On arrival in Addis Ababa you will be met at the airport and transferred to the group hotel for overnight. Remainder of day at leisure. Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world. Located at 2,400 metres above sea level in one of the highest parts of the Entoto mountain chain, the altitude may fatigue you, so take it easy today.
After breakfast we have a full-day city tour, which departs at 9:00am from the hotel. We take time to explore the city and lunch out is included. We will visit the National Museum (home of the remains of the famous hominid fossil, "Lucy") and the Ethnological Museum at the Addis Ababa University (housed in the former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie). Overnight hotel.
Very early this morning we take a flight from Addis Ababa over the Ethiopian plateau to Lalibela (approx 1 hr - flight at own expense), located at an altitude of 2,600 metres above sea level. The city contains 11 monolithic churches that were built in the 12th century and are carved out of the local pink basaltic scoriae rock; they have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each church has a unique architectural style and all are superbly carved. On arrival in Lalibela we will have some time to relax. During the afternoon opening session we will spend time admiring and exploring the rock-hewn churches. Overnight hotel. (Please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability).
Today is dedicated to visiting a hill-top monastery and the city itself. Lalibela is situated amongst a series of flat-topped mountains; there is a difference in altitude of 1500m between the lower lying airport and the city. This morning there is an excursion to the Church of Asheton Maryam, about 7km outside the city. After driving a short distance, the monastery itself (3150m) is reached on foot by means of a 3-hour return walk (some steep sections) or by riding on a mule (done at own risk and own expense). In the afternoon we will visit the market place, where a colourful mix of people from the surrounding region gather. Overnight hotel.
This morning we fly to Axum (approx 45 mins - flight at own expense), also spelt 'Aksum'. Believed to be Ethiopia's oldest city, Axum is also known for its massive, towering sculptures and huge granite pillars that are more than two thousand years old. This ancient city is revered by all Ethiopians as the place where the Ark of the Covenant is kept and also has a history of merchants, wealth and intrigue from the reign of the Queen of Sheba (10th century BC). This afternoon we absorb some of this history and visit churches hewn out of rock as well as other monuments. The Churches of St Mary of Zion form the holiest Christian sanctuary in the country. There is an old and a new church in the compound as well as a museum but the most significant building is a tiny chapel constantly guarded by monks. Only one specially chosen guardian is allowed access to this chapel as this is where the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets on which Moses wrote the Ten Commandments and carried from Mt Sinai in Egypt, is believed to be stored. Overnight hotel. (Please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability).
Today we drive to the small town of Debark, in the foothills of the Simien Mountains. The road is dirt, rough and winding and is under construction (one day it will be sealed). The views are spectacular but be prepared for a long, rough, adventurous day! The small town of Debark has extremely limited accommodation options. Our hotel here will be basic and not of the same standard as hotels in other locations.
In Amharic, 'Simien' means 'north'. Six hundred million years ago, the mountains were an enormous volcanic mass. Rain and ice have carved deep fissures into them and rivers have continued the erosion, creating one of the greatest sculptures on the planet. The landscape is stunning with peaks, canyons, gorges, clefts and pointed, amethyst-coloured pinnacles like obelisks making dramatic panoramic vistas. We have the opportunity to walk in the area and take in the immense beauty of these mountains. We can try to spot some of the region's endemic wildlife, which includes various species of monkey. We will drive (about 2 hrs on sealed road) to our hotel in Gondar in the late afternoon.
Gondar was once the capital city of the Ethiopian empire, which began in 1632 with the reign of Fasiladas. Gondar has now become one of Ethiopia's largest and most impressive cities, with its walled Royal Enclosure. In Gondar, there are a dozen castles built by various emperors over the course of 236 years. The city seems more European than African and also has Islamic influences. We will visit the palaces, residences and baths of Fasilidas and also the church of Debre Berham Selassie (Light of the Trinity) which is located at the summit of a hill and surrounded by fortified walls. The interior is decorated with beautiful frescs. Overnight hotel in Gondar.
This morning we will drive to Bahir Dar, which is one of the most well-planned cities in Ethiopia. Located at 1,800 metres above sea level it is situated on the shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in the country. This afternoon we will undertake a city tour. Overnight hotel in Bahir Dar.
This morning we take a boat trip on Lake Tana to fully appreciate the sheer size of this waterway. There are a myriad of monastaries and churches on the islands; some are private and not accessible to the public. We will visit Ura Kidane Mihret church on Zeghie peninsula with its rich history and ornate frescs. In the afternoon we visit Tissisat to marvel at the Blue Nile Falls - or "Smoke of Fire". The falls are located about 2hrs drive (on a rough, dusty road) from Bahir Dar but the result is worth it. The Falls are 400 metres wide when in flood and fall over a sheer chasm more than 45 metres in height. We return to Bahir Dar in the evening. Overnight hotel.
This morning we fly from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa (about 50 mins - flight at own expense) where trip arrangements conclude on arrival at the airport in Addis Ababa. Transfers to the city and additional nights can be arranged (extra cost applies). Please ask your consultant for details. (Please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability. We recommend not booking onward flights before 16:00hrs).