On arrival in Addis Ababa please make your own way to the group hotel. Depending on your arrival time, the remainder of the day is free to explore the city's many wide tree-lined streets. Throughout the city there are shops that sell typical artisan wares, materials and antiques. Addis Ababa is one of Africa's fastest growing cities and the fifth highest capital in the world; the altitude may fatigue you easily... so take it easy today. Another point to note is that, being relatively close to the equator, there are almost twelve hours of constant daylight no matter what time of year you visit. Overnight hotel.
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). There should also be time to visit a viewpoint over the city and the Holy Trinity Cathedral where Selassie is buried. You can also see the grave of Sylvia Pankhurst. A traditional lunch in a local restaurant may be your first experience of Ethiopian food. Overnight hotel.
We depart around 7:00am on the first flight of the day from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar with Ethiopian Airlines (flight at own expense - schedules subject to change). On arrival we take a boat trip on Lake Tana - Ethiopia's largest lake, covering 3673 square kms and the source of the famous Blue Nile River. Many of the small islands scattered across this lake shelter monastic churches, some founded as early as the 14th Century. The walls of several of these churches are ornately decorated with stunning mural paintings. We will visit the most beautiful of these, the monastery of Ura Kidane Mehret on the Zeghie peninsula. In the afternoon, we will visit the Blue Nile Falls, known locally as Tissisat ("Water That Smokes"). One of Africa's most spectacular waterfalls, the river plunges over a sheer chasm more than 45 metres in height and is 400 metres wide when in flood. (Please note, the sequence of events today may be reversed, depending on availability of the boat.) Overnight hotel.
Another early start for the 185 km drive (approx 3.5 hours) to Gondar, the capital of Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Gondar is still one of Ethiopia's most impressive cities, with its walled Royal Palace Enclosure (listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage monument). This enclosure lies at Gondar's centre and contains several well preserved castles and other buildings. We take time this afternoon to tour these castles and churches, including the Royal Palace Enclosure, Emperor Fasilidas' Bath and the beautiful church of Gebre Birhan Selassie, immersing ourselves in the history of this old capital. We will pack our kit bags for the trek. Overnight hotel.
This morning we drive from Gondar to Debark (approx 2.5 hrs, 100 kms), where the Simien Mountains National Park headquarters are located. We will meet our trek leader this morning. After picking up the rest of our trekking crew, our national park scouts, food supplies and our camping equipment in Debark we will drive on a rough road towards Sankabar Camp. We leave the vehicle a few kilometres before camp to take a short acclimatisation walk (1.5 - 3.0 hrs, approx 3 - 7.5kms depending upon where we commence walking on the escarpment) along the edge of the escarpment for our first views over the dramatic Simien mountain range. The Simien Mountains consist of many high altitude plateau formed by volcanic activity and lava flows, the northern and western flanks of which were subsequently eroded by large rivers forming an incredible landscape of rugged peaks and valleys. Our experienced trek leader and national park scouts are very familiar with this area and will introduce us to some remote areas within these mountains. We walk to Sankabar, our first campsite, stopping along the way for a picnic lunch. If we are lucky we may find some Gelada Baboons playing on the slopes. Overnight camp.
This morning our crew will pack up camp and arrange the mules and muleteers who will accompany us on the rest of our trip. Our trek today takes us to Geech. We traverse along the escarpment before dropping down to get views of the spectacular Geech Abyss into which the Djinnbarr Waterfall drops after the rains. From here, we circle around to cross the river and then ascend through terraced farmland passing the site of the former village which was demolished in 2015 to protect the park. Another half an hour brings us towards the campsite from nearby there are glimpses of much of Simien Mountain chain. Overnight camp.
From Geech we take a circuit walk with an optional ascent to the summit of Imet Gogo (3926m). This walk is a relatively easy one, geared to help the acclimatisation process while allowing us to enjoy some truly dramatic views. From Imet Gogo, the vast expanse of lowlands is revealed below us, and we gain some perspective of this incredible mountain range. We continue on our circuit walk to Saha viewpoint which makes a perfect lunch spot, before returning to camp for a relaxing afternoon. There should be time to reach the escarpment at another viewpoint at Set Derek for sunset views. Black-backed jackals and Lammergeyers may also be seen in this area. Overnight at Geech camp.
Today we continue our trek through open grasslands and giant Lobelias, along the edge of the escarpment to Chenek. This is an interesting day's walk with a few steep ups and downs. We stop for lunch at Inatiye (4070m) where again we have some magnificent views of the lowlands. Chenek itself is one of our most beautiful campsites, with our tents clustered among the giant Lobelias and superb views of the escarpment. This is one of the best areas to see the endemic Walia Ibex, a large mountain goat unique to Ethiopia, with distinctively patterned fore-legs and large, ridged horns. Gelada Baboons are also common around Chenek. Like the Walia, they are seldom found far from cliffs and are well adapted to living on nearly vertical faces. At the first sight of danger they will plunge over the edge where danger cannot follow. The Simien Fox or Abyssinian wolf, though named after this area, is now rarely seen, although a lone Simien wolf has been sighted on some of our previous tours and you may hear its high pitched call at night. These mountains are also noted for cliff-nesting birds of prey, in particular the large and powerful Lammergeyer (Bearded Vulture). These birds have a wing span of almost 3 metres and are frequently seen performing aerial acrobatics above us. Overnight camp.
The legends narrated in the Kebre Negest "Book of Kings" recount how the city of Axum as early as the 10th Century B.C was the city in which the Queen of Sheba resided. It is recounted that the song of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon brought the Ark of The Covenant to Axum and it remains there to this day, preserved in a sanctuary. Famous long before the time of Christ, Axum was the capital of the Axumite reign, one of the oldest African empires, and represented a crucial connecting -point between Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years. A visit is organised to the steles - granite monoliths dating from pre-Christian times and decorated with symbolic engravings. There is also a visit to the Church of Santa Maria of Zion, whose museum contains the crowns of Ethiopian kings and other treasures. Overnight hotel.
After a final camp breakfast we descend the rough village trail to the small town of Adi Arkay where we complete our trek. We will need to wait at a café until the mules have arrived with our baggage, before being transferred to Axum (approx 190km, 3.5 hours), with lunch on the way normally in the town of Sheri. Of interest on the way is the dramatic descent into the valley of the Baobab lined Tekeze River. The bus stops at the girder bridge and we can quickly walk across it with views of the Italian fortress peppered with bullet holes. We can rest our legs and revel in our achievements while our vehicle passes over roads through mountain regions of wild beauty, running alongside the Simien massif. The amethyst-coloured peaks and deep gullies evoke our new-found appreciation for the rugged remoteness of this region. We arrive in Axum late in the late afternoon, where a shower offers reward for our recent efforts. Overnight hotel.
This morning we have a short steep descent to the Ansiya River once again. It can be quite hot today as the vegetation is reasonably open around the trail and we have come down significantly in altitude. We follow the river for some distance before a lunch break at the base of the last really steep section of our trek. We take our time ascending to Hawaza village (400m), not forgetting to look back at the massive spires and cliffs from whence we came. It is an easy half hour walk on to Mulit where we will spend our final night camping with a backdrop of rock pinnacles. This evening is a special celebration of our achievements and we will be invited to join our crew in some local singing and dancing.
This morning we leave for Ambiko at the foot of Ras Dashen (or Ras Dejen). After a steady but steep ascent to Bwahit Pass (4200m), beneath Bwahit Peak (4430m) - the second highest mountain on our route, we rest and take in the incredible outlook of our campsite across the valley below. From here we will also get our first sighting of Ras Dashen (4533m), the highest point in a wall of cliffs and peaks on the skyline at the far side of the valley. We then follow a steep path down to the village of Chiro Leba, stopping for lunch nearby, before crossing the Meshehe River. There is a final steep climb to the village of Ambiko (300m), where we will camp for the next two nights.
Today traverses farming country in the High Simiens as we trek through the upper catchments of the Meshehe River. It is a rewarding day of trekking with the opportunity to meet local people in the fields, on the trails and in the villages. There are some ups and downs today with the highest point being over 3600m. At the village of Arkwasiye, we cross the divide into the catchment area of the Ansiya River. We camp near the village of Sona on the edge of the plateau, looking across the Gorge to the spectacular cliffs of Imet Gogo and other peaks where we walked previously. Overnight camp.
Today's optional climb to the highest point in Ethiopia, the summit of Ras Dashen at 4533m, requires a pre-dawn start (3:00am). We climb slowly and steadily through farmland and giant lobelia forests for about 6-7 hours, before a steep scramble for 20 minutes to the summit. On the summit we will take a rest and absorb the spectacular panorama that awaits. In clear weather it is possible to see as far as Eritrea. From the top we do the same short scramble down then continue descending for about 4-5 hours, back to our campsite at Ambiko. Today is a very long day but well worth the effort if you decide to take on the challenge. Alternatively, take the day to relax at camp and observe village life.
This morning we take a short flight to Lalibela, located at an altitude of 2,600m above sea level. (Please note: flight at own expense - schedule is subject to change and availability). The city contains 11 monolithic churches that were built in the 12th century and are carved out of the local pink basaltic scoriae rock. These structures have been classified on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Each church has a unique architectural style and all are superbly carved. The entire city may be described as a sculpture dedicated to the glory of God. We arrive in Lalibela late morning and the rest of the day is dedicated to visiting some of these churches. Dinner is normally at the modern ‘Benn Ababa (Mount of Flowers) restaurant, which has the most amazing views and sunsets from its terraced walkways. Overnight hotel.
Our trek today takes us where only the hardiest travellers venture, dropping over the edge of the plateau and descending very steeply for 1800m to the rugged Ansiya Valley and lowlands. We enjoy a break beside the Ansiya River river at the bottom of the valley before gentle terrain takes us to Makarabia village where we will camp tonight. Looking back up towards the escarpment we can see exactly where we have been over the last five days.
This morning we board our flight from Lalibela to Addis Ababa where the trip concludes on arrival. (Please note: flight at own expense - schedule is subject to change and availability). Extra nights in Lalibela or Addis Ababa can be arranged at additional cost. Please ask your consultant at time of booking.