Tour of Northern Ethiopia – 10 days, 9 nights
Why choose this tour?
This is the shortest possible tour which takes you to all the important historical sites of northern Ethiopia PLUS it includes a full day trip to view the wildlife of the Simien Mountains National Park.
Highlights of this tour:
- Visit the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
- Tour the medieval castles of Gondar
- Visit one of the Great Rift Valley Lakes
- Visit Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile
- See the ancient stelae of Axum
- Get up close to the Gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains
This tour is primarily designed for people whose time is limited and who want to squeeze in as much as possible within a limited period.
If you would like a more leisurely tour of the North and one that also includes the Gheralta Mountains, then we suggest one of our longer, more comprehensive tours: 14-day tour of the North. We will be happy to explain the differences.
Please note that some of the hotels or lodges listed below are “boutique” hotels with no more than 12-14 rooms.
We will make every effort to book you into those hotels but this means booking far enough in advance to make this possible. If not, there is usually a good second choice of lodging.
Itinerary Highlights of the Classic Tour
This tour starts and ends in Addis Ababa. In addition to 3 domestic flights, you will also travel overland by car to view some extraordinary religious sites all while interacting with the fascinating Ethiopian people.
Day 1, Addis Ababa: Arrive in Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia, acclimate, relax and do some sightseeing (overnight in Addis Ababa)
Day 2, Bahir Dar: Flight to Bahir Dar. Boat trip on Lake Tana, visit source of the Blue Nile, viewing monasteries on the the lake. (Overnight in Bahir Dar)
Day 3, Gondar: Morning visit Blue Nile Falls. Afternoon drive (3 hrs) Bahir Dar to Gondar, en route stop at local villages. (Overnight in Gondar)
Day 4, Simien Mtns: Tour city of Gondar, visit Royal castles, sightseeing. Afternoon drive (2.5 hrs) to Simien Mountains, en route stop at local villages. (Overnight in lodge at Simien Mountains Natl Park)
Day 5, Simien Mtns: Full day visit Simien Mountains National Park (Overnight in lodge at Simien Mountains Natl Park)
Day 6, Axum: Morning drive (6.5 hrs) to Axum, along scenic road, en route stop at Tekeze Gorge. (Overnight in Axum)
Day 7, Axum: Tour Axum, visit historic churches, Steale Field and other sites of interest. (Overnight in Axum).
Day 8, Lalibela: Flight to Lalibela. Afternoon visit first group of rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. (Overnight in Lalibela).
Day 9, Lalibela: Visit early morning service in one of the rock-hewn churches and hike to view other churches. (Overnight in Lalibela).
Day 10, Flight Day: Fly back to Addis Ababa. Minibus available for transport around Addis Ababa for sightseeing/shopping. Transport to Bole International Airport for evening flight home. End of tour.
1 person $4695
2 people $3195 per person
3 people $2995 per person
4 people $2695 per person
5 or more people – please call or write for our best prices.
Included in the tour price:
- Airport transfers by private vehicle.
- Road transport by 4WD with English speaking driver/guide, including fuel, driver allowances and accommodation
- Accommodation based on double/twin room sharing. One single room included for uneven number of travelers.
- Meal plan bed and breakfast unless otherwise noted.
- Fees for entrances and local guides for activities mentioned in the itinerary
- All government taxes for the services included in the tour price.
Not included in the tour price:
- International flights and visa fees.
- Domestic flights are not included. Lower rates are available if Ethiopian Airlines is used for international flight. Fares subject to change by airline.
- The current cost for all flights in this itinerary is $180 per person if at least 1 segment of your international flight is on Ethiopian Airlines. If not, the total cost is $485. These fares are subject to change.
- Lunches and dinners, unless stated as included above.
- Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary.
- Fees for photos and video.
- Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities, etc
Detailed Itinerary of the Northern Classic Tour
This tour begins and ends in Addis Ababa. This private tour of northern Ethiopia is one of our shorter tours, but you’ll still get to see the most important sites of this beautiful country, including several UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Amhara and Tigray regions.
You can easily customize this tour to suit your interests, but the Classic tour is designed to let you go to all the must-see stops in Ethiopia. To see the daily itinerary, scroll down:
Day 1, Addis Ababa:
You will be met at the airport by one of our drivers and taken to your hotel, the Capital Hotel and Spa, which is not far away.
You may be tired after a long international flight and just decide to rest up. If not, your guide will take you on a city tour of Addis Ababa.
In the evening you can enjoy a nice buffet dinner at the Habeisha Cultural Restaurant. The restaurant also features some very good live entertainment by local singers and dancers. Overnight at Capital Hotel and Spa.
Day 2, Bahir Dar:
After breakfast head back to Bole Airport for a short domestic flight to Bahir Dar. There you will check into the beautiful Kuriftu Resort, right on the shores of Lake Tana.
The Kuriftu Resort is a spectacular looking hotel property, with stone paths and stairs as well as a large swimming pool. Plus each room gets a complimentary 45-minute massage at the hotel spa. The hotel has its own private dock on the shore of Lake Tana.
Lake Tana is also the source of the Blue Nile River, which flows 2,000 miles north to merget the White Nile near Khartoum, Sudan to form the world famous Nile River.
It is the Blue Nile that supplies most of the water to the united Nile River as it flows on to Egypt. On the way to the source of the Blue Nile it is likely that you will spot some hippos and crocodiles relaxing in the lake.
The main activity of the day is a boat trip on the lake to visit at least one of its monasteries. The lake has 30 small islands and each one has a monastery.
You will only have time to visit 1 or 2 of the most important ones. The Ura Kidane Mehret Monastery is actually on a peninsula and is considered the most impressive and most famous of all the local churches.
There are many beautiful murals at the monastery, with early Ethiopian depictions of Christianity.
Overnight in Bahir Dar.
Day 3, Gondar:
In the morning after a nice buffet breakfast at the lakeside you will drive around 1 hour to the town of Tissisat, where you will have a short but scenic walk to a place where you can view the Blue Nile Falls.
The volume of water in the Falls varies according to the season as well as whether or not the hydroelectric project upstream is using the water.
We will try to time your visit for a time of maximum water flow, but this is not 100% guaranteed.
Then it is time to start the 3-hour drive to the castle city of Gondar. On the way there will be a visit to the Awramba Community, a collective, self-sufficient tribal group that is known for their weaving.
Upon arrival in Gondar, check into the Goha Hotel, where you will spend the night. The hotel is set on a hillside and offers a panoramic view of the town of Gondar, with Lake Tana in the distance.
In the morning take a tour of Gondar, which has been called “Africa’s Camelot”.
Gondar was established as the capital of Emperor Fasilidas in 1635 and the castles are very well preserved.
Gondar’s historic area is a group of castle’s dating back to the 17th Century and inspired by European architecture.
The complex has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
You will also visit the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, with its faces of angels on the ceiling.
Day 4, Simien Mtns:
After touring the castles and the church in Gondar it will be time to drive 2 1/2 hours farther north, into the Simien Mountains, to your accommodations for the night, Limalimo Lodge.
This will be at the beautiful Limalimo Lodge, within the Simien Mountains National Park.
The Limalimo Lodge is one of the most beautiful hotels on the tour. Located at an altitude of 10,000 feet, there are only 14 rooms, each one in an individual space.
The rooms are not heated at night, so it is important to bring something warm to sleep in. But Julia, the obliging English owner, will give you a hot-water bottle.
Three meals are provided by the Lodge as well as a complimentary laundry service!
Day 5, Simien Mountains National Park:
Full Day Visit to the Simien Mountains National Park
This visit promises to be one of the most exciting days of your tour – a full-day visit to the spectacular Simien Mountains National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Limalimo Lodge provides you with a box lunch.
Most of the Park lies at an altitude of 10,000 feet or higher and was formed by volcanic activity. What you will see today is a huge display of mountain crags and deep canyons.
An okay road runs deep into the Park so that those who do not want to or are not able to walk can still see quite a bit. For those who want to hike or trek, this can easily be arranged.
One of the main features of this park besides it natural beauty is the wildlife. There are Waila Ibex and several troops of Gelada monkeys.
The Gelada monkeys while not tame, are grass-eaters and so more or less ignore you. So you can get really cloose!
Some people may decide to extend their stay in the Simien Mountains in order to explore the Park in greater depth.
Overnight again at the Limalimo Lodge.
Day 6, Axum:
After breakfast at the Limalimo Lodge and a last look at the spectacular scenery from the deck outside the dining room it will be time to drive 6 1/2 hours north to Axum,
You will be traveling on the scenic Limalimo Road built by the Italians during their brief occupation of Ethiopia during WWII (1936-1941).
Lunch will be eaten along the way and you will take a brief rest stop view the the Tekeze River Gorge.
Upon arrival in Axum you will check into the Sabean International Hotel, rated the best in town. The Sabean is a nice, clean and comfortable hotel but we admit it is not nearly as luxurious as the lodge you have been staying at the past few nights.
Day 7, Axum:
City tour Axum, visit Maryam Tsion churches, Stelae Field and other sites of interest.
Axum may be the oldest continuously inhabited city of sub-Saharan Africa. It is said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba and the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
Axum is also one of Ethiopia’s 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Top among the most famous sights in Axum are the stelae, huge grave markers that date back to the 4th Century AD.
They can range from 90 to 110 feet in height and each can weigh several many tons, although there are many smaller ones as well. It is still not clear how they were carved or erected.
The fourth-century AD Cathedral of Maryam Tsion was Ethiopia’s first church. It is said to be the home of the Ark of the Covenant, but this is hard to ascertain since the public is not allowed to see it.
But there is a new Cathedral of Maryam Tsion that has a very elegant and modern design that is also worth seeing.
Axum has several other important sites of interest which can be visited during the full day you will have here.
Overnight at the Sabean Hotel.
Day 8, Lalibela:
After a short flight over beautiful mountain scenery you will arrive in Lalibela, arguably the top tourist site of Ethiopia and the one that no visitor should miss.
From the airport it’s around a 20-minute drive to your hotel for your stay in Lalibela, the beautiful Mezena Lodge.
This hotel opened in 2017 and can now be considered the best lodging in town. Modern individual bungalows will be your home for the next two nights.
In the afternoon, it will be time to start your tour of the 13 medieval rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978.
These monolithic (carved out of one piece of rock) churches were excavated below the ground, starting in the 12th Century. Each one is unique and we will make sure that you are able to see as much of them as possible.
The most famous site, the St. George Church, is carved in the shape of a cross.
These churches are set in two neighboring clusters or complexes and are visited by walking along rocky paths and slender tunnels.
Lalibela is an important center of Ethiopian Christianity, and even today is a place of pilgrimage and devotion.
Overnight at Mezena Lodge.
Day 9, Lalibela:
If you are willing to get up early it will be possible to see a service at one of the rock-hewn churches. You may think that you are back in medieval times.
Later in the morning you can visit some of the churches you did not get see the previous day.
In the afternoon, you may decide to visit the Asheton Maryam monastery, which, even if you drive as cloose to it as possible, will still require a little uphill hike or a ride on a donkey.
Another option is a visit to the unusual Yemrehanna Kristos church, which will also involve some more uphill walking. But is has a long a stone pathway leading up to the church.
The way you spend your time in Lalibela depends to a certain point how fit you are and how much walking you can do at this altitude.
Since these are private, custom tours, you and your guide will always be able to decide what is best for you.
Overnight at Mezena Lodge.
Day 10, Flight Day:
After breakfast it will be time to fly back to Addis Ababa. What you do next depends on when your flight home is scheduled to leave.
You can have the use of your hotel room until your flight departs, either some time that evening or the next morning.
During the day you might want to do some more sightseeing or shopping in Addis Ababa or just take it easy and get ready for your flight home. End of tour.