Tour of Northern Ethiopia – 7 days, 6 nights
(An Ethiopia Essentials Tour)
Why choose this tour?
When your time is really limited but you want to include all the important historical and cultural sites of northern Ethiopia in your itinerary then this tour is just right for you.
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
- See the ancient stelae of Axum
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.
It may also be a good tour for anyone who is traveling to another part of Africa or to the Middle East or Asia and who wants to get just a “taste” of Ethiopia.
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 longest 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.
Due to time constraints, this tour incorporates 4 relatively short domestic flights in order to include as much as possible and avoid long road trips.
Itinerary Highlights of the Northern Essentials Tour
This tour starts and ends in Addis Ababa. In addition to 4 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, view monasteries on the the lake as well as visit Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile, (Overnight in Bahir Dar)
Day 3, Gondar: Morning drive (3 hrs) from Bahir Dar to Gondar, en route stop at local village. Afternoon tour Gondar: visit Royal Enclosure, Fasilides Bath and Debre Birhan Selassie church. (Overnight in Gondar)
Day 4, Axum: Morning flight from Gondar to Axum. Afternoon tour Axum: visit Maryam Tsion churches, Steale Field and other historical sites. (Overnight in Axum)
Day 5, Lalibela: Flight from Axum to Lalibela. Afternoon visit first group of rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. (Overnight in Lalibela).
Day 6, Lalibela: If possible, visit early morning service in one of the rock-hewn churches and hike to view other churches nearby. (Overnight in Lalibela).
Day 7, Flight Day: Fly back to Addis Ababa. Minibus available for transport around Addis Ababa for sightseeing/shopping. Transport to Bole International Airport for flight home. End of tour.
All tour prices for the above itinerary are in USD and based on 1/ 2/ 3/ 4 persons traveling together.
1 person $2995
2 people – cost per person $2195
3 people – cost per person $1995
4 people – cost per person $1895
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 $215 per person if at least 1 segment of your international flight is on Ethiopian Airlines. If not, the total cost is $580. These fares are subject to change.
- Lunches and dinners, unless stated as included above.
- Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary.
- Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities, etc.
Detailed Itinerary of the Northern Essentials Tour
This private tour of northern Ethiopia is our shortest tour, 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 fix your interests, but this 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 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 world famous Nile River as it flows into Egypt. During your boat trip, 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 along with a 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.
In the late afternoon, drive 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 a 100% science.
Overnight in Bahir Dar.
Day 3, Gondar:
In the morning after a nice buffet breakfast at the lakeside resort, it will be 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 afternoon there will be time to take a tour of Gondar, which has been called “Africa’s Camelot”.
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.
Gondar was established as the capital of Emperor Fasilidas in 1635 and the castles are very well preserved.
You will also visit the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, with its faces of angels on the ceiling.
Overnight Goha Hotel in Gondar.
Day 4, Axum:
After breakfast you’ll head to the airport for the short flight to Axum. Upon arrival in Axum you will check into the Sabean Hotel, rated the best available in town, although perhaps not as luxurious as other hotels on the itinerary.
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 and erected.
The stela you see in the photo on the left was destroyed in the 10th Century and would have weighed 515 tons. There are also subterranean tombs to be seen here.
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.
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 5, 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.
The churches are in two neighboring clusters or complexes and are visited by walking along rocky trenches and and walkways.
We advise people to go at a fairly leisurely pace since visiting the churches requires some up and down walking.
Since you have two days in Lalibela, it will be possible for you to visit all of the churches without overly exerting yourself.
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. It goes down some 40 feet into the rocky hillside.
Lalibela is an important center of Ethiopian Christianity, and even today is a place of pilgrimage and devotion.
Overnight at Mezena Lodge.
Day 6, 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 require a little uphill walking or riding a donkey.
The Asheton Maryam monastery is carved into a cliff over 2600 feet above Lalibela sand is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Another option is a visit to the unusual Yemrehanna Kristos church, which will also involve some uphill walking.
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 7, 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.
Come visit Ethiopia, the most fascinating country in Africa.
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