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 rituals, beliefs and customs. Experience the rich and vibrant tapestry of Ethiopian cultures - witnessing the peculiar ceremonies, striking styles of dress and unusual lives of the Dorze, Mursi, Hamar, Karo, Dasenech, Konso and other fascinating tribes. Experience a completely different way of life with the remarkable people of ancient Ethiopia.
Arriving at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia you are met by your guide and transferred to your hotel in the capital city.
Addis Ababa, located at the foot of the Entoto Mountains, was founded in 1886 by Emperor Menekil 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, offering 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 historical and modern facets of the big city.
Day two starts with breakfast at the hotel, before setting off south along the Ethiopian Rift Valley. Our four-hour drive takes us via the town of Debre Zeit, passing Koka Reservoir on the Awash River and the freshwater Lake Zway, known for its birds and hippos. Then we pass Lake Langano, a popular spot for water sports and swimming.
Then we ascend to the more lush Shashamene area of the Oromia Region, heading to Awassa in the Great Rift Valley. The capital of the southern region of Ethiopia, Awassa town lies on the shores of the scenic Lake Awasa. The lake attracts an abundance of birds, and hippos are common.
Tonight we stay at Haile Resort, set on the shores of the small lake, flanked by beautiful mountains. The resort is owned by multi-award-winning Ethiopian athlete, Haile Gebre Selassie. Look out for the primates often see on the property, including baboons, and colobus and vervet monkeys.
Begin the day with a stop at the Lake Awassa fish market, before travelling to Arba Minch, which means 'forty springs' in Amharic due to the numerous springs found in the area.
Driving up into the Gughe Mountains we visit the Dorze, a minority ethnic group known for its cotton weaving, carpentry and beehive huts. The huts, made entirely from local materials (bamboo, enset and other), reach up to two storeys tall, even featuring fireplaces. Dorze were originally warriors but today these hard-working people primarily weave clothes using colourful cotton.
Depending on timing, we may visit a local market, with market days in Dorze village on Mondays and Thursdays and in nearby Chencha on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
This morning we take a scenic boat ride on Lake Chamo, located in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, just south of Lake Abaya and Arba Minch. The plentiful Nile crocodiles in 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 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.
Then we set off for Jinka, stopping in the market town of Key Afer, famous for its weekly market held every Thursday. The Key Afer Market is a bustling place where various dwindling tribes of the Omo Region come together to sell and buy goods. Ari, Tsemai, Hamar and Benna people can be seen mixing in the colourful marketplace - a great place for people watching. All kinds of goods are sold at the market, including crafts, jewellery and spices.
Then we drive on to Jinka, another market town in the hills of southern Ethiopia. We spend the next night in Jinka, the capital of the Debub Omo Zone inhabited largely by the Mursi people.
After breakfast on day five we embark on a day 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 are the striking Mursi 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, we visit the South-Omo Museum, for cultural insights into the diverse ethnic groups of Omo Valley, their disappearing rituals, customs and ways. If our stay coincides with market days (Tuesdays and Saturdays) we will also browse the local market in Jinka.
On day six we drive south to the next market town in the lower Omo Valley - Turmi.
A large population of Hamer (or Hamar) live in Turmi and after dinner at our hotel we head to a nearby village to interact with these fascinating people. We watch traditional dancing, called Evangadi, in the Hamar village and see the elaborate hairstyles, body scarification and beads worn by the women. The Hamer are cattle herders and subsistence farmers, living in unique huts, mostly in the Omo Valley Region. The tribe is best known for it's ceremony called the Jumping of the Bulls, a rite of passage for young men entering adulthood.
If day six 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 here.
Today we drive to 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 Dasennech (or Dasenach) tribe living in the southernmost part of 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.
After visiting the Dasennech we drive back to Turmi where we visit the market (only on Mondays) and spend time in a local village near the town. If there is a traditional ceremony, such as the famous Jumping of the Bulls, then we get to witness the Hamar rituals in practice.
This morning we set off for Murulle village and the Karo settlement of Dus.
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. In Dus we see shuppa shelters, locals playing Karo board games and the public meeting place.
We end the day back in Turmi where we witness a traditional ceremony or dancing.
Begin the day with breakfast, before we drive north to Konso and then Arba Minch.
In Konso village we meet the agricultural tribe of the Konso, who cultivate cash and subsistence crops on terraces that reduce soil erosion. The Konso people have an interesting system of social hierarchy and practise a specific form of polygamy. The Konso are renowned for the carved wooden totems (called wakas) erected to mark the graves of leaders in honour of the dead.
Part of the arid Konso area has been declared a World Heritage Site home to a living cultural tradition some 400 years old. After visiting the Konso, we continue our journey back to Arba Minch.
On our final day, we have breakfast and return north to Addis Ababa, driving via Butajira at the foot of the Zebidar massif.
This evening we get together for a celebratory dinner, enjoying a traditional buffet and local drinks in Ethiopian style. After our cultural dinner experience, it is time to say farewell and transfer you to the international airport for your onward travels.
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