- Meet Lucy, nicknamed the 'grandmother of humanity'
- Travel across the stunning high plateau of the Simien Mountains National Park
- Explore the ancient sandstone churches of Lalibela
- Learn about ancient African kingdoms at Axum and Gondar
|Day 1||Arrive in Ethiopia||Addis Ababa|
|Day 2||Addis Ababa Tour||Addis Ababa|
|Day 3||Bahir Dar: Boat Cruise & Blue Nile Falls||Bahir Dar|
|Day 4||Gondar: African Architecture Adventure||Gondar|
|Day 5||Simien Mountains||Simien Mountains|
|Day 6||Axum: Oldest African Empire||Axum|
|Day 7||Churches of Lalibela||Lalibela|
|Day 8||Goodbye Ethiopia|
Day 1: Arrive in Ethiopia
Arrive at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport and transfer to your hotel. Depending on your arrival time, you can settle into your accommodation and get some rest and enjoy a first Ethiopian meal.
Day 2: Addis Ababa Tour
After breakfast at your accommodation, set out for the day to discover Addis Abeba. Visit the National Museum, which exhibits antiquities, historical relics, and archaeological and paleontological objects from Ethiopia, including the 3.5 million-year-old skeleton of Lucy, one of the earliest humans.
Later, you can also visit one of the city's many fine Ethiopian Orthodox churches, St. George's Cathedral, which contains interesting modern paintings and mosaics. Also visit the Mercato, the biggest open market of its kind in Africa, and get a commanding panoramic view from atop Mt. Entoto.
For lunch, choose one of the many eateries that dish out traditional Ethiopian food. Try pancake-like injera heaped with a spiced selection of vegan or meat dishes, washed down with honey-derived tej.
Later, depending on your interests and the weather, you have a choice of activities. Follow the coffee route into the rainforests that swathe Ethiopia’s western highlands. Here you'll find the Mother Coffee Tree, the oldest living plant of its type anywhere in the world. Alternatively, spend some time exploring the markets and craft stalls of Addis Ababa. You can shop for high-quality crosses, handwoven fabrics, and other uniquely Ethiopian handicrafts.
For dinner, settle back into your accommodation or find out if there is some local entertainment going on. This will depend on the day of the week. Be sure to take in the breathtaking sunset over the city skyline.
Day 3: Bahir Dar: Boat Cruise & Blue Nile Falls
After breakfast, travel to the airport and take a short flight to Bahir Dar (or travel overland to keep costs down, a trip of around three hours).
Ethiopia supports a wealth of lakes, rivers, and other aquatic habitats. The pleasant city of Bahir Dar is located on the shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia. After checking into your hotel, explore Lake Tana and its islands by boat. There are 37 islands on Lake Tana, and 30 of them have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest.
Visit the monastery churches of Ura Kidane Mihiret and Azwa Mariam. Ura Kidane Mihiret is the best known of the monasteries and has an important collection of religious icons from the 16th to 18th centuries. Azwa Mariam is known for its paintings, and there will be time to visit the small museum here.
The Blue Nile, which rises in Lake Tana, is associated with two of Ethiopia’s scenic highlights. The first, along the road between Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar, is the 5000-foot (1500-m.) deep Blue Nile Gorge, Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon. The second is the Blue Nile Falls, a popular day trip from Bahir Dar. Other massive gorges, almost as imposing as the Blue Nile, have been carved by the Tekaze and Wabe Shebelle Rivers.
Take an afternoon drive to the Blue Nile Falls, which is known locally as Tissisat (smoking water). The water plunges for 148 feet (45 m.), giving rise to steam clouds and rainbows. Climb down to the base of the falls for an up-close look, and then ascend the other side. The round-trip walk will take about one hour. Then, cross the Blue Nile by boat.
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.
Day 4: Gondar: African Architecture Adventure
After breakfast, take a short flight through to Gondar (or a three-hour drive).
Gondar was the first capital city of the Ethiopian Empire, which began in 1632 with the reign of Fasilidas. In Gondar, there are a dozen castles built by various emperors over the course of 236 years. The city seems more European than African, and also has many Islamic influences.
In the morning, visit Fasilidas' Palace, the oldest and probably the most impressive of all the castles. Continue on to the Bath of Fasiledes and Quskuam Church. In the afternoon, visit the Church of Debre Berham Selassie (Light of the Trinity). The interior is decorated with beautiful frescoes, cherubs, and paintings. Debre Berham Selassie is rumored to have once been the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Also, pay a visit to the colorful market in Gondar.
Day 5: Simien Mountains
After breakfast, drive for about 1.5 hours through to the Simien Mountains National Park, a UNESCO-listed area. Ethiopia’s scenic centerpiece is a mountainous central plateau that covers half of its surface area, and supports the vast majority of its population. It's the most extensive contiguous block of fertile land on the eastern side of Africa. The elevated plateau stands almost entirely at altitudes above 6500 feet (2000 m.), and includes dozens of peaks above 13,000 feet (4000 m.), including Ras Dashen, the fifth-highest mountain in Africa at 14,905 feet (4543 m.).
The Ethiopian highlands support a remarkable diversity of habitats. There are lush evergreen forests inhabited by monkeys and parrots, tall sculpted sandstone cliffs studded with ancient rock-hewn churches, high moorlands covered in green grass and pastel-shaded heather, and cultivated fields of tef, wheat, and maize.
The road to the mountains crosses areas of wild beauty, drawing close to the Simien Massif (in Amharic, Simien means north). You will almost certainly encounter troops of the endemic gelada baboons. This animal is often referred to as the bleeding heart baboon, or the lion monkey, because its coat is shaggy and resembles a lion.
Day 6: Axum: Oldest African Empire
After breakfast, drive to the airport at Gondar (1.5 hours), and take a short flight to Axum, in northern Ethiopia. The alternative is a 5.5-hour drive.
The legends narrated in the Kebre Nagast (‘Book of Kings’) recount how Axum, in the 10th century B.C.E., was where the Queen of Sheba resided. It is recounted that the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant to Axum, where it remains to this day, preserved in a sanctuary. Famous long before the time of Christ, Axum was the capital of the long Axumite reign, one of the oldest African empires, and represented a crucial connecting-point between Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years.
Visit the steles, granite monoliths dating from pre-Christian times and decorated with symbolic engravings. In ancient times, there were seven steles. Now, one of them is in Rome, as Mussolini took it there during Italy’s occupation of Ethiopia. Also visit the church of Santa Maria of Zion, which contains the crowns of Ethiopian kings, and other treasures.
Day 7: Churches of Lalibela
In the morning, take a short flight from Axum through to the city of Lalibela (40 minutes).
Lalibela contains 11 monolithic churches that were built in the 12th century, carved out of pink granite rock, that have been classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Each church (Bet) has a unique architectural style, but all are superbly carved and most are decorated with well-preserved paintings. The entire city may be described as a sculpture dedicated to the glory of God.
Bet Medihanialem is the largest church, supported by 72 pillars and housing the 15 lb (7 kg.) gold Lalibela Cross. Pass through a tunnel from Bet Medihanialem to Bet Mariam, which has fabulous carvings of birds and animals. We also visit Bet Danaghel, a chapel built in honor of martyred nuns. Bet Golgotha and Bet Mikael are twin churches and many believe that a visit to Bet Golgotha alone can guarantee your place in heaven. The twin churches also contain many important religious items and some of the best examples of early religious art in the country. Bet Giyorgis is one of the more recent churches and best preserved.
In the afternoon, visit the Eastern Rock Churches. Bet Amanuel is one of the most beautifully carved churches in Ethiopia, following the Aksumite style. Bet Merkorios has a wonderful painting of The Three Wise Men, which dates back to the 15th century. Also stop to see Bet Abba Libanos and Bet Gebrieal-Rafael, which might have once been the home of the royal family before it became a church.
Day 8: Goodbye Ethiopia
Pack up your bags and your wonderful memories and make your way to Lalibela Airport for a short flight through to the Abbis Ababa International Airport. From there, connect to your flight home.