Enjoy an afternoon tour of Addis Ababa, including the National Museum and Holy Trinity Cathedral followed by a traditional Ethiopian dinner.. Uncover the eight distinct tribes that call the Omo Valley home, and gain a deeper understanding and respect for their lifestyle and traditions.. Learn about the importance of scarification and hair grooming for the Hamer people in the market town of Turmi.. Take a cruise around Lake Tana – Ethiopia’s largest body of water and a source of the Nile – before enjoying an on-deck sundowner
For an incredible look back into the history of the earth and humankind, venture no further than Ethiopia. From 3 million-year-old fossilised hominid remains in Addis Ababa to incredible rock-hewn churches, hidden crypts and grottoes in Lalibela, no other country provides a more perfect combination of history, tradition, culture and nature. Uncover the 500-year-old monastery islands of Bahir Dar, witness the majestic geological formations of the Simien mountains, meet a fascinating range of distinct tribal groups in the Omo Valley and discover the rumoured home of the Ark of the Covenant. Witness expansive views of the Blue Nile, taste the famous coffee and delectable cuisine and be warmed by the genuine and friendly people along the way, as you embark on this all-encompassing experience of Ethiopia – an adventure like no other.
Begin this Ethiopian adventure in the capital of Addis Ababa with a welcome meeting at 1 pm. Upon arrival you will be met and transferred to your Jupiter Hotel (approximately 30 minutes). In the afternoon you’ll take a tour of this bustling city, dotted with Italian architecture, interesting churches and friendly inhabitants. This relatively new city, established by the Emperor Menelik II in 1887, is one of contrasts – the Addis Sheraton, with its ‘singing fountain’, is one of the most luxurious in all of Africa, yet you only need to travel a few streets away to find yourself among busy markets, dirt roads and the odd goat or two wandering the street. Although Ethiopia was the only African nation never to be colonised, the Italians briefly occupied parts of it, including Addis, in the twentieth century. In many parts of the city the Italian’s legacy lives on in the form of old art deco buildings and coffee shops, particularly in the area known as the Piazza Addis can seem daunting at times, but even the briefest foray into the busy streets can reveal interesting new insights. Your tour will include the National Museum, Holy Trinity Cathedral and drive around the main public squares of the capital. The museum contains the remains of the fossilised hominids ‘Lucy’, a female hominoid that lived some 3.2 million years ago and who is a key discovery on the origin of early mankind. The cathedral houses impressive stained-glass windows, beautifully carved imperial thrones, and is also the final resting place for Emperor Haile Selassie and his family.
Head back to the airport to take a flight to the South Omo region and the administrative capital of Jinka. Jinka is a small mountain town virtually isolated from the rest of the country. It’s remote and rustic, yet its cling to the rest of the county is accentuated by the grass airstrip in the middle of town. People come from across South Omo to visit the local market in Jinka, particularly Ari, Bana, Besheda and Besketo people. In the afternoon, visit South Omo Research Centre Museum, where a small but illuminating collection of instruments, tools and information from a variety of tribes that occupy the Omo valley. You'll spend the night here in Jinka.
In the morning, pay a visit to one of the Ari villages around Jinka. The Ari people are not inundated with tourists in the manner of similar communities, though their style of dress and houses are frequently colourful and eye-catching. Their villages are typically verdant because of the enset - known colloquially as the Ethiopian banana, or false banana – they are known for cultivating. While you’re there, watch the locals prepare Ethiopian staple enjera (sourdough-risen flatbread). In the afternoon drive south (approximately 4 hours) to the town of Turmi, an important market town. The two main tribes that live in the area are the Karo and the Hamer, both of whom practise elaborate body decoration.
Today you’ll visit a nearby Hamer village and learn more about this tribe. The women roll their hair into dreads called goscha using fat and dark red ochre, and their arms are wrapped in beads and copper bracelets. The tribe practise scarification, with women having scars cut into their arms or shoulders to make themselves more beautiful and as a display of their strength. They wear beaded goatskin frocks over their upper body, and married women wear thick copper necklaces. The men are also adorned with scars for beauty, or traditionally representing the number of enemies they have killed, and courageous men wear clay hair buns on their heads. The Hamer also have a similar annual ceremony to the Mursi’s stick fighting – here a young man must jump back and forth on the backs of bulls to prove himself worthy of the family's pride and of a wife, while women are ritualistically whipped in voluntary support of the initiate. Later, depending on the day you might be able shop at a vibrant local market, savouring the smells and tastes while bumping shoulders with the Karo, Homer and Benna people. You will spend the night in an eco-lodge in Turmi.
Head northeast on a drive (approximately 6 hours) that offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding scenery, including the terraced hills of Konso. Along the way, you may be lucky enough to see the small dik-dik antelope and the impressively-horned lesser kudu. All roads into South Omo pass through Konso, and this unprepossessing small town of 3000 inhabitants is a good base for exploring the unique and complex culture of the hillside villages in the surrounding countryside. The Konso people, who historically had little contact with the rest of Ethiopia and so retain a traditionalist character, live in walled hilltop settlements with maze-like stone fences. Each village is made up of sub-compounds, and there is a central communal building called a mora, the ground floor of which is used by the men, boys and girls as a social area – adult women are excluded. Each village will have important poles or stones erected to mark special events like the initiation of a new generation or victories over enemies. Famous are the carved wooden grave markers, or waga, erected over the burial place of an important warrior. The deceased's facial features are carved into the waga and enhanced by using teeth made from animal bones. This evening you will enjoy sundower drinks, local music and dancing on the terrace of your accommodation.
Drive to Arba Minch in the morning and take a flight to Bahir Dar, via Addis Ababa. Drive the short distance to your hotel, lying on the shores of the lush setting of Lake Tana. Check into your hotel and relax with views of the lake.
After breakfast you will leave for the Blue Nile Falls. Located 32 kilometres south of Bahir Dar, the Blue Nile Falls measure over 400 metres wide and descends 48 metres in full flood. These falls are known locally as Tis Isat (Smoking Water) and are a spectacular sight when in full flood. New hydro-electrical plants and dams have somewhat impacted on their magnificence, but the sight is still a memorable one. You can take a longer scenic walk past the main viewpoint (1.5 kilometres) or a shorter walk to reach the foot of the falls. You will then cross the Nile River by boat to reach your vehicle. In the afternoon, board a sightseeing boat for a cruise around the lake. Covering over 3500 square kilometres, this is Ethiopia’s largest lake and is home to 37 islands, 20 of which house some of Ethiopia’s most venerated monasteries. Many of these monasteries are believed to date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and feature superb ecclesiastical art. Legend has it that the Ark of Covenant was hidden here for protection during the times when Muslim forces invaded from the east. Your boat trip will take you to the monastery of URA-Kidane Mehret, which dates from between the 16th and 18th centuries. It is renowned for its collection of crosses and crowns and its incredible painted walls that offer up a virtual 'who’s who' of Ethiopian saints. End the day with a sundowner drink on the boat as you float across Lake Tana.
Travel north around the edge of Lake Tana this morning and head for the regal city of Gondar. This drive will take approximately 4 hours, including stops for photos along the way. Gondar was the 17th and 18th century capital of Ethiopia and is famed for its medieval castles and churches. The city's unique Royal Enclosure is a World Heritage site, home to dramatic Emperor-built castles unlike any other in Africa. The architecture shows the richness of Axumite traditions as well as the prosperity of Ethiopia in those two centuries. Spend the afternoon visiting these medieval castles and stop by the famous church of Debre Berhan Selassie. The church is one of the finest in Ethiopia, with walls and ceilings covered stunning in ancient murals. Later, if there is time, perhaps visit Project Ploughshare, which helps disadvantaged women rekindle the area’s once famous pottery craft.
Simien Mountains National Park
Continue North in the morning, making a 2-hour drive to your lodge, before another hour into the Simien Mountains. Enjoy a scenic walk within the Simien Mountains National Park. The park is a majestic series of undulating amethyst peaks, including Ethiopia’s highest point – Ras Dejen. The peaks have been eroded over millions of years and have left strange and wonderful geological formations behind. The park is home to some of the world’s most elusive animals, and while you're here you might encounter troops of the endemic Gelada monkey. Found exclusively in Ethiopia, Gelada are often referred to as the ‘bleeding heart baboon’ or the 'lion monkey’ as their coat is shaggy and their chest has a marked ‘red heart’ patch. Gelada monkeys have no natural enemies, so they can be found in good numbers and are quite easy to approach. Enjoy a pack lunch and then take a scenic walk along a dramatic escarpment. Afterwards take the short drive to your hilltop lodgings. Perched on the edge of the Ethiopia’s Simien Escarpment our feature stay; Limalimo Lodge is a beautiful place to experience Ethiopia's Simien Mountains National Park. The bar and restaurant are perched on top of the hill with views along the dramatic escarpment and onto the lowlands below. The 12 rooms are scattered around the site among the trees with views over wooded hillsides. Enjoy the spectacular views over Ethiopia's Simien Mountain landscape while staying warm around the fire pit or curling up in front of the log fire.
Take the asphalt but winding road up to the fabled city of Axum, crossing the lowlands of the Simien Mountains and the Tekeze River gorge (approximately 9 hours including breaks). Though this is a long and winding journey, the spectacular views of the mountains makes the time slide away. You’ll arrive in Axum in the late afternoon. Axum was once the capital of Africa’s oldest empire – the Kingdom of Axum lasted from 1 AD to 700 AD and grew to rank among the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world. It was positioned at the centre of an important trading route that stretched from Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea and all the way to India and Sri Lanka. Axumite society was rich, well organized and technically advanced. In this period, bronze, silver and gold coins were produced, amazing tombs and monoliths constructed, and Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia.
Today you will tour the incredible historical sites of Axum. Visit the stele fields, several tombs, the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an archaeological museum. The field is home to over 100 stele – the largest one measuring 33 metres and weighing an incredible 517 tones. Stele (or monoliths) are carved from a single piece of granite and are often elaborately decorated to resemble a multi-story house complete with windows, doors, locks and structural beams. Their scale reflects Axum’s once great importance, and they were probably transported by elephants from a nearby quarry. The mausoleums in this area include the tomb of the false door and the tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, while the archaeological museum gives you further insights into this incredible society. An unimposing building with a green picket fence is the St Mary of Zion Church, the first built in sub-Saharan Africa. This holds the crowns of various former Ethiopian emperors and is even said to house the most fabled biblical relic in history – the Ark of the Covenant.
Take an early morning flight from Axum to Lalibela (approximately 40 minutes), where you will stay for two nights. Despite the town of Lalibela being isolated in the Lasta Mountains at 2630 metres above sea level, it is still the home of Ethiopia’s top sight, and one of the world's greatest historical and religious sites. Between 1137 and 1270, several astounding rock-hewn churches were constructed in Lalibela – astonishing because most are not built from carved freestanding rocks, but instead created from huge single blocks of stone unearthed by the digging of enormous pits. You will spend two afternoons exploring the extraordinary churches that look like they've been dropped down from the sky. The Northern Group contains seven churches, a tomb, a chapel and a sunken chapel. At the centre of the group is Bet Medhane Alem, measuring 33.5 metres by 23.5 metres and said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world. A tunnel connects three of the churches in a courtyard to the east, whilst another tunnel connects two other churches to the west of Bet Medhane Alem. However, it is Bet Giyorgis (St George's), carved in the form of a Greek cross and lying slightly apart from the main northern cluster, which is the most famous and frequently photographed. This church is exceptionally well-preserved and is probably the most visually perfect. The Eastern group of five churches includes the only hypogenous church, where only the roof remains attached to the overhead rock.