EARLY AUTUMN IN
THE LAND OF ORIGINS
Ethiopia fascinates us, a heady mixture of ancient and modern, with many of the ancient sites continuously occupied since their construction lending a timelessness to the country. The home to Africa's only castles and the world's only rock hewn churches, carved out underground from single solid piece of stone, and still full of devout parishioners. There is so much in Ethiopia to make you say "wow." And while Ethiopia does not have the vast numbers of animals seen in some parts of Africa, its nature is really out of this world, with rock formations and vegetation not found elsewhere on the planet, and these areas are home to many birds and some unusual and rare mammals. All of which we are likely to see as we make our way from central to northern Ethiopia, traveling in comfortable vehicle, taking local flights and spending the night in some of the best lodges and hotels Ethiopia has to offer.
DAY 1: WEDNESDAY, DEC 4
Arrive Addis Ababa, where you will be met by guide and driver and taken to hotel for check in and the chance to rest. After lunch we visit the Mercato, the largest open air market in Africa, full of people, wares and astonishing sights you'll want to photograph. Mercato is one of the spectacular experiences of Addis Ababa, and will fill and indulge all your senses. Welcome dinner in local restaurant. Overnight at Hilton Hotel.
DAY 2: THURSDAY, DEC 5
Addis Ababa to Bahar Dir, Lake Tana and Blue Nile Falls
Morning flight to Bahar Dir on Lake Tana (sometimes called the Ethiopian Riviera due to its attractiveness and pleasant vibe). The many islands in the lake are home to many lovely churches and monasteries of historical and cultural interest, we take a boating excursion to visit the most interesting of these. Afternoon drive to the Blue Nile River to see the 150 foot tall Blue Nile Falls. Return to Bahar Dir to watch the sunset over the lake. Overnight at Jacaranda Hotel.
DAY 3: FRIDAY, DEC 6
Bahar Dir to Simien Mountains
A 4-hour-drive brings us to the Simien Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered one of Africa's most beautiful mountain ranges. The large plateau with gullies, cliffs and pinnacles is home to different vegetation zones, interesting wildlife (gelada monkeys, walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf and fantastic bird life) and much natural beauty. We'll take several hikes here with our guide and a park ranger. Overnight at Simien Lodge.
DAY 4: SATURDAY, DEC 7
Exploration of Simien Mountains
Today we spend the entire day exploring the Simien Mountains National Park. Overnight at Simien Lodge.
DAY 5: SUNDAY, DEC 8
Simien Mountains to Gonder
A morning 1.5-hour drive brings us to Gonder: the Camelot of Africa. Gonder's wealth and splendor were legendary in the 17th century, and Emperor Fasiladas made this his capital and a series of 7 phenomenal castles were constructed by him and his descendants. We explore the compound of this once grand empire, and visit all the atmospheric castles/palaces. Gonder is a pretty town, with interesting churches, Italian era buildings and one of the best restaurants in Ethiopia, the famed Four Sisters where we'll enjoy food and entertainment. Overnight at Goha Hotel.
DAY 6: MONDAY, DEC 9
Gonder to Lalibela
Morning 1-hour flight takes us from Gonder to Lalibela. A UNESCO World Heritage site, and the home of 11 rock hewn monolithic churches constructed in the 12th century. Imagine excavating 4 stories down into the rocky ground and carving underground churches from single piece of stone. Access to the churches is via a maze of passageways and tunnels, and inside are intricately carved reliefs and astonishing icon paintings; yours to gaze upon and photograph. All 11 churches are still in use, as we explore them we meet priests, deacons, nuns and parishioners. Overnight at Sora Lodge.
DAY 7: TUESDAY, DEC 10
Day excursion to countryside and Yemrehanna Kristos Church
A late morning drive takes us back to Gonder. We have a mostly leisurely day, and for those interested, we can revisit the castles, or visit the remaining Ethiopian Jewish community who have lived here for over a millennia. Overnight at Goha Hotel.
DAY 8: WEDNESDAY, DEC 11
Further exploration of the rock hewn churches
We have saved the most impressive of the 11 churches for last, and today will visit the northwestern group of churches, including the most famous of all, St. George's. Overnight at Sora Lodge.
DAY 9: THURSDAY, DEC 12
Lalibela to Axum
This morning we fly 40 minutes from Lalibela to Axum, which is considered one of the most important historical cities in Ethiopia and Africa. A thriving city in the first century and reputed to be the Queen of Sheba's capital in the 10th century, it was once one of the world's greatest empires. Its decline occurred 10 centuries ago, and today the remnants of this golden age are visible in the many large obelisks (or stelae), carved stone, as tall as 80 feet still stand today. These marvels as well as several fascinating ancient churches are part of our visit to Axum. Overnight at Sabean International Hotel.
DAY 10: FRIDAY, DEC 13
Drive from Axum to Gheralta
Morning drive to the Tigray Region, through very scenic semi-arid landscape. We arrive early afternoon at the Gheralta Lodge, considered one of the finest hotels in Ethiopia, for amenities, aesthetics, setting and food. You can spend the afternoon relaxing at the lodge, or for the more adventurous, we pay a visit to Abuna Yemata Guh Church, reached by a climb up a sheer vertical cliff face (you will be roped in and trained guides assist you in making the ascent). The church itself is astonishing for its beauty. Overnight at Gheralta Lodge.
DAY 11: SATURDAY, DEC 14
Explore the Tigray Region
The Tigray region offers ancient churches, interesting museum, unique and picturesque local villages that are on the schedule today, though you may also opt to take the afternoon to relax in the beautiful surroundings of the Gheralta Lodge. Overnight at Gheralta Lodge.
DAY 12: SUNDAY, DEC 15
The Danakil Depression
Often said to be the most surreal place on earth, the Danakil Depression is a dry lake bed, 300 feet below sea level; here we witness volcanic activity as the ground spews forth sulfur and manganese in multicolored formations that look more like a coral reef than anything found on the surface of the earth. You will observe multi-hued rock monoliths, endless passing camel caravans carrying blocks of salt mined from the lake bed, and the actual process of salt mining. Overnight at the basic Outdoor Camp.
DAY 13: MONDAY, DEC 16
Gheralta to Mekele to Addis Ababa
This morning we drive to Mekele, to catch our flight to Addis Ababa. Check into hotel upon arrival, and then have afternoon to shop, sight see or relax at hotel. Farewell dinner this evening. Most flights from Ethiopia leave late at night, so we check out of our hotel to transfer to airport. (NOTE: for those staying longer in Ethiopia, we can arrange hotel rooms and guide if desired). Day room: Golden Tulip Hotel.
PRICES & REGISTRATION INFORMATION
(Inclusive of food, beverages, accommodations, ground transportation, entrance fees, services of licensed Bhutanese guide and driver, services of USA based trip leader, Bhutanese visa and airport taxes.)
$5000. (Based on double occupancy)
$5600. (Based on single occupancy)
NOTE: International airfare, gratuities, alcoholic beverages other than local beer with meals, laundry, souvenirs, items of a personal nature and travel insurance are NOT included.
Participants are responsible for their own air transportation to Addis Ababa airport where the journey begins. Many airlines serve this airport, including ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES, a highly regarded carrier with high marks for both safety and service. Ethiopian Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance. The 4 internal flights on this journey are also with Ethiopian Airlines and are included in the cost of the journey IF you travel to Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines (if not there is a surcharge of $250).
For those arriving before October 1, we can arrange additional nights in the hotel.
Ethiopian visa is easily available on arrival for $50.
On the final day of the journey, we will provide you will a day room at Addis Ababa hotel, as most flights depart in the evening. If you wish to stay the night in Addis Ababa, we are happy to provide hotel reservations for this night or any additional nights.