Arrive Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, you are met and transferred to your hotel. Known as Ethiopia’s “new flower,” Addis Ababa is your gateway to this amazing adventure.
Addis Ababa | A Rich History of Diversity
Hit the streets of Ethiopia’s sprawling capital for a closer look at this nation’s gripping history. Begin your exploration of Addis Ababa at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, a monument to the country’s liberation from Italian occupation during World War II and final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie. Next, dive deeper into Ethiopia’s rich cultural diversity at the Ethnographical Museum. Conclude your excursion at the National Museum, seeing the authentic Lucy skeleton, a significant anthropological revelation. Later, gather for a welcome dinner at your hotel and get acquainted with your fellow travellers.
Axum | Echoes of a Glorious Empire
This morning, fly to Axum, a small town whose placid appearance belies its grand past as a seat of an empire extending across the Red Sea to Arabia. Begin unearthing Axum’s storied past at Stelae Park, a field of roughly 120 carved outcroppings ranging from small, roughly hewn stones to finely engraved obelisks towering 10 stories high. The site is also home to what are likely the three tallest stelae ever erected in ancient times. Continue on to get a glimpse of the advanced technologies that drove this empire at the Axum Museum. Next, tour the Cathedral of Maryam Tsion. Once a pagan shrine, the site was home to Ethiopia’s first church and is rumored to have once housed the sacred Ark of the Covenant. Conclude your excursion at Dongar Palace. Local legend holds that the Queen of Sheba once held court in this, the grandest of Axum’s palaces.
Lalibela | Ethiopia’s New Jerusalem
Fly to Lalibela, a holy city and Ethiopian center of pilgrimage. Known as “New Jerusalem,” this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to several monolithic rock-cut churches. Begin your exploration of this hallowed ground with a visit to Lalibela’s northwest cluster of six churches and Bet Giyorgis (also known as the Church of St. George), the largest rock-hewn church in the world. Carved below ground level, the monolithic churches are ringed by trenches, courtyards, graves and hermit cells, connected by a tangled maze of tunnels and passageways.
Lalibela | Hewn by the Angels
After breakfast, head to the outskirts of town to visit the Monastery of Nakuta La’ab. Named after King Lalibela’s successor (and nephew) who commissioned it, this medieval monastery and simple church hewn from a shallow cave contains spring-fed holy pools, paintings, crosses and other sacred relics. Continue on to explore Lalibela’s southeast cluster of five churches. Older and more timeworn than the churches of the northwest, some of the structures predate the reign of King Lalibela by five centuries. According to legend, the southeastern church of Bet Abba Libanos was built by just one woman in only one night, along with some heavenly intervention from a group of angels. Cap off your excursion with a time-honored coffee ceremony, observing traditional roasting and brewing techniques featuring a customary jebena (clay kettle).
Simien Mountains | Wild Retreat in the Heavens
This morning, fly to Gondar, pausing for a traditional Ethiopian lunch at a local restaurant upon your arrival. Continue on to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Debre Berhan Selassie Church to take in its vividly painted scenes of biblical lore and medieval history. Continue four hours overland to Simien Mountains National Park, a sprawling, bio-diverse wilderness set in the heart of one of Africa’s largest mountain ranges. Marvel as you pass in the shadows of towering peaks, some exceeding 13,000 feet. The range also boasts Ethiopia’s highest mountain, Ras Dashen, a broad-shouldered goliath topping out at a dizzying 14,928 feet. Home to some of Africa’s most striking wildlife, the park is inhabited by the gelada baboon, walia ibex and the exceedingly rare Ethiopian wolf. Settle into your lodge, joining in a presentation focused on the advanced social behaviors of the gelada baboon.
Simien Mountains | Safari in the Clouds
Set out on a scenic morning drive through the mountains, stopping in Chennek, a remote village perched some 11,800 feet above sea level. Continue on through giant lobelias and Afro-Alpine scrub, keeping a lookout for walia ibex, klipspringers and bushbucks. Pause for a picnic overlooking the vast mountain landscape. Next, pass through some of Ethiopia’s most stunning mountain scenery, stopping to encounter a group of gelada baboons. Continue a short ways on foot, pausing to take in the mists of a secluded waterfall.
Gondar | Camelot of Africa
Embark on a morning drive to Gondar, a storied town of medieval castles and churches. Dubbed the “Camelot of Africa,” Gondar was founded in 1636 by Emperor Fasiladas as the royal capital of Ethiopia. After settling in at your lodge, step out to explore the town. Begin at Fasiladas Palace, believed to be the former home of legendary explorer James Bruce. Continue on to Fasiladas Pool, a cavernous bathing pool once used by the former emperor. Enclosed by towering stone walls and guarded by six turrets, the pool is still filled every January 19th for the local Timkat ceremony.
Bahir Dar | Lake Tana Cruise
This morning, depart overland three hours to Bahir Dar, a former Jesuit outpost known for its wide avenues lined with palms and flowers. After checking in to your resort, embark on a leisurely cruise of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. Discover why, even today, the papyrus tankwa that sail the lake bear a striking resemblance to the boats of ancient Egypt. Disembark on an island to explore two of the lake’s secluded monasteries, Ura Kidane Mihret and Azuwa Maryam — both known for their manuscripts, iconography and paintings.
Bahir Dar | Majesty of the Falls
Set out on an hour-long hike to the majestic Blue Nile Falls. Marvel as the currents of the Blue Nile crash 140 feet to the roiling rapids below, flowing on to its long journey out to the Mediterranean. After you take in the falls, enjoy the remainder of the afternoon at your leisure. Gather in the evening for a farewell dinner with your fellow travellers.
Depart Addis Ababa
In the morning, visit Bahir Dar’s bustling markets, browsing handwoven capes and scarves made from local cotton. Continue on to Weyto village, stopping to witness boatbuilders crafting tankwa, small papyrus vessels that have ferried people and livestock across Lake Tana for centuries. Later, fly back to Addis Ababa and transfer to your hotel dayroom. This evening, return to the airport for your international flight home.