From the contrasts of bustling Addis Ababa we fly into the Ethiopian Highlands to explore the monasteries of Lake Tana and see the Blue Nile Falls. Then we go to the city of Gondar to see its old castles, palaces and churches, before heading into the beautiful Simien Mountains inhabited by rare and endemic animals. Fly to the ancient city of Axum to see the obelisks of the Stelae Fields, Kaleba Tombs, Queen of Sheba's palace and the Tsion Mariam Church, housing the Holy Ark of the Covenant. Then fly to Lalibela to view the famous monolithic churches carved into rock, before flying back to Addis Ababa.
An incredible historical and cultural journey to the ancient sites, rugged mountains and religious highlights of northern Ethiopia.
Welcome to the Horn of Africa and the ancient land of Ethiopia. Your guide meets you at the International Airport in Addis Ababa and transfers you to your 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 Emperor 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 over the city and surrounds.
Our destination for today is Bahir Dar, a city on the shores of Lake Tana in north-western Ethiopia. Rising early we transfer to the airport for our one-hour flight up to Bahir Dar, also called Bahar Dar.
Arriving at Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, we take a boat cruise 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 to 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. This afternoon we visit the impressive Blue Nile Falls, driving for about 35 km's and then walking the last stretch to the falls. The Blue Nile Falls are some 45 metres (148 feet) high and are known as Tis Abay in Amharic, which means "great smoke".
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 by Orthodox Christian pilgrims in 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 volcanic 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 drive to Gondar Fasssiledes airport and board our flight to the ancient city of Axum. Arriving in historic Axum city, the heart of Ethiopian culture and religion we check into the hotel and begin exploring.
The cradle of the once great civilization known as the Kingdom of Axum, today the city is the spiritual and religious centre of the country, famous for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Axum was a major trading hub between Egypt, Rome, Nubia, Greece, Syria and India by 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 the 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.
The whole of day five is spent sightseeing in Axum, also known as Aksum - one of the oldest continuously populated places in Africa.
On day six we have breakfast and head to Axum airport for our flight to Lalibela, hosting Ethiopia's most famous historical sites. Home to historically significant rock-hewn churches and relics, Lalibela is referred to as the "New Jerusalem" by some.
This afternoon we begin exploring the famous stone churches of Lalibela. Each of the 11 rock-hewn churches of King Lalibela is carved from a single block of granite - an amazing feat of strength, vision and skill.
First, we visit 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.
After breakfast, we visit 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.
After lunch, we visit the church of Yimrehanne Kristos, the most popular of the churches found around Lalibela. This church is built in the late-Axumite style, with a wall of wood and granite layers at the entrance to the large cave. Yimrhane Kirstos predates the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and is one of the most beautiful built-up Ethiopian churches decorated inside and out. In the back of the cave, you will also see the mummified bodies of pilgrims from centuries ago.
This morning, after breakfast, you are transferred to the Lalibela airport for your flight back to Addis Ababa, officially Addis Abeba.
In the afternoon we visit St. George Cathedral and 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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