Tour Of Ethiopia’s Historic Northern Towns – Bahir Dar, Gondar, Simien Mountains National Park, Axum And Lalibela

This tour combines flights and road trips to enable the visitor to see some of Ethiopia’s most historic towns and other attractions, such as the Simien Mountains National Park.

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.

Please note

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 – Flight to Bahir Dar, boat trip on Lake Tana, visit to Blue Nile Falls. (322 km journey)

Our tour starts with a morning flight to Bahir Dar. Here, we will have a boat trip on Lake Tana, the second largest lake in all of Africa. Of the 37 islands on the lake, 30 of them have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest. We will visit Ura Kidane Mehret, a circular church built in the 16th century, where we will view mural paintings, crowns, crosses, etc. Its huge conical thatched roof is painted with scenes from Biblical lore.

In the afternoon, we visit the Blue Nile Falls, known locally as Tissisat (smoking waterfall): 100 m (328 ft) wide, the water plunges for 45m, giving rise to steam clouds and rainbows. Late in the afternoon, we return to Bahir Dar, and finish the day with a lovely sunset over Lake Tana.

Day 2 – Drive to Gondar. (175 km journey)

After breakfast, we drive to Gondar, the Camelot of Africa. The city seems more European than African in its origin. In the afternoon, we will visit Fasiladas’ Palace, probably the most impressive of all the castles found in the area, and also the oldest one. Continuing on, we visit the Church of Debre Berham Selassie (Light of the Trinity). The interior is decorated with beautiful frescos, cherubs and paintings. This ancient church is rumored to once having been the proposed final resting-place of the Ark of the Covenant.

Day 3 – Day trip to Simien Mountains National Park (120 km journey)

After breakfast, we will drive to the Simien Mountains National Park. At the Park Headquarters, near Debark, a small market town at an altitude of 2700 meters, we have to register. Here, an armed scout – one of the Park requirements – joins us. We then drive to Sankaber for the best views. En route, we pass through pretty country along the foothills of the Simien Mountains, with carefully tended fields, open pasture with grazing horses, stands of trees and distant rocky peaks. At the high point of the road, there are superb views across the weirdly eroded foothills of the range. You may also be lucky enough to spot your first Lammergeiers and Gelada Baboons. The spectacular Jinbar waterfall drops 500m, and is easily viewed from a lookout just a 15 minute walk from the road. We stay overnight in Debark.

Day 4 – Drive to Axum (250 km journey)

This morning, we drive on to Axum, enjoying wonderful scenery. After a relaxed lunch and rest in our hotel, we will have a city tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Legends found in the Kebre Nagast (Book of Kings) tell of how the city of Axum was renowned as early as the 10th century B.C. because it was where the Queen of Sheba resided. It is told that Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum.

Day 5 – Day Trip to Yeha Temple and City Tour in Axum (50 km journey)

After breakfast, we will visit the Yeha Temple, built 500 years before Christ, making this the oldest building in Ethiopia.

Returning to Axum for lunch, we then visit the granite stone Stele of Axum, the tombs of King Kaleb and his son King Gebre Meskel, the Ezana stone inscriptions, the Queen of Sheba’s palace and swimming pool, and the Church of Zion, reputedly the final resting place of the True Ark of the Covenant.

Day 6 – Fly to Lalibela to visit the rock hewn Churches. (240 km journey)

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.

Following a short flight from Axum, 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 7 – Lalibela (10 km journey)

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 8 & 9 – Optional visit to Baregota Village (8 km journey)

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 6’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. Check this amazing journey out at www.bricks.org.nz

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 either in a specially built guest house or in tents. 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 10km round trip on foot or mule), before making the 8 km trek back to Lalibela.

Day 8 (or 10, depending on whether the option of visiting Baregota Village was taken up) Return flight to Addis Ababa (336 km journey)

Duration

10 Days

Transportation

Van / 4WD vehicle / AirPlan