Ethiopia's Historic North

Ethiopia

Culture | Archaeology

Discover a land of mystery, history & jaw-dropping beauty

14 days £3,195 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Packed with historical secrets, Northern Ethiopia is unlike anywhere in Africa. In Addis Ababa, come face-to-face with Lucy, the oldest humanoid in the world. Visit remote rock-hewn churches in Tigray and Lalibela. The towering obelisks of Axum tell the story of a once-great Empire where the Ark of the Covenant is still believed to reside. The island forest in Lake Tana hides ancient monasteries, vervet monkeys and birdlife. Nearby, trek to the source of the Blue Nile and spot gelada baboons and wild ibex in the Simien Mountains.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Wander through Africa's largest open air market
  • Meet Lucy, the world’s oldest humanoid
  • Gentle rural walk to source of the Blue Nile
  • Visit island monastery on Lake Tana
  • Medieval castles of Gondar
  • Gelada baboons and birdlife in the Simien Mountains
  • Ancient stelae of Axum
  • Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christianity
  • Impressive 5th century Great Temple of Yeha
  • Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

Places Visited

Addis Ababa - Bahir Dar - Gondar - Simien Mountains - Axum - The Great Temple of Yeha - Hawzen - Lalibela

What's Included

Airport transfers
Domestic flights
Ground transport with driver
Local guides
Accommodation
Breakfasts and most meals (refer to itinerary)
Daily bottle of still mineral water
Activities as per itinerary
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary & Map

If you have a few extra days you can easily tag on a 5-day extension tour to Awash National Park and Harar before or after this tour. The walled city of Harar, in eastern Ethiopia, is a UNESCO heritage site and the Islamic part of Ethiopia close to the Djibouti border. Contact us for more information.

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Day 1 : Addis Ababa

Upon arrival, you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and taken by transfer to your hotel. Check into hotel where you will be able to rest after your flight. Later, there will be an afternoon sightseeing tour of Addis Ababa which will include a visit to Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa, and a walking tour of the piazza. Evening free. Return to hotel. Overnight in Addis Ababa. 

Meal plan: n/a

Addis Ababa is Africa’s fourth largest city, with an area of 250sq/km, and is located at an altitude of 2,300m above sea level. It is a vast place with a thriving population of over 2,750,000 people. There is a wide range of visitor attractions, including many museums and educational institutions. It has most recently become known as the ‘spa city of Africa’.

Merkato is the largest open air market in Africa, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people. The Merkato is home to an enormous array of products including Ethiopia’s endemic wild coffee, exotic spices and jewellery. There is even a recycling market where anything from sandals made out of tyres to coffee pots moulded from old Italian olive tins can be found.

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Day 2 : Addis Ababa - Bahir Dar

You will enjoy a morning city tour of Addis Ababa including sights like St George's Church, the Ethnological Museum and the Entoto Mountains which offer panoramic views of Addis Ababa. Late afternoon you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Bahir Dar. Transfer to your lodge for overnight stay. Evening free. Overnight in Bahir Dar. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The National Museum in Addis Ababa holds an interesting collection of artefacts from Ethiopia's illustrious past but the undoubted star of the show is the remains of Lucy, a skeleton of a female Australopithecus afarensis, named from the Afar region of Ethiopia where she was found. Discovered in 1974, Lucy is 3.2 million years old and shares traits with apes (her skull) and with humans (walking upright), leading to claims of the 'missing link' having been discovered. Sometimes the museum exhibits a replica when Lucy is on tour at museums overseas.

The St. George Church was established in 1982 to preserve and promote Ethiopian Orthodox clergy. It is a small octagonal building that was the site of Emperor Hailie Selassie's coronation.

The two-storey Ethnological Museum is a great place to learn about the diversity of Ethiopia. It is structured like a story book, depicting the journey of life to death from different perspectives. 

Entoto Mountain, located to the north of Addis Ababa, offers a panoramic view of the capital. It is the highest part of the city and is historically covered in Eucalyptus trees, which are often referred to as the 'lungs of Addis Ababa'.

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Day 3 : Bahir Dar

In the morning, walk to the Blue Nile Falls. After lunch, take a boat from Lake Tana to the island monasteries. Evening free. Overnight stay in the local area.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia,  measuring approximately 84km long and 66km wide,  and is also the source of the Blue Nile. The lake contains 37 islands, however their visibility varies according to seasonal water fluctuations, which are regulated to measure inflow to the Blue Nile Falls. The islands accommodate 20 monasteries, which are used to store religious artifacts due to their remote location. 

The Blue Nile Falls, also known as Tis Abay, mean 'smoking water' in  Amharic. They start as a gentle river flowing 5,223km north of the Mediterranean Sea before joining the impressive falls. The waterfall itself is around 150ft high and half a mile wide, which is just spectacular to witness. Surrounded by immense natural beauty, the falls attract parrots, bee-eaters, white throated seedeaters and vervet monkeys, just to name a few. 

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Day 4 : Gondar - Kossoye

Early morning departure to Gondar for sightseeing at the castle complex. This will be followed by a drive to Kossoye, one of the most scenic spots in the Simien Mountains National Park. It is believed that in 1964, Queen Elizabeth stayed here with Emperor Haileselasse during their journey to Axum for the inauguration of the Axum Zion church. Overnight stay in Kossoye. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

King Fasil (Fasiledes) is believed to have moved his royal camp to Gondar where he settled. Surrounded by fertile land with rich sources of gold, civet and ivory, and at the crossroads of 3 major trading routes, the King established Gondar as a capital city. It is often referred to as the "Camelot of Africa", with several medieval castles rising above a landscape of tin-roofed stone houses. The Royal Court developed into a compound called Fasil Ghebbi which consists of six major building complexes and is surrounded by a 900m long wall. In this area alone, there are around twenty different palaces and royal buildings as well as thirty churches.

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Day 5 : Kossoye - Simien Mountains

Enjoy a short walk in the surrounding area of Kossoye, followed by a drive to Simien Mountains National Park. You will be taken to Sankaber, and its surrounding areas, to admire the stunning scenery and see the native Gelada baboon during an afternoon walk. Overnight stay in Simien Mountains. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The Simien Mountains are a World Heritage site. The peaks, such as Ras Dashen, stand at an impressive height of over 4,000m high. The fact that it is one of the least developed national parks is part of the reason why it is considered to be one of Africa’s most beautiful mountain ranges. The park is home to many endemic species, like the gelada baboon, Ethiopian wolf and wild ibex, as well as over 50 species of birds, including the bearded vulture. 

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Day 6 : Simien Mountains

After an early breakfast, head to Chenek. Here, you will view the most scenic surroundings in the Simien Mountains and also be given a chance to spot the native Walia Ibex. Later, there will be a visit to a village located in the park to meet the local people and try your hand at making Ethiopian coffee, beer and injera, then return to the lodge.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 7 : Simien Mountains - Axum

Drive to Axum which will take you across the stunning Limalimo Twist and Tekeze Gorge. Stop off to see the incense trees which are dotted along the valley. Arrive early evening into Axum. Check into hotel and evening to rest. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Axum is the cradle of Ethiopia’s 3,000-year-old civilisation. In its heyday in the 6th century, the Axumite Kingdom was one of the four great powers of the world and ruled the two southern sides of the Red Sea. The glory of the Kingdom can still be pictured as you gaze out on the colossal rock stelae, the stonework of royal tombs and the legendary bath of the Queen of Sheba.

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Day 8 : Axum - Yeha - Axum

Early morning trip to the ancient city of Axum for sightseeing. Visit Axum's 2000 year old stelae, the Palace of the legendary Queen of Sheba, and the St Mary of Zion Church which is believed to house the actual Ark of the Covenant. In the afternoon drive to the 5th century Great Temple of Yeha visiting the Adwa mountains en route. Drive back to Axum. Evening at leisure. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The Ark of the Covenant, referred to at several points of the Old Testament, is stored in the Chapel of the Tablet. This is opposite the St. Mary of Zion Church. The Ark is believed to contain the ten commandments given by God to Moses.

The Palace of Queen Sheba, known locally as Dungar, now bears only the remains of the mansion that previously stood in its place. Covering around 3,250 sq/m, a visit to the site will allow you to see the full excavation that has taken place so far. 

The Great Temple of Yeha is an example of the stunning construction that dates from the 5th to 8th century BC. The whole temple remains as an example of near perfect geometry due to the stature of its build.

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Day 9 : Axum - Ghera'alta

After breakfast drive to Hawzen (in Tigray), home to some of Ethiopia's most spectacular rock-hewn churches. Witness some of Ethiopia's stunning mountain scenery on the way. Overnight in Hawzen.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Abuna Abraham Debre Tsion Church  is elaborately decorated with 16th century murals. The church's ceremonial fan dates back to the 15th century and consists of 34 parchment panels, each painted with a figure of a saint.

Yohannes Maequddi has six free standing pillars that hold up the ceiling. The rectangular church is popular for its ancient and well preserved paintings and decor. The ceiling, like many features in the church, is beautifully carved with geometrical designs, while some of the paintings are as old as 300 years and are unique in style to any other in Ghera'alta. 

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Day 10 : Hawzen

A full day visit to some of Tigray's most spectacular and remote rock-hewn churches - Abune Yemata Guh and Abune Gebre Michael. Return to Hawzen early evening.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Abuna Yemata Guh Rock Church was carved by monks out of solid sandstone in the 15th century. A striking feature of the monastery is the cupolas. They represent the nine apostles or the Nine Saints who came from Syria. There are eight churches in the area representing the other saints. This church was built by Abuna Yemata who cleverly designed and built his church out of reach of enemies. 

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Day 11 : Mekelle - Lalibela

Drive to Lalibela via Weldiya. You will visit the small market places of Weldiya and admire the stunning mountains at Gashena, en route. Overnight in Lalibela.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Originally known as Roha, the city of Lalibela is believed to pre-date the 12th century. King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela sought to recreate the holy city of Jerusalem there and structured the city accordingly. To this day, many of Lalibela’s features remain similar to those of Jerusalem, such as The Tomb of Adam, the Jordan river and Calvary.

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Day 12 : Lalibela

Today, you will enjoy a full day visit to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Overnight stay in local area. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

There are no less than 1000 of Ethiopia's famous rock-hewn churches in the Lasta region of Lalibela - some hidden in enormous caves - but it is exceptional to find 11 churches of such master craftsmanship in one locale. These brilliant feats of engineering and architecture are often referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

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Day 13 : Lalibela

Morning visit to the Asheton Maryam monastery located in the cliff on the outskirts of Lalibela. Take mules up to the monastery and admire the craftsmanship of this remote monastery. Also enjoy the spectacular views of Lalibela. Afterwards trek back to the vehicle and drive back to Lalibela. Optional stop at the Lalibela Art Gallery. Evening at leisure. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Asheton Maryam Monastery is situated at an altitude of almost 4000 metres overlooking Lalibela. This monastery is associated with King Natuka La´ab and is carved into the cliff face. It can be climbed by foot, taking between 2-3 hours or by mule trek which is an exciting (if sometimes scary!) way of reaching the monastery. As with all monasteries and churches in Ethiopia, no footwear is allowed inside.

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Day 14 : Addis Ababa - Departure

Transfer to airport for flight to Addis Ababa, where you will be met by our representative/driver. Free time to do some shopping in the local markets. In the evening you will enjoy a farewell dinner at a traditional restaurant, before being transferred to the airport to connect with your onward flight.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Saro-Maria

Saro-Maria Hotel is one of Addis Ababa's best hotels located between the airport and the city centre. All rooms have modern facilities with a television, minibar, private bathroom and they are decorated with local art.

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Abay Minch Lodge

The Abay Minch Lodge in Bahir Dar is a place rich with nature, abundant vegetation, beautiful gardens and an exotic feel.

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Befiker Kossoye

This is an eco lodge offering views over the Simien mountains. The rooms are clean, comfortable, and furnished in a traditional style.

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Simien Mountain Lodge

Situated at 3260m above sea level the Simien Mountain Lodge is the highest hotel in Africa. The rooms have a bathroom with shower and have under-floor heating by solar. All rooms have fibreglass insulation to the ceiling, walls and floor. However, nights can be chilly, so be prepared with warm clothes. Each room has a sheltered balcony to admire the views. The restaurant is a beautiful and spacious area with a log fire centre piece.

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Consolar International

Consolar Hotel is Axum’s newest hotel, offering 33 en-suite bedrooms featuring electronic safe, broadband Internet access and a mini bar.

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Mountain View

Mountain View Hotel in Lalibela is situated at an altitude of 2680 metres at the edge of the Lasta Mountain chain. Its panaromic mountain view offers dramatic vistas and is one of the best places to watch the sunset. The architecture of the hotel is comparable to the rock-hewn churches.

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Reviews

Ethiopia really blew me away. The rock-hewn churches were remarkable and I never knew Ethiopia had so much history. It was great to see the gelada baboons in the Simien Mountains. Our guide was always smiling and helpful, and I really enjoyed the coffee ceremonies. I hope to come back again some day.

Neha , Ethiopia's Historic North, Ethiopia

Escaping from the comforting embrace of the big travel companies, Travel the Unknown`s `Ethiopia`s Historic North` programme gave us a window into a whole new world. The wildlife, the art, the food and the landscape were all unexpected and deeply memorable. The people were sometimes desperate, sometimes crazy, but nearly always smiling and ready to talk. One to treasure.

Philip & Mary , Ethiopia's Historic North, Ethiopia

A memorable experience in a lovely country. All aspects of the trip were impeccably handled. Highly recommended.

Richard & Margaret Haworth , Ethiopia's Historic North

A different world and culture which we were privileged to experience. Welcomed by the warmth of locals who wanted to share a little of their time with us...and English is their second language!!!!!!

Mhairi McKechnie , Festivals of Ethiopia, Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a country everyone should visit. It has the perfect combination of spectacular scenery, stunning architecture, unique wildlife and a wonderful culture. Seeing it with Travel The Unknown means that you see all the highlights but don't miss the details and surprises between. The excellent local guides ensure that you experience its wonders through Ethiopian eyes. An overwhelming, eye opening, awe inspiring, emotional adventure.

Michael Russell , Festivals of Ethiopia, Ethiopia

The trip in the south was no less than an adventure, way beyond my anticipations. My guide was both helpful and knowledgeable.

Yngve Gausla , Tribes & Landscapes of Southern Ethiopia, Ethiopia
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