Marco looks forward to showcasing the many wonders of Ethiopia.
Gelada are only found in the Ethiopian highlands, with the largest populations in the Simien Mountains. ©Jonathan Rossouw
The Hamer women rank amongst the most strikingly regal of all Ethiopia’s South Omo ethnic groups. ©Giovanna Fasanelli
The Church of Saint George, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the last carved of the eleven medieval monolithic churches in Lalibela.
Africa’s most endangered carnivore, the Ethiopian Wolf has very specific dietary requirements, feeding only on rodents found in Afro-Alpine moorlands. ©Ignacio Yúfera
Located in the town of Aksum, the Church of Saint Mary of Zion is rumored to house the Ark of the Covenant.
The rare and endangered Walia Ibex is isolated to a thin sliver of land along the edge of the Simien Mountains in the Ethiopian Highlands. ©Giovanna Fasanelli
At the cultural crossroads of Africa and straddling the Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia is an enigmatic land like no other. The continent’s only country to have avoided Western colonization, it boasts a rare historical depth going back through medieval dynasties and the evolution of a religion to the reign of King Solomon. Awesome stone-hewn churches, medieval castles and great stelae all bear testament to this proud history, eclipsed in grandeur only by its landscapes. From the lofty peaks of the Simien Escarpment and its charismatic, endemic wildlife to the flamingo-studded soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley, from lake monasteries at the source of the Blue Nile to lip plates, scarification and body painting in the villages of the Omo Valley, this is raw Africa at its most dramatic and alluring.
- Travel by Air
- Travel by Road
- Travel by Boat
- Travel by Bullet Train
- Travel by Rail
- Travel by Dog Sled
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Day 4
- Day 5
- Day 6
- Day 7
- Day 8
- Day 9
- Day 10
- Day 11
- Day 12
- Day 13
- Day 14
- Day 15
- Day 16
- Day 17
Arrive in Addis Ababa and transfer to the Sheraton Hotel. Set out on an afternoon tour to acquaint yourself with Ethiopia’s capital city, starting with a visit to the National Museum to view a replica of the famous, 3.2 million-year-old fossilized hominid remains known to the rest of the world as “Lucy” and to Ethiopians as Dinknesh, meaning “Wondrous One” in the local Amharic tongue. End the afternoon with an exploration of the bustling Merkato, Africa’s largest open-air market. Return to the hotel for a welcome dinner and overnight.
Depart Addis this morning on a flight bound for Bahir Dar, a picturesque town on the shores of Lake Tana. We board a private boat and journey to the Zege Peninsula to visit two of its famous monasteries, Ura Kidane Meret and Azuwa Maryam. The most beautiful of churches in the Tana region, Ura Kidane Meret boasts an incredible collection of murals that offer unrivalled insights into medieval Ethiopia. This afternoon, enjoy an excursion to the Blue Nile Falls, where we watch for the diverse array of waterbirds on the easy walk to the viewpoint. Hippopotamus and Nile Crocodile are occasionally spotted on the banks of the river. Dinner and overnight at Kuriftu Resort and Spa.
Simien National Park
After breakfast, travel by road to the village of Debark, en route enjoying the attractive pastoral landscapes and traditional villages of the Ethiopian highlands. Situated at an altitude of 10,000 feet, Debark is the gateway to Simien Mountains National Park, home to two of the country’s iconic animals: the charismatic Gelada, and the Walia Ibex. We begin our exploration of the park, before overnighting at Simien Lodge, with panoramic views of the dramatic, 3,000-foot-high Simien Escarpment.
Simien National Park
The Simiens are Africa’s highest mountain range, with a dozen peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in height, and we have a full day to explore this stunning region. An early start along the edge of the plateau may reveal the big-horned Walia Ibex, a wild mountain goat found nowhere else on Earth, or perhaps the angular silhouette of a Bearded Vulture, high against the crags, but we’ll focus most of our attention on the adjacent meadows, known as Afro-Alpine moorland, for this is the favored habitat of Gelada. These fascinating vegetarian primates, distant relatives of the more familiar baboons, spend their days shuffling across the short-cropped grasslands, occasionally gathering in bands hundreds strong. With their golden manes, bright pink breasts and comical facial expressions, time spent with these “Bleeding-heart Baboons” is likely to be a highlight of our time in Ethiopia. Overnight at Simien Lodge.
Descend by road this morning to Gondar, Ethiopia’s capital during medieval times. Often referred to as the “Camelot of Africa,” Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilidas in the early 17th century. Our visit explores many of the castles he and his descendants established within the Royal Enclosure, as well as his ceremonial bath, which forms the focus of modern-day Timkat, Ethiopian Orthodoxy’s most sacred annual celebration. Overnight at the Goha Hotel.
Gondar / Aksum
Fly from Gondar to Aksum, a city founded three centuries before the birth of Christ. According to Ethiopian belief, Aksum was once the home of the Queen of Sheba and is the current resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. On arrival, your exploration commences at the area’s most recognizable icons, the great stelae. Attributed to various medieval Ethiopian rulers from the 3rd century AD, these immense granite obelisks, some exceeding 100 feet in length and with an estimated weight of over 500 tons, bear testimony to the technological prowess of the early Aksumites. The adjacent Aksum Museum houses priceless relics from the era, giving us deeper insights into their society. In the afternoon, visit the compound of the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, site of the first church in Ethiopia. Destroyed during the Christian-Muslim Wars of the 16th century, the church was rebuilt by Emperor Fasilidas in a style reminiscent of the castles of Gondar. A small building adjacent to the cathedral will no doubt attract much of your attention, as this is the alleged final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Overnight at the Sabean Hotel.
Aksum / Lalibela
Aksum was the first Christian kingdom in the world and remains the center of the universe for Christian Ethiopians. Witness the touching spectacle of white-shawled devotees in their ritual procession around the church of St Mary of Zion. A late morning flight takes you to the small town of Lalibela, situated high in the Lasta Mountains. Arguably one of the most important religious and historical sites in the entire Christian world, Lalibela boasts no fewer than 200 rock-hewn and cave churches. These elaborate edifices, each carved entirely out of a single block of living granite, form the focus of your afternoon’s exploration beginning with three of the most impressive. Standing 38 feet tall, Bet Medhane Alem is the largest of all monolithic rock-hewn churches, sporting 72 pillars, while Bet Maryam, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is smaller but more intricate, with remains of exquisite early frescoes visible on the ceiling. End in Bet Golgotha, which houses remarkable reliefs and early Ethiopian Orthodox Art. Dinner and overnight at the Mountain View Hotel.
An early mule trek leads you up to Asheten Mariam Monastery, perched on a mountaintop with spectacular views over Lalibela. This monastery is best known for its collection of ornate, 13th-century hand and processional crosses of King Nakuta La’ab, who ruled Ethiopia for 40 years after King Lalibela. This afternoon you’ll explore a second group of churches, said to have been built overnight by a host of angels and to represent the heavenly Jerusalem. The afternoon culminates in the cross-shaped church of Bete Giyorgis, the Church of Saint George, carved from solid red volcanic rock in the 12th century and the most famous of Lalibela’s churches. Dinner and overnight at the Mountain View Hotel.
Lalibela / Arba Minch
After breakfast, return by air to Addis Ababa where you’ll connect with an onward flight into Arba Minch, a town spectacularly perched on the western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley overlooking the twin lakes of Abaya and Chamo. It is also a portal to the famed South Omo, a region hosting the densest concentration of distinct tribes in all of Africa. In the late afternoon, enjoy a scenic cruise on Lake Chamo within Nechisar National Park, watching for Hippopotamus and the legendary numbers of gigantic Nile Crocodiles for which the lake is renowned. Overnight at Paradise Lodge in Arba Minch.
Arba Minch / Jinka / South Omo Valley
Your first taste of the region’s cultural diversity is at Chencha, a small highland town of the Dorze tribe who are famous for their weaving culture, a tradition reflected in their patterned fabric, ornate fences, and beehive-shaped huts. Traverse the dense, termite mound-studded thornbush of the Weita Valley, stopping first in the village of Weita, home of the Tsemai, amongst the least-known ethnic groups in South Omo. Arrive in the cooler highland town of Jinka and overnight at Eco Omo Lodge.
Turmi / Southern Omo Valley
A full day excursion into the Lower Omo Valley takes you into the territory of the Mursi, amongst the area’s most celebrated ethnic groups. Pastoralists who keep herds of cattle and goats, the Mursi are most famed for the lip-piercing custom of their women who, at the coming of age, insert ever larger clay disks into incisions made in their lower lips. Witnessing these women in all their finery will likely remain one of the enduring memories of your time in Ethiopia. This afternoon, visit the town of Alduba as Tuesday is their market day where the local Banna tribespeople sell and trade everything from produce to livestock. We arrive at Buska Lodge, set on the banks of the Keske River outside of Turmi, for dinner and overnight.
Turmi / Southern Omo Valley
Your morning is dedicated to visiting several villages of the Karo people, who are best known for their skin scarification and symbolic, ornamental painted body and face decorations. This process ranges from fine, elaborate detail to rough tracings with the palms or fingers, in magnificent combinations of white chalk, black charcoal and red and ochre earth. This afternoon, you’ll encounter Hamer people. With their magnificent ochre-colored hair braids, skirts of cowrie-decorated goatskin and tight copper bracelets, the Hamer women rank amongst the most strikingly regal of all South Omo ethnic groups. Overnight at Buska Lodge.
Turmi / Southern Omo Valley / Arba Minch
Drive this morning to the larger town of Key Afer, heartland of the Ari people. Stop to enjoy the bustling Thursday market that is attended by most of the neighboring tribes. Marvel at the immense variety of body adornment on display, amongst the varied ethnic groups present, from body paint and clay hair braids to bracelets and bead jewelry. Retrace your route to Arba Minch for dinner and overnight at Paradise Lodge.
Arba Minch / Bale Mountains National Park
After breakfast at the lodge, a charter flight takes you straight into Robe for the short drive into the world-renowned Bale Mountains National Park. Crossing the moorlands near the park headquarters at Dinsho, you should encounter your first endemic mammals in the form of the stately Mountain Nyala or Menelik’s Bushbuck, as well as Chestnut-naped Francolin and the characterful Rouget’s Rail. Juniper woodland here rings to the songs of Abyssinian Catbird and Abyssinian Ground Thrush, and you’ll search the trails for the scarce Abyssinian Long-eared Owl. Overnight Bale Mountain Lodge.
Bale Mountains National Park
Early this morning, ascend Africa’s highest road to the legendary Sanetti Plateau. Lying at an altitude of over 14,000 feet, the plateau is the last remaining stronghold of the world’s rarest canid, the Ethiopian Wolf. Your naturalists will make a concerted effort to find these spectacular, chestnut-colored animals patiently stalking their favorite prey, the impressive Giant Root-Rat, which are themselves endemic to the Sanetti Plateau. Elegant Giant Lobelias dot this picturesque, otherworldly landscape of pincushion bogs and tussock grasslands, where you’ll also be on the lookout for pairs of the endangered Wattled Crane, endemic Blue-winged Goose and flocks of Black-headed Siskin.
Breaking for lunch at the edge of the Sanetti escarpment, you overlook the great Harrena Forest, which is home to Africa’s only forest-dwelling Lions and Wild Dogs. Seeing these elusive predators is exceedingly unlikely, although you may find the endemic Bale Vervet Monkey or perhaps the scarce endemic Abyssinian Woodpecker, before retracing the route across the plateau to Bale Mountain Lodge.
Bale Mountains National Park / Addis Ababa
Take in the sights and sounds of the park one last time before the late morning transfer to Robe. A charter flight will return you to Addis Ababa. Enjoy a farewell dinner celebration this evening. Overnight at the Sheraton Hotel.
Depart very early this morning on international flights out of Addis Ababa.
- February 3–19, 2018
- Leaders Marco Tonoli
- $14,120 Per Person Rate
- $16,180 Solo Rate
- 17 days Trip Length
- 16 guests
- Addis Ababa Start/End
In addition to all tour services from arrival in Addis Ababa, trip price includes all gratuities; services of one Apex expedition leader for every 10 guests, as well as local guides throughout; air within Ethiopia, as noted in the itinerary; plus local beer and wine with lunch and dinner daily.
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Hope for the endangered Walia Ibex (Capra walie)
Walia Ibex are found only in the northern mountains of Ethiopia. Once widespread in the Simien Mountains, their numbers dropped to merely 200 animals due to habitat loss and hunting. The 34,000 acre Simien National Park, established in 1969, is now the greatest hope for their survival. Numbers have increased to 500 individuals in recent years and the park could sustain around 2,000. Grazers, the ibex are often spotted standing on their hind legs to reach the young shoots of the giant heath trees that grow in their range, a fun photo opportunity indeed.