DAYS 81 – 113: ETHIOPIA
Crossing the border into Ethiopia we will travel to Konso, home to the local Konso people and our gateway to the very remote Omo Valley region of southern Ethiopia where whole way of life in the villages here has changed little over the centuries and old traditions are strongly upheld.
Over the next 4 days/3 nights you will be exploring the remote and rarely- visited tribal areas of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. The itinerary for these days is flexible so that the tour leaders can react to news of special events being hosted by particular villages or tribes; as such, it isn’t possible to provide an exact itinerary for these days. However, you will aim to visit various tribal villages in the area, such as villages of the Hamer, the Mursi and the Konso tribes.
The Omo Valley region is unusual in that it is home to so many different tribes all living very close to one another in such a small area. Anthropologists believe that this is because thousands of years ago this area of Africa acted as a kind of ethnic crossroads, as different groups of people migrated between north, south, east and west. Exploring the many small communities and settlements here will give you a fascinating insight into the different tribes, their cultures, traditions and way of life.
Leaving the Omo Valley behind you will travel to the town of Arba Minch, a small town overlooking Lake Chamo. The next day, you will have a free day for some well-earned rest after the Omo Valley, or to take an optional boat trip on Lake Chamo to the view the crocodiles that reside there, or hire bicycles to explore the scenic area.
From Arba Minch you will continue your journey north, heading to the small town of Awassa, where you will visit the Awassa Children’s Project in the afternoon. This is a home for local children orphaned by the HIV epidemic, and we will be shown around and see how public donations and the support of Dragoman goes towards feeding, sheltering and educating the children. After your visit you will head to Wendo Genet, a small town in the hills above Awassa, where you will stay for two nights giving us time to explore the region, go on an optional walk to some nearby waterfalls, and take a dip in the nearby hot springs.
Your next destination is the beautiful Bale Mountains National Park which is situated on a high plateau surrounded by mountain peaks which soar to over 4,000 metres in height. You will have two full days to explore the park; one day is completely free to head out for guided walks – there are several possibilities for routes, including highland routes up the hills and moorlands searching for mountain nyalas, or lowland walks through the forest areas to look for Bale monkeys! On the other day you will drive in the truck up to the Sanetti Plateau, all the way to the second-highest point in Ethiopia (the summit of Tulu Dimtu) to explore the primordial landscape and search for Ethiopian wolves.
From the park you will head to the small town of Ziway where you will have an included boat trip across Lake Ziway to Tulu Gudo Island for a short guided tour of the ancient Coptic monastery there and view some of the old religious manuscripts.
You will then head to Addis Ababa which lies amongst wooded hills at an altitude of about 2,300 metres, giving it a pleasant climate. Addis has many sights to offer visitors and you have free time to explore the sites. Get a fascinating glimpse into Ethiopia’s many tribal groups at the Ethnological Museum, see the stunning fossil collection at the National Museum, and don’t miss the chaotic bustle of the Merkato (local market). All manner of arts and crafts can be found in the souvenir shops on Churchill Avenue.
A spectacular drive via the immense Blue Nile Gorge will take you to the small town of Debre Markos, and then on to Bahir Dar, a small town on Lake Tana, the source of the mighty Blue Nile. On your first day in Bahir Dar, you will have an included boat trip on Lake Tana to visit the famous old monastery of Gabriel Ure Kideth and to visit the spot where the lake outflows into the start of the Blue Nile. On your second day, you will head off in the truck to visit the Blue Nile Falls and take a short walk around the area to the historic Portuguese Bridge. You will have some free time in the afternoon to visit some other spots around Bahir Dar such as the ‘Hippo bridge’ and the Tigray war memorial.
A full day’s drive will take you to your next stop, the small medieval town of Lalibela. On your first day in Lalibela, you will have full day guided tour of the world-famous 13th-century rock churches of Lalibela. Your guide will be able to explain the fascinating history of Lalibela and its churches, and there will be plenty of time to explore, absorb the haunting atmosphere inside the churches, and take plenty of photographs of the incredible architecture and the religious rituals within. On the second day, you will have a free day for further exploration or optional activities. You will have opportunity to hike up the nearby mountains to the Asheten Monastery, visit the Yimrehane Kristos cave church outside the town, or freely explore the Lalibela churches again at your own pace.
Leaving Lalibela behind us, you have 2 days of driving through increasingly mountainous scenery to reach the town of Mekele. On the first day of this journey you will aim to wild camp near the town of Woldiya or Korem before completing your journey to Mekele the next day.
After a morning visit to one of the famous rock-hewn churches of Tigray (either the Abraha Atsbeha or Wukro Chirkos church), you will then continue through the increasingly breathtaking mountain scenery of the Adwa mountains to reach the ancient town of Axum in the far north of Ethiopia. The next day you will have a half-day guided tour of the incredible historical sites of Axum, the capital of the once-mighty Axumite Empire – included in this tour will be seeing the Stelae Field, the Tomb of King Kaleb, and the Palace of the Queen of Sheba. You will have a free afternoon to visit other places such as the Church of St. Mary of Zion, the supposed resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
Leaving Axum behind you, your overland journey continues with 2 days of driving through the foothills of the Simien Mountains to reach the small village of Debark, via a wild camp en route. The roads here are very tough, but you will be rewarded with more truly breathtaking scenery! Debark is the gateway to the Simien Mountains National Park, and on arrival you will have a briefing from our local mountain guide explaining the various trekking options you will have during your excursion into the park starting the following day.
You will have a 3-day excursion into the Simien Mountains National Park which is home to some of Africa’s most jaw-dropping mountain scenery and is a great opportunity to enjoy some incredibly beautiful treks and breathtaking views. The area is also home many indigenous animals, and during our time here we hope to spot lammargeyer vultures, geladas, Walia ibex, and (if you are very lucky) klipspringers and Ethiopian wolves.
On each day the aim is to have an option for a long trek (of 5-8 hours), a short trek (2-5 hours) or no trekking. On your first day the plan is to wild camp at the area of Sankaber. On your second and third days the intention is to wild camp at the area of Chenek (underneath Ras Bwahit, the second-highest mountain in the Simiens, which you should hopefully get the opportunity to summit). Please note that the itinerary in the Simien Mountains needs to be kept flexible, as the options will largely be determined by the weather.
Heading back out of the mountains to Debark, you will finally rejoin the tar road and reach the ancient royal city of Gondar where you will have a half-day guided tour of the historical sites of Gondar, including Gondar Castle, the King Fasilades’ Baths and the Debre Birhan Selassie church.