Historic Ethiopia Cultural Expedition

Highlights:

Nowhere in the world is as well-endowed with traditional and tribal cultures than Ethiopia. Our cultural expeditions take you into this remote region of the African continent where you will be immersed in an array of tribal lifestyles. Many are like living museums, where we will enjoy 'street level culture' and where it is often hard to draw the line between participant and observer.

Join us on the most amazing cultural expedition of your life. You will see customs, cultures and lifestyles totally unaffected by the western world and you will feel nothing but sheer privilege at being able to travel amongst them.

an Ethiopian tribal man

Day 1 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Day 2 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Day 3 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Lalibela
Day 4 Lalibela
Day 5 Lalibela to Simien Mountains National Park
Day 6 Simien Mountains National Park
Day 7 Simien Mountains National Park to Bahir Dar / Lake Tana
Day 8 Bahir Dar / Lake Tana
Day 9 Bahir Dar / Lake Tana to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1 : Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Met at Bole airport and transferred by private vehicle. City tours and traditional food.

Day 2: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Full day in Addis. Sightseeing is available should time permit. The rich culture of Ethiopia, and it's international links, has endowed the city with many fine restaurants and street side cafe's. Nightlife, including many cinemas, traditional dancing houses, casino's and bars provide entertainment until the early hours.

We start out day by 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 took 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 temperature 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. Our guide will point out the city’s major landmarks. Entoto is an important watershed; to the north, water flows to the Blue Nile and the Mediterranean Sea, to the south, to the Awash River and on to Djibouti. Two important structures remain within the old imperial compound on Entoto, 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.

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, from the Axumite and Gondarene periods through to the period of the monarchs Tewodros and Menelik II.

Day 3: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Lalibela

Transferred to Bole airport to connect with onward flight.

Fly Ethiopian Airlines scheduled service (approx 0730/0930 hrs Addis to Lalibela). A two hour flight northwards over the central highlands of Ethiopia. Met on arrival at the Lalibela airport and transfered by road 40 minutes up the mountainside to the town centre. On market day (Saturday), the road is a spectacle of traders walking to and from market.

At the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries King Lalibela of the Zaghwe dynasty built a series of rock hewn churches – the New Jerusalem as he called it – now rightly acknowledged to be one of the wonders of the world. There are 11 churches in the town named after him, with others in the surrounding countryside. All are still in use today. (The churches are divided into two groups, the division being the River Yordanos or River Jordan.) It is estimated that the churches took 25 years to construct – for the Kingdom based on Roha (later renamed Lalibela) to have kept a large work force engaged in economically unproductive labour for such a long period means that it disposed of a large economic surplus and was very wealthy. The area then was clearly fertile and agriculturally productive, whereas now deforestation and population pressures on the land have reduced its productivity.

After checking into the hotel we will start our tour of the first group of churches, returning to the hotel for lunch, and continuing the tour in the afternoon.

Lalibela - aerial view

Day 4: Lalibela

Full day visiting the rockhewn churces of Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site. After breakfast we set off by car to the cave church of Yemrehane Christos, built by the king of the same name before the reign of King Lalibela. The church is constructed inside a cave, in Axumite style, similar to the 7th century monastery at Debre Damo in Tigray, with alternating levels of wood and stone. A 40 km trip from Lalibela followed by a 10 minute hike brings you to this beautiful church, the finest example of its kind in Ethiopia. After dinner we can visit one of the tej bait (local bars) in town, which are alive with cultural music and dancing.

Lalibela

Day 5: Lalibela to Simien Mountains National Park

After breakfast transfer down the mountainside to the Lalibela Airport in time for your mid morning Ethiopian Airlines scheduled flight (approx 1 hour) to Gondar, which in the 16th Century was the second largest city on the African continent, and the centre of the Abyssinian empire.

Gondar was the imperial capital from the 17th to mid 19th centuries, and today visitors can see the imperial compound, with castles still in good condition (some recently restored) and the bath of King Fasilides, where at Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany) a nearby river is diverted to fill an area the size of a small swimming pool. Worshippers plunge into the cold water in a re-enactment of the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan. Although many of Gondar’s churches were destroyed during the Mahdist invasion from Sudan in the 1880s, one very fine example, Debre Berhan Selassie, was saved, according to the legend, by a swarm of bees. The walls and ceiling are completely covered with murals. We end our tour with a visit to the ruined palace of Queen Mentowab, and the church of Qusquam. We will visit the former Felasha (Ethiopian jews) village at Wolleka, to buy some of the characteristic pottery sold there. Most of the Felasha or Bait Israel as they prefer to be called, were taken to Israel in the 1980s.

From Gondar it's a three hour drive north to the Simien Mountains National Park. We stop at the town of Debark to complete National Park registration formalities and to collect a scout and local guide before continuing onwards.

Gondar’s church interior

Day 6: Simien Mountains National Park

A full day in the Simien Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the late 1960s, the park presents perhaps the most dramatic scenery in Africa – great volcanic plugs, formed some 40 million years ago and eroded over the aeons into fantastic crags, pinnacles and flat topped mountains, “the chess pieces of the Gods”, as one writer described them, tower over precipitous gorges, river valleys and plains stretching all the way to Eritrea. There are many peaks over 4000 metres, and Ras Dashen at 4620 metres is the highest in the country and the fourth highest in Africa. The day shall be spent searching for the endemic Gelada or bleeding heart baboon, the Walia Ibex, the Simien Wolf (the rarist canid in the world) and rock hyrax, and endemic birds such as the Thick billed Raven, Black headed Siskin, White Collared Pigeon, Wattled Ibis, White billed Starling, Spot breasted Plover and White backed Black Tit and spectaculay Lammergeyers with 3 meter wingspans. The Afro-Alpine flora, meadows and grasslands punctuated by Giant Lobelia and flowering Red Hot Pokers with truly breathtaking.

The Simien Wolf - Ethiopia

Day 7: Simien Mountains National Park to Bahir Dar / Lake Tana

A full day on the road, departing Simien early, you stop for lunch and sightseeing in Gondar, before continuing onto Bahir Dar.

Gondar was the imperial capital from the 17th to mid 19th centuries, and today visitors can see the imperial compound, with castles still in good condition (some recently restored) and the bath of King Fasilides, where at Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany) a nearby river is diverted to fill an area the size of a small swimming pool. Worshippers plunge into the cold water in a re-enactment of the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan. Although many of Gondar’s churches were destroyed during the Mahdist invasion from Sudan in the 1880s, one very fine example, Debre Berhan Selassie, was saved, according to the legend, by a swarm of bees. The walls and ceiling are completely covered with murals. We end our tour with a visit to the ruined palace of Queen Mentowab, and the church of Qusquam. We will visit the former Felasha (Ethiopian jews) village at Wolleka, to buy some of the characteristic pottery sold there. Most of the Felasha or Bait Israel as they prefer to be called, were taken to Israel in the 1980s.

After lunch we continue onto Bahir Dar, a distance of about 180 km or 3 hours’ drive, there is attractive scenery en route as the road skirts the lake. Bahir Dar is an attractive town, well laid out with tree lined avenues and with the blue of the lake in the background. On arrival we check into the Kuriftu Lodge, situated on the shores of Lake Tana. 68 km wide and 73 km long, Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake and is dotted with islands, on many of which are found churches and monasteries. Bahir Dar has several clubs and bars where visitors can see traditional and modern Ethiopian music and dancing, and is also quite safe for wandering around at night.

Wall painting in Bahir Dar

Day 8: Bahir Dar / Lake Tana

Full day exploring the source of The Blue Nile, and the spectacular 16th Century Churches on Lake Tana and The Zeghe Peninsular.

Day 9: Bahir Dar / Lake Tana to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A one hour flight back to Addis. Connect out or onto next segment.

Download Detailed Itinerary

Day 1-2:

Sheraton Hotel,
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa

Day 3-4:

Tukul Village,
Lalibela

Tukul Village, Lalibela

Day 5-6:

Simien Lodge,
Simien Mountains National Park

Simien Lodge - Simien Mountains National Park

Day 7-8:

Kuriftu Resort & Spa,
Bahir Dar / Lake Tana

Kuriftu Resort & Spa in Bahir Dar