The Ethiopia Grand Tour – North & South Ethiopia, 16 Days

Tour of North & South Ethiopia

16 days, 15 nights

Why choose this tour?

Ethiopia can be thought of as two separate countries – the South, where the emphasis is on visiting various tribes, who are still living as they did hundreds of years ago – and the North, where the emphasis is on cultural and historic landmarks.

This itinerary combines both parts of Ethiopia into one ‘Grand Tour’ by making use of short, inexpensive domestic flights to cover a lot of territory in both the North and the South of the country.

Of course, since these are custom tours, the itinerary can be lengthened by anywhere from one to four days, thus making the trip more leisurely. This itinerary packs a lot of ground into 16 days.

If you have more time at your disposal, then you may choose to spend more time in the tribal areas of the South, the spectacular Simien Mountains National Park, the ancient city of Axum or the Gheralta Mountains, as examples.

It should be mentioned that in traveling to the South of Ethiopia this area is probably as close to “the back of beyond” that most people will ever get to see.

In order to do so you will have to put up with some traveling on rough roads and some accommodations that can best be described as less than luxurious,although you will always have individual accommodations and a private bathroom.

However, we and most people who travel to the South of Ethiopia feel that these minor discomforts are worth the rewards of the visit.

Your vehicle, a Toyota land cruiser, is built to withstand rough roads and make the driving over them as comfortable as possible.

On the road in southern Ethiopia

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
  • Witness a ‘Evangadi’ dance and/or ‘Bull jump’ ceremony (if it coincides with your stay).
  • Visit two different regional local open air markets
  • Meet people from five different ethnic groups
  • Take a boat trip Lake Chamo
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Itinerary Highlights of the Grand Tour

This tour starts and ends in Addis Ababa. In addition to 4 domestic flights, you will also travel overland by 4WD truck 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, Jinka: Flight to Jinka. Visit Ari people and South Omo Research Center.

Day 3, Jinka: Morning visit Mago National Park and Mursi people. Afternoon visit Hamar people.

Day 4, Turmi: Drive to visit the Dassanech people and an Arbore village.

Day 5, Konso: Drive to Arba Minch, en route visit the Konso people.

Day 6, Arba Minch: Boat trip on Lake Chamo then flight to city of Bahir Dar.

Day 7, Bahir Dar: Boat trip on Lake Tana, visit source of the Blue Nile, viewing monasteries on the the lake.

Day 8, Gondar: Morning drive to Gondar. Tour city of Gondar, visit Royal castles. Afternoon drive to Simien Mountains

Day 9, Simien Mtns: Full day visit Simien Mountains National Park (Overnight in lodge at Simien Natl Park)

Day 10, Simien Mtns: Morning drive (6.5 hrs) to Axum, along scenic Limalimo Road, en route stop at Tekeze Gorge. 

Day 11, Axum: City tour of Axum, visit Maryam Tsion church, Stelae Field and other sites of interest.

Day 12, Hawzien/Mekele: Drive Hawzien in the Gherlata Mountains, en route visit various Tigray historical sites. Afternoon drive to Mekele. Overnight in Mekele.

Day 13, Mekele/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 14, Lalibela: Visit the world famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. (Overnight in Lalibela).

Day 15, Lalibela: Visit an early morning service at one of the rock-hewn churches or hike to Asheton Maryam church. Afternoon visit the Yemrehane Kristos church. (Overnight in Lalibela).

Day 16, Flight Day: Fly back to Addis Ababa. Vehicle available for transport around Addis Ababa for sightseeing/shopping. Transport to Bole International Airport for evening or morning flight home. End of tour.

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Tour Prices

All tour prices for the above itinerary are in US Dollars and based on 1/ 2/ 3/ 4 persons traveling together:
1 person $6695
2 people $4295 per person
3 people $3895 per person
4 people $3395 per person
5 or more people – please call or write for our best prices.

Included in the tour price:

  • Airport transfers and road transport around Addis Ababa by private minibus.
  • 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. Full board at Bale Mountain Lodge.
  • Fees for entrances, local guides and compulsory scouts 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 $280 per person if at least 1 segment of your international flight is on Ethiopian Airlines. If not, the total cost is $685. 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.

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Itinerary Highlights of the Grand Tour

This tour begins and ends in Addis Ababa. This private tour of northern Ethiopia is one of our longer tours.

During your 16 days 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 Arrival – Addis Ababa

Transfer from Airport to Jupiter International Hotel. You will be met at the airport by one of our drivers and taken to your hotel, which is not far away.

Overnight Jupiter International Hotel

Depending upon when you arrive, your guide may be able take you on a tour of Addis Ababa. Among the places that can be visited are the National Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the Trinity Cathedral and the Mercato, the largest open air market in Africa.

 


In the evening you’ll have a nice buffet dinner at the Habeisha Cultural Restaurant. The restaurant also features some very good live entertainment by local singers and dancers, with traditional music from all parts of Ethiopia.

Overnight Jupiter International Hotel

Day 2: Fly to Jinka

In the morning, after a nice buffet breakfast, return to Bole Airport, only a few minutes away, for a 1-hour flight down to Jinka in the South.

All domestic flights are on Ethiopian Airlines and generally work well. The airline has a fleet of Bombardier Q300 turboprops, which are used most of the time. Flights are usually quite scenic.

After checking into the Eco Omo Lodge, there will be time for a visit to the South Omo Research Center, where there are interesting exhibits and artifacts representing the peoples living in the South Omo region.

After the museum there will be a visit to the Ari people, the first of the Southern tribes you will encounter in the next few days.

 

Overnight at the Eco Omo Lodge, which although not luxurious, is the best place in the area to stay. All rooms are private with en-suite baths.

 

Day 3 Jinka

Today the tour takes you to Turmi and into the Mago National Park to visit the Mursi tribe. The Mursi are probably the best known of the Southern tribes. People here, as in the other tribal areas you will visit, are still living an authentic traditional life, even though it may be a vanishing lifestyle.

After driving around 1 1/4 miles on a gravel road you will arrive at the first Mursi village. Mursi women are famous for wearing lip-plates and the men are known for performing ‘dong’ stick fights.

 

After returning to Jinka you will travel through an area where Banna, Bashada and then Hamar people are living. If it is a market day there will be a stop at the Dimeka market. If not, there will be other opportunities to visit a market along the route.

 

We will also hope to see an Evangadi dance and bull-jumping ceremony today. Please note that this can not be guaranteed 100% since these ceremonies are not put on for tourists but are traditional ceremonies that tourists are allowed to witness.

 

There is a good chance that you will be able to see one of these ceremonies while you are in the South.

The bull jumping is an all-day right-of-passage affair that includes dancing and other tribal rituals. It is extremely interesting to witness if you are fortunate enough to be there at the right time.

You will be spending the night at the Buska Lodge, which, while not luxurious, is the best available accommodation in the area.

Day 4 Turmi

Konso Kanta Lodge
The first activity of the day is to drive south on a good paved road, down near the border with Kenya, for a visit to the Dassenach people in Omerate. This will necessitate a short crossing of the Omo River in a dugout canoe.

Dassanech – Crossing the Omo River by local dug-out canoe

After crossing the Omo River you will walk around 15 minutes to visit the Dassanech people.
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There will also be a stop to visit an Arbore village. Each of the villages and tribes you will visit in the South is a different experience.

Arbore – Two girls

In order to reach the Arbore village it will be necessary to drive part of the way on a drive river bed. But your Toyota vehicle will have no problem with that during the dry season and the trip will prove to be a very scenic one.

Overnight at Buska Lodge

Day 5 Konso

After breakfast it will be time to visit the Konso people in their maze-like villages.

The “Konso Cultural Landscape” was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011, the most recent of the 9 sites within Ethiopia.

According to UNESCO, “It constitutes a spectacular example of a living cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years) adapted to its dry hostile environment.”
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The village is also noted for its Waga ancestor carvings.

Moving on from Konso you will next visit the Dorze tribe, who live in beehive-like houses and are known for their crafts, especially weaving.

If you are here on a Tuesday or Saturday there will be an opportunity to visit the colorful market at near-by Chencha.

This will be another scenic trip, as you pass by Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo on the way. Finally arriving in in Arba Minch (40 Springs) you will check in at the beautiful Haile Resort.

 

The Haile chain of hotels was founded by the famous Ethiopian long-distance runner, Haile Gebrselassie, and there are now several of these hotels in various parts of Ethiopia. The Haile Resort should now be considered the top hotel in Arba Minch.

After 3 nights in less than luxurious accommodations, the Haile Resort may come as a welcome change.

Day 6 Arba Minch

Your driver will set off in the morning for a 2-day drive to Bahir Dar, where you will again meet up with each other.

Meanwhile, before your flight to Bahir Dar, there will be a nice boat trip on Lake Chamo. There you will have a good chance of seeing large crocodiles, a variety of water birds and some hippos.

 

Nech Sar NP – Boat trip Lake Chamo

Then head to the airport for the trip to the North. This will require flying back to the capital Addis Ababa, having around a 1-hour layover and then a second short flight to Bahir Dar on Lake Tana.

 

After a short ride from the airport check into the Kuriftu Resort on the shores of Lake Tana.

Day 7 Bahir Dar – Lake Tana – Blue Nile Falls

The Kuriftu Resort is a spectacular looking hotel property, with stone paths and stairs as well as a large swimming pool.  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, from which you will set off on your private boat tour.

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.

Lake Tana is an inland sea: it covers roughly 1,400 square miles and is the source of the Blue Nile, which weaves its way 3,245 miles through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

It is the Blue Nile that supplies most of the water to the united Nile River. 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.

In the afternoon 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 a 100% science. Sometimes it is better to go to the Falls in the morning and tour Lake Tana in the afternoon.
Overnight Kuriftu Resort

Day 8 Gondar – Simien Mountains – Limalimo Lodge

After a nice buffet breakfast on the lakefront, drive to Gondar, which has been called “Africa’s Camelot”. Gondar’s historic area is a group of castles 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.
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You will also visit the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, with its faces of angels on the ceiling.

After touring the castles and the church it will be time to drive 2 1/2 hours farther north, into the Simien Mountains, to your accommodations for the night. 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 also give you a hot-water bottle.

Also 3 meals are provided at the Lodge as well as complimentary laundry service.

 

Day 9 Simien Mountains National Park

Today 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 acceptable 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. Since everyone’s interests and capabilities are different you will be able to discuss your program in the Park with your guide and decide what is best for you.

Some people may also decide to extend their stay in the Simien Mountains in order to explore the Park in greater depth. Of course, that would have to be decided at the time you book your tour.

But it is important to note that a visit to this park is not just about scenery. The Park is also home to a lot of wildlife.

Among the mammals endemic (only found in) to the Park are the Walia ibex and Gelada monkey. While the ibex can be spotted on hikes within the park the Gelada monkey are there by the thousands and can be seen quite easily.

The monkeys in the park are divided into a number of “troops”. It is not so much that the monkeys are friendly to human visitors, they just seem to ignore them. So it is quite easy to walk among the monkeys and observe them up close.

Overnight at the Limalimo Lodge.

Day 10 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 head north on the scenic road built by the Italians during their 1936-1941 occupation of Ethiopia.

 

On the road in northern Ethiopia

The drive will take around 6 hours, but the scenery along the way will make it seem shorter. You will be ascending and descending mountain landscapes and cross the Tekeze Gorge.

The lunch provided by the Limalomo Lodge can be enjoyed along the way. Upon arrival in Axum you will check into the Sabean Hotel, rated the best available in town, although not nearly as luxurious as the places you have been staying in the past few nights.

Overnight Sabean Hotel.

Day 11 Axum

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 is believed by the faithful to be 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 many tons, although there are many smaller ones as well. It is still not clear how they were carved and erected.

Axum – Main stelae field

The stelae you see in the foreground in the photo above was destroyed in the 10th Century and would have weighed 515 tons. There are also subterranean tombs to be seen here.

 

Axum – Tomb of the Brick Arches

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 – Old Maryam of Tsion Church

In the late afternoon 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.

 

Tigray – Yeha Temple

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 12 Hawzien

This day will be spent exploring some of the rock-hewn churches of the Tigray region.

 

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.

 

Tigray – Scenery

Here is a link to a Youtube video about the rock-hewn churches of Tigray.

 

However, reaching some of these churches may prove to be too strenuous for many people. That is why you will consult with your guide and decide 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.

In the late afternoon it will be time to drive to the 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 13 Mekele/Lalibela

This will be a fairly long day of driving from Mekele to Lalibela. However the roads are mainly good ones and, as usual, there is interesting scenery. 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. Late in the afternoon you’ll arrive at the beautiful new Mezena Lodge in Lalibela.

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 two nights.

 

 

Day 14 Lalibela

For many people visiting the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela is the highlight of the whole tour.

Here is a link to a Youtube video, one of several, about Lalibela.

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. In other words, these churches are all around 50 feet below the ground.

 

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.

The most famous site, the St. George Church, is carved in the shape of a cross.

 

Overnight at Mezena Lodge.

Day 15, Lalibela:

We will make sure that you see the most interesting and varied of the 13 churches and it would be a good idea to make an early start in the morning in order to be able to see as much as possible.

Also, if you get an early start, you should be able to see a service at one of the churches in progress. You may think that you are back in medieval times.

Overnight at Mezena Lodge.

Day 16 Flight Flight from Lalibela to Addis Ababa.

Around noon 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 touring or shopping in Addis Ababa or just take it easy and get ready for your flight home.

You will have the use of a driver and vehicle and, of course, when it is time for your flight, you’ll be driven back to the nearby airport.
End of tour.

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