Arrival and City tour of Addis Ababa
On your arrival, you will be welcomed by our staff, then transferred to your hotel. The name of the capital city of Ethiopia in Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia) means “New flower”.
Addis, which was founded in 1886 by Menelik II, is located 2,500 metres above sea level in one of the highest parts of Entoto mountain chain (3,000 metres above sea level). It enjoys an excellent climate all year round, with an average temperature of 25ºC.
Addis Ababa is a pleasant city with side avenues of jacaranda trees, interesting museums and one of the largest open-air markets in Africa, known as the “Merkato”.
It also has a good number of restaurants, hotels and discotheques. A tour of the city will be provided upon request – depending on your energy levels after your long-haul flights!
Drive to Bahir Dar (560 kms)
Early in the morning, we leave for Bahir Dar. 100 kms north of Addis Ababa, we visit the renowned monastery of Debre Libanos, founded in the 13th century in a magnificent 700m-deep canyon.
Later, we stop off at the Blue-Nile Gorge. If you think the Grand Canyon is impressive, compare it to its African cousin – the Blue Nile Gorge.
Situated 210km north of Addis Ababa and being about one mile wide and deep, it is one of the most spectacular gorges in the world.
Bahir Dar boat trip and drive to Blue Nile Falls (60km)
Today we have a boat trip on Lake Tana, which has 37 islands, 30 of which have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest.
We visit the best known monastery church of Ura Kidane Mehret, where there is an important collection of religious icons from the 16th to 18th centuries A.D.
In the afternoon we drive to the Blue Nile Falls, known locally as Tissisat (smoking waterfall). 100 m (328 ft) wide, the water plunges for 45m, giving rise to steam clouds and rainbows.
We then drive back to Bahir Dar, finishing the day with a lovely sunset over Lake Tana.
Drive to Gondar (175 km)
After lunch we will explore Gondar, Ethiopia’s first capital city from the reign of Fasilides, Emperor from 1632 to 1667.
In Gondar, there are a dozen castles built by various emperors over the course of 236 years. The city seems more European than African in origin. We will visit Fasilides’ Palace, the oldest and probably the most impressive of all the castles found in the area.
We also go to the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie (Light of the Trinity). The interior is decorated with beautiful frescos, cherubs and paintings. This church is rumored to having been the proposed final resting-place of the Ark of the Covenant during the Ethiopian Empire, which began in 1632 .
Drive to Simien Mountains National Park (100 kms)
After breakfast we will drive to Simien Mountains National Park. Near Debark, a small market town at an altitude of 2700 meters close to the boundary of the Park, we have to register at the park headquarters.
Here, an armed scout – a requirement of the park regulations – joins us. Then we drive to Sankaber for the best view. En route, we pass through the foothills of the Simien Mountains, with carefully tended fields, open pasture with grazing horses, stands of trees and distant rocky peaks.
At the high point of the road, there are superb views across the weirdly eroded foothills of the range and you may also be lucky enough to spot your first Lammergeiers vultures and Gelada Baboons of the trip. The spectacular Jinbar waterfall drops 500m, and is easily viewed from a lookout just a 15 minute walk from the road.
Community visit to Amba Ras Village
Today, we will visit Amba Ras village where local people will show you how they live a traditional lifestyle within the Park.
Stunning views abound, as well as the opportunity to see local crafts being produced. Overnight we stay in Debark.
Drive to Lalibela (475 km)
En route to Lalibela, we will visit Awra Amba Village, which is an intentional community of about 460 people.
It was founded in 1980 by Zumra Nuru, who currently serves as co-chairman of the community, with the goal of solving socio-economic problems through helping one another in an environment of egalitarianism.
Its members follow a distinctive lifestyle. The women have the same rights as the men with no distinction in division of labour between the sexes. They are diligent, disciplined and self-confident, with a lifestyle quite different to other Amharic communities.
Unlike most communities in Ethiopia, they don’t follow any religious creed. They believe in hard work and being good to people.
Lalibela needs at least two days in order to see all that it has to offer. 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 seven 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.
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 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 10 and 11
Visit to Baregota Village
In June of 2009 a much younger Amlaku Yaregal 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 8’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 this amazing journey out 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 in a specially built guest house. 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 10km round trip on foot or mule), before making the 8 km trek back to Lalibela.
Drive to Dessie (290 km)
After a relaxed breakfast, we will drive to Dessie. On the way, we might have a stop at Lake Hayq. The nearby Istifanos Monastery contains a number of significant relics, making a visit well worth while.
Drive to Addis Ababa (387 km)
Today’s return drive to the capital city leaves after breakfast. On the way, we will travel through towns known for fruit production. We will arrive in Addis Ababa late in the afternoon.
Rest day in Addis Ababa
A day to rest, relax, check out the various sites and sounds of Addis, possibly visit the Merkato Market, the biggest market in Africa.
Drive to Langano via Adadi Mariam and Tiya UNESCO World Heritage Site (200km)
Today, we leave Addis and drive 66 kms south to Adadi Mariam, a subterranean rock-hewn church similar to those of Lalibela. This church is unique, as it is the southernmost church of its type, and stands alone – no other rock-hewn churches are in the area.
The site dates back to the 13th century, but is still an active site of worship. Near the church we will explore the stelai of Tiya. These monuments – 36 in all, and standing between 1 and 2 metres in height – are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture.
Excavations have revealed that the site is an ancient cemetery, housing the remains of both males and females, aged from 18 to 30. Dating to between the 10th and 15th centuries, the stelai are covered in symbols whose meaning remains unknown.
The swords and other symbols carved into the rock are unique; no other symbols of their type have been discovered. In 1980, Tiya was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We then travel on to Langano.
Excursion to Abijata Shala Lakes and drive to Awassa (87 km)
Today, we drive west of Lake Langano to visit Abiyata Shala National Park. The bird life here is spectacular, with flamingoes being frequently observed.
Lakes Abiyata and Shala form part of the 887-sq-km national park. Identical twins these lakes are not: Shala’s 410-sq-km surface sits within a collapsed volcanic caldera and depths exceed 260m in some areas, making it the deepest lake in Ethiopia, while Abiyata’s highly alkaline waters rest in a shallow pan no more than 14m in depth.
Abiatta is shrinking dramatically as water is diverted to irrigation projects and a soda-ash factory. Later in the afternoon, we drive to Awassa for the night.
Awassa and drive back to Addis (274 km)
In the morning, we will visit the fish market near Lake Awassa. Depending on your interest and time availability you will be able to visit the local gift and traditional cloth shops. Later, we return to Addis Ababa for a final evening out together, with local entertainers.