue of Lake Tana never far from sight. Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake and is dotted with more than 30 islands, many of which house churches and monasteries. Take a boat trip over the lake to Zege Peninsula to visit two of the renowned Island Monasteries: Ura Kidane Mihret and Azua Mariam, both of which have wonderful paintings depicting scenes from the Old and the New Testaments of the Holy Bible. The monastery of Ura which is found hidden within the mangrove forest of the Zege peninsula. Its architectural style is a typical example of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church having mud plastered round wall with conical thatched roof. Ura is known especially for its fine frescoes, manuscripts, ecclesiastical objects like crown of various emperors dated from the 14th century, processional crosses of silver & gold, silver-drum and royal vestments. 

As the sun sets, retreat the wondeful Kurfitu Resort for overnight. 


Day 7: Lalibela

An early morning flight takes you to Lalibela, one of Ethiopia's most remarkable destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries King Lalibela of the Zaghwe dynasty built a series of rock hewn churches in this spot, calling it New Jerusalem. Physically shaped from the rock in which they stand, these towering edifices seems to be a superhuman creation in scale, workmanship and concept. 11 churches in the town are named after the King. 

Today’s tour will see you explore the first group of six churches in town. This group of churches lie in rock cradles, one behind the other: Bet Golgotha, Bet Mikael, Bet Mariam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danaghel and Bet Medhane Alem.

Bet Medhane Alem, the largest, is built like a Greek temple. In a corner are three empty graves symbolically dug for biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Your guide will help you appreciate the cultural and historical significance of this ancient town. 

A short drive outside the town sits Mezena Lodge, one of Lalibela's finest accommodation options offering stunning views out of Lalibela. 


Day 8: Lalibela

In the morning, visit the second group of the rock churches. The south-east cluster of churches is more irregular in design than the north-western cluster. Several of the individual churches in this cluster are thought to have been secular in origin, and some predate the reign of King Lalibela by five centuries. The churches in the south-east cluster include Bet Gebriel-Rafael, Bet Abba Libanos, Bet Lehem, Bet Emanuel, and Bet Mercurios. According to legend, Bet Abba Libanos was built overnight by Lalibela's wife, Meskel Kebre, who was assisted by a group of angels.

Then visit Bet Giyorgis, the most elegant and visually striking of all the Lalibela churches. The church lies somewhat isolated in the southwestern part of the village on a sloping rock terrace. It can only be reached via tunnel. 

After lunch, visit the monastery of Nakuto Le’ab, located six kilometers outside Lalibela and accessible by car. It is a simple, yet fascinating example of Lalibela’s eastern group of rock hewn churches, and offers beautiful views over rural Lalibela. Late afternoon visit the open market of Lalibela, followed by a traditional coffee ceremony.

Return to Mezena Lodge for your final night. 


Day 9: Omo Valley

After breakfast in the lodge, load back onto the helicopter and fly to Murelle as you head South into the Omo Valley. 

Visit the Karo (Kara) village Duss. The Karo are less than 1000 in number and are characterized by ritual body scarification, colorful body painting and flashy beadwork. Duss is the seat of the Karo government and their unique log constructed parliament.

You'll be experiencing the Omo Valley from the vantage point of luxury tented camps, a unique setup that offers exclusive access into the furtherst corners of the Omo Valley. Unlike the basic lodges on the typical trail, Lale's camp is an exclusive tent on the embankments of the Omo River. The setting, seclusion and setup of the tents make it one of most exceptional experiences on offer in East Africa. 


Day 10: Omo Valley

Following breakfast, head into the remote region of the Mursi. The Mursi are noted for their body scarification, body painting and most striking is the clay plate that is inserted into the lower lips of the women. They can be reached after boating upstream and then a short hike to their village. They are the most renowned of the Omotic speakers, famed for their practice of inserting large clay plates behind the lower lips of their women and colourful dresses and also they go in for body scarification. 

After lunch take a boat ride to Muguji/Kwegu. The Kwegu people (or Muguji people) are hunter-gathering and agro-fishery people of Surmic ethnic extraction inhabiting the shores of the Omo River. The ethnic Kwegu are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Ethiopia with a population of about 700. They are primarily fishermen, hunters and cultivators, they spend a large part of their time on the river and are noted for their canoe-making skills. The speed of the river's current and the dangers from the crocodiles render these skills vital.

Return to Lale's camp as the sun sets. 


Day 11: Omo Valley

This morning you'll head to Turmi via road (~3 hours). Turmi is the home of the Hammer tribes, famous for their body decoration, moonlight dance (Evangedi Dance) and Bull jumping. Bull jumping is a ceremony marking the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. While it's impossible to guarantee a sighting of the Bull Jumping ceremony, it occurs often enough for their to be a reasonable chance of seeing it. 

After spending the afternoon with the Hammer, return to Lale's camp. 


Day 12: Bale Mountains National Park

As sun rises over Lale's camp, enjoy breakfast before returning to the chopper and leaving the Omo Valley behind you as you head for the highlands of the Bale Mountains National Park. 

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.

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 13: 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 14: Addis Ababa

After a relaxed breakfast, board your helicopter for the last time as you head to Addis Ababa to line up with your return flight home. Services in Addis can be arranged depending on your international flight departure time. 

Prices, Departures and Inclusions

Single Supplement And Child Policy

Single Supplement: 454 USD. 

Includes

  • Transport via private helicopter.
  • Airport transfers and road transport via air-conditioned vehicle.
  • Accommodation based on twin rooms.
  • 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.

Excludes

  • International 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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