12 Days - Cultural Discovery with Festival
Ethiopia is an African enigma, combining a rich history, mosaic of cultures and incredible geographic diversity. The highlands strong Orthodox Christian heritage has been formidably maintained over the millennia, alone amongst Islam and tribal cultures in surrounding African countries. From the colourful chaotic sprawl of the capital Addis Ababa, medieval castles of Gondar, to the tranquil island monasteries of Lake Tana, it is indeed a land of contrasts. This itinerary includes witnessing the Timket Festival celebrations in Gondar, walking in the Simien Mountains for a look at highlands life as well as time to take in the greatest of the ancient churches - the 12th-century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela - and ancient obelisks of Axum. The tremendous ethnic diversity of Ethiopia is evident as we explore the only country in Africa to have escaped colonialism.
Cost from CAD $ 4149 p.p. twin share (land only plus internal air included)
DAY1 Join Addis Ababa
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.
DAY2 In Addis Ababa, city tour
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). We will also witness the bustle of the one of the colourful local markets, which has an array of fascinating goods and curios, providing a great place for exploration and people watching. Overnight hotel.
DAY3 Fly to Lalibela
Very early this morning we take a ight of about 1 hr from Addis Ababa over the Ethiopian plateau to Lalibela, 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 granite rock; they have been classi ed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each church has a unique architectural style and all are superbly carved. Most of them are decorated with fascinating and well-preserved paintings. 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: ight schedule is subject to change and availability)
DAY4 In Lalibela
Today is dedicated to visiting a hill-top monastery and the city itself. Lalibela is situated amongst a series of at-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. In the evening, there is an optional visit to a traditional music house (own expense). Overnight hotel.
DAY5 Fly to Axum, visit churches
This morning we y to Axum (approx 45 mins), 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 Ethiopian’s 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 signi cant building is a tiny chapel constantly guarded by monks.
DAY6 Drive to small town of Debark
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.
DAY7 Day walk in Simien Mountains, drive to Gondar in the late afternoon
In Amharic, ‘Simien’ means ‘north’. Six hundred million years ago, the mountains were an enormous volcanic mass. Rain and ice have carved deep ssures 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-colored 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.
DAY8 Timket celebrations
Today we will witness the pre-Timket festivities (which are just as exciting as the actual festival day). Tonight is the eve of Timket - the biggest religious festival in Ethiopia marking the Epiphany (or baptism of Christ). Local priests carry tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) from their churches to Fasiladas’ Bath in Gondar where they are guarded overnight. The baths, empty for the rest of the year, have been lled with water for the occasion. The parade of tabots is brilliantly colourful and we will dedicate the afternoon (from about 1.30pm) to watching all the action. Overnight hotel in Gondar.
DAY9 Timket Festival and sightseeing
Today is the main celebration day for the Timket Festival and is marked by a public holiday. We start very early in the morning (around 5:00am) with a transfer to Fasiladas’ Bath where priests and faithful Christians have spent an all night vigil watching over the tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant).
DAY10 Morning in Gondar, drive to Bahir Dar
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. In addition
to the walled Royal Enclosure which we visited yesterday, 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 in uences. We will visit the palaces, residences and also the church of Debre Berham Selassie (Light of the Trinity) which is located at the summit of a hill and surrounded by forti ed walls. The interior is decorated with beautiful frescoes. This afternoon we will drive from Gondar to Bahir Dar (about 3.5 hours). Bahir Dar 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. Overnight hotel in Bahir Dar. meals: B,L,D
DAY11 Lake Tana boat trip and Blue Nile Falls
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 frescoes. 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 ood and fall over a sheer chasm more than 45 metres in height. We return to Bahir Dar in the evening. Overnight hotel. meals: B,L,D
DAY12 Fly to Addis Ababa, trip concludes on arrival
This morning we y from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa (about 50 mins) 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: ight schedule is subject to change and availability. We recommend not booking onward ights before 16:00hrs) meals: B