Trip Summary and Itinerary Map
Explore the capital city of Addis Ababa, visiting the main markets and museums. Drive up Entoto Mountain and enjoy the panoramic views of the sprawling city and welcome dinner in one of the city's fantastic cultural restaurants.
Explore the picturesque lakeside town of Bahir Dar and take an excursion to the Blue Nile Falls.
Take a boat trip on Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake. Explore the monasteries on the various islands dotted around the lake. You’ll encounter large groups of Great White Pelicans along the way.
Simien Mountains National Park
Spend two nights camping in the stunning Simien Mountains National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has some of the most staggering landscapes anywhere in the world. Spend the night at Ethiopia's finest lodge, Limalimo Lodge. Perched in the hills with exceptional service matched only by its gorgeous design and surrounding panoramas, it's the perfect base for exploring the mountains.
Explore the ancient castles of Gondar, home to Ethiopia’s Kings and Queens in times gone by. Discover the famous Debre Birhan Selassie Church with its roof adorned with the wide-eyed cherubs forever watching from above.
Discover the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. These 13th century churches have been called the eighth wonder of the world. A short excursion outside of central Lalibela takes you to a selection of monasteries in the surrounding hills with fascinating history and stunning views over Lalibela.
Explore the ancient city of Axum, Ethiopia’s original capital city. Axum plays an enormous role in Ethiopia’s history and culture and is central to the identity of many Ethiopians. Home to Stelae fields where massive Obelisks over 1700 years old shoot dozens of metres into the sky, it’s a town of deeply religious roots and fascinating history.
Spend 5 days in the remarkable Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. Exploring the Omo Valley, and spending time with the tribes that have long called this region home, is a remarkable experience. Few places so sharply illustrate the range of human experience on this Earth.
Great Rift Valley
Traverse the incredible Rift Valley as you head from the Omo to the Bale Mountains. The drive through the rift valley is a fantastic experience, and the rural roads offer a unique insight into the daily lives of many Ethiopians. Because it's Ethiopia, the route is marked by stunning views of the natural landscapes.
Bale Mountains National Park
Traverse the Harenna Forest, with its waterfalls, monkeys, birds, and jungle aesthetics before winding your way through the Sanetti Plateau, a high altitude region home to Ethiopia's second highest mountains and the largest population of endemic Ethiopian Wolves. Spend the night in the wonderful Bale Mountains Lodge, a cabin-esque lodge set deep in the Harenna Forest, with bedside wood burning fireplaces and great views of the surrounding mountains.
Start from Addis Ababa and end at Addis Ababa
Landmarks visited on Highlights of the North and South
Day 1: Addis Ababa
Upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, 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.
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.
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.
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: Sheraton Hotel
Day 2: Bahir Dar
After breakfast in Addis, our driver will take you to the airport to catch your flight to Bahir Dar. Upon arrival in Bahir Dar, our driver will meet you outside the airport terminal and transfer you to your hotel, the wonderful Kuriftu Resort and Spa.
Bahir Dar is an attractive town, well laid out with tree lined avenues and with the blue of Lake Tana never far from sight. Kuriftu is perched right on the shores of Lake Tana (Bahir Dar means 'by the side of the sea'), and the lake views from the rooms, dining areas and terraces are beautiful.
In the afternoon, head to the Blue Nile Falls, known locally as Tissiat (meaning "The Smoking Water"). The excursion involves pleasant walks through some picturesque countryside before emerging to the gorge of the falls. The falls are particularly exciting during the rainy season of June to August.
Return to Kuriftu Resort for sundowners by the lakeside.
Overnight: Kuriftu Resort Bahir Dar
Day 3: Bahir Dar
Today you'll head out on a boat trip onto Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake which 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 architectural style of Ura is a typical example of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with mud plastered round walls and a 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.
Later in the afternoon, you’ll visit the market, where you can find the typical hand-woven capes and scarves made of good, local cotton. Visit Weyto village, 2km west of town, known for its production of Tankwa boats. Lastly, you’ll encounter the Palace of the Emperor Haile Selassie at Bizeit, with great views of the town and the lake, including where the Blue Nile flows out of the lake.
Overnight: Kuriftu Resort Bahir Dar
Day 4: Simien Mountains National Park
After breakfast, drive 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 Walia Ibex, Ethiopian Wolf, Menelik Bushbuck and Gelada Monkeys are all endemic to Ethiopia.
Overnight: Limalimo Lodge
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.
Overnight: Limalimo Lodge
Day 6: Gondar
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 the 17th century. The castles reflect the glory of Gondarine kings and have a characteristic lime mortar style.
Visit Debre Birhan Selassie 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, angels shine on you with light and colour. The interior walls and ceiling are fully covered by painted images of angels with big eyes and the walls depict biblical scenes and saints.
Visit the famous Fasilida's 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.
Overnight: Mayleko Lodge
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. Carved 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.
Overnight: Mezena Lodge
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 pre-date 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 Na’akuto La‘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.
Overnight: Mezena Lodge
Day 9: Axum
After breakfast in the lodge, leave Lalibela 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 monolithic 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 fascinating history and plays a significant role in the development and contemporary identity of Ethiopians. Your guide will be on hand to bring this incredible city to life for you.
Overnight at the Sabean Hotel, the best available accommodation in Axum.
Overnight: Sabean Hotel
Day 10: Arba Minch
After breakfast, catch a flight to Arba Minch via Addis Ababa.
Arba Minch (Forty Springs), is the largest town in Southern Ethiopia and the gateway to the Omo Valley. The town lies at an elevation of around 1300m in the foothills of the Rift Valley wall above a cliff overlooking the mountains separating the lakes of Chamo and Abaya. With mountains rising to almost 4,000m to the west, it is difficult to think of a more perfectly situated town anywhere in east Africa - wherever you walk and at whatever time of day, there are stunning views in all direction.
Spend the night at Paradise Lodge, a great lodge offering beautiful views from the restaurant and terrace.
Overnight: Paradise Lodge
Day 11: Omo Valley
After breakfast at Paradise Lodge, start driving south towards the Omo Valley. The Omo is often portrayed as a cultural Garden of Eden and is undoubtedly one of the most unique places on Earth, known for its indigenous tribes, the region has been a cultural crossroads for millennia.
Press on to Jinka through Konso, Weito and Key Afer. If your visit falls on a Thursday you can stop at Key Afer to attend the Thursday market. Key Afer market is the best known market of the lower Omo Valley. It is attended by many tribes including the Bena, Ari and Hamer.
After taking a rest at Jinka, you’ll visit the recently-opened south Omo research centre and museum, which is perched on a hill overlooking the town centre and offers an attractive view. The anthropological museum provides a useful overview of the various cultures of south Omo.
As evening draws in, head to Eco Omo Lodge, a basic but sufficient lodge in Jinka.
Overnight: Eco Omo Lodge
Day 12: Omo Valley
After breakfast at the lodge, drive to Mursi villages. The Mursi people have become a cultural symbol of the Lower Omo Valley. 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, as well as for their colourful dresses.
Drive to Turmi via Dimeka and Key Afer. Turmi is the home of the Hammer people, well known for their body decoration, moonlight dances (Evangedi Dance) and bull-jumping. Bull jumping marks the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. It's impossible to guarantee you'll see the bull jumping ceremony, but it happens often enough for their to be a good chance.
Overnight: Buska Lodge
Day 13: Omo Valley
Today you'll drive to the village of Kolcho and visit the Karo tribes. They are considered to be masters of body painting, their choice of decoration when preparing for a dance, feast or celebration.
In the afternoon, drive back to Turmi to visit one of the smaller villages that lie outside the Hamer towns of Turmi. Incredibly neat and constructed entirely from mud, wood and thatch, one of the most striking aspects of these small villages – which typically consist of a few extended families across perhaps 10-15 huts - is the total absence of non-organic or western artefacts.
Return to Buska Lodge for overnight.
Overnight: Buska Lodge
Day 14: Arba Minch
Today marks your final full day in the Omo Valley before heading into the Great Rift Valley and the Bale Mountains.
In the morning, drive to Arba Minch, stopping to visit the Konso village en route. The Konso Cultural Landscape is a 55 square kilometre arid property of stone walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands. A registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, it constitutes a spectacular example of a living cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years) that's adapted to its dry hostile environment.
Konso people are known for their intricately terraced hill sides, fine woven materials and the carved totems in which they decorate their graves. At Konso, visit the village of Machekie and the home of the King.
In the late afternoon, head out on a boat trip over Lake Chamo where you'll find hippos and crocodiles at a close range. Visit Azo-Gebeya, meaning Crocodile Market, where you'll find one of Africa's most impressive displays of big crocs.
As the sun drops behind the horizon, head to Paradise Lodge for overnight.
Overnight: Paradise Lodge
Day 15: Great Rift Valley
After breakfast, head to the Rift Valley town of Awassa. En route, visit the home of the Dorze people at Chencha, renowned cotton weavers whose tall beehive-shaped dwellings are among the most distinctive traditional structures to be seen anywhere in Africa. The views from the Dorze hills are spectacular.
The main occupations of the region are subsistence farming and weaving. The shama cloth produced around Chencha is regarded to be the finest in Ethiopia: plain white gabbi robes and brightly colored scarf-like netalas are sold along the roadside.
Arrive at Awassa for an overnight stay at Haile Resort, a great lakeside resort on the shores of Lake Awassa. The resort has great lakeview rooms.
Overnight: Haile Resort Awassa
Day 16: Bale Mountains National Park
Today you'll visit the famous Fish Market of Awassa before heading to the stunning Bale Mountains National Park via a scenic drive. En route, stop to stretch your legs and capture some photographs of the incredible scenery.
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 3,207 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.
Overnight: Bale Mountain Lodge
Day 17: 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.
Overnight: Bale Mountain Lodge
Day 18: Great Rift Valley
After breakfast, head to Langano, which is located in the Great Rift Valley at an elevation of 1585m to the east of Lake Abijata. Lake Langano, unlike all other freshwater lakes in Ethiopia, is free of Bilharzia (schistosomiasis), this makes the lake popular with tourists and city dwellers for its swimming, water sports, horse riding, forest walking and mountain biking. One can also finda variety of wildlife around the lake, including hippos, monkeys, baboons, warthogs, and a huge variety of birds.
Overnight at the Sabana Beach Resort on the shores of Lake Langano.
Overnight: Sabana Beach Resort
Day 19: Addis Ababa
Have a relaxed morning by the lake before continuing your onward journey back to Addis Ababa (~4 hours).
En route, visit Lake Ziway, the largest of the northern group of Rift Valley Lakes. It lies about 1.5 km east of the town of Ziway and is best known for its exceptional bird life.
Arrive back in Addis in the early evening and spend the evening at lesiure in the city. Overnight at the capital's luxury Sheraton Hotel.
Overnight: Sheraton Hotel
Day 20: Addis Ababa
Today marks your final day in Ethiopia. Have a leisurely morning before taking the day to explore more of the vibrant capital city.
Head to The National Archaeological Museum which ranks among the most important museums in Sub-Saharan Africa. The museum houses the 3.5 million year old fossil of ‘Lucy’, believed to be the ancestor of all humankind. Lucy is just one of the countless ancient exhibits in the museum which pronounce the importance of Ethiopia as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’. Its historic rooms feature finery worn in the wars, including crowns and weapons, alongside pictures of wartime heroes and kings.
You’ll have lunch at the gate of the Museum – the famous Lucy Gazebo Restaurant - which serves both local and international dishes.
After lunch, head to St. George’s Cathedral (Giorgis Cathedral) which lies at the north end of Churchill Road. Designed in the traditional octagonal shape, this cathedral was built in 1896 to commemorate Ethiopia's victory over the Italians at the Battle of Adwa. The Cathedral houses the work of Afewerk Tekle, the renowned Ethiopian artist responsible for the stained-glass windows of the Africa Hall, and also houses a small museum in the compound.
Your last night in Ethiopia will be a memorable farewell dinner at one of Addis Ababa’s wonderful cultural or international restaurants. Transfer to Bole International 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: 784 USD per person.
- Domestic flights.
- Airport transfers and road transport via air-conditioned vehicle.
- Accommodation based on double/twin room sharing.
- Meal plan full board.
- Professional, English-speaking escort guide throughout the itinerary.
- 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.
- Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary.
- Fees for photos and video.
- Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities, etc.