From the contrasts of bustling Addis Ababa we travel into the Ethiopian Highlands to explore the monasteries of the Blue Nile Gorge and Lake Tana, the castles and palaces of Gondar city and the beautiful Simien Mountains inhabited by rare and endemic animals. Discover the Stelae Fields of granite obelisks in the ancient city of Axum, along with Kaleba Tombs, Queen Sheba's palace and the Tsion Mariam Church, housing the Holy Ark of the Covenant.
Then visit the ancient Temple of Yeha and the rock-hewn churches of Tigray, including Abune Yemata and the Mariam Korkor Church. Continuing into the Ethiopian Highlands we spend time at the famous monolithic churches of Lalibela, before flying back to Addis Ababa.
An unforgettable historical, spiritual and cultural exploration taking you into the strange and beautiful lands of northern Ethiopia.
Your guide welcomes you to the Horn of Africa upon arrival at the International Airport in Addis Ababa, and transfers you to your first overnight hotel in the city.
Addis Ababa, located at the foot of the Entoto Mountains, is the capital of Ethiopia. Africa’s fourth-largest city, Addis was founded in 1886 by Emporor Menekil, and today serves as the diplomatic capital of the continent. Known locally as the "new flower", the city is dotted with Eucalyptus trees and surrounded by mountains. Addis is a regional hub with a relatively cosmopolitan feel, offering interesting sights and delicious Ethiopian cuisine.
Places of interest include the National Museum, Ethnological Museum, Holy Trinity Cathedral and Merkato, one of Africa's largest open-air markets. View the old colonial buildings dotting the city, visit the sights and head up Mount Entoto to look out over the city and surrounds.
After breakfast we drive into the Ethiopian Highlands, making our way to Debre Markos in east-central Ethiopia. Travelling via the Blue Nile Gorge we pass through dramatic landscapes enjoying the spectacular scenery.
Along the way we visit the Debre Libanos Monastery founded by Saint Abune Tekle Haymanot, in the 13th century. Debre Libanos became one of Ethiopia's most important religious centres, and remains a popular pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians today.
We also visit the Portuguese Bridge, said to have been built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Located below the monastery, the Ethiopian Rift Valley can be viewed from the bridge. After lunch we drive on to the city of Debre Markos, also known as Mankorar.
First we have breakfast, then we head to Lake Tana pausing at Zengena Lake to soak up the beautiful scenery. If time allows we take a short walk and encounter some of the local people, getting a glimpse into rural life in Ethiopia.
Our destination for today is Bahir Dar, a city on the shores of Lake Takana in north-western Ethiopia. Arriving in Bahir Dar, also called Bahar Dar, we have lunch before setting out for the Blue Nile Falls. After driving for about 35 km along a rough road, we cover the remaining short distance to the impressive falls on foot. The Blue Nile Falls are some 45 metres (148 feet) high and are known as Tis Abay which translates as "great smoke" from the Amharic.
Returning to Lake Tana we head up Bezawit Hill, next to the former palace of Haile Selassie, and watch the sunset over the lake.
Begin the day with breakfast, before catching a boat out onto Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia. The boat cruise takes us to the old monasteries tucked away on the islands and far shores of the lake. Many of the ornately decorated rock churches date back to the 14 century, with two dating back as the Gonderine Period (17th and 18th centuries).
We visit Kibran Gebriel, housing a library of nearly 200 old books, and Ura Kidane Mehret, featuring an elaborately decorated main structure. Located on the Zege Peninsula, Ura Kidane Mehret is one of the finest examples of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Christian monasteries, with colourful biblical scenes painted on its inner walls. This monastery is also known for its old manuscripts and ecclesiastical objects including gold and silver processional crosses and the crowns of emperors dating back to the 14th century.
As the source of the Blue Nile River, Lake Tana has a fascinating history, and even today the tankwa boats sailing on the lake resemble the boats of Ancient Egypt.
Wake for breakfast and travel north to Gondar city, famous for its historical castles and palaces. We pass through rural villages on our drive gaining insight into the local Amhara culture and the traditional farming methods used here.
In the afternoon we visit the historic sights of Gondar, from royal castles and palace ruins to beautiful old churches. Our exploration takes us to the Royal Enclosure consisting of six castles and other structures, and the enclosed Fasilidas’s Pool used for Orthodox Christians Timket celebrations. We also go to see the elaborate murals of the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, one of Ethiopia's most important and best-known churches. Then we visit the crumbling old royal compound of Kuskuam, built near Gondar 1730. From the complex of rock-hewn church, palace, tower and other buildings, we look out over Gondar city.
This morning we set off for the incredibly scenic plateau of the Simien Mountains National Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique wildlife and remarkable natural beauty.
In the afternoon there is time to go hiking in the rugged mountains creased by deep valleys, taking in the awe-inspiring landscapes and looking out for wildlife. Walking in the Simien Mountains we are sure to see the strange-looking gelada baboons found in large troops. We may encounter endangered species such as the Ethiopian wolf and the endemic walia ibex, a rare wild goat, as well as a variety of birds and even caracal and jackal.
After breakfast today, we continue to the ancient city of Axum, admiring the stunning Simien Mountains en route. Along the way we break in Adarky for lunch, before travelling into the wide Tekeze Valley.
We spend the next two nights in historic Axum city, the heart of Ethiopian culture and religion.
On day eight we have breakfast and explore the oldest urban settlement existing in Ethiopia today - Axum. Also known as Aksum, this is one of the oldest continuously populated places in Africa, famous for its archaeological attractions, designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Cradle of the great Ethiopian civilization known as the Kingdom of Axum, today the city is the spiritual and religious centre of the country. Axum was a major centre of trade between Egypt, Rome, Nubia, Greece, Syria and India as early as the first century AD.
We visit the Stelae Field to see the massive granite stelae (obelisks) from 300 to 500 AD and visit the Archaeological Museum of Axum in the Northern part of thea famous Stelae Field. We also visit the Kaleba Tombs of King Kaleb and King Gebre Meskel (5th and 6th century AD) and the Orthodox Christian inscription of King Ezana (4th century), as well as palace of Queen of Sheba (9th century BC). Another highlight today is the Tsion Mariam Church housing the original Holy Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments.
Day nine - continue to the Great Temple of Yeha, built in about the 8th century BC. This ancient temple, located in the in the Tigray Region, is the oldest structure still standing in Ethiopia. After viewing the tower ruins we visit the ancient church of Tigray, a rock structure called Michael Milhazhengi.
Leaving Yeha we make our way to the town of Hausien (or Hawzien) via the scenic Adowa Mountain Range. We arrive at our lodge in Hausein, the largest market town in Tigray, in time to watch sunset over the rocky Geraltha Mountains.
Next up - the university city and capital of the northern Tigray Region, Mekelle. We head into the hills to visit Mariam Korkor (St Mary) Church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The white-washed church, carved into the limestone cliffs of the Gheralta Mountains, offers lovely views of the Hawzien plains and Megab village.
One of Tigray's most famous rock-hewn churches, Abune Yemata, is also found in the mountains above Mekele. Perched up high on a rocky cliff the small church of Abune Yemata is referred to as the 'church in the sky'. Then there is the nearby Wukro Cherkos, a monolithic sandstone church with pretty old pillars.
Leaving Mekele we drive to the world-famous town of Lalibela, home to historically significant rock-hewn churches. En route to Lalibela we travel though the rugged Ethiopian Highlands, constituting the largest high-altitude region in Africa. The high point of the day - driving up Mount Abuna Yosef from Woldia and appreciating the spectacular scenery.
Our scenic drive brings us to Lalibela, referred to as the "New Jerusalem" because of its unique religious value.
Today we visit the famous stone churches of Lalibela, beginning our exploration after breakfast.
The most famous historical sites in Ethiopia, each of the 11 rock-hewn churches of King Lalibela are carved from a single block of granite. These churches were dug out of the rock bed and connected by tunnels, using immense skill and strength, many of them caved out underground! We begin by visiting the northern group of churches, including Bet Medhane Alem, arguably the biggest monolithic church in the world. Bet Golgotha which houses the tomb of King Lalibela and impressive artworks is also found here (women are not permitted to enter). Other churches we see in the northern cluster include Bet Maryam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danaghel and Bet Mikael.
Then we stop for lunch and make our way to the smaller southeastern group of churches, amongst them Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Bet Merkorios, Bet Amanual, and Bet Abba Libanos. Our tour ends with the most famous church, Bet Giyorgis - a massive monolith dug into the earth in the shape of a Greek cross.
This morning, after breakfast, you are transferred to the Lalibela airport for your flight back to Addis Ababa, officially Addis Abeba. Tonight we enjoy a traditional buffet dinner with local drinks to get a taste of Ethiopian culture and cuisine. After our farewell dinner you are transferred to the airport for your onward travels, bringing this intriguing Ethiopian Journey to a close.
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