Discover Ethiopia's incredible wildlife and cultures!

  • Cost: US$3,750 per person for 15 days / 14 nights (all inclusive from start point to end point)
    (equivalent to approximately UK£2,890 or €3,250)
  • Start Point: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • End Point: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Dates: Monday 04 November to Monday 18 November 2019. Click "Join this Adventure" on the right or email us to secure your place.
  • Group Size:  6–10
  • Bespoke Tour: If you do not wish to join a group tour, we can customise a private trip to fit your dates and interests. Please email us for details and a quote.

Forget EVERYTHING you think you know about Ethiopia!

Home to some of the most amazing wonders on Earth, Ethiopia is perhaps the most surprising country in Africa.

This adventure offers the very best highlights which Ethiopia has to offer. From the churning lava lake of the volcano Erta Ale, to the alien landscape of vivid yellow, green and orange minerals of Dallol, to one of the world’s most beautiful salt lakes and the monolithic rock hewn churches of Lalibela. We will also visit the ancient obelisks of Axum, have close encounters with gelada baboons, ibex and the diverse bird life of the Simien Mountains, explore the ancient monasteries, hippos, crocodiles and diverse bird life of Lake Tana, trek to the mighty Blue Nile Falls, and witness the amazing ancient markets and hand feed hyenas of the Biblical walled city of Harar.

Ethiopia is safe to visit and extremely well organised (with excellent roads and regular, reliable flights between the country’s cities). All sites on the itinerary are easy to visit (allowing participants of all ages and abilities to undertake this adventure).

Ethiopia really is charmingly eccentric. The country works to her own calendar system (8 years behind the rest of the world). She has 13 months in the year, and a completely different system of time. Much of her architecture, food and landscapes seemingly belong to another planet. This will be an adventure that you will NEVER forget!

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Adventure Itinerary

Day 1: We meet in Addis Ababa (either pick up from airport or pick up from your hotel) and catch a domestic flight to Mekele (also spelt Mek’ele and Makale) in the Tigrayan Highlands, around 780 km north of the Ethiopian capital. After lunch, we undertake a city tour and visit a local outdoor market to experience the local culture. We can also visit the martyr’s monument and museum to understand the Ethiopian people’s struggles for freedom from communist rule during the 1960s and 1970s. Dinner in a local restaurant, and overnight in a local hotel (temperatures are comfortably temperate at 2,100m altitude).

Day 2: After an early breakfast, we transfer into 4x4 vehicles and drive down from the edge of the Rift Valley to its floor towards the heart of the Danakil desert. After a few hours driving, the landscape becomes increasingly dry and inhospitable. We have lunch and coffee in the last outpost settlement, then the landscape becomes uninhabited except for small communities of the nomadic Afar people (whose dome houses dot the landscape occasionally). Driving into the desert, we spot camels and ostrich, before crossing a landscape of black lava to reach Dodom, a remote Afar village at the base of Erta Ale. Our expedition chef serves dinner as the sun sets. After dark, we load up camels to carry our luggage and equipment, then begin the easy (gentle uphill) 9 km trek across a landscape of solidified lava up to Erta Ale’s crater rim. The walk usually takes 3-4 hours and is enjoyable in the cool of the evening. We spend the evening watching the dramatic action of the boiling lava, and can descend into Erta Ale’s caldera to observe the bubbling lava lake from the rim of a large vent. We remain at a safe distance, but can capture spectacular photographs. We then set up camp at a safe distance away from the vent at the crater rim. The camp consists of dry-stone walled huts, in which we sleep. Mattresses are provided (we recommend that you bring a sleeping bag and pillow). Erta Ale is one of the world’s great volcano experiences!

Day 3: The crater of Erta Ale is over 1 km2 and contains several vents and a spectacular landscape of solidified lava. In the cool of the morning, we explore the crater area, visiting both the main vent close to camp, and (depending upon recent volcanic activity) walk through the landscape of solidified lava and explore other vents and fumaroles nearby). We return to camp around 11.00 am to relax during the hottest hours of the day, and then trek back to the volcano shortly before sunset to have the chance to capture iconic photographs of the fading blue sky and the glowing red of the lava. Lava activity varies over the course of several hours. Periodic eruptions within the vent can safely be observed, allowing us to witness the lava splashing, melting and reforming. We can re-position around the rim of the vent to observe different views of the amazing fiery scene! When everyone has taken all of the photographs that they desire, we return to our camp on the crater rim for dinner, and we overnight once more in the dry stone wall huts.

Day 4: If desired, we can awake at dawn and descend one fine time into Erta Ale’s crater to observe the lava again, before beginning the descent back to Dodom, where we meet our drivers and 4x4 vehicles. Breakfast is served in Dodom and afterwards we drive to Lake Afdera (both the name of a beautiful salt lake and a village). The drive takes us through changing landscapes of solidified lava flows, rock and then a desert-sand landscape. At Lake Afdera village, we explore the village and can swim in the ultra-saline lake, floating on the surface with extra buoyancy, and then can enjoy the natural hot freshwater springs nearby. The temperature during the day can exceed 40oC, but is a comfortable 20oC during the night. After sunset, our expedition chef serves a hot dinner. We sleep on mattresses on wicker beds in the open, next to the shore of Lake Afdera beneath an incredible desert night sky of a million stars that brighten our dreams (mattresses and wicker beds provided. We recommend you bring a sleeping bag and pillow (you can bring a tent if you do not wish to sleep in the open air).

Day 5: At sunrise, we watch the warm glow of the morning light illuminate the salt lake, then tour salina pools used for industrial salt extraction through modern mining techniques (a contrast with the ancient Amole which we will encounter at Dallol in the coming days). Pumps transfer the lake water into artificial depressions and allow it to evaporate and create a salt crust before extracting it in giant mounds. After breakfast, we dismantle our camp and drive to Hamed Ela (also called Ahmed Ela or Hamedela), a town of approximately 500 Afar people. The journey takes roughly 5 hours on an asphalt road (220 km), with stopovers for stretching our legs. We can stop to visit a traditional Afar village and may be allowed to enter an Afar dome house (build from interwoven sticks and covered with animal skins or woven mats). Along the way, we photograph beautiful scenery and interesting plant life (the hills are covered with dragon’s blood trees (Dracaena), Euphorbia, Aloes, Caralluma and Sansevieria). We stop for coffee and lunch with locals in a small town along the way, and may be able to visit a traditional market. On reaching Hamed Ela, we set up camp. As at Lake Afdera, the night time temperature is comfortably warm, and so it recommended that we sleep outdoors on mattresses and wicker beds provided.

Day 6: Breakfast is served at 6.00 am and we start out early to drive the short distance (approx 30 min) to Dallol (meaning a colourful place in the Afar language). Dallol (-130 m below sea level) is the deepest place in Africa and is arguably the hottest place in the world. During our visit, temperatures may be up to 40oC, but at other months (namely July and August), temperatures exceed 55oC!). Dallol was once the bed of an ancient body of saltwater, and we pass through a bizarre salt plain with a strangely patterned surface. We then reach a geothermal area home to yellow and green pools of minerals and acid, strange sulphur accumulations, brine flows, multi-coloured concretions, and geysers and bubbling vents spouting lemon yellow fluid. The scenes are indescribable and alien, and it truly feels as though we have landed on another planet. After a few hours at the geothermal area, we visit salt canyons (with towering orange and red laminated salt blocks 20 m tall), and a series of pools of super-saturated salt solution surrounded by bizarre, mushroom-shaped salt and calcite plates. We return to Hamed Ela for lunch to wait out the hottest hours of the day, and then drive to an extraction area where the Afar people extract ‘Amole’ (salt bricks that has been used as currency in Ethiopia for at least 1,600 years). The Afar cut out the bricks of salt and loading them onto the backs of their camels. Vast chains of camels up to 50 strong trailing off to the horizon are a frequent sight as the miners carry their salt bricks away to trade and sell. After observing the salt extraction process, we visit Lake Asale, an extremely shallow salt lake surrounded by concretions of salt. We take iconic “infinity view” photos over the mirror-like landscape and watch the warm glow of the sun set over the salt lake. We return to Hamed Ela for a meal cooked by our expedition chef and a final night camping out under the desert sky.

Day 7: We awake early and return to Lake Asale to watch a beautiful sunrise over the salt lake, and then have breakfast on the salt flats. We can return to the Amole extraction area and observe the Afar people and the camels extracting the salt bricks one final time. We then break camp and drive from Hamed Ela to Wukiro, a town in the Tigrayan Highlands (approx 4 hours driving). We visit the rock-hewn church of Wukiro Cherkos (one of the finest works in Ethiopia from the 4th century). The church is chiselled into the face of a vertical sand stone cliff. After lunch, we will be driving to Adigrat through the fantastically scenic landscape of the Tigrayan Highlands (abrupt mountains over terraces). We check into a local hotel (back at the lush, temperate altitude of 2,100m), and can relax, recovering from our desert adventures.

Day 8: After breakfast, we visit Yeha, the oldest capital of Ethiopia and explore interesting ruins. We visit Yeha Temple, built by a pre-Axumite civilisation. This Temple is the oldest standing structure in sub-Saharan Africa. After lunch, we reach Axum, and tour the city’s famous, ancient obelisks and underground chambers. We can also visit the Queen of Sheba’s Bath (which supplies water to Axum year-round), King Bazen’s tomb, and the ruins of Queen of Sheba’s Palace. Dinner in a local restaurant and overnight in a hotel in Axum.

Day 9: This morning, we visit the Saint Mary of Zion church, where the original Ark of the Covenant is kept (according to local Ethiopian tradition). We then take a flight to Lalibela. On arriving in Lalibela, we enjoy lunch and then tour the city’s famous rock hewn churches built below the ground. Many people argue that Lalibela should be listed as the 8th Wonder of the World. The 11 rock-hewn churches (of which 4 are monolithic or attached to the bedrock only at the base) are divided in to three groups. Today, we aim to visit the 1st group (consisting of 6 churches) and 3rd group (consisting of the one church (but the most beautiful of all), called Saint George’s church - which is monolithic and cruciform). Dinner in a local restaurant and overnight in a hotel in Axum.

Day 10: In the morning, we visit Asheton Mariam church on a peak nearby Lalibela. The church is chiselled into the cliffside, and is home to fascinating artefacts, including processional crosses and wooden icons more than 500 years old! The church also offers spectacular commanding views over the surrounding landscape. Asheton Mariam church is believed to be King Lalibela’s first attempt at creating a church in solid rock. We return back to Lalibela for lunch in a charmingly eccentric local restaurant called Ben Ababa, then explore the 2nd group of churches in Lalibela (which we did not visit yesterday). During the afternoon, we visit a local family to take part in a traditional coffee ceremony (involving frankincense and watching the coffee beans be roasted and brewed according to ancient Ethiopian custom). Dinner in a local restaurant and overnight in a hotel in Axum.

Day 11: After breakfast, we drive to the church of Neakuto Leab, which lies in a large cavern, and we can revisit any of the rock hewn churches in Lalibela to take more photographs. We then transfer to the airport and catch a flight to Gondar. Arriving in Gondar, we have lunch, then visit the Royal Compound and explore the ruins of a series of enchanting 17th century castles. We then visit Weleka, a village founded and settled by the Felasha or black Jewish community who are believed to be immigrated from Israel and lived in Ethiopia for thousands of years. The Felasha left Ethiopia and now mostly live in Israel, however we can visit one of the synagogues that they built. Afterwards, we drive to Debark to complete paper work for permits to visit the Simen Mountains National Park. Dinner in a local restaurant and overnight in a hotel in Debark.

Day 12: After an early breakfast, we drive in 4x4 vehicles into the Simien Mountains past stunning scenery of jagged peaks and panorama over the lowlands. The Simien Mountains National Park is famed for “afro-alpine” vegetation, and we can drive up to 3,800 m through forests of giant Lobelia trees. The park is home to many endemic animal species, including the gelada baboon (guaranteed to be seen) as well as the Walia ibex and the rare Ethiopian wolf. The birdlife is also extremely diverse, with nearly 200 species recorded from the Simien Mountains. One of the highlights is the thick-billed raven which preys on the native grass rats. The diversity of wild flowers is spectacular, with red hot pokers being a common sight. During the late afternoon, we return to Gondar, and have dinner in a local restaurant, and overnight in a local hotel.

Day 13: We leave Gondar after an early breakfast and drive to the southern short of Lake Tana to reach the town of Bahirdar. Along the way, we pass through a spectacular landscape, dotted with craggy cores of ancient volcanoes. We undertake a short walk to the thundering Blue Nile Falls which is located 30 km south of its source. We have the option of visiting a 17th century stone bridge built by Portuguese explorers. We return to Bahirdar for lunch, then embark on a boat for a trip across Lake Tana to explore some of the ancient monasteries hidden on the shores and islands in the middle of the lake. Built during the 13th and 14th centuries, these monasteries are uniquely decorated with beautiful paintings religious stories. During the boat trip, we look out for hippos and crocodiles, as well as diverse birdlife. Along the shores of Lake Tana, we may witness fishermen in small boats made from local reeds (a technology that dates back thousands of years). After dinner, we catch a flight from Bahirdar to Addis Ababa and overnight in a hotel close to the airport.

Day 14: We catch an early morning flight from Addis Ababa to Drie Dawa. On landing, we have breakfast, then drive to the highland town of Harar. Harar is one of the most interesting historical cities in Africa and is encircled by a stone wall (called the Jogal) built during 16th century to control the entrance of non-Harari people into the town. Harar is also one of the holiest cities in Islam, and we spend the day exploring the ancient city markets, fascinating traditional houses and intricate mosques. We have dinner in a local restaurant, then join locals who walk outside the city walls to feed wild hyenas by hand as part of a tradition to offer thanks. We can sit and watch the hyenas up close and personal, and feed them too if we wish. Afterwards, we return to a local hotel for the night.

Day 15: We spend this morning exploring Harar further, and after breakfast, we proceed to Aweday, a town with the largest open air market of Chat (Kat) in the world. Chat leaves are chewed as a stimulant (similar to coffee) across Ethiopia. The chat market is one of Ethiopia’s most colourful markets and is fascinating to explore. Afterwards, we drive to Drie Dawa and (if time permits), we can visit a 19th century French-built railway that connects Djibouti with Addis Ababa. The station houses an impressive collection of old locomotives and cargo carriages. Drie Dawa is also home to an interesting market which we can visit as well.
We then catch a flight from Drie Dawa back to Addis Ababa, and after dinner, we are transferred to the airport for departing international flights (leaving at 10 pm or later), or to any hotel in Addis Ababa (if you are staying longer in Ethiopia).

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Getting there

This expedition begins in Addis Ababa, which is served by various airlines from cities across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America. Ethiopia Airlines operates direct flights from many locations and offer reliable services!

Adventure Rating: Relaxing

No strenuous trekking is required for this adventure or, if present, such treks are minimal and can be substituted for alternate activities.

Participants must be capable of walking on uneven ground and carrying a day pack with water, camera and appropriate weather protection.

Possible extensions

We can customise add on itineraries to the Bale Mountains (great for observing wildlife) or the Omo Valley (to visit fascinating tribes with amazing lip plates).

To get a quote for any extensions, simply mention which extension(s) you are interested in when you apply to Join this Adventure!

Simplified map of the Wildlife and Cultures of Ethiopia Adventure itinerary

What's Included

All transport during the itinerary
Professional guide
Accommodation (on a twin/double basis)
All main meals during the itinerary

Note: single room upgrade is available at extra cost

What's Not

International flights
Personal porters (if requested)