Rating in Ethiopia
$ 3533

Festivals of Ethiopia

Culture
Culture
min $ 3533
Per person
Tour details
Destinations: Addis Ababa, Mek'ele, Semien Mountains
Guide language: English
Price: min $ 3533
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  • Overview & dates
  • Itinerary
  • What's included

Overview & dates

INTRO


Home to one of the oldest forms of Orthodox Christianity, watch white-robed devotees drift into Addis Ababa's Church of the Holy Saviour on the eve of Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) and witness Timkat rituals in Axum, once the seat of the great Aksumite empire, and Addis Ababa. Explore Ethiopia's architectural wonders in the form of its rock hewn churches and monasteries in Lalibela and Tigray, the ancient obelisks of Axum, as well as the fabled castles of Gondar. For raw natural beauty, walk amongst gelada baboons in the misty Simien Mountains, trek to the source of the Blue Nile and take the boat to a hidden island monastery on Lake Tana.


DATES

  • 06 Jan 2019 to 20 Jan 2019 - £ 2,795 - GD

If these dates do not suit you but you are interested in this tour, please contact us for alternative dates.

AV - Available
GD - Guaranteed
LM - Limited places left
OR - On request (contact us for status)
CL - Closed for bookings


All tours in Ethiopia


HIGHLIGHTS

Genna Festival – Ethiopian Christmas

Watch white-robed devotees at Genna festival

Meet Lucy, the world’s oldest humanoid

Gentle rural walk to source of the Blue Nile

Visit island monastery on Lake Tana

Gelada baboons in the Simiens

Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

Mule trek or hike to remote rock-hewn monastery overlooking Lalibela

Churches in Mekelle

The 2000 year-old Great Temple of Yeha

Witness the Timkat Festival


PLACES VISITED

Addis Ababa - Bahir Dar - Gondar - Simien Mountains - Lalibela - Mekele - Ghera'alta - Axum Addis Ababa
Bahir Dar
Gondar
Simien Mountains
Lalibela
Mekele
Ghera'alta
Axum

Itinerary

ITINERARY

Short | Detailed | PDF


Choose departure date06 Jan 2019 -- 20 Jan 2019

Day 1 : Addis Ababa - arrival

Arrive in Addis Ababa. Transfer to hotel. Afternoon sightseeing. Late evening, witness Genna rituals at one of the churches. Overnight in Addis Ababa.

Pick up from Addis Ababa airport. Transfer to hotel. Rest and refresh before gentle afternoon sightseeing of the main markets in Addis Ababa - Merkato, the biggest open-air market in Africa, and the makeshift bazaars set up for Genna. Late evening, visit one of Addis’ churches to experience ‘Kidase’ and ‘Wereb’ on the Eve of Genna. Witness the pilgrims draped in white robes and listen to the spiritual singing of ‘Kidase’. Overnight in Addis Ababa.

Meal plan : n/a


Addis Ababa is Africa’s fourth largest city, with an area of 250sq/km, and is located at an altitude of 2,300m above sea level. It is a vast place with a thriving population of over 2,750,000 people. There is a wide range of visitor attractions, including many museums and educational institutions. It has most recently become known as the ‘spa city of Africa’.

Although Genna is labelled the ‘Ethiopian Christmas’, the Genna Festival is a Christmas experience like no other. Not many countries provide the opportunity to celebrate Christmas twice in one year: as Ethiopians follow the Julian, rather than the Gregorian calendar, Genna falls on January 7 with celebrations starting on the Eve of Genna. There are two origins for the name Genna: the word Gennana (eminent), expressing the coming of the Lord to free mankind of sins, and also a hockey-like game that the shepherds allegedly played upon hearing of Christ’s birth. Come witness village men and boys playing the traditional Genna game on Christmas Day afternoon, and cheer alongside the village elders. You may even get a chance to try it for yourself!

A visit to the early morning Christmas service is a truly moving experience: the congregation lift their voices in hymn and chant, just as they did over a thousand years when Ethiopia accepted Christianity. After the glorious procession of the Tabot (a replica of the Ark of the Covenant), where the masses carry lighted candles as church bells chime, elated Christians head home to enjoy their delicious traditional Christmas feast with family and friends. One taste of Doro Wat, a spicy chicken stew eaten with ingera (sourdough pancake-like bread), and you will be asking for more- especially accompanied by a glass of tej, a local wine-like drink made from honey. 


Day 2 : Addis Ababa

Sightseeing in Addis Ababa. Rest of the day is free. Overnight in Addis Ababa.

Enjoy sightseeing in Addis Ababa, including visits to St. George Church Museum, Ethnographical Museum, National Museum and Entoto Mountains.The rest of the day is free to rest or explore on your own. Overnight in Addis Ababa.

Meal plan : Breakfast


The National Museum in Addis Ababa holds an interesting collection of artefacts from Ethiopia's illustrious past but the undoubted star of the show is the remains of Lucy, a skeleton of a female Australopithecus afarensis, named from the Afar region of Ethiopia where she was found. Discovered in 1974, Lucy is 3.2 million years old and shares traits with apes (her skull) and with humans (walking upright), leading to claims of the 'missing link' having been discovered. Sometimes the museum exhibits a replica when Lucy is on tour at museums overseas.

The St. George Church was established in 1982 to preserve and promote Ethiopian Orthodox clergy. It is a small octagonal building that was the site of Emperor Hailie Selassie's coronation.

The two-storey Ethnological Museum is a great place to learn about the diversity of Ethiopia. It is structured like a story book, depicting the journey of life to death from different perspectives. 

Entoto Mountain, located to the north of Addis Ababa, offers a panoramic view of the capital. It is the highest part of the city and is historically covered in Eucalyptus trees, which are often referred to as the 'lungs of Addis Ababa'.

Day 3 : Addis Ababa - Bahir Dar

Transfer to Bahir Dar, visiting Debre Libanos monastery and the Blue Nile Gorge en route. Overnight in Bahir Dar.

Early morning depart for Bahir Dar, via the 13th century monastery of Debre Libanos and the Blue Nile Gorge, comparable to the Grand Canyon in the USA. Arrive late afternoon. Evening free to relax. Overnight in Bahir Dar. 

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


The Debre Libanos Monastery was built in the 13th century by Saint Tekle Haymanot, who supposedly spent 29 years meditating in a cave in the nearby cliffs. The complex is situated on a terrace between a cliff and a river gorge. None of the original buildings have survived, so the current church that stands over the saint's tomb was built in 1961. The nearby Church of the Cross, which is slightly older, allegedly holds a fragment of the True Cross that was used to crucify Jesus Christ. 

Day 4 : Bahir Dar

Walk to the base of the Blue Nile Falls. Later, enjoy a boat trip on Lake Tana and visit Ura Kidane Mhiret. Overnight in Bahir Dar.

In the morning, take a gentle walk through rural countryside to the impressive Blue Nile Falls. After lunch, take a boat ride on Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and stop off at one of the island monasteries. Afterwards return to your accommodation. Evening free at leisure. Overnight in Bahir Dar. 

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia,  measuring approximately 84km long and 66km wide,  and is also the source of the Blue Nile. The lake contains 37 islands, however their visibility varies according to seasonal water fluctuations, which are regulated to measure inflow to the Blue Nile Falls. The islands accommodate 20 monasteries, which are used to store religious artifacts due to their remote location. 

The Blue Nile Falls, also known as Tis Abay, mean 'smoking water' in  Amharic. They start as a gentle river flowing 5,223km north of the Mediterranean Sea before joining the impressive falls. The waterfall itself is around 150ft high and half a mile wide, which is just spectacular to witness. Surrounded by immense natural beauty, the falls attract parrots, bee-eaters, white throated seedeaters and vervet monkeys, just to name a few. 

Day 5 : Bahir Dar - Gondar

Drive to Gondar, visiting the ruins of Guzara Castle en route. Visit the church of Debre-Birhan Selassie. Overnight in Gondar.

Drive to Gondar via the ruins of the impressive Guzara Castle. On arrival in Gondar, explore the medieval compound, and later head to the church of Debre-Birhan Selassie and the basket market. Overnight in Gondar.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


King Fasil (Fasiledes) is believed to have moved his royal camp to Gondar where he settled. Surrounded by fertile land with rich sources of gold, civet and ivory, and at the crossroads of 3 major trading routes, the King established Gondar as a capital city. It is often referred to as the "Camelot of Africa", with several medieval castles rising above a landscape of tin-roofed stone houses. The Royal Court developed into a compound called Fasil Ghebbi which consists of six major building complexes and is surrounded by a 900m long wall. In this area alone, there are around twenty different palaces and royal buildings as well as thirty churches.

Day 6 : Gondar - Simien Mountains

Journey to the Simien Mountains National Park to spot endemic wildlife. Overnight Simien Mountains.

After breakfast, journey to the Simien Mountains National Park, where you can admire the incredible scenery and see endemic gelada baboons and other wildlife. Overnight Simien Mountains.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


The Simien Mountains are a World Heritage site. The peaks, such as Ras Dashen, stand at an impressive height of over 4,000m high. The fact that it is one of the least developed national parks is part of the reason why it is considered to be one of Africa’s most beautiful mountain ranges. The park is home to many endemic species, like the gelada baboon, Ethiopian wolf and wild ibex, as well as over 50 species of birds, including the bearded vulture. 

Debark National Park, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its dramatic highland scenery composed of jagged peaks (or 'ambas'). These gigantic pieces of rock are in fact hard cores of volcanic outlets from which the surrounding material has eroded away over the centuries – one of the most diverse characteristics of these highlands, which constitute one of the major mountain massifs in Africa. The region includes many summits over 4,000 mt and culminates in the 4th highest peak in Africa, Ras Dashen, at 4,620 mt. The park is also world renowned for its endemic Walia Ibex, a very large mountain goat of which only a few survive today. The endemic Ethiopian Wolf (also known as the Simien Fox) and the Gelada Baboon live in the Park. Gelada are usually quite prevalent around Sankaber and you will enjoy watching the troops at close distances. 

Day 7 : Simien Mountains

Drive to Chenek. En route, walk to various sites to spot endemic wildlife. Overnight Simien Mountains.

Drive to Chenek, a beauty spot with stunning mountains and vistas. En route, walk to various sites to spot the endemic Walia Ibex, and have a picnic lunch in the national park. Overnight Simien Mountains.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


Day 8 : Simien Mountains - Lalibela

Drive to Lalibela via the scenic Debre-Tabor road. Overnight in Lalibela.

In the morning, drive the scenic Debre-Tabor road to Lalibela. En route you can see the mountain bridge that divides the former administrative regions of the Wello and Gondar. Optional evening visit to Lalibela Art Gallery. Overnight in Lalibela.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


Originally known as Roha, the city of Lalibela is believed to pre-date the 12th century. King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela sought to recreate the holy city of Jerusalem there and structured the city accordingly. To this day, many of Lalibela’s features remain similar to those of Jerusalem, such as The Tomb of Adam, the Jordan river and Calvary.

Lalibela's Fine Art Gallery is a tiny simple gallery showcasing unique watercolours, sepia paintings and sketches by local artist Tegegne Yirdaw, which are also available for sale. 

Day 9 : Lalibela

Explore the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Visit the cross-shaped Church of St. George. Overnight in Lalibela.

Today, explore the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. There are several churches, dating back to the 13th century. In the afternoon, visit the famous cross-shaped Church of St. George. Overnight in Lalibela.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


There are no less than 1000 of Ethiopia's famous rock-hewn churches in the Lasta region of Lalibela - some hidden in enormous caves - but it is exceptional to find 11 churches of such master craftsmanship in one locale. These brilliant feats of engineering and architecture are often referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

The Northern Group of Churches consists of six churches north of the river Jordan. The Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World) holds the Lalibela Cross, and is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. It is linked to Biete Mariam (House of Mary), which is the oldest church of the group, the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam. In addition to this, there is the Biete Golgotha, which is believed to contain the tomb of King Lalibela. 

The Eastern Group of Churches include Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos), Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos) and Biete Gabriel Rufael (House of Gabriel Raphael) and Biete Lehem (House of Holy Bread). Biete Mercoreos and Biete Gabriel Rafael most likely used to be royal residences, and their interiors are decorated with murals.

Day 10 : Lalibela - Mekelle

Head to Asheton Mountain and visit Asheton Maryam monastery. In the afternoon, drive to Mekelle via Weldiya Road. Overnight in Mekelle.

After breakfast, head to Asheton Mountain, where, using mules, you will trek along the mountain road, meeting local people travelling to Lalibela. Visit the Asheton Maryam monastery before going to the cave church of Nakutola’ab. In the afternoon, drive to Mekelle via Weldiya Road. Overnight in Mekelle.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


Mekele, also known as Makale, is a northern Ethiopian city and the capital of the Tigray Region. It was founded by Emperor Yohannes IV, as the region's capital, in 1881. During his reign, the emperor built a number of churches, including Medhane Alem and Kidane Mihret, during the 1870s, a palace in the 1880s and the churches of Saint Teklehaimanot.  Today the city is a modern and clean city, wealthier than most in Ethiopia, and has thrived under Ethiopia's Tigrayan rulers.

Asheton Maryam Monastery is situated at an altitude of almost 4000 metres overlooking Lalibela. This monastery is associated with King Natuka La´ab and is carved into the cliff face. It can be climbed by foot, taking between 2-3 hours or by mule trek which is an exciting (if sometimes scary!) way of reaching the monastery. As with all monasteries and churches in Ethiopia, no footwear is allowed inside.

Day 11 : Mekelle - Ghera'alta

Drive to Ghera’alta area. Visit the rock-hewn churches of Dugum Selassie, Micheal Barka, Abreha - Atsbeha stopping at Bilbala on the way. Overnight in Ghera’alta.

Drive to Ghera’alta area. Along the road, visit the rock-hewn churches of Dugum Selassie, Michael Barka, Abreha - Atsbeha stopping at Bilbala on the way. Overnight in Ghera’alta.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


Situated 15 kms west of Wukro,  Abreha Wa Atsbeha  lies about halfway between Dugem and Wukro on newly built gravel road leads to Hawzien. It is one of the best and largest of the churches of Tigray and was built for the legendary kings of Axum, the brothers Abreha and Atsebha. The church is blinding with its white painted face which protect two tall blue doors under arches. The church is built into the red rock overlooking a valley and is decorated with post-17th century mural paintings depicting Biblical scenes and saints. The church holds the prayer cross which according to churchy officials, belonged to Frumentius who was the first Bishop of Ethiopia. 

Day 12 : Ghera'alta

Full day visit to the rock-churches of Abuna Yemeta Guhand Abune Michael. Overnight in Ghera’alta.

Full day visit to the rock-churches of Abune Yemata Guh, Abuna Abraham Debre Tsion Church and Abune Mikael. Overnight in Gheralta. 

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


Abuna Abraham Debre Tsion Church  is elaborately decorated with 16th century murals. The church's ceremonial fan dates back to the 15th century and consists of 34 parchment panels, each painted with a figure of a saint.

Abuna Yemata Guh Rock Church was carved by monks out of solid sandstone in the 15th century. A striking feature of the monastery is the cupolas. They represent the nine apostles or the Nine Saints who came from Syria. There are eight churches in the area representing the other saints. This church was built by Abuna Yemata who cleverly designed and built his church out of reach of enemies. 

Day 13 : Axum

Drive to Axum, via the Negash Mosque, the Debre-Damomonastery and the 2,800 year old Yeha Temple. Later, witness the Timkat festivities. Ovenight in Axum.

Start the day with a drive to Axum, via the Negash Mosque, the Debre-Damo monastery and the 2,800 year old Yeha Temple. Later, witness the annual Epiphany or "Timkat" festival. Ovenight in Axum.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


Axum is the cradle of Ethiopia’s 3,000-year-old civilisation. In its heyday in the 6th century, the Axumite Kingdom was one of the four great powers of the world and ruled the two southern sides of the Red Sea. The glory of the Kingdom can still be pictured as you gaze out on the colossal rock stelae, the stonework of royal tombs and the legendary bath of the Queen of Sheba.

Timkat Festival, the Ethiopian Orthodox festival of ‘Epiphany’. Timkat celebrates the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. The enthusiasm of the procession crowd, all dressed in white, is truly contagious. Dance and sing alongside them; feel the pound of Ethiopian traditional drums. Alongside the throng of excited Ethiopians, satin-robed priests carry the Tabot on their heads. Around 2am, the whole procession - priests and revellers alike - arrive near a stream or pool, where the priests then perform the Divine Liturgy. After the water has been blessed, it is sprinkled on the masses in a communal baptism; you may even spot the more passionate Christians throwing themselves fully-clothed into the water. Cleanse yourself of any inhibitions, and fully soak up the sunshine and spirituality of this wonderful baptism festival. 

Debre Damo Monastery was built in the 6th century AD. Its history dictates that the monastery was built in honour of Saint Aregawi, one of the nine saints that came and spread Christianity from Syria.  The murals and ceilings are still well preserved given its age.  To access Debre Damo, one must tie a plaited leather rope around the waist and then be pulled up by a monk from the cliffs. This  location offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. However, i t can only be entered by men and male animals, with women being strictly forbidden. 

The Great Temple of Yeha is an example of the stunning construction that dates from the 5th to 8th century BC. The whole temple remains as an example of near perfect geometry due to the stature of its build.

Day 14 : Axum

Spend the morning enjoying the Timkat festivities. Afternoon sightseeing. Ovenight in Axum.

Spend the morning enjoying the annual Epiphany or "Timkat" festival. Visit Axum’s St. Mary of Zion Church, where the original Ark of the Covenant given to Moses is believed to be kept, and witness the Timkat festivities. The priests and deacons will be wearing traditional costumes and holding colourfully decorated umbrellas which are used during such religion occasions. The selected high priest shall also carry the replica of the Ark of the Covenant. The whole place is filled with crowds of people dancing, chanting and singing variety of spiritual songs. In the afternoon, proceed on a sightseeing tour of Axum, where Ethiopian history, empire and religion began. Visit the steale field, the Tomb of Kaleb and his son Gebre Meskel and the stone inscription of King Ezana (4th century King). Continue to the ruined palace of Queen Sheba and Ezana's stelae park. Overnight in Axum.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


The Ark of the Covenant, referred to at several points of the Old Testament, is stored in the Chapel of the Tablet. This is opposite the St. Mary of Zion Church. The Ark is believed to contain the ten commandments given by God to Moses.

The Palace of Queen Sheba, known locally as Dungar, now bears only the remains of the mansion that previously stood in its place. Covering around 3,250 sq/m, a visit to the site will allow you to see the full excavation that has taken place so far. 

The Obelisks of Axum are 1,700 years old and stand 24m high. They are made from granite stele and weight 160 tons altogether. Similar to Stone Henge, the Obelisks of Axum are a mystery and nobody can be certain when they were built or for what purpose. Some think they played an astrological role in the early centuries, while others believe that they mark the burial places of deceased royalty. One of the obelisks was taken by the Italians and resurrected in Rome in 1937 to mark the invasion of Ethiopia. It was only recently returned to Ethiopia in 2005. 

Day 15 : Axum - Addis Ababa

Fly to Addis Ababa. In the evening, enjoy a traditional Ethiopian dinner. Later, transfer to the airport for your international flight home.

After breakfast, fly back to Addis Ababa. In the evening, enjoy a traditional Ethiopian dinner and cultural dance performance. Later, transfer to the airport for your international flight home.

Meal plan : Breakfast, lunch & dinner


What's included

INCLUDED Domestic flights Airport transfers Ground transport Accommodation Escorted tour guide Meals: full board (except in Addis Ababa) Activities as per itinerary Bottled water each day Entrance fees to sites Drivers and local guides
All tour descriptions and conditions are given in accordance with the information of Travel The Unknown
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Artem Kozdrovich, director of Travel Land LLC about his culture-rich trips
From low-key to loud and subtle to extreme The director of Travel Land LLC, Artem Kozdrovich is a guide that makes it his job to possess a vast amount of knowledge about the landscapes he takes travelers to. Being a local and having a first-hand exper…
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