Simien Mountains Trekking and Tours
Historic North Circuit & Trekking Adventure- 13 Days
Historic North Circuit & Trekking Adventure- 13 Days
Ethiopia’s Northern Circuit offers a remarkable density of historical and religious attractions coupled with a striking landscape of endless mountains. This tour combines the wonderful trekking and wildlife of the Simien Mountains with the incredible historical sites of the rock hewn churches of Lalibela, the ancient stelae of Axum and the wild and remote pinnacle-top monasteries of the Gheralta region.The UNESCO world heritage site of Lalibela is one of the biggest hitters in the collection, with its fascinating churches carved out of the bare rock all concentrated within walking distance of the town. Gondar with its well preserved royal compound was once the Camelot of Africa, whilst The Gheralta region offers a whole new dimension, with vertigo defying churches built on crags of rocks. You Then discover the alien landscapes of Dallol, the bubbling lava lakes of Erta Ale, and watch the sun go down over Lake Afrera.
The following sample itinerary is based on using internal flights from Ethiopian Airlines and local guides / services in each location. This keeps the overall cost down and saves on some long and arduous journeys. If preferred we can quote to include an accompanying tour leader for the whole trip and / or overland travel by 4wd instead of internal flights.
Upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, your driver will meet you outside the airport terminal. Head into the city for your first taste of fresh Ethiopian coffee. Explore some of the sites around the capital, including National Museum and the sprawling Mercato market.
Over night: Addis Ababa
Accommodation:Hotel or Lodge
ROCK HEWN CHURCHES OF LALIBELA
Early morning transfer to Gondar airport. You’ll be picked up at the other end and transferred to your central hotel. Lalibela is world famous for its monolithic rock hewn churches. Carved by hand out of solid rock in the 12th and 13th Centuries, the evocative sound of monks chanting combined with the sense of history make this a deeply spiritual place and quite rightly a UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll get to visit most of the Central churches that Lalibela is so famous for including the Northern Group (containing the Lalibela Cross), The Western Group (Bete Giyorgis) and the Eastern Group.
Accommodation: Hotel or Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Fly Gondar – Lalibela
REMOTE CHURCHES OF LALIBELA
Tour remote church clusters in Lalibela, you can choose to walk or ride a rented mule up to Asheton Maryam Church, situated at about 3100 metres. Here you are rewarded with spectacular views of Lalibela town and surrounding valleys.
Meals Included: Breakfast only included
Accommodation: Mountain View
Transport (where relevant): N/A
Spend the morning visiting the remaining rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. Catch a midday flight to Gondar, the old capital of the country. Your first stop will be Debre Berhan Selassie Church, whose heavy and unassuming stone facade hides the colourful frescoes inside.
After this you will head to the well-preserved Fasil Gebbi in Gondar, described by some as the ‘Camelot of Africa’. Now known as the Royal Enclosure, this was initially founded in 1636 and built by Emperor Fasilides as his home, but successive emperors and rulers added to his blueprint. Now, the buildings span over 70,000 square metres of land and include palaces, libraries, two lion houses, royal baths, and a women’s vocational school built by Mentewab, the Empress of Ethiopia. Within the enclosure there are multiple architectural styles and influences jostling for position. The influences include Indian, Portuguese, Moorish and Aksumite.
Accommodation: Hotel or Lodge
Drive (2.5 hrs) Gondar- Michibiny (3200 m), hike to Sankaber (3250 m).
From Gondar, we drive to Michibiny with a brief stop at the Simien Mountains National Park headquarters to arrange the permit. We start the trekking easy with a 2-3 hours hike to Sankaber, a good way to acclimatize and get used to the altitude. Overnight camping.
Hike Sankaber to Gich (3600 m).
Today’s trek covers a distance of approximately 12 km and takes around 5-6 hours. The hike goes through highland grasslands, heather forests, cultivated fields and follows a spectacular escarpment with dramatic views.
We will encounter the friendly Gelada baboons, foraging in big groups. A stunning viewpoint at the Jinbar Falls is reached after clambering a few rocks. This waterfall plunges several hundred meters down the escarpment down into the abyss.
At the end of the day we pass through the welcoming village of Gich where the local people are happy to prepare a well-deserved coffee. The coffee ceremony is an important social event in Ethiopian culture. The camp for the night is not far from the village. Overnight camping.
Hike Gich to Ambaras (3620 m). Drive (3.5 hrs) to Debark or Limalimo Lodge.
Today is the most spectacular stage of the trekking, offering stunning views all the way. We hike 5-6 hours, including a short detour to Imet Gogo (3925 m). This summit offers the most exciting views. The giant lobelia is abundant on the Gich plateau. The majestically lammergeyer might soar the skies in front of you and the endemic thick billed raven will be present. In the afternoon we drive Debark or Limalimo Lodge for overnight.
Drive Debark to Axum
After breakfast in Debark or at Limalimo, drive down the switchbacks (4-6 hours) to Axum, Ethiopia’s most religious city which is home to an impressive display of Obelisks. The city is purported to have been the home of the Queen of Sheba. Rumour has it that the lost Ark of the Covenant is in the Church of St Mary of Zion. A short walk through the cobbled streets brings you to the stelae fields. Some of the 4th century AD granite structures rise to over 23 metres.
DRIVE AXUM – HAWZIEN
Today’s journey is quite a long one, driving from Axum to Hawzien and the Gheralta Cluster. This Tigray region is home to some of the most remote, hard-to-reach churches, often situated in incredible locations. Some churches involve precipitous climbs and some are unfortunately forbidden to females. Your guide will discuss the options with you and you will stop and explore some en-route.
CHURCHES OF THE GHERALTA CLUSTER
After breakfast you will explore a couple of the interesting churches from the Gheralta cluster recommended to you by your guide. Spend a leisurely evening at hotel or lodge.
DRIVE GHERALTA – MEKELE AND THEN HEDING TO ERTA ALE,
You will have a 3 hour transfer to Mekele, and At Mekele, you’ll meet the rest of your tour group and pile into the Toyota Landcruisers that will take you into the Danakil in convoy. You’ll begin the drive into the Danakil Depression at around 9AM. The roads leading out of Mekele are smooth and asphalted, and as you drive further out of town there are some wonderful views of the Tigrayan landscape.
As you drive further towards the Afar region, the roads get rougher until you reach the Danakil desert. Here, the roads are a maze of solidified lava, rock and sand with an occasional palm lined oasis. You’ll stop for lunch at the roadside where your cooking team will do you proud, before continuing on to Aksoma, the base camp of the Erta Ale volcano. The drive form Mekele to Aksoma is around 6 hours.
At Aksoma, your cooking team will prepare dinner which will be served around 5PM. As the sun begins to dip behind the horizon, you begin the 3-hour hike up Erta Ale. Camels will transport mattresses, blankets and additional water up the volcano.
The trek is a 3-hour walk along a gentle incline. You’ll reach the crater rim around 11PM, where the fiery lava lake awaits.
You’ll spend the night camping on the volcano at a makeshift campsite. Your sleeping materials will be provided for you and transported up the volcano by camels. It’s rough and ready, but that’s all part of the fun!
Note: The Journey into the Danakil Depression tour starts and ends in Mekele. The region is easily accessible via domestic flight from Addis Ababa, or along the historic circuit. Depending on your wider travel plans, we can make the necessary arrangements to get you to and from Mekele.
Activities: Drive Gheralta-
Mekele – Erta Ale, Hike up Erta Ale
Overnight: Camping on Erta Ale volcano
Erta Ale to Hamed Ela
Wake up early to descend the volcano before the sun rises to high. Visit the lava lake one last time before beginning the 3-hour descent back to Aksoma. You’ll begin your descent around 6:30AM and will reach Aksoma by 9AM at the latest for breakfast.
Today you’ll drive across the sweeping salt pans of the Danakil towards the small hamlet of Hamed Ela. If time permits, you’ll visit Lake Asale and the camel caravans. The sun set over Lake Asale is extraordinary.
Return to Hamed Ela for overnight.
Activities: Drive from Erta Ale to Hamed Ela across the desert, visit Lake Asale and camel caravans
Overnight: Hamed Ela
Hamed Ela to Mekele and Fly to Addis
After breakfast at Hamed Ela, you’ll drive to Ragad (Asebo) and watch the local Afar people mining the salt from the ground and loading on to the camel caravans.
Drive to Dallol, one of the most stunning geological phenomena on the planet. The kaleidoscopic landscape of greens, reds, and yellows formed by acidic springs and salt mounds create an alien landscape.
In the afternoon, visit Lake Afrera, a hyper-saline lake in the Danakil fed by a system of surrounding hot springs. Take a dip in the lake where you’ll float due to the salt content. Wash off the salt in the nearby hot springs.
Begin the drive back to Mekele to line up with a return flight to Addis Ababa or continue your onwards journey with us.
Activities: watch the salt miners, visit the Dallol cinder cone volcano, swim in Lake Afrera and the hot springs
Price will depend on your final itinerary, group size, accommodation choices, and time of year.