Day 1: Addis Ababa
Fly to Addis Ababa, where you will be met at the airport. After a transfer to your hotel, enjoy a little down time 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. 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 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, enjoy a traditional dinner at one of the capital's fantastic cultural restaurants.
Overnight: Capital Hotel & Spa
Day 2: Bahir Dar
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 brew 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 ‘airbreathing’ 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 frescoes.
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’. 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
Day 3: Gondar
In the morning, drive for 3 hours from Bahir Dar to Gondar, the old capital of the country. En route, visit the Awramba community. 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.
Overnight: Gondar Hills Resort
Day 4: Lalibela
Flight Gondar to Lalibela. Visit first cluster rock-hewn churches Lalibela.
From Bahir Dar, 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.
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: Mezena Lodge
Day 5: Lalibela
In the morning, experience an early morning service and visit the second cluster of churches in Lalibela. In the afternoon, head up into the highlands around Lalibela to visit Yemrehane Kristos church, or hike to Asheton Maryam church.
Overnight: Mezena Lodge
Day 6: Axum
After breakfast, catch a morning flight to 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
Day 7: Harar
Catch a flight from Axum to Dire Dawa via Addis Ababa. Explore the colourful city of Dire Dawa before heading on to Harar. The 1.5-hour drive takes you past the Dire Dawa railway station, Kafira spice market and Awaday khat market. Being off the main trail is often a refreshing change of pace as you experience Ethiopia beyond its surface level attractions and meet amazing people.
Overnight: Wonderland Hotel
Day 8: Harar
The walled city of Harar is a common favourite among travellers. Hundreds of alleyways meander past colourful houses and the locals are famously friendly. It's easy to get lost in the labyrinth but our Brilliant local guides can guide you navigate the city, recommend places to go, and talk you through the history of the town.
Spend the evening feeding curious hyenas with the famous Hyena Man.
Overnight: Wonderland Hotel
Day 9: Return to Addis
Have a relaxed morning before making the return drive to Dire Dawa (~1.5 hours). Catch an afternoon flight from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa to connect with an international flight home, or to continue your onwards journey.
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 double/ twin room sharing.
- Meal plan bed and breakfast.
- Fees for entrances and local guides 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.