This Ethiopian Lodge Safari combines historical, cultural and natural highlights of northern Ethiopia, with the diverse and colourful cultures of the south.
First explore the historic north to discover the royal castles and old churches of Gondor, the Stelae Field of Axum, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, and other ancient churches, monasteries, palace ruins and relics. Also walk in the rugged Simien Mountains National Park and enjoy the beautiful scenery, looking out for rare and endemic wildlife.
Meet the fascinating Omo Valley tribes, encountering the ancient rituals, traditional dress and lifestyles of ethnic groups including the Dorze, Mursi, Hamar, Dassanech and Konso. Take a boat trip on Lake Chamo, swim in Lake Langano, go to local markets, sample Ethiopian dishes and visit rural villages.
Welcome to the Horn of Africa and the capital of ancient Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Your guide meets you at the International Airport in Addis Ababa, and transfers you to your hotel in the city.
Addis Ababa is a city of contrasts - the diplomatic capital and fourth-largest city on the continent, where modern and ancient cultures come together. Located at the foot of the Entoto Mountains and dotted with Eucalyptus trees, the city is known as the 'New Flower' and hosts interesting historical and cultural sites worth visiting.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest places inhabited by human societies, dating back some 3000 years. For most of its history it has been a monarchy, with its roots dating back to the 2nd millennium BC. Ethiopia is also considered to be the place from where Homo Sapiens migrated to the Middle East and beyond.
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 of the city, visit the attractions 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 Takana 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 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. 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 in 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 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 the 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 inhabited 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 legendary rock-hewn churches and relics, Lalibela is sometimes referred to as the "New Jerusalem".
This afternoon we begin exploring the famous stone churches of Lalibela. Each of the 11 rock-hewn churches of King Lalibela are 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 church outside of Lalibela. This church was constructed almost a century before the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, and is one of the most well-preserved late Axumite churches of Ethiopia today. Over the centuries pilgrims have journeyed to the cave to die, and have their mummified remains housed in the back of the cavern. The beautiful Yimrhane Kirstos church consists of a big natural cave with a layered wall of granite and wood as its front, intricately carved inside and out, with colourful murals adorning the interior walls.
This morning, after breakfast, you are transferred to the Lalibela airport for your flight back to Addis Ababa, officially called Addis Abeba.
Arriving in Addis, we set off south into the Great Rift Valley, travelling via Lake Ziway to view the abundant birdlife on its shores. Then we drive on to our destination for the day - Lake Langano in the Ethiopian Rift Valley. The freshwater lake is a popular spot for watersports and swimming as it is Bilharzia-free and only about 250km's south of Addis Ababa.
Wake for breakfast and leave Lake Langano for Arba Minch. Our drive takes us up into the Gughe Mountains where we meet the Dorze - a minority ethnic group known for its durable beehive huts. The huts can stand up to two storeys high, even feature fireplaces and are only made of bamboo, enset and other local materials. The Dorze were once warriors, but today they are famous for their cotton weaving, making brightly-coloured clothes.
Depending on our day of travel to Dorze village, we may visit the market (Mondays and Thursdays) or in Chencha, the administrative capital of Chencha District (Tuesdays and Saturdays). Then we bid farewell to the Dorze and proceed to Arba Minch and our next lodge.
In the morning we embark on a boat trip on Lake Chamo, just south of Lake Abaya and Arba Minch in the Great Rift Valley.
The boat ride takes us to the northwestern shore of Lake Chamo, to the area called Crocodile Market. Huge Nile crocodiles gather in the hundreds here and can be seen lying motionless in the sun, toothy jaws open. These Nile crocodiles are said to be some of the largest in the world, many reaching 6m in size! We also get to see hippo pods and an abundance of birds, including African fish eagles, out on the lake.
After our Lake Chamo boat trip we drive on to Jinka, passing through Key Afar, where markets are held on Thursdays.
Next, we head for Mago National Park, about 34 km's southwest of Jinka. The youngest of Ethiopia's national parks, Mago is best known for the Mursi people, the Omo Valley's most famous ethnic group.
Meet the unusual-looking Mursi people, with their distinctive body ornamentation and face painting. The Mursi women are especially striking, adorned with disc plates which are traditionally inserted into their their lower lips and earlobes. The Mursi also wear strange and elaborate headdresses and scant beaded-leather clothes.
After our fascinating cultural experience with the Mursi, we travel to Jinka and then the small town of Turmi, home to the Hamer people.
On day 12 we have breakfast and set off for Omorate, crossing the Omo River on a local boat to visit the Dassanech tribe. Also known as the Galeb tribe, the Dasennech live in the southernmost part of the Omo Valley, where the Omo River Delta meets Lake Turkana, hence the tribe's name which means 'People from the Delta'.
Then we return to Turmi and visit the local market (on Mondays) or witness the traditional ritual known as the Jumping of the Bulls, if there is a Hamer ceremony taking place.
This afternoon we go to a village in the Turmi area to spend time with the local Hamer (also spelled Hamar). The pastoral Hamar tribe lives mostly in the Omo Valley, a remote and fertile region of southwestern Ethiopia. These indigenous people are known for their interesting hairstyles (decorated with red earth and butter) and their rituals. As with the Dassanech, cattle play a major role in the lives of the Hamar, who also survive by hunting and gathering, as well as growing crops on the banks of the Omo River.
Back at our overnight lodge we have dinner before going to a Hamar village to see traditional dancing and meet the locals.
Leaving Turmi we travel to Arba Minch, meaning 'forty springs' in Amharic (the most common language in Ethiopia), due to the numerous springs found locally.
Along the way we visit the Konso, also called the Xonsita, in the town of Konso, which is located along the Sagan River. The Konso people have an unique system of social hierarchy, practice polygamy and are best known for their carved totems honouring the dead. These are agricultural people, cultivating cash and subsistence crops on terraces that reduce soil erosion. The Konso area hosts some ancient hominid fossils and thus some of the land has been declared a World Heritage Site.
After visiting the Konso, we continue to the city of Arba Minch.
On the final day we leave Arba Minch, returning to Addis Ababa by road. This evening we enjoy a traditional Ethiopian buffet dinner and local drinks, celebrating our journey through this culturally rich and fascinating country. After dinner, you are transferred to the hotel in Addis for your last night in Ethiopia.
This morning you are transferred to the international airport in Addis Ababa for your onward flight, bringing this unique Ethiopia Lodge Tour to an end.
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