This magical 9-day journey takes you through the heritage preserved within Ethiopia's medieval cities of Gondar, Axum and Lalibela. A remarkably preserved collection of castles, monuments and churches, some dating back over two thousand years, provide for an absorbing few days as you gain an insight into the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Using internal flights to cut down journey times, this tour also takes you to Lake Tana and the Simien Mountains, part of the Ethiopian Highlands. An alternative is to do this trip as a more leisurely 11-day road trip, stopping in at Mekele and Kombolcha, a trip that will require you to be prepared for more basic accommodations.
We will meet you at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, where you begin your Ethiopian safari. We will transfer you to your first hotel for one night.
This morning, we drive 8 hours north through the Ethiopian Highlands to Bahir Dar, on the shore of Lake Tana. Bahir Dar is the third largest city in Ethiopia, and the capital of the Amhara region.
More a stop-over to Gondar, Bahir Dar, on the shore of Lake Tana, grew around a Jesuit settlement in the 16th century, and the Pedro Paez building in the town dates from this time. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile, and the falls at Tiss Abay, 35km south east of Bahir Dar are well worth a visit. On the lake itself, you can enjoy a boat trip to one or two of the monasteries. Some of these do not admit women, but your guide will steer you around this.
Today, we drive 3 hours north around Lake Tana to Gondar, an ancient royal city that has existed since the 12th century. A complex of castles and palaces here collectively make up Gondar Castle, that includes such fascinating buildings as the Debre Birhan Selassie church, the Iyasu palace, and the Fasilides castle and baths. We will explore for the rest of the day, before retiring to our hotel, which overlooks Gondar.
We enjoy a second day in Gondar, exploring and absorbing the atmosphere.
This morning, we fly to Axum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and spend the day exploring. Once again, there are numerous ancient buildings and monuments here, the most notable being the Church of St Mary of Zion, the Northern Stelae Field with its giant obelisks, and the tombs of Kaleb and Gebre Meskel.
On day 7 we fly south to Lalibela, a centre of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodoxy, and famous for its 11 monolithic churches hewn from rock. This afternoon, we will visit the most notable of these churches, which were built as early as the 13th century.
We enjoy a second day of sightseeing, and take a drive to the Yemrehanna Kristos church, which was built before the main Lalibela ones, and which is located inside a massive cave. We visit the Na’akuto Le’ab Monastery (also built under a massive rock) before returning to our hotel.
We fly back to Addis Ababa for a farewell dinner, and transfer to the airport for international flights.
Although Ethiopia is an ancient country, its tourism industry is still very young. This makes it an interesting place to visit, and accommodations can vary widely in style and standard.
Conditions on our expeditions to the Danakil Depression and Erta Ale are harsh, with high temperatures, humidity and dust, and accommodation limited to tents and straw lean-to’s. Similarly, on our Omo Valley and Simien Mountains expeditions, accommodations are 1-2 person tents, local huts, and guest houses. It is all basic, but it allows access to locations that very few other people experience.
On our historic tours to the north, and on our eastern and western Omo Valley expeditions, we use local hotels that are the best available in their area, but which may fall below the standards that you are used to in the rest of Africa. Worry not – patience, understanding and an appreciation of where you are go a long way towards easing your trip, and our experienced guide will always be on hand to assist, wherever you are.
As Ethiopia’s tourism industry develops, so too do the accommodations. In some areas, such as the Bale Mountains, small, intimate, owner-run lodges are starting to emerge. Full of character, and strategically located, these places do justice to the regions they serve and offer a standard of service and comfort that approaches similar camps and lodges in other countries we operate in.
Within Addis Ababa are found hotels run by international chains. While predictably formulaic, they do offer a standard of service that is consistent with a top hotel in a capital city. For the more adventurous client looking to absorb the local flavor, there are small guest houses and bed & breakfasts dotted throughout the capital, some of them offering superb ambiance and attention to detail.