The Best of Ethiopia

One of only two countries in Africa never to have been colonised, Ethiopia is a truly fascinating land unlike anywhere else on the continent. With a wealth of unique cultures, incredible ethnic and natural diversity and some of Africa’s finest historic monuments, Ethiopia offers a kaleidoscope of experiences, which delight both new and experienced travellers to Africa.

Our Best of Ethiopia itinerary encompasses both the north and the south of the country, to show the best that it has to offer. From Addis, we head south to the tribal lands of the Omo Valley. Here we meet some of the most traditional tribal groups on the planet. The Konso, the Karo and the Mursi are best known for their outlandish body decorations and the unusual practice of wearing enormous clay discs in their lower lips – one of the most extraordinary sights that Africa can offer. We spend our time here visiting weekly markets, which are a focal point for the many ethnic groups that live here. We also search for crocodiles and hippos in the vast lakes.

The north of the country is best known for its striking monuments that date back centuries, witness to a unique indigenous culture that stands apart from its neighbours. We explore the monasteries of Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls, before heading on to Gondar, home to a series of castles and palaces that look more European than African. Visiting the Simien Mountains offers us a chance to hike in dramatic scenery and look for endemic wildlife. We then visit the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Nicknamed ‘Africa’s Petra’ these churches have often been called the eighth wonder of the world.

Finally, we visit the spiritual capital of Axum, reputedly the home of the Queen of Sheba, before returning to Addis Ababa. But the trip doesn’t have to stop here. You can extend your stay to the remarkable hot springs of Dallol, where geological activity has created a technicolour wonderland of rock formations that have to be seen to be believed. Ethiopia is nothing if not surprising, and one of our favourite African destinations – visit it with us and we’re sure you’ll be as captivated as we are.

Ethiopia Highlights tile image - Omo Valley tribes

Highlights

  • Tribes of the Omo Valley
  • The rock cut churches of Lalibela
  • Simien Mountains
  • Ancient monasteries of Lake Tana
  • Castles and churches of Gondar

Day 1 - Addis Ababa

Arrive in Addis Ababa. After some time to freshen up explore some of the sights of this fascinating city. Overnight Caravan Hotel or similar.

Addis Ababa

Ethiopia’s capital is a relatively new city, founded by the Emperor Menelik II in 1887 and lying at an altitude of 2,400m, which makes it the world’s highest capital city. With a pleasant climate, the name means ‘new flower’ in Amharic, and it ranks as one of Africa’s more interesting capitals. The museums of Addis are excellent and include the National Museum, with a broad collection of exhibits from various points in the country’s history including a replica of Lucy, the 3.5 million-year-old hominid fossil found in Ethiopia in the 1970s.

Churches such as St George’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity give a great insight into Ethiopia’s particular brand of Christianity. The Cathedral of St George, named after Ethiopia’s patron saint (the famed dragon slayer that also serves as patron saint for England and Georgia) was built by Emperor Menelik to commemorate his victory over Italian forces at Adwa, and houses a small museum with a collection of important religious paintings, books and artefacts.

The Mercato is supposedly one of Africa’s largest markets, and walking through the maze of alleyways here is a real experience, with goods on sale ranging from clothing to electronics to qat, the narcotic plant favoured throughout much of the Horn of Africa.

In various parts, but particularly the Piazza area, one can see evidence of the Italians’ ill-fated attempt to rule over Ethiopia in the first half of the twentieth century. Addis Ababa has changed quickly over the last twenty years or so, and modern buildings are springing up everywhere, but scratch the surface and you find a city rich with local culture that is unlike anywhere else in the region.

Day 2 - Arba Minch

Morning flight to Arba Minch. In the afternoon travel to the lands of the Dorze people, whose villages are characterized by their beehive shaped huts. Overnight Paradise Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Arba Minch

Set in dramatic surroundings, Arba Minch is a small southern Ethiopian town lying at an altitude of 1,300m above sea level, on a cliff overlooking Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya. To the west mountains form a backdrop rising to 4,000m. Although there’s not much to do in town, it is the gateway to Nechisar National Park and the Omo Valley.

Day 3 - Jinka

This morning we take a boat trip on Lake Chamo to look for hippos – also to be found here are large concentrations of Nile crocodiles. We then drive to Jinka, passing through lands inhabited by the Benna, Tsemay and Ari tribal groups and visit the weekly Key Afer market, allowing us a good opportunity to appreciate the differences between these people. Overnight Jinka Resort or similar. (BLD)

Jinka

A small mountain town set apart from the country, Jinka feels both remote and rustic, accentuated by the grass airstrip in the middle of town. People come from across South Omo to visit the Saturday market, particularly Ari, Bana, Besheda and Besketo people. The South Omo Research Centre is an ethnographic museum of the many tribes in the area, lying on a hill above the town.

Day 4 - Mago National Park

We head into Mago National Park, home to the fascinating Mursi people, known for their lip plates – perhaps the most striking of Ethiopia’s tribal groups. After spending time here learning about their customs we return to Jinka for the night. Overnight Jinka Resort or similar. (BLD)

The Mursi

The Mursi are perhaps the best-known tribe of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, and certainly one of its most interesting. When a Mursi woman reaches 20 years old, a slit is made beneath the lower lip and a clay plate inserted. Each year a larger plate is added, stretching the lower lip until it juts out so far that a 15cm plate can be worn and the woman can pull her lip right over her head. This is considered the height of attractiveness.

Mursi men do not escape entirely unscathed, as they take part in stick fights, which in the past sometimes ended in the death of one of the participants. Decorated with white clay, they whack each other with 2m long poles until one submits. There are consolations; the winner is carried off by a group of eligible girls who then decide which one of them will marry him.

Day 5 - Turmi

Drive to Turmi. Turmi is a major settlement for the Hamer people and we visit the weekly Dimeka market to meet them. Overnight Paradise Lodge or similar. (BLD)

The Hamer people

The Hamer are a medium sized ethnic group following traditional lifestyles in the southwestern corner of Ethiopia. Their lifestyle is largely based around pastoralism and so like many groups in the region cattle are of high importance to them. They are most renowned for their elaborate hairstyles, and the women sport colourful beaded necklaces.

Day 6 - Koricho

We drive this morning to Koricho, a settlement of the Karo people, known for their extraordinary body painting – the men also shave their hair into elaborate styles and often sport ostrich feathers. Overnight Paradise Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Karo people

The Karo are a small ethnic group numbering only a few hundred, scattered throughout a handful of villages. They are most renowned for their spectacular body decorations, which consist of different patterns and colours representing traditional symbolic messages. These can denote an individual’s social position within the group, whether they have killed enemies in battle, and their initiation status. Patterns are made with ochre, coal and lime among other materials and are delicately applied using sticks – the whole process can take hours to finish and is especially elaborate when dances and important ceremonies are taking place. Physical beauty is very important for the Karo; neglecting to care for personal appearance is a social stigma.

Day 7 - Omorate

Drive to Omorate to visit the Dassenach people, a cattle herding group whose lands extend all the way to Lake Turkana. We then return to Turmi to explore the weekly market, an important meeting place for the various tribal groups that live here. Overnight Paradise Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 8 - Arba Minch

This morning we visit a village belonging to the Konso people, renowned as excellent farmers. From here we return to Arba Minch. Overnight Paradise Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 9 - Lake Langano

We leave the Omo Valley behind and head north to Lake Langano. This is a beautiful part of the Rift Valley and the lake is a great place for birds – hippos and crocodiles also make their homes here. Overnight Sabanna Beach Resort or similar. (BLD)


Day 10 - Addis Ababa

Drive back to Addis Ababa. On the way we stop at the Tiya stelae, a mysterious collection of large standing stones, and Adadi Maryam, a 12th-century rock-cut church reminiscent of those further north at Lalibela. Overnight Caravan Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 11 - Bahir Dar

Fly north to Bahir Dar, situated on the shores of Lake Tana. Upon arrival we head out onto the lake to visit some of the impressive monasteries tucked away on islands here. In the afternoon continue to the Blue Nile Falls, Africa’s second largest waterfall, and explore the area on foot. Overnight Avanti Blue Nile Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Lake Tana

Ethiopia’s largest lake, Lake Tana is most renowned for the collection of monasteries, which dot its shores and many islands, several of which date back to the 15th century. These are often decorated with impressive murals and frescoes, while others contain ancient religious manuscripts.

Many monasteries were used as safe havens for royal and religious treasures to protect against invading forces, and the mummified remains of previous emperors are said to be housed at the remote island of Daga Istafanos.

The shoreline is dotted with small villages, whose inhabitants cross the lake on tankwas, small boats made from papyrus, often burdened with heavy cargo and looking close to submerging. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and contains excellent birdlife, as well as hippos.

Day 12 - Gondar

Drive to Gondar and explore its remarkable collection of medieval buildings including the castle of King Fasiladas. Overnight Goha Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Gondar

Gondar is a rather remarkable place, home to a striking collection of royal buildings that seem so much more European than African in appearance. Gondar became the capital of King Fasiladas in the 17th century and an important city in the region – one theory is that captured Portuguese Jesuits, who made early inroads into Ethiopia, were employed to design and build these monuments, while others claim that Ethiopian craftsmen constructed them. The best preserved is Fasiladas’ Palace, a two storey building with towers and parapets. There are several buildings within the enclosure, including a lion cage, a chancellery and the Royal Archive. Wandering through these medieval relics it is not difficult to see why Gondar has the nickname of the ‘Camelot of Africa’.

Days 13-14 - Simien Mountains

Head into the wild landscapes of the Simien Mountains, one of Africa’s most beautiful landscapes and home to a rich variety of wildlife. We explore this area on foot. Looking out for the large troops of gelada baboons which live here, as well as Walia ibex if we’re lucky. Overnight Simiens Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains are one of the natural highlights of Ethiopia, if not all Africa. Reaching heights of over 4000 metres, they are home to the fourth highest mountain on the continent (Ras Dashen, 620 metres) and are a dramatic landscape of gorges, chasms and valleys, reminiscent of a greener version of the Grand Canyon.

The region is also home to some of the country’s rarest and most iconic wildlife – the most famous of which is perhaps the striking gelada baboon, which can often be seen in quite large troops, grazing on their main diet of grass and vegetation. These are quite a sight, the males with long shaggy manes and bright red patches of skin on their chests – none more so than when they open their mouths to display an impressive set of fangs. Also to be found here are the rare Walia Ibex and the Simien wolf, the world’s rarest canid.

This area offers superb opportunities for exploring on foot and meeting local people living much the same as they have done for centuries, and is one of our favourite parts of the country.

Day 15 - Gondar

After a last morning in the mountains return to Gondar. This afternoon visit the church of Debre Berhan Selassie with its beautiful frescoes and learn how the local honey wine, tej, is made in the company of a traditional brewer. Overnight Goha Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Days 16-17 - Lalibela

Fly to Lalibela. We spend our time here discovering the stunning collection of rock-cut churches, which date back to the 11th century, hewn from the surrounding mountains. We explore those both within the town itself and in the surrounding countryside. While we’re here, we also have the chance to learn how to make traditional Ethiopian food including injera, the unique bread found here. Overnight Mountain View Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Lalibela

Lalibela is remarkable for its collection of rock-cut churches dating back hundreds of years, hewn into the surrounding mountains, and is today an important centre of pilgrimage for Ethiopians, flocking here to worship. Many myths and stories surround the origins of Lalibela, but the most popular with local people is that they were constructed by angels in one night.

The churches are very much in use today, with resident priests and monks, and come alive during times of religious festivals and ceremonies. Many of them are connected by underground tunnels and passages, with tiny caves hollowed out in nearby walls used as homes for ascetic monks and hermits who stay here for years on end – some are left here when they die and their mummified remains can sometimes be glimpsed in hidden corners.

The churches date back to the 11th and 12th centuries and the most spectacular and well recognised is Beta Giorgis, built in the shape of a cross in a large pit in the ground. Some contain ancient religious artefacts, which resident monks are often happy to show to visitors, including intricately decorated crosses and a wooden box said to be carved by King Lalibela.

Day 18 - Axum

Fly to the town of Axum, dating back to the 10th century BC. We visit the enormous collection of stelae, granite monoliths dating from pre-Christian times, as well as the Church of St Mary of Tsion, reputed to hold the Ark of the Covenant. Overnight Sabean Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Axum

Axum is the spiritual capital of Ethiopia and is also said to have been the capital of the legendary Queen of Sheba, in the 10th century BC. Once an important city and the capital of a powerful empire around the time of the birth of Christ, many historians believe it to be one of the great civilisations of antiquity, controlling the all-important trade routes between Asia and Africa for many centuries.

Today it is a site of pilgrimage, containing many important religious buildings as well as palaces and tombs belonging to past Emperors of Ethiopia. One of these is supposed to be the palace of the Queen of Sheba, although no conclusive proof for this exists. The most notable of these monuments is the church of St Mary of Tsion, Ethiopia’s first church, which is locally believed to contain the legendary Ark of the Covenant – don’t get your hopes up though as it is watched over by a guardian who prevents anyone from seeing it. According to legend, the ark was brought here by Emperor Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Axum is also famous for its collection of stelae (standing stones), sculpted from single pieces of granite and intricately carved, thought to be around 1700 years old. Although many are in ruins, those that remain are the legacy of one of Africa’s most powerful civilisations.

Day 19 - Addis Ababa

Fly back to Addis. In the evening head out to a traditional restaurant for a farewell dinner, before transferring to the airport for your flight home. (BLD)


Please note that if you are not arriving internationally with Ethiopian Airlines there is a supplement for this tour. This is because the domestic flights are significantly less expensive for travellers who use Ethiopian Airlines for their outbound international flights. As most of our travellers fly with Ethiopian, the tour price is based on this. Please enquire for further details.

Optional Extension to Dallol

Day 19 - Adigrat

Drive to Adigrat, visit Yeha Temple on the way. Yeha is thought to be Ethiopia’s oldest building at around 2,500 years old, and the area was the capital of Ethiopia before the Axumite period. Overnight Geralta Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 20 - Mekelle

Drive through the region of Tigray to Mekelle, stopping at the rock churches of Wukro and Abreha Atsebah, perhaps one of Ethiopia’s finest. Overnight Planet Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 21 - Dallol

Drive to the hot springs at Dallol, composed of different minerals along with sulphurs and potash and creating spectacular colours. Dallol is renowned as being the hottest inhabited place on earth; between 1960 and 1966 an average annual temperature of 34°C (94°F) was recorded. Return to Mekelle for the night. Overnight Planet Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 22 - Addis Ababa

Fly back to Addis. In the evening head out to a traditional restaurant for a farewell dinner, before transferring to the airport for your flight home. (BLD)


The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
Ethiopia - Omo Valley tribes - young women
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most travellers will require a visa to enter Ethiopia. This can either be obtained in your home country, or for many nationalities at Addis Ababa airport upon arrival. However, it is entirely possible that this service could be withdrawn, and so we recommend that you obtain your visa before arrival. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Yellow Fever vaccination certificates are not required for Ethiopia unless you are coming from a Yellow Fever endemic zone.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Ethiopia is the birr. It is best to bring US dollars for exchange purposes. You should bring clean and unmarked notes that have been issued after 2009, otherwise it can be difficult to exchange them.

It’s easy to change money in Ethiopia, either at banks or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However, these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in Addis) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to the parts of Ethiopia that we visit on this tour.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
The Best of Ethiopia
Ethiopia - Omo Valley tribes - young women
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
26 November 2019
Price (PP) -
£3,599
Single Supplement -
£575
Trip Status -
Contact us
Date -
03 March 2020
Price (PP) -
£3,799
Single Supplement -
£600
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
24 November 2020
Price (PP) -
£3,799
Single Supplement -
£600
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
02 March 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,899
Single Supplement -
£600
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
23 November 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,899
Single Supplement -
£600
Trip Status -
Available