Tour of Northern Ethiopia – 14 days, 13 nights
Why choose this tour?
The tour itinerary covers all the important historical sites of northern Ethiopia PLUS it includes a full-day trip to view the wildlife of the Simien Mountains.
In addition to 2 domestic flights, you will travel overland by car to enjoy the extraordinary natural beauty of Ethiopia.
Highlights of this tour
- Tour the castles of Gondar
- Visit the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
- Get up close to the Gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains
- See the medieval stelae of Axum
- Experience the rugged scenery and ancient churches of the Gheralta Mountains
The tour is primarily designed for people who are able to devote two weeks to exploring one of the most fascinating historic regions of Africa.
This itinerary differs from our Classic 10-day tour of Northern Ethiopia primarily in that it includes the Gheralta Mountains, a very interesting and scenic region.
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 Comprehensive Tour
This tour starts and ends in Addis Ababa. In addition to 2 domestic flights, you will also travel overland by car to view some extraordinary historical landmarks 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 Natl Park)
Day 5, Simien Mtns: Full day visit Simien Mountains National Park (Overnight in lodge at Simien 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, Hawzien: Drive (4 hrs) to Hawzien, en route visit various Tigray historical sites. (Overnight in Hawzien).
Day 9, Hawzien: Full day exploring the spectacular Tigray region. You can visit the historical sites of your choice. (Overnight in Hawzien).
Day 10, Mekele: Full day exploring Tigray, visiting historical sites of choice. Late afternoon drive (2 hrs) to Mekele. (Overnight in Mekele).
Day 11, Lalibela: Drive (6-7 hrs) from Mekele to Lalibela. Stop en route for lunch and to view some stunning natural scenery. (Overnight in Lalibela).
Day 12, Lalibela: Visit the world famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. (Overnight in Lalibela).
Day 13, Lalibela: Visit an early morning service at one of the rock-hewn churches and hike to Asheton Maryam church. Afternoon visit the Yemrehane Kristos church. (Overnight in Lalibela).
Day 14, Flight Day: Fly back to Addis Ababa. Minibus available for transport around Addis Ababa for sightseeing/shopping. Transport to Bole International Airport for evening or morning flight home. End of tour.
All tour prices for the above itinerary are in US Dollars and based on 1/ 2/ 3/ 4 persons traveling together:
1 person $5995
2 people $3995 per person
3 people $3595 per person
4 people $3195 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 $130 per person if at least 1 segment of your international flight is on Ethiopian Airlines. If not, the total cost is $385. 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 Comprehensive Tour
This tour begins and ends in Addis Ababa. This private tour of northern Ethiopia is one of our longer tours.
During your 2 weeks in Ethiopia, you’ll still get to see all 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 individual interests, but the Comprehensive tour was designed to take you to all the must-see landmarks 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 out of Lake Tana to meet the White Nile near Khartoum, Sudan.
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:
Full Day Visit to the Simien Mountains
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 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, Hawzien:
After breakfast it will be time to set out on the drive through the Tigray region towards the town of Hawzien.
This will be a very scenic trip, through the mountains of Northern Ethiopia, not far from the border with Eritrea.
The people of Tigray are in the same linguistic family as the Eritrean people and these two territories formed the base of the ancient Axumite Empire.
Around 50 km. into the trip you will stop at Yeha, an important archeological site which was founded at least 2,800 years ago.
After some more driving through dramatic scenery you will reach your lodging for the next two nights, which will be either the Korkor Lodge or the Gheralta Lodge.
Each of these small Italian-owned boutique hotels offers dramatic views of the neighboring Gheralta Mountains.
Day 9, Hawzien:
This day will be spent exploring some of the rock-hewn churches of Tigray.
NOTE: It is important to say here that the churches you visit very much depend on what kind of physical shape you are in.
In other words, if you are able to do some hiking and climbing on rocky landscapes you will be able to visit some of the most beautiful and unusual churches in Tigray (or anywhere else, for that matter).
If you are not feeling too energetic there are still plenty of less demanding options for you to choose.
Tigray is one of the most scenic and exciting parts of Ethiopia and should be a highlight of your trip regardless of which options you choose.
The landscape may remind you of the area around Sedona, AZ in the U.S.
Some of trails to these churches may prove to be too strenuous for many people. That is why you should consult with your guide and decide on what is best for you.
A relatively easy church to visit is the Abreha Atsheba Church, dedicated to two fourth-Century emperors. This is one of the best-known rock-hewn churches of Tigray.
It is not unusual to see worshipers, when you visit a church in Ethiopia, so please be respectful and understand that some areas are off-limits.
Overnight back at the Korkor or Gherlata Lodge.
Day 10, Mekele:
The first part of the day will be devoted to further exploration of Tigray. Since there are several choices of how to spend your time you will again consult with your guide about the best options, based on your personal interests and physical condition.
No matter what you decide on you will find Tigray a beautiful and fascinating place.
You may decide to visit more churches, go for a hike or just take it easy.
In the late afternoon it will be time to drive (2 hrs.) to the Tigray capital city of Mekele, where you will spend the night at the Planet Hotel.
The Planet Hotel is a large, comfortable and conventional hotel. Mekele itself is a large city and is just a place to spend the night in a nice high-rise hotel.
Day 11, Lalibela:
Wake early to travel (6-7 hrs) from Mekele to Lalibela.
This will be a fairly long day of driving and there are actually 3 different routes that can be used. You can discuss the pros and cons of each route with your guide and decide which one to use. It is mainly a question of better roads versus more dramatic mountain scenery on unpaved roads.
Don’t be surprised to see camels along the roadsides. You will be able to stop at a nice place for lunch along the way and break up the drive.
Whichever way you go you will be happy to arrive at the beautiful Mezena Lodge, where you will be spending the next three nights.
This hotel opened in 2017 and can now be considered among the best lodging in town. Modern individual bungalows will be your home for the next three nights.
Day 12, Lalibela:
For many people Lalibela is the biggest highlight of the whole tour. There are 13 medieval rock-hewn churches in 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. Below is a Youtube video about several these wonderful churches in Lalibela.
The churches are in two neighboring clusters or complexes and are visited by walking along rocky trenches and and walkways, like the one below.
We advise people to go at a fairly leisurely pace since visiting the churches requires some up and down walking. Since you have two full days in Lalibela, it will be possible for you to visit all of the churches without overly exerting yourself.
The most famous site, the St. George Church, is carved in the shape of a cross and extends some 40 feet or over 3 stories down into the rock hillside.
Overnight at Mezena Lodge.
Day 13, Lalibela:
It is possible that there will be a service going on during your visit to the churches the previous day. If not, you may decide to get up early to see a service in progress.
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 can also visit the Asheton Maryam monastery, which, even if you drive as cloose to it as possible, will still require a little uphill walking.
Another option is a visit to the unusual Yemrehanna Kristos church, which will also involve some 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 in 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 14, Flight Day:
After breakfast it will be time to fly back to Addis Ababa. What you do next upon your arrival in Addis Ababa 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 touring or shopping in Addis Ababa or just take it easy and get ready for your flight home. End of tour.
Come visit Ethiopia, the most fascinating country in Africa.
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