This intriguing journey takes you right off the beaten track into the remote Omo Valley to explore the rare and diverse cultures of Southern Ethiopia, starting and ending in Addis Ababa.
Meet the vanishing tribes of the Great Rift Valley, encountering traditional ethnic groups with unique cultural practices, beliefs and customs. Gain insight into the rich and vibrant tapestry of Ethiopia's Omotic cultures - witnessing the peculiar animistic rituals, ancient ceremonies, striking styles of dress and unusual lives of these African tribes. Visit the Hamer, Mursi, Karo, Dasenech, Ari, Dorze and other fascinating traditional tribes.
Experience a completely different way of life with the remarkable people of ancient Ethiopia. An unusual African odyssey, ideal for photographers, historians and culture lovers.
Arriving at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia you are met by your guide and transferred to a comfortable hotel in the capital city.
Addis Ababa, located at the foot of the Entoto Mountains, was founded in 1886 by Emperor Menelik II and is today a place of contrasts where colonial buildings, old churches, historic monuments, dusty shacks and high-rise buildings stand together. Addis is a major political, economic and diplomatic hub with a cosmopolitan feel, featuring interesting sights including the national and ethnological museums, Trinity Cathedral and Merkato, one of Africa's largest open-air markets.
Begin your journey through the ancient lands of Ethiopia, one of the oldest inhabited regions on earth, by exploring the cultural, historical and modern facets of Addis Ababa.
Day two starts with breakfast at the hotel, before setting off south along the scenic Ethiopian Rift Valley towards Lake Langano. Along the way, we visit our first historical highlights - Melka Kunture, Adadi Mariam and Tiya.
First, we stop at the prehistoric site of Melka Kunture, an archaeological gem in the Upper Awash Valley. We view ancient human and animal fossils and the Stone Age tools that have been excavated here, archiving over 1.7 million years of human evolution. Next, we visit Adadi Mariam, a historical church hewn from one large piece of rock in the 13 century. Adadi Mariam is considered the southernmost church founded by King Lalibela and is still in use by worshippers today.
Then we head to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Tiya. This archaeological site is a prehistoric burial complex consisting of a field of standing stones, known as stelae. The stelae are said to mark the graves of local warriors buried here between the 12th to the 14th Century AD. Many of the gravestones, standing up to two metres tall, feature symbolic engravings.
From Tiya we continue south to Lake Langano where we overnight. Explore the lakeshore, take a swim and do some birdwatching.
This morning we set off for Arba Minch, which means 'forty springs' in Amharic, so-named for the numerous springs found in the area.
Our journey takes us through the fertile Wolayta and Alaba regions, where most of the population's livelihood depends on agriculture and subsistence farming. The Halaba or Alaba people, after whom the Alaba region is named, claim Arabic descent. Most of the Alaba are Muslims with a small local Christian population. Decorative house painting is a popular trend with Alaba people and many of the houses have beautifully painted walls.
On the way to Arba Minch, we visit the Senkelle Swayne's Hartebeest Sanctuary, also referred to as Sinkile Wildlife Sanctuary. Here we see endangered Swayne's hartebeest, native to Ethiopia, and scan the bush for other African mammals.
On day four of our unique Ethiopia Cultural Tour, we have breakfast and travel to a nearby Dorze village. We visit Chencha (also called Dincha) or a similar village in the area. As we drive and explore on foot you will come across the unique beehive huts of the Dorze. These traditional houses are built with bamboo and false-banana leaves, reaching up to five metres tall.
The Dorze are a small ethnic group speaking an Omotic language of Dorze. The Dorze were originally warriors but today these hard-working people primarily weave colourful cotton clothes. The Dorze welcome visitors and we spend some time mingling with the locals as they go about their daily lives.
After visiting the Dorze in the hills, we drive back to Arba Minch where we have lunch. Later in the afternoon, we embark on a scenic boat ride on Lake Chamo, just south of Arba Minch and Lake Abaya. The plentiful Nile crocodiles of Lake Chamo are said to be some of the biggest in the world. Our boat trip allows us to see the resident crocodiles, hippos, and numerous birds, especially the African fish eagle. Lake Chamo is one of the best places in Ethiopia for boat-based bird and wildlife watching. The local people can also be seen fishing in traditional boats on Lake Chamo, despite the crocodile infested waters.
Today we hit the road again, driving south to Jinka. A small market town in the hills of southern Ethiopia, Jinka is inhabited largely by Mursi people.
En route to Jinka, we visit a few villages of the Konso. Like the Dorze, the Konso people are known for the finely handwoven cotton clothing they make. The Konso cultivate cash and subsistence crops on attractive rock terraces to prevent erosion. They have an interesting system of social hierarchy and practise a specific form of polygamy. The Konso are also renowned for the carved wooden totems (called wakas) erected to mark the graves of leaders in honour of the dead.
After encountering the Konso way of life we continue to Jinka, the capital of the Debub Omo Zone.
After breakfast on day six, we take a trip to Mago National Park, located about 34 km's southwest of Jinka.
Ethiopia's youngest national park, Mago is famous for the traditional tribes living in and around the park - from Mursi, Aari, Benna and Hammer to Ngagatom, Karo and Kwegu ethnic groups. The best known of the tribes living in Mago is the striking Mursi tribe with their distinctive body ornamentation (lip plates, piercings and facial painting). The Mursi women insert discs into their lower lips adding to their unusual appearance and style of dress - adorned with beads, strange and elaborate headdresses and scant beaded, leather clothes.
Returning to Jinka after spending time with the Mursi in Mago Park, we visit the South-Omo Museum. The cultural museum and research centre offers insights into the diverse ethnic groups of the Lower Omo Valley, their disappearing rituals, customs and ways.
On day seven we drive south to the next market town in the lower Omo Valley - Turmi.
Turmi is home to a large population of Hamer (or Hamar), a social tribe that is open to visitors. The Hamer are cattle herders and subsistence farmers, living in unique huts, mostly in the Omo Valley Region. The tribe is best known for its ceremony called the Jumping of the Bulls, a rite of passage for young men entering adulthood. The Hamar practice traditional dancing, called Evangadi, which we may be lucky to see during our visit. The women traditionally wear leather skirts and skins with chunky beaded necklaces and headbands. Their elaborate hairstyles and body scarification are also eye-catching.
If day seven is a Tuesday or Saturday we stop in Dimeka, the largest town of the Hamer, and visit the bustling market. One of the biggest and most interesting markets in the Omo Valley, the Hamer, Benna, Karo, Tsemai and Ari tribes can be seen trading and shopping in the busy marketplace.
This morning we head to the town of Omorate, located along the eastern bank of the Omo River close to the Kenyan border. Crossing the Omo River by local boat we visit the remote Dasennech (or Dasenach) tribe living in the southernmost part of Ethiopia's Omo Valley. As with other ancient pastoral tribes in the Great Rift Valley, the Dasenach place a high value on cattle, but unlike more northerly tribes the Dasenach survive in an inhospitable, dry environment. Today the Dasennech are more agropastoral, but they still retain their traditional social systems and practices.
After visiting the Dasennech we drive to the village of Murulle where we stop for a picnic lunch. This afternoon we go to Korcho village, home to the Karo people. The Karo use red ochre, charcoal, mud and a mixture of white chalk and animal fat to paint symbolic patterns and decorative markings on their faces and bodies. This striking and often extensive body art is intended to intimidate enemies, mark ceremonies and attract the opposite sex. Both sexes also practise scarification associated with courage and beauty.
Alternatively, if day eight falls on a Saturday or Tuesday, then we visit the bustling, colourful market of the Hamer at Dimeka in the afternoon. Or if it is a Monday we go to the local market in Turmi.
Back on the road again, we travel east to Yabelo. Our drive takes us via the villages of the Erbore, a small nomadic tribe of southwestern Omo Valley. The Erbore, or Arbore, are pastoralists and small scale farmers with a wide network of bond friendships that exchange gifts in the region.
Our destination for the day is Yabelo, the administrative centre of Borena Zone. The town serves as a base for exploring the Borana National Park – Yabelo Wildlife Sanctuary.
Today we drive north into the Sidama region of Ethiopia. The Sidama people are subsistence farmers who cultivate Enset (also called false banana) and coffee. Local culture has been significantly influenced by the production and consumption patterns of Enset and coffee. We also encounter the Borena, a nomadic tribe of Oromo people. The Borena historically lived under an intricate socio-political system or Gadaa.
At the end of a fascinating day of cultural adventures, we head to Awasa where we overnight.
On our last morning, we set off for the fish market on the shores of Lake Awassa. Watch the small fishing boats come in and the fishermen selling their catch to traders, attracting a host of waterbirds including Marabou Storks.
Leaving Lake Awassa we head north, returning to Addis Ababa where our cultural journey began. Our scenic route takes us via the Rift Valley Lakes of Langano, Abiyatta, Shalla and Ziway. This afternoon you are free to explore the diplomatic and cultural hub of Addis Ababa and do some sightseeing.
This evening we meet up again for a farewell dinner at one of Ethiopia's best traditional restaurants. Enjoy an array of Ethiopian flavours and dishes whilst watching folkloric dances of the people of Ethiopia. After dinner, our unforgettable Ethiopia Cultural Tour of Omo Valley comes to a close and you are transferred to the airport for your onward flights.
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