16 or 18 days tour of Northern Ethiopia historic towns, including a 4 days tour of the Danikal Depression

Please note: For this and our other tours, we offer a 1 – 2 day stopover in Addis Ababa, where there are many amazing sights to see.  If you come in on a long haul overnight flight, this will give you time to recover from your jetlag before heading off on your selected tour.

Please refer to our Optional tour of Addis Ababa tour for details. You can choose whether to spend one or two days in Addis, and also which places you would like to visit. This tour could also be added onto the end of another tour.

Itinerary

Day 1: Drive to Dessie (390 kms)

After a quick breakfast, we will leave for Dessie.   Much of the journey is through farmland, but we will also cross over the spectacular Tarmaher Pass,  with spectacular forested peaks on either side of the highway.

Day 2: Drive to Lalibela (290 kms)

Early in the morning, we leave for Lalibela, stopping over at Lake Estiphanos to visit the historic Hayq Estifanos Monastery. (Only men can enter the monastery, but women can enjoy a boat trip on the lake.) It has a fascinating history of scholarship, worship and struggle, and is currently a place of study for young men on their journey towards priesthood within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

 Day 3: Exploring Lalibela

Lalibela needs at least two days in order to see all that it has to offer.

Also available as an option on this tour is an overnight visit to the remote village of Baregota, 8 kms from Lalibela, birthplace of Amlaku Teshome, founder of Baregota Tour and Travel. A reasonable degree of fitness is required for this visit.

Lalibela is a World Heritage site because of its 12th century Rock-Hewn churches, which are known as the eighth wonder of the world. It is on a par with Petra in Jordan, but not so well known.  The eleven structures are world-famous, having been carved out of single pieces of rock. Discover Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the world), believed to be the world’s largest monolithic church, before navigating through the system of trenches to arrive at Biete Giyorgis (House of St. George), the most famous and isolated of all the structures. Some churches are connected by fascinating internal tunnels, with hermit holes where people lived and died. The connecting walls are full of religious symbols. Haile Selassie reportedly risked his life to make a solo pilgrimage here during the war with Italy, seeking clarity and guidance.

Today, we will visit the first group of seven churches, before travelling some 45 kms out of Lalibela to visit the 11th century church of Yemrehanna Kristos, built in a cave. The contents of the cave will astound you!

We finish the day with a delicious dinner in the famous Ben Abeba restaurant, a unique structure of steel and concrete overlooking the hills and valleys of the mountains.

Day 5: Lalibela

This morning we will travel, either by car or on foot (if sufficiently energetic), to a monastery built high in the mountains above Lalibela. The ancient relics they have there are extraordinary, and the views amazing.

After lunch, we will explore the remaining four rock churches in Lalibela, before a meal at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant, where we can try locally produced honey mead (something Lalibela is renowned for) and see, and perhaps join in, traditional dancing.

Days 6 & 7: Optional visit to Baregota Village. (8 km walk each way)

In June of 2009 a much younger Amlaku Teshome had been subcontracted by one of Lalibela churches guides to take a visiting New Zealander to see the Yemrehanna Kristos cave church referred to on Day 4’s itinerary. Coming out of the church Amlaku plucked up his courage and said to the visitor ‘Please Sir, I want to go to University.’ His dream was to learn, so that he could bring his remote village some 200 years into the modern age. That started a journey for Amlaku, leading him to Dessie University, from which he graduated in 2013 with a Degree (with great distinction) in Plant Science, and then on to a number of agricultural projects, which have seen his village community of some 70 families travel on a major journey from subsistence to sustainability. The project is ongoing, with the villagers now totally on board with Amlaku’s dream. The project has been resourced from New Zealand, but it is Amlaku’s vision that has brought it to where it is today.

Today, we will walk the 8 kms to Baregota Village (travel by mule is optional), where we will be welcomed by villagers, and then will explore the village, to see the improvements that have been made – in agriculture, in water distribution, in the production of cash crops of vegetables which are supplied to the hotels in Lalibela, in the introduction of a diesel powered grain mill, in the building of sturdy new houses, in the growth of the local school, and so on.

We will stay overnight in a specially built guest house. The facilities are basic, but it is an amazing experience. The scenery is absolutely stunning. We will spend the next morning continuing our exploration of the village, possibly visiting the 1000 year old church and nearby primary school (a 10 km round trip on foot or mule), before making the 8 km trek back to Lalibela.

 Day 6/8:  Drive to Mekele (300 kms)

Today we drive to Mekele, the capital city of Tigray region, in order to visit Emperor Yohannes IV’s Palace and Museum, built between 1882 and 1884. From here, we embark on our 4 day tour of the Danakil Depression area.

The Danakil Depression in the north-east of Ethiopia is officially listed as the hottest place on Earth, with an average temperature of 34 – 35C. It lies at the junction of three tectonic plates and has developed as a result of Africa and Asia moving apart.

A plain, measuring around 200 by 50 kms, it is about 125 m below sea level. It is sometimes referred to as the cradle of hominids after Donald Johanson and his colleagues in 1974 found the famous Lucy Australopithecus fossil, which has been dated  as 3.2 million years old. Lucy can be seen at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.

One of the driest and most tectonically active areas on the planet, the Danakil is an area of singular geological fascination, a strange lunar landscape studded with active volcanoes. You will see some of the world’s most unique malodorous sulphur-caked hot springs, solidified black lava flows and vast salt encrusted basins.

Salt mining at Lake Assale has been carried out for centuries, providing local people with a very basic living. Camel caravans carrying loads of salt can be encountered on the way.

Among the geological points of interest to tourists are numerous hot springs, among them Yellow Lake.

This is harsh country, and a tour through this area needs to be planned carefully, allowing for the climate, geological conditions and, occasionally, security challenges.

The best months to visit, when the temperatures are slightly more temperate, are from November to February.

Day 7/9: Drive to Dallol (122 kms)

We will then travel from the highlands of the Tigray Region down to the Danakil desert. This is considered the most active volcanic region in the world, with temperatures of up to 50 °C. We will camp overnight.

Day 8/10:  Sulfur Terraces of Dallol

Each day, the local Afar miners chop salt from the earth under a blistering sun, then load the minerals on to camels and donkeys which march for days to market towns to the west where the mineral is sold. On the lake, nature has created bizarre shapes: sulfur terraces shine in different colors, salt crystals and rock towers make fantastic scenarios. We will camp overnight.

Day 9/11: Drive to Erta Ale

In the morning, we make the 4 hour off-road journey to Dodom, where we obtain  permission to climb Erta Ale, which is the most active volcano in Ethiopia. After  an early dinner, we start the ascent at around 8.00pm. Camels will transport all the camping materials and food to the top of the volcano, where we will spend the night. Once there, we will be able to observe the eruptions and glowing lava, along with the sparkling  stars of the desert sky. We will camp overnight.

Day 10/12: Return to Mekele

Along the road you will get the chance to observe the landscape and the lifestyle of the Afar people.

Day 11/13: Rest day in Mekele

Day 12/14:  Drive to Axum, (187 kms)

When we arrive in Axum we will have a city tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, incorporating the Archeological Museum, the Zion Cathedral where the original Ark of the Covenant is claimed to be held, the Stele Park which contain magnificent single blocks of stone erected during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and the ruined palace and bath of King Menelik I, reputedly the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel. These date back to 950 BC. Menelik is reputed to have brought the Ark to Axum.

Day 13/15: Drive to Gondar (360 kms)

Today we drive to Gondar, which was Ethiopia’s first capital city during the reign of Fasilides.  We will visit the royal enclosure of Gondar and Debre Birhan Selasse church .

Day 14/16: Drive to Bahir Dar (170 kms)

Today we drive to Bahir Dar. En route we will visit Awra Amba Village, which is an  intentional community of about 460 people. It was founded in 1980 by Zumra Nuru, who currently serves as co-chairman of the community, with the goal of solving socio-economic problems through helping one another in an environment of egalitarianism. Its members follow a distinctive lifestyle. The women have the same rights as the men with no distinction in the division of labour between the sexes. They are diligent, disciplined and self-confident, with a lifestyle quite different to other Amharic communities. Unlike most communities in Ethiopia, they don’t follow any religious creed. They believe in hard work and being good to people.

After lunch in Bahir Dar, we visit the Blue Nile Falls, known locally as Tissisat (smoking waterfall). 100 m (328 ft) wide, the water plunges down 45m, giving rise to steam clouds and rainbows.

Day 15/17: Boat trip on Lake Tana

Today, we have a boat trip on Lake Tana, which contains 37 islands. 30 of them have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest. We will visit the monastery church of Ura Kidane Mehret, which is the best known of the monasteries, and which has an important collection of religious icons from the 16th to 18th centuries A.D.

Day 16/18: Drive to back to Addis Ababa (500 kms)

Today we drive back to Addis Ababa, or if you would rather, we could fly back to Addis, where you will have the option of a farewell dinner.

End of the Tour

Duration

16 or 18 days

Transportation

Van / 4WD vehicle / Aeroplane