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Best of Ethiopia

Ethiopia, Africa

Best of Ethiopia

Start: Addis Ababa
End: Lalibela

Explore Ethiopia, the ‘cradle of humanity’

LocationEthiopia, Africa
Duration19 days
Start / EndAddis Ababa / Lalibela
Tour operatorIntrepid Travel

Ethiopia, Africa

Best of Ethiopia

19 days·Intrepid Travel
Start: Addis Ababa
End: Lalibela


Travel to Ethiopia and discover a beautiful country, barely touched by modern society. It’s an incredible combination of history, tradition, culture and nature. From 3 million-year-old fossilised hominid remains in Addis Ababa to the rituals of the Mursi, Hamar, Konso tribes and more through to amazing rock-hewn churches, hidden crypts and grottoes in Lalibela – this trip take you deep into hum...

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Day 1Addis Ababa
Welcome to Ethiopia! Begin with a welcome meeting at the hotel at 6pm – please ask the reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time for this, please arrive a day early so you are able to attend. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting. If you arrive early perhaps take a tour of this bustling city, dotted with Italian architecture, interesting churches and friendly inhabitants. Established by the Emperor Menelik II in 1887, Addis Ababa is a relatively young city full of contrasts – the Addis Sheraton, with its ‘singing fountain’, is one of the most luxurious in all of Africa, yet you only need to travel a few streets away to find yourself among busy markets, dirt roads and the odd goat or two wandering the street. The optional city tour will include the National Museum, where you’ll find the remains of “Lucy’, the Ethnographic Museum, set within the beautiful gardens of Haile Selassie’s former palace.
Day 2Arba Minch
After breakfast, drive south to Arba Minch, a region noted for its enormous variety of peoples and cultures. Many of these populations are nomadic or semi-nomadic and, far from the influence of the modern world, their ancient traditions remain intact. As the drive pushes onwards to Arba Minch, take a short detour to visit the Dorze people. The Dorze are renowned for their cotton-weaving techniques and beehive shaped houses constructed entirely from organic materials. These native speakers of the Omotic tongue are thought to have occupied this small highland enclave for at least 500 years. On a brief stay here, learn about their life and traditions, including the architecture behind their unique homes before proceeding on to Arba Minch. The road continues, climbing 1600 metres (5249 feet) on a series of switchbacks to provide dramatic views of the Great Rift Valley below. Set in dramatic surroundings, Arba Minch lies on a cliff overlooking Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya, set under the stunning backdrop of the mountains to the west. Although there’s not much to do in town, it serves as the gateway to the endless green wildlands of the Omo Valley. Arrive at the lodge in the late afternoon where you’ll stay for the night.
Day 3Jinka / Mago National Park
After an early breakfast, climb aboard a boat and travel across Lake Chamo on an excursion to hopefully see the resident hippos, Nile crocodiles, flourishing bird life and local fishermen working their trade on the lake. As today’s adventures continue, travel through the territories of several different tribes while trying to keep an eye out for the lands of the Konso, revered for their famous farming practices. Head onwards to Jinka to visit an ethnographic museum dedicated to the South Omotic tribes. Jinka is known as a local capital to the South Omotic people, and many inhabitants of the surrounding areas come to visit the local markets to trade. There’s a mix of Aari, Banna, Besheda and Basketo people often seen passing through the area, adding a dash of cultural spice to the lively trading hub. After departing from Jinka, continue on to the Mago National Park where you’ll spend the night listening out for the chirp of birds and the howls of the African wild dogs.
Day 4Turmi
Continue on by driving northwest of Mago National Park (1.5 hours) to visit one of the villages sitting on the Mursi planes. Afterwards, return to Jinka and proceed to one of the local Ari villages before continuing to Turmi for an overnight stay. The Mursi, possibly the most well known tribe in the area, is famous for both their women who practice extending their lower lips with clay discs and their men who engage in ruthless stick-fighting rituals called Donga. When a Mursi woman reaches 20 years of age, a slit is made beneath the lower lip where a clay plate is then inserted. Every year, a larger plate is added, stretching the lower lip until it juts out so far that a 5 centimetre (2 inch) plate can be worn and the lip can be stretched by the woman right over her head. This is considered to be the height of attractiveness. Mursi men do not escape unscathed however, as they take part in the Donga stick fights that sometimes end in the death of one of the participants. Decorated with white clay, they whack each other with 2 metre (2.1 yard) long poles. The winner is carried off by a group of eligible girls who then decide which one will marry him. On the other hand, the people of the Ari tribe live in the lush surroundings of Jinka and grow coffee and enset (false banana) for trading and self-consumption. Their villages are some of the most beautiful in the country, surrounded by banana, mango, avocado and enset trees that clasp the colourful traditional huts. A brief stop at these villages offer a glimpse into authentic African life, albeit two very different sides of that coin.
Day 5Turmi
Travel south in the morning towards Omorate along a 75 kilometre (47 mile) stretch of paved road. As you pass through the acacia forests, savour encounters with men and women of the Hamar tribe as they herd their cattle on route before stopping in to meet the Daasanach people further down the road. Omorate lies on the bank of the Omo River, close to the border to Kenya and serves as a popular base for exploring the rugged area. Wildlife roam freely in the nearby landscapes and there’s a good chance of seeing some form of antelope grazing on the ground or raptor birds stalking their prey overhead. The local tribes, Hamar and Daasanach, both cling to their cultures fairly tightly – you may witness evidence of their scarification practices or witness their more obvious and somewhat elaborate hairstyles. This afternoon’s visit to one of the Hamar villages proves rewarding, as the chance to inspect one of the local mud houses and small thatched huts offer a glimpse into another way of life divorced from the influences of the outside world. There’s the chance to witness the annual highlight of the Hamar calendar as the annual Bull Jumping Ceremony takes place – the culmination of a three day ‘rite of passage’ ritual where a young initiate has to jump up and down a line of 15 bulls before returning the same way. The ceremony is usually held around December/January and in August, right after the harvest season. There may be the chance to engage in a vibrant local market, savouring the smells and tastes while bumping shoulders with the Karo, Homer and Benna tribes. There’s plenty of interesting handcrafts on offer too – don’t forget to haggle for a better deal!
Day 6Konso
The drive today offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding scenery, including a glimpse of the terraced hills of Konso. All roads into South Omo pass through Konso, and this small town serves as a great base for exploring the hillside villages in the surrounding countryside. Visit a mora, a central communal building used by men and boys as a social area – women are unfortunately excluded. Keep an eye out for the carved wooden grave markers in the area, a Konso tradition where the deceased warriors features are enhanced by using teeth made from animal bones. As the evening sets in, spend time relaxing in the Kanta Lodge as you share tales with friends on the last night of your adventure.
Day 7Addis Ababa
Return to Arba Minch in the morning before taking a flight back to Addis Ababa. Enjoy a free day in the city before meeting up with your new group in the evening before setting off on the next part of your Ethiopian adventure. Tonight dinner is included at a local restaurant.
Day 8Bahir Dar
Today we will take a spectacular flight to Bahirdar. From the air we can gaze across the extraordinary nature of the Ethiopian Plateau, repeatedly cut by immensely deep gorges. Bahirdar is a small but fast growing town on the southern shore of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. It has long attracted religious men and the area contains numerous churches and monasteries, many of them on the thirty or so islands of Lake Tana. This afternoon, board a sightseeing boat for a cruise around the lake. Covering over 3,500 square kilometres, this is Ethiopia’s largest lake and is home to 37 islands, 20 of which house some of Ethiopia’s most venerated monasteries. Many of these monasteries are believed to date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and feature superb ecclesiastical art. Legend has it that the Ark of Covenant was hidden here for protection during the times when Pagan forces invaded the ancient capital Axum. Your boat trip will take you to the monastery of Ura-Kidane Mehret, which dates from between the 16th and 18th centuries. It is renowned for its collection of crosses and crowns, and its incredible painted walls that offer up a virtual 'who’s who' of Ethiopian saints. The boat returns to your hotel via the source of the ‘Blue’ section of the Nile.
Day 9Bahir Dar
Head out for the Blue Nile Falls today. Located 32 kilometers south of Bahir Dar, the Blue Nile Falls measure over 400 metres wide and crash down 48 metres in full flood. These falls are known locally as Tis Isat (Smoking Water) and are a spectacular sight when the water’s high. New hydro-electrical plants and dams have somewhat impacted on their magnificence, but the sight is still a memorable one. You can take a longer scenic walk past the main viewpoint (1.5 kilometers) or a shorter walk to reach the foot of the falls. You will then cross the Nile River by boat to reach your vehicle. After a leisurely lunch back in Bahir Dar, perhaps visit the open air market to take a tuk tuk up to the town viewpoint.
Day 10Gondar
Travel north around the edge of Lake Tana this morning and head for the regal city of Gondar. This drive will take approximately 4.5 hours, including stops for photos along the way. Gondar was the 17th and 18th century capital of Ethiopia, and is famed for its medieval castles and churches. This afternoon, there is the option to visit Gondar’s most significant churches and castles, either as part of a tour or unaccompanied. The city's unique Royal Enclosure is a World Heritage site, home to dramatic Emperor-built castles unlike any other in Africa. The architecture shows the richness of Axumite traditions as well as the prosperity of Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Spend the afternoon visiting these medieval castles – like the two-storied palace of Emperor Fasilades – and stop by the famous church of Debre Berhan Selassie. The church is one of the finest in Ethiopia, with walls and ceilings covered stunning in ancient murals of angels.
Day 11Debark
After breakfast there is free time to explore the quiet streets Gondar or perhaps enjoy the views from the hotel poolside. After an early lunch in the city, we make the drive to Debark (approximately 3 hours), your base for exploring the Simien Mountains. The rest of the afternoon is free to explore the small town of Debark on your own.
Day 12Simien Mountains National Park
Enjoy a full day to explore the spectacular scenery of the Simien Mountains National Park. The park is a majestic series of undulating amethyst peaks, including Ethiopia’s highest point – Ras Dejen (4550 metres). The peaks have been eroded over millions of years and have left strange and wonderful geological formations behind. The mountains are also home to much of Ethiopia’s wildlife and are great for bird watching. Once you pass the entrance to the National park, you will hike and drive up to Sankaber and enjoy dramatic views of the mountain landscape. The park is home to some of the world’s most elusive animals, and while you're here you might encounter troops of the endemic Gelada baboons. The baboons, only found in Ethiopia, are often referred to as the ‘bleeding heart baboon’ or the 'lion monkey’. Their coat is shaggy, resembling a lion, while their chest has a marked ‘red heart’ or patch. The Gelada baboon doesn’t have natural enemies and so can be found in good numbers and are quite easy to approach. After the hike set up camp within the park to experience the park by night. The camp has no showers and basic facilities.
Day 13Aksum
Take the asphalt but winding road up to the fabled city of Aksum, crossing the lowlands of the Simien Mountains and the Tekeze River gorge (approximately 7 hours). Though this is a long and winding journey, the spectacular views of the mountains makes the time slide away. You’ll arrive in Aksum in the late afternoon. Aksum was once the capital of Africa’s oldest empire – the Kingdom of Aksum lasted from 1 AD to 700 AD and grew to rank among the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world. It was positioned at the centre of an important trading route that stretched from Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea and all the way to India and Sri Lanka. Axumite society was rich, well organized and technically advanced. In this period, bronze, silver and gold coins were produced, amazing tombs and monoliths constructed and Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia.
Day 14Aksum
Today is a free day with the option to tour the incredible historical sites of Aksum. Visit the stele fields, several tombs, the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an archaeological museum. The field is home to over 100 stele – the largest one measuring 33 metres and weighing an incredible 517 tones. Stele (or monoliths) are carved from a single piece of granite, and are often elaborately decorated to resemble a multi-story house complete with windows, doors, locks and structural beams. Their scale reflects how important Axum once was, and they were probably transported by elephants from a nearby quarry. The mausoleums in this area include the tomb of the false door and also the tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, while the archaeological museum houses fascinating displays. An unimposing building with a green picket fence is the St Mary of Zion Church, the first built in sub-Saharan Africa. This holds the crowns of various former Ethiopian emperors and is even said to house the most fabled biblical relic in history – the Ark of the Covenant. The afternoon is free for you to keep exploring – you might like to see some of the handcraft shops or take a walk out of Aksum for an hour or so to see Gobodera, the quarry place for the stele and rock lioness relief.
Day 15Mekele
Leave Axum for Mekele, looking across to see the spectacular Adwa Mountains and the battlefield of Adwa, where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians in 1896. Stop to visit the Pre-Christian Pagan Temple of Yeha before breaking for lunch at Adigrat. Yeha is though to have been Ethiopia’s first capital and the temple has been dated to around the 6th century BC. After lunch, drive to Enda Teka Tesfay and walk to the rock church of Medhane Alem Adi Kesho (approximately 4 hours). There are numerous magnificent rock-hewn churches in the Tigray region, but Medhane Alem Adi Kesho is one of the best in terms of architectural quality. The outside is roughly carved, but the interior ceiling is elaborately sculpted. Spend the night in nearby Mekele.
Day 16Lalibela
Start the long journey to Lalibela early in the morning on a smooth paved road and, after a couple of hours, reach the spectacular mountain range of Amba Alaje. Continue through green valleys and flat plains before turning west towards Lalibela at Woldia (approximately 4.5 hours). The road after Woldia offers one of the most scenic routes in the country. It involves climbing on winding roads along steep hills and evergreen lush valleys up to the Delanta Plateau (3,500 metres), then contouring around the valley for a couple of hours, before arriving at Lalibela in the late afternoon (approximately 4 hours). Despite the town of Lalibela being isolated in the Lasta Mountains at 2,630 metres above sea level, it is still the home of Ethiopia’s top sight, and one of the world's greatest historical and religious sites.
Day 17Lalibela
Today you’ll use the morning and afternoon to visit Lalibela’s amazing churches, which look like they've been dropped down from the sky. Between 1137 and 1270, several astounding rock-hewn churches were constructed in Lalibela; astonishing because most are not built from carved freestanding rocks, but instead created from huge single blocks of stone unearthed by the digging of enormous pits. The Northern Group contains seven churches, a tomb, a chapel and a sunken chapel. At the centre of the group is Bet Medhane Alem, measuring 33.5 metres by 23.5 metres and said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world. A tunnel connects three of the churches in a courtyard to the east, whilst another tunnel connects two other churches to the west of Bet Medhane Alem. However it is Bet Giyorgis (St George's), carved in the form of a Greek cross and lying slightly apart from the main northern cluster, which is the most famous and frequently photographed. This church is exceptionally well-preserved and is probably the most visually perfect. The Eastern group of five churches includes the only hypogeous church, where only the roof remains attached to the overhead rock.
Day 18Lalibela
This morning we trek to the rock church of Asheten Mariam, which sits on the 3,150-metre-high Abune Josef mountain that overlooks Lalibela. You will climb for 2.5 hours to the summit, where the church is carved out of a cleft into the cliff face. The monastery houses ancient parchments and crosses, but the real treasure is the setting and the view. Descend the mountain and return to the hotel for lunch. This afternoon is free to relax or continue exporing this fascinating town. This evening you will enjoy a special dinner at Ben Ababa open air restaurant.
Day 19Lalibela
This trip comes to an end today after breakfast. There are no activities planned and you are free to leave at any time.

More info

Last modified (date)

27 Nov 2018

Trip title

Best of Ethiopia

Trip code



Validity: 01 Jan 2018 to 31 Dec 2018


Travel to Ethiopia and discover a beautiful country, barely touched by modern society. It’s an incredible combination of history, tradition, culture and nature. From 3 million-year-old fossilised hominid remains in Addis Ababa to the rituals of the Mursi, Hamar, Konso tribes and more through to amazing rock-hewn churches, hidden crypts and grottoes in Lalibela – this trip take you deep into human ... Read more




Private vehicle,Boat,Plane

Physical Rating


Physical preparation

A intermediate level of fitness is required to be able to enjoy this trip to the fullest. There are included hikes at Simien Mountains National Park and Lalibela that go above 2800m/9000ft.

Joining point

Global Hotel

Joining point description

The Global Hotel is centrally located within walking distance of Addis Ababa's nightlife, Meskel Square, shops and restaurants. The hotel facilities include two restaurants and two bars/lounges. Free buffet breakfast is provided, as well as free WiFi in public areas. Other amenities include a sauna and spa services. Guest room facilities include private ensuites, wireless internet access, refriger... Read more

Joining point instructions

Transfers are available for pre-booking through Intrepid. Please speak to your booking agent for more information. If you have pre-booked an arrival transfer, please ensure you have provided Intrepid with your arrival flight details at least 15 days before the departure of your Intrepid trip. On arrival, please proceed outside the arrival terminal building to the entrance of the carpark and look f... Read more

Finish point

Roha Hotel

Finish point description

Roha Hotel is located close to Bete Giyorgis, Bet Maryam, and Bet Emmanuel. The hotel features a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, laundry facilities and 64 guestrooms all with satellite TV. Many rooms offer mountain views.

Finish point instructions

The Roha Hotel is located 20 kilometres from the Lalibela International Airport. Private airport transfers are available for pre-booking through Intrepid. Contact your booking agent for details.


Many national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest travel information before departure and ensure that your travel insurance covers you for all areas your itinerary covers. Please refer to our website's safety page for links to major travel advisories and upd... Read more


PASSPORT As a general rule most countries expect that your passport has a minimum of 6 months validity remaining. Please ensure the name on your passport matches the name on your booking and airline tickets. Your passport details are required to complete your booking. Your consultant will contact you when this is required. Take a copy of the main passport pages and other important documents with... Read more

Why we love it

Visit Hamar villages, sitting with barely any influence from the outside world. If you're lucky, you might get a glimpse of the energetic 'jumping of the bull' – a long running initiation ceremony.

Is this trip right for you

Camp in the Mago National Park with basic facilities before visiting the Mursi tribe the following day. We are welcomed into different villages, tribes and ways of life on this itinerary. While very fascinating it is important to show our respects and only take photos once a bond has been created and approval given. Experience the Simien Mountains National Park at night during a night of camping... Read more


All travellers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveller is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/o... Read more

Food and dietary requirements

Local dishes tend to be very good if you like hot, spicy food although milder versions can be requested. Local food is traditionally eaten with the hands. The sour bread known as injera is used as a scoop for the casserole dishes known as wat. Vegetarians can be catered for, though you may find the diet somewhat limited. Please notify of us of any dietary requirements prior to the start of your tr... Read more

Money matters

When it comes to money matters on the trip, every traveller is a little different. You know your spending habits better than we do, so please budget a sensible amount for things like meals not included, drinks, shopping, optional activities, tipping and laundry. It’s always better to bring a little more than you think you’ll need. Also make sure you’ve read your trip details thoroughly so you kno... Read more

What to take

We recommend you pack as lightly as possible and make sure that you are able to carry and lift your own luggage, and walk with it for short distances. Most travellers carry their luggage in a backpack, although a light weight cargo is also a good option. Smaller bags or backpacks with wheels are convenient although we recommend your bag has carry straps. You'll also need a day pack/bag to carry wa... Read more

Climate and seasonal

OMO VALLEY The order of the Omo Valley section of the itinerary may change due to ceremonies, markets or wet weather. CAMPING IN THE SIMIEN MOUNTAINS In the Simien Mountains we have a night of camping to allow you to fully experience the beauty of the area. We provide all equipment necessary for this night of camping (including sleeping bags). However at this altitude it can get very cold so plea... Read more

A couple of rules

Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of the world but is not acceptable for our travellers. Our philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter and in particular, the local people who... Read more


After your travels, we want to hear from you! We rely on your feedback. We read it carefully. Feedback helps us understand what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. It allows us to make improvements for future travellers.

Emergency contact

While we always endeavour to provide the best possible holiday experience, due to the nature of travel and the areas we visit sometimes things can and do go wrong. Should any issue occur while you are on your trip, it is imperative that you discuss this with your group leader or our local representative straight away so that they can do their best to rectify the problem and save any potential nega... Read more

Responsible travel We believe strongly in low impact or rather positive impact tourism. Broadly speaking this means that we try to minimise the negative aspects of tourism on the local cultures and environments that we visit and highlight the positive aspects. Please visit our website for further details and suggestions on how you can be a responsible t... Read more

The Intrepid Foundation

Help us change thousands of lives by creating meaningful work and supporting skills training in communities around the world. The Intrepid Foundation is the not-for-profit for Intrepid Group. We work with local organisations around the world to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable individuals and communities through sustainable travel experiences. With our travellers’ help, we’ve contributed mo... Read more

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects. When travelling on a trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and th... Read more

Your fellow travellers

SINGLE TRAVELLERS: Our group trips are designed for shared accommodation and don't involve a compulsory single supplement. Single travellers share with people of the same gender in accommodation ranging from twin to multishare. Some of our itineraries have accommodation booked on a mixed gender share basis and where applicable this will be specified in our Trip Notes. On a selection of our trips, ... Read more

Itinerary disclaimer

Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Essential Trip Information a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes th... Read more


Hotel (12 nights),Basic Hotel (1 night),Camping with basic facilities (2 nights),Lodge (3 nights)
€3,905per person
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Addis Ababa
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