Ethiopia - The Horn of Africa

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Day 1: Arrive in Addis Ababa

You are met on arrival in Addis Ababa and transferred to our hotel. The name of the city in Amharic means 'new flower'. Founded in 1886 by Menelik II, it is located at 2,500 m (8,202 ft) above sea level in one of the highest parts of the Entoto Mountain chain (3,000 m/9,842 ft above sea level).

Addis Ababa is a pleasant city with wide avenues of jacaranda trees, interesting museums and one of the largest open-air industrial markets in Africa, known as the "Mercato". We meet this evening for dinner and orientation.

Overnight in Addis Ababa.


Day 2: Fly to Bahir Dar and the Blue Nile

We take a short flight this morning north to Bahir Dar.

Bahir Dar is a pleasant city located on the shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia. After our arrival, we drive directly to the Blue Nile Falls, which is known locally as Tissisat (smoking water) 100 m (328 ft) wide, the water plunges for 45 m (148 ft) and depending on the fluctuations at the nearby dam, may give rise to steam clouds and rainbows. We cross the Blue Nile by boat to return to the point of departure.

After lunch on the shore of Lake Tana, we take a boat to a nearby peninsula to visit beautiful orthodox monasteries such as Ura Kidane Mihiret. Ura Kidane Mihiret is the best known of the monasteries and has an important collection of religious icons from the 16th to 18th centuries A.D. There are 37 islands on Lake Tana and 30 of them have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest. If time permits, we will visit the colourful Bahir Dar market.

Overnight in Bahir Dar.


Day 3: To Gondar

This morning we drive to Gondar, arriving at our hotel by lunchtime. Gondar was the first capital city of the Ethiopian Empire, which began in 1632 with the reign of Fasilidas. In Gondar, there are a dozen castles built by various emperors over the course of 236 years. The city seems more European than African.

Overnight in Gondar.


Day 4: Gondar Sightseeing, to Simien Mountains

We spend our morning exploring medieval Gondar including a visit to the Fasildasi Palace, probably the most impressive of all the castles found in the area and the oldest.

After lunch, we have a long drive to the Simien Mountains, where we will be staying in the highest lodge of Africa, at 3400 meters.

Overnight in Simien Lodge.


Day 5: Simien Mountains

We have a full day to enjoy the Simien Mountains (UNESCO World Heritage Site). The road passes over mountainous areas of wild beauty. In the park, many of the mountain peaks exceed 4,000m (13,123 ft); the highest is Ras Dejen, at 4,543 m (14,905 ft) above sea level. These mountains consist of volcanic masses that have been eroded away by centuries of rain. Today they have amethyst-colored peaks and deep gullies which have been further deepened by rivers. The crevices play host to the walia ibex.

The escarpment offers scenic views and the chance to see the endemic gelada baboons, sometimes in herds of over a hundred, along with the endemic walia ibex whose population is now on the rise after poaching drove them to near extinction. Cliff-nesting birds are also common, including the Lammergeier (bearded vulture).

Overnight in Simien Lodge.


Day 6: To Axum

We will have a full day driving to Axum. The drive is very long but the scenery is just incredible.

Overnight in Axum.


Day 7: Axum, City Sights

The beautiful city of Axum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The legends narrated in the Kebre Nagast (Book of Kings) recount how the city of Axum, as early as the 10th century B.C., was already the city in which the Queen of Sheba resided. It is recounted that the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant to Axum and it remains there to this day, preserved in a sanctuary.

Famous long before the time of Christ, Axum was the capital of the long Axumite reign, one of the oldest African empires, and represented a crucial connecting-point between Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years.

We visit the stelae: granite monoliths dating from pre-Christian times and decorated with symbolic engravings. The second largest of the stelae was looted by Mussolini's troops in 1937, and stood for years in the Piazza di Porta Capenamin in Rome. After much discussion over the years, the stelae was finally returned from Italy to Axum in 2005.

There is also a visit to the church of Saint Mary of Zion. A chapel in the church is believed by many to contain The Ark of the Covenant. This chapel is protected by "The Guardian," who is the only person allowed into the chapel and the only person who may set eyes upon it.

Time permitting, we may also visit a small museum here, which contains the crowns of Ethiopian kings and other treasures.

Overnight in Axum.


Day 8: Fly to Lalibela and the Northern Churches

A short flight takes us from Axum to Lalibela. The city contains 11 monolithic churches that were built in the 12th century and are carved out of pink granite rock; they have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each church has a unique architectural style; all are superbly carved and most of them are decorated with well-preserved paintings. The entire city may be described as a sculpture dedicated to the glory of God. This afternoon we visit Nakuta Lab, followed by a coffee ceremony.

Overnight in Lalibela.


Day 9: Lalibela

Today we spend time exploring the best churches in the northern, as well as eastern, areas of Lalibela. Tonight, we will enjoy our group dinner with spectacular views of the area.

Overnight in Lalibela.


Day 10: Fly to Addis Ababa

We fly back to Addis Ababa this morning. After lunch, we enjoy a free afternoon; you may want to visit one of the many museums or the interesting mercato.

Overnight in Addis Ababa.

Note: Meskel Festival (September departures only)

This evening marks the beginning of the Festival of Meskel. The festival celebrates the finding of the true cross and is celebrated by lighting bonfires that are topped with crosses and flowers. Once they are blessed, dancing and singing takes place all around them. The night is devoted to observing (and maybe even participating!) in the many celebrations being held around the city.


Day 11: Addis Ababa Sites

We spend the day exploring Addis Ababa; in the morning we visit the National Museum, one of the most important sub-Saharan museums in all of Africa. The museum is home to the fossilized humanoid Lucy as well as an amazing collection of artifacts, royal items and art. We then proceed to the Ethnological Museum, which was the former palace of Haile Selassie.

After lunch, we drive to the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Holy Trinity Cathedral is the largest Orthodox Church in Ethiopia and has survived through many historical periods, as its interesting architecture can attest to. The Cathedral contains the thrones and the tombs of the emperor and some of the royal family.

Overnight in Addis Ababa.


Day 12: Lake Langano

To begin the southern part of our adventure, we head off in 4x4 vehicles to Lake Langano, which is about 143 miles (230 km) from Addis. Enroute we visit the lakes of Debre Ziet and Zeway. We arrive at our lodge in the early afternoon. We can then enjoy some free time to relax and enjoy this wonderful part of the country.

Overnight in Langago.


Day 13: To Arba Minch

Today we have an early start as we set off in our 4x4 vehicles. We pass by the Rift Valley lakes before arriving into Arba Minch. This town is the largest in southern Ethiopia; it is situated between the Rift Valley, Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo. Enroute we will visit the Alaba village and we will drive through Welayta and Gamogoffa area.

Overnight in Arba Minch.

Note: Omo Valley Adventure

In order to fully experience and explore this incredibly diverse, yet sometimes isolated UNESCO area, we really get "off-the-beaten-track". Sometimes the road is in rough condition (if there is a road at all), you should be prepared for some bumpy drives. Accommodation in small towns is modest. A certain spirit of adventure is required for this journey and any travel hardship will certainly be made up for in experience!


Day 14: Lake Chamo

This morning we head to the nearby Arba Guge Mountains to visit the Dorze people and see how they live in these fascinating beehive huts. They are also famous for their elaborate scarfs, woven products, as well as for their special dancing.

After lunch, we have a relaxing boat ride on Lake Chamo, where we will have the opportunity to watch for the resident hippos, crocodiles and abundant bird life.

Overnight in Arba Minch.


Day 15: Arba Minch, to Jinka

Our drive today will offer some of the most beautiful scenery Ethiopia has to offer; soft rolling hills with dark red soil and plentiful crops and forests. The road continues into the savannah, running alongside the mountains of Men, then following the Karkerte Mountains, providing splendid panoramic views until reaching the soft terraced hills of Konso. We will enjoy a visit in the Konso village to meet the locals who are excellent farmers. The Konso people consists of a pagan society who erect totem poles on the tombs of their dead. We arrive in Jinka in the evening in time to enjoy dinner.

Overnight in Jinka.


Day 16: Mursi Tribal Encounter

This morning we will enjoy a very unique Mursi tribal encounter outside of their village. The Mursi women have the custom of expanding their lower lips using disks that gradually get larger and larger. These are people who farm the land and breed livestock; they live in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world. After our visit, we return back to Jinka where we will explore a small but very interesting local anthropological-ethnological museum run by a German foundation, dedicated for the different tribes of the Omo Valley.

Overnight in Jinka.


Day 17: Turmi

Today we will have a long drive which will take us from Jinka to Turmi, passing through the Woyto Valley as we go. Turmi is home of the Hamer Tribe. This afternoon we will visit the Hamer village with an opportunity to take photos and learn about their society. The Hamers are one of the most beautiful and dignified people of the Omo Basin. The women color their hair with red earth and butter and wear elegant leather skirts festooned with tiny pearls.

Overnight in Turmi.


Day 18: Murele, Omo Bend and Karo People

We travel through the savannah in a typically African landscape arriving at Murele, located on the River Omo surrounded by huge trees. This is the land of the Karo tribe. Here it is possible to meet them and visit their village along the river. In the afternoon we drive back through the savannah, along tracks that are barely visible, passing through a vast meadowland with shrubs and umbel lifers ("umbrella" acacia trees).

Overnight in Turmi.


Day 19: To Arba Minch

Today we start our return journey northward, towards the lakes of the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley is a deep fissure that extends for over 3728 miles (6,000 km) from the Middle East to Mozambique, testimony to the violent and massive shifting of the Earth's tectonic plates. The rift contains a marvelous series of lakes, which are teeming with fish and provide a habitat for hundreds of species of birds. Enroute we visit an Arbore village and, time permitting, stop at some small markets. We travel along the side of Lake Chamo and arrive at Arba Minch late afternoon to early evening.

Overnight in Arba Minch.


Day 20: Shenkele Game Reserve, Awasa

This morning we return to the road that leads back up the Rift Valley. We cross fertile land planted with bananas, cereals and tobacco, inhabited first by the Oromo people and then by the Sidamo. All kinds of fruit are sold along the roadside. After lunch we visit the gorgeous landscape of Shenkele Game Reserve, which is protecting the last pocket of the original Ethiopian savannah. We have a great viewing opportunity to see large herds of the endemic and beautiful antilope, called Swayne's hartebeest, one of the rarest animals in of all Africa, with a population less than 700. Shenkelle is virtually the only place of the world where you can see this elegant antilope. We make our way to the regional capital, Awasa. It is located at 1685 m (6119 ft) and sits at the edge of the smallest lake in the Ethiopian Rift Valley.

Overnight in Awasa.


Day 21: Fish Market and Lake Awasa

Today we set off to explore the famous fish market of Asa Gebeya, located on an inlet to Lake Awasa. Every morning, fisherman arrive by their wooden rowboats loaded with their daily catch of tilapia. The setting is spectacular, with the mountains, the lake and rich vegetation of dense scrub and woodland. We then make our way to Amorra Gedel Park which is home to many birds, guereza and grivet monkeys.

After lunch, we enjoy a motorboat ride along Lake Awasa, the smallest lake of the Rift Valley Lakes. Lake Awasa (9000 hectares) is surrounded by rolling hills, formed in an ancient volcanic crater. The area teems with birdlife including several endemic species along with hippos, and if we are lucky, we may also see pygmy goose. We return to our hotel in the afternoon with time to relax poolside before dinner.

Overnight in Awasa.


Day 22: Addis Ababa

After a leisurely breakfast, we return to Addis Ababa. The remainder of the day is free for any last minute shopping or resting before meeting with the group for our farewell dinner in our traditional restaurants, complete with traditional dance.

Overnight in Addis Ababa.


Day 23: Depart Addis Ababa

We say farewell to this remarkably varied country with a transfer to the airport for your departure flight.

*Many flights do not depart Addis Ababa until after 10pm. In this case, it is possible to depart after the farewell dinner on Day 22 if that is your preference.

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