Trip Summary and Itinerary Map
- 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 in Addis, before heading to one of the capital's 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.
- Next, head to Lalibela, one of Ethiopia's most famous destinations home to the incredible rock-hewn churches and the fantastic Ben Abeba restaurant. You'll be in Lalibela for Ethiopian Christmas, and experiencing this celebration in the subterranean churches, surrounded by pilgrims draped in white-cloth robes, singing and chanting through the night, is one of the most extraordinary experiences in the country.
- 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.
- Trek the Simien Mountains with knowledgeable local guides. The Simien landscape is staggering, with sheer cliff faces and gorges over 1.5 kilometres deep. The paths you’ll use are shared by the local fauna, so keep a lookout for Gelada Monkeys and Walia Ibex, as well as many other endemic species.
- After the Simiens, take a drive down the switchbacks 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 its one of the most culturally significant regions of Ethiopia. The drive passes through incredible scenery.
- Your trip ends with a bang as explore the rock churches and landscapes of Tigray. You will base yourself at Gheralta 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.
5th 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 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. In the evening you’ll meet your group and guide to enjoy a traditional dinner in a local restaurant. 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 here. 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 Selassie, 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.
6th January: Bahir Dar: Lake Tana and Blue Nile Falls
From Addis, you’ll take a one-hour flight north to Bahir Dar. Here your guide will accompany you on a boat trip on Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake. Visit some of the peaceful monasteries nestled on the islands and peninsulas around the lake and wander through coffee plantations, enjoy some of the local brews and meet 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 at Lake Tana, 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 soak you 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.
7th January: Christmas in Lalibela
From Bahir Dar, you’ll take a short flight 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 Selassie 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.
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.
8th January: Gondar (2,133m)
Spend the morning visiting the remaining rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. Catch a midday flight 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.
9th January: Simien Mountains National Park – Gondar – Debark to Sankaber (3,200m) 2-3 hours / 7km.
A car will pick you up from your hotel in Gondar take you to Debark, the headquarters of the Simien Mountains National Park. Here you’ll meet with your trek leader and scout, who will talk you through all aspects of your hike coming up in the next few days.
You’ll take a 4×4 some of the way to your first camp at Sankaber, but you will walk the final stretch (approximately 3 hours) in order to acclimatise to the altitude. Ascending to over 3,000m above sea level and with a jagged landscape, you’ll be stunned by the views from the offset. You’ll be met with drinks, a tasty and hearty dinner, and a campsite in Sankaber where you can sit around the fire and swap stories with guides and other trekkers.
10th January: Simien Mountains National Park – Sankaber (3,200 m) – Geech (3,600m). 7-8 hours / 15km.
The first full day of hiking starts with breakfast, and then a trail along the ridge. This gives you a vantage point and incredible views over the foothills some 800m below. The mountains are known worldwide for their biodiversity: Ethiopia’s placement on the equator makes this mountain range a particularly temperate one. Your guides will point out flora and fauna of note, but regular sightings on this trail are of Gelada Baboons, Kilpspringer and Ibex. From these heights, you’ll be able to watch birds of prey soar on the thermals below.
A highlight of today’s path is Genbar Falls, a waterfall over a sobering 500m sheer drop which you’ll see from the opposite side of the ridge. After a break for lunch, you’ll carry on towards Geech, a remote traditional village with thatched roofs. This is the perfect opportunity for a booster: some coffee and injera. Then onwards to the camp which is a great spot for watching the sunset.
11th January: Simien Mountains National Park – Geech (3,600m) – Inayte (4,070m) – Cheneck (3,600m) - 7 hours, 15km.
Most of today’s path hugs the edge of the ridge. You’ll drop down through a forest of Giant Hazel before rising back to open grassland and continuing on your ascent up to Inyate. The views from the top are monumental. After recovering from the climb and the view, you’ll descend towards Chenek camp. This camp is well known for its visitors: Wallia Ibex and Gelada Baboons.
Camp nights in the Simiens make for fantastic memories, 3,000m high around a bonfire, surrounded by once in a lifetime views.
12th January: Simien Mountains National Park – Mount Buahit (4,430m) 5-6 hours
Today you’ll reach the highest point of the trek so far. The day will start with a gentle trek up the Buhait pass before the trail steepens. The climb will test but reward you, with the jagged and steep terrain giving way to striking views once you reach the summit. As with the other areas, wildlife is plentiful here and people have spotted the elusive Ethiopian Wolf as well as Ibex, monkeys and an array of bird life.
This is the perfect way to bring your exploration of the Roof of Africa to a close. Tonight might be your last night camping, but you've still got another day in the Simiens and a night in a luxury lodge....
13th January: Limalimo Lodge
In the morning, drive (~2.5 hours) to the incredible Limalimo Lodge. This is one of the few luxury lodges found in Ethiopia, and it's as idyllic as the pictures suggest. Spend the day relaxing around the lodge, with optional walks in and around the park.
Enjoy a deserved rest without having to forfeit on any views, kick back on the terrace with your tipple of choice and watch the sun set over the mountains - this really is the perfect way to bring your adventure in the Simien Mountains to an end.
14th January: Axum
After breakfast at Limalimo, drive for around 4 hours to Axum, Ethiopia’s most religious city which is home to an impressive display of Obelisks that rise dozens of metres into the air. The city is rich in history and our Brilliant guides will help you understand the significance of where you are.
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 and some of these impressive 4th century AD granite structures rise to over 23 metres.
15th and 16th January: Gheralta Lodge, Addis Ababa, and Home.
Spend the morning exploring any remaining sites in Axum before driving to Gheralta Lodge. Overnight in Gheralta Lodge.
In the morning, head to Mekele airport and visit two fantastic churches en route. Fly to Addis Ababa where your Ethiopian adventure will draw to a close. Be sure to squeeze in a coffee and some market walks before you head home. Tours of Addis, whether to markets and or food tours are well worth it and can be arranged. Enjoy a final night’s comfort in one of the better hotels in Addis.
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 Limalimo and during camping.
- 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.