Exploring the cradle of mankind and witnessing one of two unique festivals!
With a history dating back to the origins of humanity, a rugged landscape of towering mountains and rolling savannahs, and a variety of highly unique cultures and traditions, Ethiopia is one of the world’s most interesting—but less frequented—destinations. Our journey takes you from animistic communities in southern Ethiopia, with their resplendent body decorations and austere lifestyles, to the Amharic people of the north, with their distinctive traditions of ancient Ethiopian Christianity. You’ll travel across terraced hillsides and winding mountain pathways, marvel at the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and the medieval castles of Gondar, boat across Lake Chamo for exciting bird- and crocodile-watching, and decipher histories of Egyptian pharaohs, Muslim conquerors, and early Christian mystics on the mural-covered walls of island monasteries.
The January Timkat Festival is a wonderful manifestation of the Epiphany pageant as thousands of colorfully robed coptic monks carry replicas of the "Ark of the Covenant" from their churches to be worshipped and anointed with holy water. Monks chant and dance for 3 days amidst centuries old monolithic rock-hewn churches in the higland town of Lalibela.
The September Meskel Festival is a popular festival in Ethiopia celebrated to honor the finding of the true cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified by Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The day is celebrated by Christians in Ethiopia with dancing, singing and wearing colorful, traditional clothes. Golden yellow flowers known as the "Meskel Daisies" bloom just once per year during the time of this festival.
Walking, cultural touring
- Explore the deep history and diverse cultures and religions of the "Cradle of Mankind"
- Meet the tribal people of the Omo Valley, known for their unique rituals and striking body decorations
- Visit the stunning, rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the holy city of Axum, and the former royal capital of Gondar
- Witness a colorful religious festival on each departure!
Duration: 16 days Start Location: Addis Ababa End Location: Addis AbabaDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Arrive in Addis Ababa anytime today and our local guide will meet you and escort you to the group hotel. No meals are included today as folks will arrive at different times, but our guide can recommend some dining options.
Day 2 : Addis Ababa
We'll meet at 9am in the hotel lobby to depart on a tour of the fascinating city of Addis Ababa. We'll stop first at the National Museum, the home of Lucy, the famous hominid fossil some 3.2 million years old. We'll also visit the Ethnography Museum, which is the former palace of Haile Selassie and now serves as a cultural museum on the main campus of Addis Ababa University. We will also epxlore on foot one of Africa's largest open markets, know locally as the Mercato. In the evening, we will get to know our fellow travellers at a traditional dinner and cultural show that will introduce us to Ethiopian food and culture.
Day 3 : Arba Minch
From Addis Ababa, we’ll fly 300 miles south, to the western side of the great Rift Valley and the town of Arba Minch that lies on the shores between two large lakes. In the Amharic language, Arba Minch means “forty springs”—a reference to the nearby underground springs that lend the area an extraordinarily lush natural beauty. On arrival, we'll settle into our hotel and take a walk around the Arba Minch market.
Day 4 : Lake Chamo
In the morning we’ll venture out on a boat ride on Lake Chamo, habitat to some of the largest crocodiles of the world. In addition to the crocs, you’ll also encounter large populations of hippos and water birds like Malacyte kingfishers, the great white pelican, cormorants and night herons to mention just a few. In the afternoon we visit another part of the vast lake area, the home of over 80 different ethnic groups of which the Dorze are amongst the most fascinating. Formerly a war-like tribe, the Dorze have now become agriculturists and weavers, giving in to economies that are better suited to the current needs. Their bamboo houses are shaped like huge domes and are intricately constructed in closely woven fluted patterns. We travel to a Dorze village following a steep winding road that leads up to the alpine highlands where they live.
Day 5 : To Jinka
Leaving the Great Rift Valley, we continue south through to the town of Jinka. This spectacular countryside is covered with terraced fields and ubiquitous "tukuls," or thatched family compounds. En route, we will stop and visit Konso territory. We'll pass by traditionally dressed Konso plowing their fields with bullocks, Konso women spinning and weaving cotton, the building of houses, or folks simply sitting and enjoying the local brew made of fermented pulp of fruit and beans. If time allows, we'll also visit the ethnography museum in Jinka.
Day 6 : Mursi tribe
Early in the morning we'll make our way through the dense bush of Mago National Park to visit the Mursi tribe. Many of the Mursi have recently retreated deeper into the hills because of encroachment by other tribal groups and to move out of National Park territory, but there are a few who have opted to stay. The Mursi women are unique in their body decoration wearing decorated clay lip plates sometimes as large as 6 inches in diameter. The stretched lips are considered a sign of significant beauty and their size defines the bride price given in the form of cattle at the time of marriage. Later on, we will drive back to Jinka and after lunch we will drive to the town of Turmi in the Omo River Valley.
Day 7 : Turmi
In the morning, we'll head about 40 miles south to the Omo River Delta, where one of Ethiopia's largest rivers begins to into Lake Turkana in Kenya. This is where the Dassanech people live and their name means "People of the Delta." Despite the presence of the lake and river, the Delta itself is an incredibly dry area of semi-desert most of the time. The Dassanech, like their neighbors to the north, are cattle herders, but life in this arid region is precarious. They rely on the rains and seasonal flooding of the river, but when they lose their cattle to disease, drought or a raid by a neighboring tribe, they are unable to sustain their usual way of life. Instead, they become the Dies, or "poor people" and turn for their livelihood to Lake Turkana, where they fish and hunt crocodile and even occasionally hippopotamus.
We'll head back to Turmi for lunch and then visit the Hamar tribe. They are perhaps the most decorated and colorful of the Omotic tribal people with hair worn chin length, Cleopatra-style, framing the face with tiny ochre hair curls. Their bodies are painted the same ochre color that they complement with layers of bead and shell necklaces topped with a torque of iron signifying status. The men shave most of their head except on the top where they attach a clay bun that is worn to show that they have killed a large cat or a man or a woman!
Day 8 : Turmi to Konso
Monday is market day in Turmi, the principal town for the Hamar who congregate here to barter and trade local vegetables as well as cosmetics and medicinal lotions and potions. We'll explore the market on foot in the morning before driving back through the savannah to the town of Konso.
Day 9 : Langano Lake
After breakfast, we'll drive pass Arba Minch through the escarpment of the eastern Rift Valley to the shores of Lake Langano. The lanscape will subtly transform from low growing acacia scrub to the lush green highlands. One of the many stops will be the painted houses of the Alaba people and Shashamene, the "promised" land of the Rastafarians. We will finally arrive at the lakeside town of Langano where we stay at the lovely Sabana resort.
Day 10 : Bahir Dar
We drive towards Addis Ababa, making stops along the way to visit Lake Ziway, Koca and the crater lake in Debrezeyit (about a 3 hour drive). We'll arrive in Addis Ababa with time to stroll around the city or do a little shopping before boarding our late afternoon flight to Bahir Dar.
Bahir Dar is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake at 1,860 square miles and highest body of water lying at 6,000 ft. The Pharaohs wrote about the lake in funerary texts referring to it as “Lake Karouf” (Country of the Happy) and during Moslem invasions in the Middle Ages, Ethiopian Christians sought refuge in churches located on many of the islands.
Day 11 : Tissisat Falls
The day begins with a boat excursion to the island monastery of Ura Kidana Mehret to view its treasures and admire its murals depicting scenes from Ethiopian Christian lore. In the afternoon, we'll take a short ride and hour walk up to the once dramatic Tissitat Falls, which plunge dramatically from the lake into a ravine, turning into headwaters of the Blue Nile. Explorers like James Bruce and notables like Queen Elizabeth came here to marvel at the sight of the thundering waters, whose spray creates a spectacular rainbow in the misty air high above. The falls have since been dammed for hydroelectric power, so their intensity has diminished, yet they are still an impressive sight.
Day 12 : Gondar
After a scenic drive through the Ethiopian Highlands, we’ll arrive in the ancient city of Gondar, founded by the Christian Emperor Fasilidas in the 17th century. Gondar served Fasilidas and subsequent kings as a capital through to the disastrous reign of Ras Tewodros, whose downfall was sealed by the British punitive expedition of 1868. During its heyday, Gondar was regarded as a great center of power and pageantry and a center of trade on one of the world’s most important crossroads. Portuguese builders were brought in by the emperor to build fortifications. Gondar's glory can still be seen in its medieval Portuguese styled castles and Italian colonial buildings as well as in the beautifully painted church of Debre Birhan Sellassie. The city was later sacked and looted by Sudanese dervishes. The area is also noted for the Falasha people, or ‘black Jews’, who mostly lived in the nearby village of Wolleka until their mass evacuation to Israel in 1991. Only a handful of Falasha remain in the area today.
Days 13 - 14 : Lalibela
Another short flight gets us to the highland town of Lalibela to visit its monolithic rock-hewn churches, arguably some of the man-made wonders of the world. Today, these remarkable churches serve as the residence of white-robed monks who perform the traditional Ethiopian Christian rituals in the ancient language of Ge’ez, just as they have for centuries. Legend has it that the saintly King Lalibela had seen Jerusalem and then attempted to build a new Jerusalem as his capital in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. The story continues that the king was inspired by heavenly angels to build a series of 13 churches carved from living stone. The largest and most beautiful of these is the church of Saint George, which is said to have been built with the divine intervention and direct supervision of the angel Gabriel.
On the January trip, we will attend the ceremonies of Timket, one of the most important festivals in Ethiopia. Cloaked in ceremonial velvet and satin robes and carrying sequined umbrellas, priests march and dance, proudly carrying the ornate crosses from nearby churches to a designated area where the Ark of the Covenant spends the night. The priests achieve a state of ecstasy through the drumming and chants that is often contagious to the white-robed worshippers who gather around them. This truly astonishing scene takes place amidst the rugged mountain highlands of Lalibela.
On the September trip, we will witness the Meskel Festival. Priests again don their ceremonial velvet and satin robes and carry sequined umbrellas as they march and dance, carrying ornate crosses to a designated bonfire site. The huge bonfire marks the crowning moment of the festival. Again the priests and worshippers may enter a state of ecstasy from the drumming and chanting around the fire. This time of year also marks the blooming of the Meskel daisy, a golden yellow flower endemic to Ethiopia that adds even more color to this festival of the cross.
On both trips, we'll visit the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, too, of course!
Day 15 : Axum
Another morning flight takes us to Axum, the oldest city in Ethiopia and reputed to have been home to the Queen of Sheba. The town came into prominence in the 5th century and was well recognized by ancient Greeks who traded here. As the center of the Axumite Empire, Axum dominated the area as a crossroads from Asia Minor to Africa for over 1,000 years. Testament to its importance is the seven fabulous monolithic stele, or stone obelisks, that were erected during “ancient times” and are said to be the largest of its kind in the world. The steles have survived the ravages of time, war and theft by the Italians and give a sense of timelessness and history. The nearby Church of Saint Mary of Zion that was built around 400 BCE has historically and still is today been the religious center of Coptic Ethiopia. It also believed that the sacred Ark of the Covenant has resided in its chapel for over 2400 years since King Menelik, son of Solomon and Sheba, took it from Jerusalem. It was in Axum that King Menelik founded the Solomonic Empire of which the late Haile Selassie was the last ruler.
Day 16 : Return to Addis Ababa, later flight home
A short flight returns us to Addis Ababa with time to relax and organize for our journey back home. We’ll check into our day rooms at the group hotel. For those interested, we’ll arrange a final round of shopping or other things based on the interests of the group. Late transfer to the airport for return flights home.
Another option is to join our post-trip extension to Harar, the Islamic capital of Ethiopia. Harar, located on the eastern Ethiopian highlands at an elevation of just over 6,000 feet, is an old and fascinating city to visit. The special location of this walled city gives it wonderful views of the Danakil desert to the north, the fertile Harar mountains to the west, and the cattle rich Ogden plains to the south. Harar has 99 mosques and is considered the fourth most holy city in Islam after Mecca, Medina, and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Established in 1520, the town was a major trading center in the horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. The walls of the city are now an UNESCO World Heritage site. There are many attractions to this city, including the so-called hyena men of Harar-- men who feed wild hyenas with their hands and mouth. The city is also known for its impressive handicrafts including baskets, necklaces, and bracelets found in the market, plus the colorful scarves of the Adare women. Many foreigners settled in Harar, the most famous being the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and we will visit his former home. The extension will run from Jan 22-25, 2014 or Oct 1-4, 2014. Call us for more details.
DATES: Best time to go: January, September - October, December Departures: No group departures scheduled. Private departures are available on the dates of your choice, pending availablity. Call us for details.
Debre Damo HotelAddis Ababa, Ethiopia
This 4 star hotel is conveniently located just 7 minutes from the airport and boasts 102 rooms, lobby bar, restaurant, Sky bar, health club, business center, and souvenir shops and all the services to make your stay in Addis pleasant and relaxing.
Swayne's HotelArba Minch, Ethiopia
Swaynes Hotel is located in Arba Minch which, in Amharic, means “forty springs”. The hotel enjoys a spectacular hilltop setting overlooking Rift Valley basin, with views of the forest of Netch Sar National Park, Lake Chamo, and Lake Abaya. The location makes an ideal base from which to explore, and is the gateway to the remote villages and unspoiled cultures of the magnificent Omo Valley.
Jinka Eco-LodgeJinka, Ethiopia
A new eco-lodge located on the outskirts of Jinka town across the Neri River, one of the tributaries to the great Omo River and near the Arie village, one of the main tribes of Jinka. The lodge offers horse back riding, trekking in the beautiful mountains surrounding Jinka, home-cooked meals from their own garden, plus eco-friendly tented cabins with great views.
Buska LodgeOmo Valley, Ethiopia
Situated in the heart of Southern Ethiopia in the Omo Valley, Buska Lodge is an unpretentious eco-lodge offering travelers the best accommodation and meal service in this region.
Buska Lodge overlooks the plains of Buska Mountain and has been constructed to blend beautifully in to the natural surroundings. Covering a total of 30,000 sq. meters area, the Lodge’s compound is a fascinating green area with about 120 species of plants.
Buska Lodge offers the rare opportunity to learn about and experience the culture and traditions of the local Hammer community offering a rare glimpse into the cultures of the Omo Valley. The Hammer are famous for their Evangadi dance and “Bull jumping” ceremony where a young man who wants to marry jumps over a line of bulls in order to show that he is worth to the pride’s family. The Hammer share traditions and rituals with surrounding people like the Tsemai, Ari, Karo, and Bena.
Tukul Village LodgeLalibela, Ethiopia Tukul Village is a new hotel with attractive views of Lalibela and its surroundings. It is within walking distance of many of the ancient churches, including the Church of St George.
Abay Minch LodgeBahar Dar, Ethiopia
Abay Minch Lodge is situated in the outskirts of Bahar Dar, close to Lake Tana. The rooms are in small bungalows and the garden is well kept and peaceful.
Sabana ResortLangano, Ethiopia
The best resort on the shores of Lake Langano. Bungalows are situated on a cliff top, each having their own distinctive view over the expansive Lake Langano with the Arsi Mountains in the background and are built with local materials and simple designs. Surrounded by green grass, acacia and palm trees, local flowers and a sandy beach area.
Kanta LodgeKonso, Ethiopia
A new eco-lodge with solar-heated water and Ethiopian style bungalows located on a hillside with lovely views.
Overlooking Axum’s exceptional northern Stelae field, and the Queen of Sheba’s bathing pool, the Yeha boasts the best location in Axum.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you'd never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You'll be in good hands with them every step of the way.
“Zed” was born in 1976 in the village of Gurd Shola near Addis Ababa. His father is Oromo and his mother Amharic and he and his siblings were raised in Addis. After graduating from the Addis Ababa Technical School with a degree in mechanics, Zed began working as a senior mechanic for a private company. Soon after, he was hired by Dinknesh Ethiopia Tours to work as a senior mechanic. His natural people skills soon led him to become a respected driver-guide and during this time, he began specializing in birding tours. He is a licensed guide who now does both the historical routes as well as naturalist tours. Zed speaks Amaharic and English.