Be amazed at the great many wonders Ethiopia has to offer
This is a journey as described by our guests who traveled through the country recently. It takes you through Ethiopia’s ancient and pre-historic civilization and diverse culture witnessed by the ancient architectures, philosophy, festivals, alphabets, artifacts and iconography etc. The southern part is the other face of the country which is dominated by colorful cultural groups of which 53 different ethnic groups are represented by their own language, traditions, costumes and belief system among others. Kate, one of our visitors describes her journey.
The juice bars and coffee shops come highly recommended and are great places to mingle with local people and watch the world go by. We struggled to match our beautifully striped papaya, strawberry, banana and whipped avocado combo anywhere else in the country and nowhere else drizzled grape juice down the side as the perfect finishing touch.
On our first evening in Addis Ababa, Eskinder took us to an Ethiopian restaurant, which gave us the chance to sample a myriad of local dishes while listening to traditional music. Injera takes a bit of getting used to, I confess I thought it was a folded hand towel that came in two different colors.
Our first two days were spent at Harer. Jugol (the old town) with a density of 82 mosques, makes it perhaps the highest in the Islamic world allowing Harer to claim their city as the fourth holiest Islamic city in the world after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. The old city is thought to have been founded as early as the 12th century. It is a walled town with five gates to the city and is a lively and friendly town. One of the interesting places to visit in Harer is Rambo’s house for its unusual architecture, frescoed ceiling and great views over the town. Also the local market has different sections of which one is the recycling corner, the five gates of the city, Abu Baker Mosque, and in the evening the hyena man who makes a living from feeding wild hyenas.
An early start saw us take a short 45 min flight from Addis to Bahirdar. Ethiopian Airlines internal flights were excellent, with no queues, new aircraft and all were on time. Our lodge was close to the lake with beautiful gardens, lots of birds and in the evening you could hear the hippos grunting down by the lake. Our morning drive took us to the Blue Nile waterfall via the first of many unmade roads, so a Toyota Land Cruiser is a must. The walk and the views were spectacular and the coffee from the hut perched on the edge of the gorge was an interesting experience.
After having breakfast with a large long eared owl on a branch just over our heads, we headed across the lake by boat to visit the peninsula monasteries. The walk through the mangroves and up to the village was one of the highlights, as was a particularly good coffee stop. In the afternoon our guide took us via a great local market and excellent juice bar to watch the Meskel festivities.
A lovely drive from Bahir Dar with some amazing sights and views en route took about 2½ hours, but the roads were very empty as almost the entire country was preparing for Meskel, with crowds of people heading along the road to church.
After a whistle stop tour of the castles, empty lion cages and hearing how the Brits had bombed the archive in order to dislodge the Italians (it still has no roof), we headed to the main square where we had a front row view of the huge and dazzling Meskel celebrations.
A word of warning - avoid staying at the Fasil Lodge (‘Quiet and Peaceful'!!) on a Saturday night. The priest in the nearest church (of many in Gonder), equipped with a very efficient p.a. system, began his chanting at half past midnight and was still in fine voice when we left at 8am. I can truthfully say we did not get a wink of sleep. Apparently the lodge manager and the Church had a big argument about this, no prizes for guessing who won.
Another wonderful 2½ hour drive with fantastic scenery took us to Debark, slaloming between the usual herds of cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats but now with lots of horses as well. Debark has a decent hotel with friendly staff, excellent coffee and decent loos. From there it only took an hour to drive right up into the Simien mountains.
Our drives and walks along the escarpment were unforgettable. At times the footpath takes you to within 3 feet of the edge of a 1000 metre vertical drop. Our Ranger was fantastic, complete with pink scarf and plastic shoes and stopping to pose at times proudly holding his AK47 aloft.
Near the end of our first walk and approaching the lodge we came upon our first colony of baboons, it was incredible that they just carried on eating grass and talking to each other, with us only a few feet away. On the way back down to Debark we came across an enormous waterfall and with our ranger picking peas and broad beans for us, spent a very pleasant hour walking and munching.
Unmissable but not in a particularly photogenic way, just drink in the history and enjoy all the stories about the Queen of Sheba, her baths and palace, the tombs, wicked Queen Judith, the stelae, the epic battle against the Italians in the distant mountains, the lovely Italian piazza and, of course, the Ark of the Covenant. The best shopping in Ethiopia was at St George’s gallery, the owner has a treasure chest of beautiful old silver Coptic crosses.
Lalibela Lodge was stunning, with a great view from the balcony. The food was interesting, one memorable meal was minestrone soup with bread and marmalade, bread and honey the following night to accompany our salad. Be prepared for a rough drive up from the airport.
One of the many highlights of Lalibela was walking from one church to another along deep passage ways gouged out of pink granite. We were lucky enough to see a completely empty Bete Giorgis church on our first evening, then returned the following day, St George’s Day, to see crowds of pilgrims and local people descending to the church for a blessing.
The trip out of town to the Yemrehanna Krestos Cave Church and beautiful juniper forest was yet another memorable experience and takes you through some lovely countryside. Apparently local hikes and home stays are well worth doing and the hills seemed to be full of more cave churches. Don’t miss Lalibela market if you are there on a Saturday.
The drive from Addis Ababa to Arbaminch takes pretty much all day. Our lovely driver was very keen for us to drive up to the Dorze village before we got to the Haile Resort hotel, but we were in all honesty too frazzled from our day on the road to do it justice.
The Haile Resort has the most amazing views out over the lakes and mountains, the staff couldn’t be more friendly and it is a wonderful place for a little bit of R and R. Oh, and it has a huge swimming pool. It might be an idea to fly from Addis Ababa to Arba Minch, but you would miss out on seeing a huge swathe of the country.
Be prepared for another long day on the road to reach Turmi and Buska Lodge. The second half of the drive is all on unmade roads but has fascinating glimpses of local life and beautiful scenery, including masses of desert roses, along the way.
We went very early the next morning to the Karo village and had the whole place to ourselves for an hour. We were welcomed very warmly and had another wonderful guide who showed us all aspects of traditional life as well as explaining the huge environmental challenges faced by the tribe.
Buska Lodge was great with friendly staff and cheap wine. Our hut was on the edge of the camp next to a huge tree with a troop of resident Colubus monkeys, who kept us entertained for hours.
We were lucky enough to attend a bull jumping ceremony. The money you pay goes to the family of the boy who is being initiated into manhood, to fund the considerable hospitality they are expected to offer to their extended family, who all attend.
We hadn’t realised that the ceremony is also so important for young women, who present themselves repeatedly to be whipped by the whipping men, wearing their scars as a badge of honor. Not for the faint hearted.
Alduba market was great and we were able to wander round without feeling that we were intruding, if you go in the afternoon most of the trading has finished and the traders are busy having a catch up over mugs of sorghum beer.
We re-christened Jinka Lodge ‘Bates Motel’. Grim sums it up well, but they have a captive market as both our driver and Eskinder explained, there is absolutely nowhere else to stay!
Make sure you only stay there one night. The trees and birds in the grounds were nice, as were the ladies tending the grounds. The small museum at the top of the hill was one of the best we visited.
Save up all your soap and shampoo to take to the Mursi tribe. We hadn’t been warned and would happily have taken lots had we known that is what they mostly asked for. We felt welcome and at ease there, again it’s a good idea to go as early as possible, as we did, to beat the hordes coming up to visit from Jinka. Bananas are also a good thing to take, buy some in town before heading up.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Ari village who seem to have managed to retain their culture and traditions whilst also embracing certain aspects of modern life, including education for their children.
On the way back to Konso from Jinka we passed a convoy of decorated buses bringing hundreds of new students up to start their studies at Jinka university. A little further on and a group of boys, all painted in clay and remarkably agile on long stilts, came charging out onto the road and posed for photographs, for which they asked 5 birr each. Well worth it, they were so funny and scattered like lightning again when someone shouted that they’d spotted a police car.
Kanta Lodge is gorgeous, with wonderful gardens and views. Perhaps our favorite village visit was to Konso. Again, our guide had grown up there and knew everyone. The stone terracing and series of originally defensive stone walls were a wonder to behold, as were the many wooden doorways, passageways and community houses for the young men. The village thoroughly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status and we would like to have visited more of the villages, had time permitted.
We flew back to Addis on day 18 where a dinner awaited us at a cultural restaurant, what a nice idea to end our trip.
All accommodations in and out of Addis Ababa as indicated on the itinerary double or twin room (Accommodation depends on availability)
All breakfasts and dinners
All ground transportation; 4WD drive
All fuel, drivers’ allowance and insurance
All local guides and all entrance fees
Boat trip on Lake Tana and Lake Chamo
All government taxes
International and domestic flight tickets
I have to thank you for taking such good care of us while in your beautiful country - we had such a great time and that was certainly a lot to do with you and your excellent guides and assistants.
Thank you so much for all your help to ensure that we had a great holiday in Ethiopia. We have just reviewed all the hotels we stayed in on Trip Advisor.
Aregash Lodge is a peaceful heaven for those who seek relaxation and a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The lodge grows much of its own food, including coffee. Every evening you can join the coffee ceremony and watch the hyenas and vultures come to feed near the lodge. There are several easy trails around the property where you can see monkeys, including the Colobus Monkey. Accommodation is in large bamboo thatched Tukuls, built in the style of a traditional Sidama village but with modern-day comforts.
All the guides and drivers we had were great. Regarding Axum - I think you can see the main sites there in 2-3 hours (just the Stelae and the church). I would ignore the temple on the outskirts of the city. Then you can fly into Axum, take in two sights and drive straight to Kor Kor lodge. It looks like the new lodge building is nearly completed, which will be fantastic.
Bale Mountains is worthwhile, in spite of the extra cost, due to the location, great accommodation, food etc. There is a nice expedition to see the honey collection from the trees at sunset as well as lots of wildlife. I would give people the option of adding this to their budget. It does include free alcohol and 2 free guided trips, so it is worthwhile.
So, with the benefit of hindsight, we'd have skipped the Yeha hotel and would have had an extra night at the Sabana lodge. We arrived there quite late and it would have been nice to have the day there. Anyway, we had a great time, and these are just a few points that may help you for the future.
Many many thanks for everything and best wishes to you family
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