Explore the northern reaches of Ethiopia on this 21-day overland group tour which travels from Gondar to the capital Addis Ababa. Discover the hottest place on Earth in the Danakil Depression, meet village elders in Awra Amba and look out for critically endangered Ethiopian wolves in the Simien Mountains. Cruise on the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana, see ancient churches in Lalibela and take in the former capital of the Axumite Empire.
Welcome to Gondar
Welcome to Gondar! The city was formerly the capital of the Ethiopian Empire until overthrown by a Marxist rebellion in 1974. Make your own way to our start hotel and join a 6:00pm Welcome Meeting to meet your tour group and crew. The rest of your first day is free to head out and explore the city, which is famous for its numerous empire-era castles.
Today we enjoy a half-day guided tour of Gondar. Highlights of the tour include Gondar Castle, Debre Birhan Selassie church and the King Fasilides Baths. This palace sits in a now drained swimming pool that was built by Fasilides during his rule in the 17th century.
Overnight: Gondar | Breakfast
Simien Mountains National Park
Gondar - Debark - Simien Mountains National Park. On day 3 we board our overland truck for the first time and travel to Debark. There's a briefing from our mountain guide before we head into the breathtaking scenery of Simien Mountains National Park.
We spend three days in this incredible reserve, camping without facilities at the basic campsites within the park. During our stay here we plan to partake in numerous treks of varying distances, and will attempt to summit Ras Bwahit, the second-highest mountain in the Simiens. The Simiens are renowned for offering some of the most incredible views in the whole of Africa.
The Simien Mountains, and Ethiopia in general, are home to a large number of endemic species found nowhere else in the world. The most famous of these is the Ethiopan wolf, of which only around 500 individuals remain in fragmented populations across the country. We have a good chance of spotting some of the wolves in the Simiens, as well as Lammargeyer vultures, Walia ibex and klipspringers. Iconic African species such as leopards and hyenas are also present.
Please note: We must keep a flexible itinerary in the Simien Mountains, as our options will largely be determined by the weather.
Overnight: Simien Mountains National Park | Breakfast x 3, Lunch x 3, Dinner x 3
Simien Mountains National Park - Debark. Today we say goodbye to the Simien Mountains and head back to Debark. We spend the night in a local hotel and the evening is free to head out and explore.
Overnight: Debark | Breakfast
Debark - Axum. Day 7 sees us back on the road as we continue our journey through the foothills of the Simien Mountains to Axum, once the capital of the Axumite Empire. This mighty empire once encompassed parts of modern day Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The next day we enjoy a tour of the city, taking in the historical sights from the days of empire. We take in Stelae Field, which is home to the famous collapsed stele (obelisk), which is believed to have broken during construction around 1,700 years ago. Other highlights of our tour include the Tomb of King Kaleb and the ruined Palace of the Queen of Sheba, also known as Dungur. The afternoon is free to further explore this fascinating and historic city.
Overnight: Axum | Breakfast x 2
Axum - Mekele. Today we drive through the scenic Adwa Mountains to Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia. We'll visit one of the regions famous rock-hewn churches, either Abraha Atsbeha or Wukro Chirkos. Both churches date back hundreds of years and are richly decorated with paintings. After our visit, we arrive in the city of Mekele.
Overnight: Mekele | Breakfast
The Danakil Depression
Mekele - Danakil Depression. Today we leave our overland truck behind and climb aboard 4x4 vehicles for our excursion into the Danakil Depression. Passing through beautiful Tigre villages, we can enjoy incredible views of the Great East African Rift Valley. We pass camel caravans loaded with goods and see the escarpment of the Afar Depression before we arrive at our destination.
The Danakil Depression is a geological junction between three tectonic plates. Its existence is a result of Africa and Asia pulling apart, leading to rifting and volcanic activity. The land is covered in salt, sulphur and other minerals that give the region a spectacular colour, and we will visit the salt lake Asale. The Depression is referred to as the cradle of humanity, where early hominids first originated. Lying more than 100-metres below sea level, it is also the hottest place on Earth in terms of average year-round temperatures.
After exploring the Depression, we find a suitable camping spot nearby, away from the tremendous heat.
Please note: The Danakil Depression is one of the most spectacular places on Earth, but the environment is extremely intense and inhospitable. A good level of fitness is required to complete the trip.
Overnight: Danakil Depression | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Danakil Depression - Mekele. Leaving the incredible Danakil Depression behind, we return to Mekele where the remainder of the day is at leisure. We'll be reunited with our overland truck on arrival.
Overnight: Mekele | Breakfast
Mekele - Lalibela. Day 12 is a travel day as we make our way across Ethiopia to Lalibela. Enjoy a guided tour of the town the following day. Our guide will show us ancient rock-hewn churches such as the UNESCO-listed Church of Saint George and will explain the fascinating history of Lalibela and its churches. There will be plenty of time to explore, absorb the haunting atmosphere inside the churches and take plenty of photographs of the incredible architecture and the religious rituals within. Day 14 is free to explore independently or join optional activities including a mountain hike to the Asheten Monastery or a visit to the cave church of Yemrehana Kristos.
Overnight: Lalibela | Breakfast x 3
Awra Amba village
Lalibela - Awra Amba. Today we'll be visiting the small village of Awra Amba. This village is different to most Ethiopian communities because everyone is valued as an equal member of the community. This is in stark contrast to traditional hierarchical Ethiopian values. We'll enjoy a tour of the settlement with a village elder and we may even get to meet the founder, Zumra Nuru.
Overnight: Awra Amba | Breakfast
Bahir Dar & the Blue Nile Falls
Awra Amba - Bahir Dar. On day 16 we drive to the small town of Bahir Dar. The town is built on the shore of Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile, one of the two major tributaries of the mighty River Nile which is so crucial to life in east Africa.
Day 17 sees us take to the water on an included boat trip on the lake. We visit the famous monastery of Gabriel Ure Kideth and see the spot where the Blue Nile begins.
The following day we visit the Blue Nile Falls and take a short walk to see the historic Portuguese Bridge. There's free time later in the day to visit the 'Hippo Bridge' and the Tigray war memorial.
Overnight: Bahir Dar | Breakfast x 3
Bahir Dar - Debre Markos. Today we begin our journey south to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. We break up the journey with a stop for the night in the small town of Debre Markos.
Overnight: Debre Markos | Breakfast
Blue Nile Gorge & Addis Ababa
Debre Markos - Addis Ababa. Today we complete our drive to Addis Ababa. En route we'll take a detour to drive to the bottom of the Blue Nile Gorge, and up the other side. Arriving in the city, there's free time to head out and explore.
Overnight: Addis Ababa | Breakfast
Today our Ethiopian adventure comes to an end. Enjoy a final breakfast in the hotel before making your own way to the airport for your onward flight.
Prices & Dates
Departure dates noted with a 'G' are guaranteed to operate. All other departure dates are guaranteed with a minimum of 4 persons. Prices shown above are per person travelling. Single travellers will be paired up in tents with another person of the same gender.
Local payment - $650pp, paid in USD
Please note that this is payable locally on day 1 of your trip in the currency specified.