Fly from Addis Ababa to Lalibela (336 km journey)
Lalibela is a World Heritage site because of its 12th century Rock-Hewn churches, which are known as the eighth wonder of the world. It is on a par with Petra in Jordan, but not so well known.
The eleven structures are world-famous, having been carved out of single pieces of rock. 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 Giyorgis (House of St. George), the most famous and isolated of all the structures.
Some churches are connected by fascinating internal tunnels, with hermit holes where people lived and died. The connecting walls are full of religious symbols. Haile Selassie reportedly risked his life to make a solo pilgrimage here during the war with Italy, seeking clarity and guidance.
Today, we will visit the first group of four churches, before travelling some 45 kms out of Lalibela to visit the 11th century church of Yemrehanna Kristos, built in a cave. The contents of the cave will astound you!
We finish the day with a delicious dinner in the famous Ben Abeba restaurant, a unique structure of steel and concrete overlooking the hills and valleys of the mountains.
Lalibela (10 km journey)
This morning we will travel, either by car or on foot (if sufficiently energetic), to a monastery built high in the mountains above Lalibela. The ancient relics they have there are extraordinary, and the views amazing.
After lunch, we will explore the remaining seven rock churches in Lalibela, before a meal at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant, where we can try locally produced honey mead (something Lalibela is renowned for) and see, and perhaps join in, traditional dancing.
Day 3 and 4
Visit to Baregota Village
In June of 2009 a much younger Amlaku Teshome had been subcontracted by one of Lalibela churches guides to take a visiting New Zealander to see the Yemrehanna Kristos cave church referred to on Day 1’s itinerary. Coming out of the church Amlaku plucked up his courage and said to the visitor ‘Please Sir, I want to go to University.’ His dream was to learn, so that he could bring his remote village some 200 years into the modern age.
That started a journey for Amlaku, leading him to Dessie University, from which he graduated in 2013 with a Degree (with great distinction) in Plant Science, and then on to a number of agricultural projects, which have seen his village community of some 70 families travel on a major journey from subsistence to sustainability.
The project is ongoing, with the villagers now totally on board with Amlaku’s dream. The project has been resourced from New Zealand, but it is Amlaku’s vision that has brought it to where it is today. Check out this amazing journey at www.bricks.org.nz.
Today, we will walk the 8 kms to Baregota Village (travel by mule is optional), where we will be welcomed by villagers, and then will explore the village, to see the improvements that have been made – in agriculture, in water distribution, in the production of cash crops of vegetables which are supplied to the hotels in Lalibela, in the introduction of a diesel powered grain mill, in the building of sturdy new houses, in the growth of the local school, and so on.
We will stay overnight either in a specially built guest house or in tents. The facilities are basic, but it is an amazing experience. The scenery is absolutely stunning.
We will spend the next morning continuing our exploration of the village, possibly visiting the 1000 year old church and nearby primary school (a 10 km round trip), before making the 8 km trek back to Lalibela.
Fly to Axum (232 km journey)
This morning we will have the option of attending an Ethiopian Orthodox Mass that takes place between 6:00 and 7:00am in every church. Then we go back to the hotel for breakfast before taking the airport transfer to fly to Axum.
While in Axum, we visit the Archeological Museum, the Zion Cathedral where the original Ark of the Covenant is reputed to be held, the Stele Park which contain magnificent single blocks of stone erected during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and the ruined palace and bath of King Menelik I, reputedly the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel. These date back to 950 BC.
Fly to Gondar (216 km journey)
Today, we fly to Gondar, the first capital city of the Ethiopian empire, which began in 1632 with the reign of Fasilidas. In the city, there are a dozen castles built by various emperors over the course of 236 years.
In the afternoon, we visit the palaces, residences and baths of Fasilidas; afterwards, we visit the church of Debre Berhan Selassie (Light of the Trinity), which is located at the summit of a hill and surrounded by fortified walls. The interior is decorated with beautiful frescos.
Drive to Bahir Dar (175 km journey)
After breakfast, we leave for a three hour drive to Bahir Dar. We will pass rural villages, cross mountain passes with stunning vistas, and get our first glimpse of the impressive city of Bahir Dar, built on the edge of Lake Tana, the second largest lake in Africa (after Lake Victoria).
In the afternoon, we drive to the waterfalls of the Blue Nile: 100m wide, the water plunges for 45 meters, giving rise to steam clouds and rainbows. Those who wish to may descend to the base of the falls, climb back up the other side and cross the Nile in a papyrus boat (traditionally known as a “Tankwas”).
Lake Tana and flight back to Addis Ababa (322 km journey)
In the morning, we head out on Lake Tana to the Zege Peninsula with its famous monasteries. Of the 37 islands on the lake, 30 of them have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest.
We will explore some of the islands, including a visit to Ura Kidane Mehret, a circular church built in the 16th century, Kibran Gebriel, built in the 17th century, and Azwa Mariam Monastery, where we will view mural paintings, crowns, crosses etc. On the way back to Bahir Dar, we will see where the Blue Nile River flows out from Lake Tana. In the afternoon we will visit the Market and the palace of former Emperor Haile Selassie.
Late afternoon, transfer out to the airport and fly to Addis Ababa. Depending on your flight plans, you could have a short time shopping in the Merkato Market. After a farewell dinner party in a traditional restaurant & folklore house, you will be transferred to the Airport or to your hotel.