This exclusive trip combines the ancient cultural artefacts found in Axum, Lalibela, Gondar and Bahir Dar with stunning vistas of the Gheralta Mountains and Simien Mountains National Park with a taste of the rich cultural variety of Ethiopia’s South.
ARRIVAL IN ADDIS ABABA
Welcome to Addis Ababa, the capital of the African Union and Ethiopia. We welcome you at the airport and take you on a city tour.
The tour begins at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, built to commemorate the country's liberation from Italian occupation. It is also the burial place of many famous people and was once the largest Ethiopian Orthodox cathedral. The next stop is the Ethnographical Museum with its main exhibits covering local crafts, regions and people. It is an ideal place to start learning about Ethiopia's rich ethnic diversity. The museum has an impressive array of religious crosses, triptychs and murals, and also features former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie's bedroom and bathroom. Finally, visit the National Museum with Lucy’s skeleton, discovered in 1974 by Donald Johnson. This 3.1-million-year-old skeleton was found in the Great African Rift Valley. This excellent museum has lots of ancient exhibits that reflect the importance of Ethiopia as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’. There is also a historic room featuring finery worn in the wars, such as crowns, weapons, and pictures of wartime heroes and kings.
Discover Merkato, Africa’s biggest open-air market, and try your bargaining skills. (L,D)
FLIGHT TO AXUM
Enjoy a hearty breakfast before we take you back to the airport. Your destination today is Axum, once the capital of the Axumite Empire and an important trading centre in antiquity.
The tour starts with a drive out of town to visit the tombs of King Kelab and Gebre Meskel, passing Mai Shum (or the bath of the Queen of Sheba) and King Ezana's stone on the way. On a clear day, the border of Eritrea can be seen from the tombs in the distance.
Drive back into Axum and tour the magnificent stelae, the world's tallest monoliths, situated just north of the modern town square. Carved from a single piece of rock, some experts believe these were erected to mark the passing of some ancient royal personages. Others say that they had an astronomical function. In ancient times, seven of the tallest obelisks stood in the Park of the Stelae. The largest obelisk, more than 33 metres high, fell long ago and now lies in pieces. Another was 24 metres high and was returned from Rome to Ethiopia only in April 2005. (B,L,D)
FLIGHT TO LALIBELA
After breakfast you fly east to the small town of Lalibela, which is home to one of the world's most astounding sacred sites, comprising eleven medieval rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single piece of stone. (B,L,D)
In the morning you visit the second group of the rock churches. The south-east cluster of churches is more irregular in design than the north-western cluster. Several of the individual churches in this cluster are thought to have been secular in origin, and some predate the reign of King Lalibela by five centuries. The churches in the south-east cluster include Bet Gebriel-Rafael, Bet Abba Libanos, Bet Lehem, Bet Emanuel, and Bet Mercurios. According to legend, Bet Abba Libanos was built overnight by Lalibela's wife, Meskel Kebre, who was assisted by a group of angels.
After lunch, you visit the monastery of Nakuto Laab, located six kilometres outside Lalibela and accessible by car. It is a simple, yet fascinating example of Lalibela’s eastern group of rock hewn churches. Afterwards you experience Ethiopian hospitality at a traditional coffee ceremony. (B,L,D)
FLIGHT TO GONDAR, DRIVE TO SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NP
This morning you fly to Gondar, the capital and commercial centre of Ethiopia from the 17th to mid-19th century, from where you’ll proceed to the Simien Mountains National Park. (B,L,D)
SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NP
Take a scenic morning drive up to the village of Chennek at 3,620 metres, home to endemic Walia Ibex, as well as Klipspringers and Bushbucks. Chennek is one of the most spectacular spots in the Simien Mountains and the surrounding slopes are thick with giant Lobelias and Afro-Alpine scrub. En route, pass by Sankaber Camp and then continue on through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Ethiopia. Stop to watch Ghelada Baboons and observe their foraging habits, and take a short walk to a waterfall (the ground here is uneven). A picnic will be arranged for you at a scenic spot.
A sighting of the Walia Ibex is not guaranteed and is usually dictated by the road conditions because these animals generally inhabit an area at least 40km from the lodge. (B,L,D)
DRIVE TO GONDAR
Today you drive back to Gondar to explore the castles of Emperor Fasiladas and his descendants and the Bath of Fasiladas. The most impressive castle in the royal enclosure is Fasiladas' castle, built by Fasiladas in 1640 and partially restored in the mid-20th century. The Fasil Ghebbi (royal enclosure) lies at the heart of modern Gondar and shapes the city’s character. (B,L,D)
DRIVE TO BAHIR DAR
This large town is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana and has palm-lined avenues and pretty lakeside vistas. Bahir Dar has a population approaching 150,000 and is an important commercial centre. As in so many large Ethiopian towns, the juxtaposition between urban modernity and rustic traditionalism is striking, nowhere more so than in the bustling central market, which is one of the finest in the country.
In the afternoon, you embark on a cruise on Lake Tana. Sail for three hours to the 18th century church of Narga Selassie, one of the most beautifully painted churches in Ethiopia. Continue for 2.5 hours to Ura Kidane Mihret and Azwa Mariam on the Zeghe peninsula. Walk through the coffee forest to find these churches, known for their impressive murals. (B,L,D)
FLIGHT TO ARBA MINCH
After breakfast we take you to the airport for your flight to Arba Minch (through Addis Ababa). Arba Minch (Forty Springs) derives its name from the innumerable little springs that bubble up in the evergreen forest covering the flats below the town. It is the site of the only ground-water forest. En route visit the home of the Dorze people at Chencha. The Dorze are renowned cotton weavers whose tall beehive-shaped dwellings are among the most distinctive traditional structures to be seen anywhere in Africa. The main occupations of the region are subsistence farming and weaving. The Shama cloth produced around Chencha is regarded to be the finest in Ethiopia: Plain white Gabbi robes and brightly colored scarf-like Netalas are sold along the roadside. (B,L,D)
DRIVE TO JINKA
Early morning after breakfast, you take a boat ride on Lake Chamo. You’re almost guaranteed to spot hippos and crocodiles, as well as a large variety of aquatic birds. Get a souvenir or two at the Crocodile Market.
Then you continue to a Konso village. The Konso people are known for their characteristic intricately terraced hillsides, fine woven materials, and the carved totems with which they decorate their graves. Then you proceed to Weito and to Jinka, where you visit the Museum of the South Omo Research Centre to learn more about the ethnic groups of southern Ethiopia. In Yetnebersh, you visit a village of the Ari people. The villagers will show you how they make liquor out of Sorghum, garlic and maize. If today is Thursday, you get to attend the weekly market in Key Afer with great opportunities for colourful photos of the traders. (B,L,D)
DRIVE TO TURMI
The Mursi have become a cultural symbol of the Lower Omo Valley and are one of the most well-known ethnic groups of southern Ethiopia. They are easily identifiable by their iconic lip plates and colourful dresses. In the morning, you visit one of their villages to learn about their lifestyle. Then you proceed to Turmi. On the way, you stop at a Benna village, and you visit the Beshada people that are adorned with clay and impressive hairstyles.
Around Turmi, you visit a Hamer village. The Hamer take great pride in their appearance, shaving and colouring their hair, oiling their bodies, and decorating themselves with beads and bracelets worn around their arms and legs. (B,L,D)
In the morning you drive to Kolcho via Murulle, home to the Karo people. More than any other ethnic group in the Omo Valley, the Karo excel in painting their faces and bodies, practiced in preparation for their dances and cultural ceremonies. They insert feather plumes in their clay hair buns to complete their look. In Kolcho you enjoy tremendous views over the Omo River and valley it flows through.
The clay hair bun can take up to three days to construct, and is usually re-made every three to six months. Their painted facemasks are spectacular. Karo women scarify their chests to beautify themselves. Scars are cut with a knife, and ash is rubbed in them to produce a raised welt. Being the smallest ethnic group in the area, this group obviously struggles with direct threats from nearby peoples that have more gun power, outnumber them, and likely build coalitions with one another.
Back in Turmi, you can attend the beautiful women’s market in Dimeka if today is Tuesday. Here you will see people from at least three different ethnic groups. (B,L,D)
DRIVE TO Arba Minch
After breakfast you set out to drive to Konso. On your way there, you stop to visit a village of the Erbore people that is far more rustic and unaffected by tourism than many similarly sized villages in South Omo. Like their linguistically and culturally affiliated neighbours, the Tsemay, the Erbore migrated to their present homeland from Konso, about two centuries ago. Because of their ancestral and cultural links to Konso and the pastoralists of the surrounding lowlands, the Erbore traditionally played an important role as middlemen in the trade between the people of the Omo Valley and those of the Konso highlands. After visiting Konso drive to Arba Minch which is about 70 Km. (B,L,D)
FLIGHT TO ADDIS ABABA, DEPARTURE
After breakfast, you’ll fly back to Addis Ababa. Freshen up at your day room at the Sheraton Addis Ababa. In the evening, we invite you to a farewell dinner in a traditional restaurant with music and dance, before we transfer you back to the airport for your departure. (B,L,D)