Tour Code: AECT 0015
Tour Summary: Discover all the historical, cultural, adventurous and natural circuit of Ethiopian UNESCO WORLD HERITAGES of Ethiopia.
The tour starts from Addis Ababa to the northern historical sites, northeast to the Denakil depressions and ends at Addis Ababa.
Transportation: Surface, Boat Ride, Walking and Use 2 Domestic Flights
Duration: 15 Days/ 14 Nights
Level of Fitness: Easy
Transportation: Domestic flights, Surface, Boat Ride and Walk
Day 1: FLY ADDIS ABABA – BAHIR DAR – LAKE TANA MONASTERY CHURCHES
In the morning, we take a short flight to Bahir Dar (50 mins). After we check-in to our hotel/lodge, we go for a city tour. Bahir Dar is situated on the shore of Lake Tana, the largest lake in the country with 37 islands, most of which contain monasteries from the 14th – 19th century. Bahir Dar has a Mediterranean-type weather. Its palm-lined streets make Bahir Dar one of the most attractive cities in Africa. The city is the capital of the regional government for the Amhara people.
In the afternoon, we take a boat across Lake Tana to the Zeghie peninsula. On the peninsula, we do a short walk and visit two monasteries from the 14th century, Azwa Mariam and Ura Kidane Mehret. The architectural style of both monasteries is a typical example of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its round shape, mud walls, and conical straw roofs. In Zeghie, we also find diverse bird species and Columbus Baboons in the forest. After the walk, we will be invited to a local family for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Overnight: Hotel in Bahir Dar.
Day 2: DRIVE BAHIR DAR – THE BLUE NILE FALLS
In the morning we visit a local market where we discover traditional handicrafts such as jewelry, cotton scarves and straw baskets for which Bahir Dar is known all over the country.
After lunch, we will have an excursion to the magnificent Blue Nile waterfalls. The waterfall is locally known as ‘Tis-Issat’ which means “smoking water.” After driving for 40 minutes, we will have a short hike to the falls. The area around the falls is green and appealing for hiking.
Overnight: Hotel in Bahir Dar.
Day 3: DRIVE BAHIR DAR – AWRA AMBA – THE CASTLE OF GONDAR
After having breakfast, We will drive to visit Awra Amba people, an Ethiopian intentional community of about 463 people, located 73 kilometres east of Bahir Dar in the Fogera woreda of Debub Gondar Zone. It was founded in 1980 with the goal of solving socio-economic problems through helping one another in an environment of egalitarianism — in marked contrast to the traditional norms of Amhara society. The name means “Top of the Hill” in Amharic.
Founded by Zumra Nuru, who currently serves as co-chairman of the community, with 19 other people who shared his vision, as of 2016 Awra Amba has some 450 members, and is lauded as a model to alleviate poverty and promote gender equality in a country where women are generally subservient to men.
Discovering the Awra Amba community, our trip continues to Gondar (185 km) via a magnificent landscape of the Amhara region. The farmlands of the Amhara people are visible on the roadside. We will have a quick stop at Awra Amba community, an egalitarian society. Unlike other parts of the country, in Awra Amba community women have equal rights as men, and there is no distinction in divisions of labor between men and women.
We then continue driving to Gondar. Gondar used to be the seat of many Emperors who ruled Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th century. The town is the gateway to the Simien Mountains and lies at an altitude of 2,200 meters above sea level.
After Lunch, we will visit the famous castles of the town, where former rulers built numerous palaces for themselves and their families. Afterwards, we will go to the bath of King Fasilidas, where Timkat Fest is annually hosted. Timkat is one of the famous festivals in Ethiopia and held annually to celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ. We finish the day with a visit to the church of Debre Berhan Selassie, which is famous for its beautiful ceiling paintings. The motif of the angelic face became a symbol of Ethiopian art.
Overnight: Hotel in Gondar.
Day 4: ECO TREKKING – SIMIEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Morning Drive to Simien Mountains National Park (135 km). The Simien Mountains has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1969. UNESCO described the mountains as “one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes on the Ethiopian plateau.” The park is full of breathtaking landscapes and abundant flora and fauna. Over 10,000 of the rare & endemic Gelada baboons live in the park and can be observed at a close distance. The park is also the home to the Walia Ibex, which is also called Ethiopian Wolf.
A local hiking guide and scouts (park rangers) accompany us for the park visit. We will have an easy hike (approximately 3 h) from Sankaber (3,260 m) to Geech. We pass picturesque scenery, as well as Ethiopia’s highest waterfall Jinbar, also called “gateway to hell.” We will camp in Geech (3,600 m). It is situated on a huge plateau with horses grazing in the meadows.
Day 5: ECO TREKKING – SIMIEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Today’s hiking (approximately 4 to 5 hrs) takes us to the best viewpoints of the Simien National Park, Imet Gogo (3,926 m). From here, we can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the Simien Mountains. Ethiopia is not called the “roof of Africa” for nothing. Many of the country’s northern part is full of rugged terrains and escarpments, deep valleys and a high plateau. Simien Mountains are part of the Ethiopian highlands. The area is covered with massive walls of volcanic rocks, which fall over a thousand meters deep into steep gorges. Some regions of the park are still inhabited and cultivated at over 3,000 m. According to recent statistics, more than 4,000 households live in the Simien Mountains National Park.
We continue hiking to the next observation point Seha (3,785 m), where we have a picnic for lunch. The last stop is Quedadit (3,760 m) before we go back to Geech Camp. Then we drive back to Debark town (60km).
Overnight: Hotel in Debark.
Day 6: DRIVE DEBARK – AXUM (260km)
The drive to Axum takes us through the spectacular landscapes adjacent to the Simien Mountains. Axum is the oldest political capital of ancient Ethiopia. The town used to be a major trade center for caravan traders along the red sea.
Overnight: Hotel in Axum.
Day 7: AXUM DAY TOUR ( THE BEGINNING OF ETHIOPIAN CIVILIZATION)
Today we visit Axum. Axum is a small ancient town in northern Ethiopia, which lies at about 2,100 meters above sea level. The history of Axum goes back 3,000 years where the Axumite civilization flourished. At its peak, the Axumite kingdom was one of the four greatest powers of the ancient world. The town still exhibits some of the remains of Axumite and pre-Axumite times. Axum is also one of the sacred places in Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox church, Axum’s church of Mary of Zion hosts the original Ark of the Covenant with the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
We visit the gigantic stelae and obelisks of Axumite time, ancient king’s palaces, the Mary of Zion church and the palace of the legendary Queen of Sheba.
Overnight: Hotel in Axum.
Day 8: DRIVE AXUM – GHERALTA MOUNTAIN – HAWZEN
Drive to the rock-hewn churches of Gheralta (190 km). We will have a quick stop at Adwa Mountains, the greatest battlefield of the victorious Ethiopians against colonizer Italy in 1896. The attempts of the Italians to colonize Ethiopia were unsuccessful. Ethiopia remained an independent nation. Then we continue driving to the ruins of Yeha. Yeha is a small town with a 12-meter-high ruined temple. The temple is more than 2,500 years old and built in Sabean architectural style. We continue driving through the semi-desert Tigray region with different yet extraordinary scenery. We will arrive at Hawzen around late afternoon.
Overnight: Hotel in Hawzen.
Day 9: HIKING GHERALTA MOUNTAIN – TIGRAY CHURCHES
Today we will have a hike in the Gheralta Mountains. Our first hike is to the top of one of the mountains which takes almost two hours. The hike goes through some steep and narrow passages. On the top of the mountain, we will have a fantastic view of the dry land of Tigray region. Besides the view, there are two 14th century old rock-hewn churches called Mariam Korkor and Daniel Korkor. The view of the other mountains of Daniel Korkor is extraordinary. Then we hike down for lunch before the next hike.
After lunch, we hike to Abune Yemata Gughe. To enjoy a breathtaking view, we have to hike for another two hours. This part of the hiking needs a bit of physical fitness as it includes climbing about 10 meters high on steep rock. Local farmers will also help you climb the rocks. They will even provide you ropes so that you can climb comfortably. Once you climb up, you will be proud of yourself and rewarded with one of the best views of Gheralta Mountains and the nearby regions. There is also another rock-hewn church on the top of the mountain carved between the 9th and 11th century with paintings from the 14th century.
Overnight: Hotel at Hawzen.
Day 10: DRIVE GHERALTA – BERHALE -HAMEDE ELA
The Danakil Depression can be said to ‘begin’ here. It is one of the most inhospitable regions of the world, but is nonetheless spectacular, full of eye-catching colors, as in the sulphur springs. The desert has several points lying more than 100 meters (328 ft) below sea level; You pass through a small town of Berhale where the camel caravan stop before they proceed to the northern highlands. En route you see many long camel caravans coming to the salt mine and others going out of the Danakil with their salt loaded camels.(3-4 hrs drive) Camp Hamedela. After drive to reach Hamad Ela, better village with a total population about 500 people. Sun set at Dallol.
Overnight: Camping at Hamed Ela.
Day 11: HAMED ELA – RAGAD (ASEBO)
Morning tour Drive to Ragad (Asebo), the place where the localities are mining salt. Look the activity of breaking the salt from the ground, cutting in to rectangular pieces and loading on camels. You drive ahead to Dallol and visit the difference landscape formed by volcanic activity, Dallol + Lake Assal + camel caravans. Excursion to Dallol (116 meter below sea level, one of the lowest places in the world) colorful salts mining, visit Lake Assal, follow up camel caravans and walk with the Afar people. Drive back to Hamedela and proceed to Mekele
Overnight: Hotel in Mekele.
Day 12: DRIVE MEKELE – LALIBELA
After breakfast in Hawzen, we head to Labella which is about 400 km away. Lalibela, formerly known as “Roha,” was the political capital of Ethiopia in the 11th and 12th centuries. Lalibela is considered one of “the eighth wonders of the ancient world” because of its eleven rock-hewn churches from the 12th century. The town is named after King Lalibela, who built the churches. King Lalibela had a dream of making a “second Jerusalem” in his kingdom to be a pilgrimage site for Ethiopians. According to historians, the carving of the churches from a single rock took 20 years. However, according to a local myth, which many locals believe, the carving of the churches took overnight because of the help of invisible angels. The architecture of these carefully carved churches remains one of the highlights of our tours to Ethiopia.
Overnight: Hotel in Lalibela.
Day 13: DAY TOUR UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE CHURCHES OF LALIBELA – COOKING CLASS WITH AN ETHIOPIAN FAMILY
After breakfast, we will visit the first group of the world famous churches of Lalibela. In this group of churches, there is Bete Medhane Alem, which means “House of Savior of the World.” Bete Medhane Alem is the largest monolithic church in the world. Its architectural style resembles a Greek temple. The church is home to the original Lalibela Cross known as “Afro Ayigeba.” In the corner of Bete Medhane Alem church, there are three empty tombs symbolically representing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of the Old Testament.
In the afternoon, we will discover the second group of monolithic rock churches. Among them is the church Bet Giyorgis, probably the most famous, finest and well-designed of all churches of Lalibela. Bete Giyorgis is connected to the other churches by a tunnel and carved out of the rock in the form of a cross.
In the evening, a special highlight awaits us. We will be guests of an Ethiopian family and cook our dinner together. We learn not only new delicious recipes, but also gain an insight into the everyday life of Ethiopians.
Overnight: Hotel in Lalibela.
Day 14: YEMREHANNA KRISTOS – TREKKING TO ASHETON MARYAM MONASTERY CHURCH
A popular goal for a half day-trip, the Asheton Maryam Monastery is one of the highest in Ethiopia, set at an elevation of almost 3700m to the southeast of Lalibela. Carved into a cliff face, it was most probably founded by Kind Lalibela, who also built the UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE CHURCHES OF LALIBELA. The small and unadorned church harbours a few impressive crosses, illuminated manuscripts and other treasures, though arguably the most remarkable aspect of a visit to Asheton Maryam is its magnificent setting and the stunning views as you ascend.
At the afternoon, after having lunch, About a 90-minute drive from the town of Lalibela and driving through totally magnificent scenery one finds a church that is built inside a cave. Yemrehanna Kristos dates back to 1100 to 1200 AD period in Ethiopia’s history; the church predates about 80 years even the rock hewn churches of Lalibela itself.
The steep walk up to Yemrehanna Kristos and the cave is quite rough on the old lungs because of the altitude, but stopping to get your breath back every few minutes or so and one is rewarded with a rather interesting find.
Inside the cave, a beautiful church presents itself, built the traditional way (not like the churches of Lalibela) this church is laid out on a foundation of Africa Olive Wood. While the main structure is a combination of wooden and granite struts. Once inside the church, it is the wooden ceiling that is spellbinding – the attention to detail is extraordinary.
The strangest part of the cave is the area where there are 3000’s of mummified human bodies just lying behind a fence who come from Syria and Egypt to visit and rest in peace at the church.
The small village where we will park our vehicle is a great spot to buy a cool drink, coffee or water!
Day 15: FLY LALIBELA – ADDIS ABABA – CITY TOUR
After arrival, will start Addis Ababa city Tour driving north up to Mount Entoto.
In 1881 Emperor Menelik II made his permanent camp there, after remains of an old town (believed to have been the capital of 16th century monarch Lebna Dengel) were discovered, which Menelik thought was a divine and auspicious sign.
Addis Ababa at between 2300 – 2500 meters is the third highest capital in the world and Entoto is a few hundred meters higher – as we drive up the hill there is an appreciable drop in altitude and the air is filled with the scent of the Eucalyptus trees which line the road.
From the top, there is a panoramic view of the capital and surrounding countryside. Entoto is an important watershed, to the north water flows to the Blue Nile, to the south to the Awash River. Your guide will point out the important landmarks of the city.
Entoto was soon abandoned as a site for the capital – it was cold, difficult to provision and there was a shortage of wood. Empress Taytu was said to have led the move down to the plain of Finfine, and to have named the new capital Addis Ababa, or New Flower. However, two important structures remain within the old imperial compound, the churches of Mariam and the Archangel Raguel. It was in the church of Mariam that Menelik was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889, and in the small museum in the compound there are various clothes, court and household implements and weapons dating from the period. The church of Raguel is unusual in that it is octagonal, rather than round. There is a first story balustrade around which Menelik liked to stroll.
Leaving the churches we descend to Addis Ababa, stopping off at the National Archaeological Museum. Here visitors can see exhibits ranging from the 3.5 million year old bones of Lucy, through the Axumite and Gondarene periods to the monarchs Tewodros and Menelik.
We will take a break here for lunch – there are a number of possibilities, we could take lunch in the Lucy Restaurant, in the grounds of the National Museum, at Blue Tops across from the National Museum, or visitors may prefer to sample Ethiopian food at the atmospheric Addis Ababa restaurant, once the home of Empress Zauditu.
After lunch we resume our tour with a visit to the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, where we can see clothing from different regions, along with artifacts, household utensils and in a separate section, paintings reflecting the history and culture of the country.
This building was once the Genete Palace of Emperor Haile Selassie, and visitors can see his bedroom and bathroom.
There is an interesting display in Giorghis Church, and after seeing that we will visit Menelik’s mausoleum, where Etege Taitu and Queen Zauditu are also buried.
We then move to the Mercato, the largest market area in Africa, where virtually every possible commodity is on sale, from livestock to computers. For the visitor good at bargaining, there is a huge selection of Ethiopian arts and crafts.
We now return to our hotel.
At the evening, we will go out for a dinner in a traditional Ethiopian restaurant “Yod Abissinia”, and watch a live musician and dancers from Ethiopia’s different regions.
END OF TOUR.