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Ethiopia.. Land of Mystery (Historic Route and Timket Festival)

January 13 to 27, 2020

Ethiopia is culturally one of the richest countries in Africa and home to some remarkable architectural gems. A journey on the Historic Route provides a glimpse of life from the past that is still relevant. It is a country where religion plays a prominent role and the celebration of holy days is a way of life. Ethiopia is truly a land of contrasts and extremes, a land of remote and wild places. Here you will find the jaggedly carved Simien Mountains (one of the 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited on this tour aside from Axum, Lalibela and Tiya). You will marvel walking amidst the exquisitely carved rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. It is a land in which ancient historical traditions and rituals have been preserved. One of these ceremonies is Timket, or the feast of the Epiphany, arguably the most colorful festival in Africa. Come along as an observer at this remarkable event marked by processions and chanting and find yourself transported back in time. Travel throughout northern Ethiopia to Gondar in the foothills of the Simien Mountains; to Bahir Dar and Lake Tana the source of the Blue Nile; to Axum the “home” of the Ark of the Covenant and to Lalibela to explore the famous churches carved out of rock.  Come and Experience Ethiopia!

This trip can be combine with Horn of Africa trip (January 26 to February 10, 2020)

and it also has an extension to OMO Valley

Per person sharing in double occupancy (air and land from Newark or Dulles): $5,995.00
Single Supplement: $800.00       

Led by Ethiopian expert guide

Credit for not using our included airfare $900.00

Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 12 participants

Your tour does not include

  • E-Visa for Ethiopia (obtainable online)

  • Air from/to your home city to/from Newark/Dulles.

  • Any extra fare on inter-Ethiopia flights if not using Ethiopian Airlines from USA (approx. $200.00).

  • Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.

  • Items of a personal nature: beverages, laundry, phone calls, email, souvenirs, camera fees and etc.

  • Dayroom or hotel overnights if necessary due to airline schedule changes.

  • Travel protection insurance (highly recommended).

Your tour includes

  • International air from Newark or Dulles to Addis and back via Ethiopian Airlines.

  • All transfers and ground transportation with English speaking driver.

  • Accommodation in the best available hotels outside of Addis and in a 4* in Addis.

  • All meals starting with dinner first day ending with dinner on the last day as mentioned in the itinerary.

  • All domestic flights within Ethiopia.

  • English speaking guide throughout.

  • All entrance fees to sites as per the program.

  • Gratuities to guide, drivers, hotels’ staff and porters.

  • Local guides/helpers and shoe keepers at churches.

  • Mineral bottled water on touring days in the bus.

  • Scout fee in the Simien Mountains National Park.

Trip Grade:

III Challenging – Parts of the trip are physically challenging, involve hiking on rough terrain or in sand or at high altitudes. There may be very long drives on rough roads (really rough especially in Eritrea); weather conditions with high heat or humidity, presence of insects. You may have simple picnic lunches, primitive bathroom facilities along the road and remoteness from modern towns or cities plus service in Eritrea are very often slow.

Lodging Level:

**Delightful: Comfortable yet on the Spartan side, usually small but with private facilities. Some of those hotels lack western style amenities but usually rooms have en-suite bathroom and most A/C functions well (2 or 3 stars)

*** Superior: In large cities 5 stars' hotels and in some smaller town, lodges and hotels with limited amenities, average service and comfort level acceptable to western standard. (3 or 4 stars)

Special notes on Travel to Ethiopia

This is a very poor country and the tourism infrastructure is still lacking in many areas. This trip requires participants to be in good health. We designed the itinerary to be as comfortable as possible. Elevations could constitute problems for people with breathing difficulties (some areas are at 7000 ft) and rough, dusty roads could also affect travelers. Finally, you should be aware that some of the accommodations are considered primitive (though clean and suitable for our kind of adventure), they are the best available in some of the visited towns. Some of the drives are very long on gravel and dirt roads, so patience, a team spirit, a sense of adventure and flexibility are all needed traits to enjoy this tour. Also at festival times, hotels can occasionally oversell and force us to make last minute changes

Note: Travelers doing optional Omo extension will drive to Lake Langno and transfer to the lake side Sabana Resort to rest and continue Omo adventure.

View Tour Itinerary

Monday-Tuesday, Jan 13-14
USA - Ethiopia

Depart your hometown arriving the next day in Ethiopia. You will be met by your Ethiopian tour guide and transferred to Celeste Hotel or similar.

Wednesday, Jan 15

Head out on a city tour of Addis beginning with the National Archaeological Museum home to the 3.5 million year old skeleton of Lucy. Have lunch in the museum’s restaurant then head to Sidist Kilo or the University of Addis Ababa where you will visit the Ethnographic museum which is also known as the ‘Institute of Ethiopian studies’. The museum is also the former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie I and you will visit his bedroom. Afterwards, head to the Entoto Mountains from where you will have a panoramic view of Addis Ababa, the new flower. Return to your Hotel for Dinner and overnight Hotel. (D)

Thursday, Jan 16
Addis - Mekele

Early morning transfer to the airport for your direct flight to Mekele, capital city of Tigray province. Upon arrival meet and transferred to one of the breakfast places in town to have some Ethiopian traditional breakfast such as foul or other meals. After breakfast, drive to Wukro and visit the new museum before lunch. Afternoon you will visit Abrha Atsbeha rock hewn churches, the oldest rock hewn church in the country. Continue your drive to Adigrat passing through the small town of Negash, the oldest Muslim settlement in Ethiopia which dates back to the 7th C. Late afternoon drive to Hawzen enjoying the beautiful countryside and Gheralta; Mountains on your left. Dinner and overnight Gheralta lodge or similar. (B,L,D)

Friday, Jan 17
Gheralta Mountains

Morning drive to the foot of the Gheralta Mountains and trek (1.5hrs each way) to the rock-hewn church of Debre Tsion which is located on the top of one of the Gheralta ‚Pillars‘. Return to your lodge for lunch and short break before you drive to the small village of Negash, the first Muslim settlement in Ethiopia where followers of Mohammed were given shelter by the Ethiopian king. Return to your lodge for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Jan 18
Mekele - Axum

Depart on a scenic drive to Axum through the interesting rock formations at Adigrat and Bizet. Stop to view the famous and oldest standing monastery in Ethiopia, Debre Damo Monastery (please note that women are not allowed and you will only see it from the view point/road). Continue to the 5th century BC temple at Yeha and the Adwa mountains where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians in 1896. You will also attend the Eve of Timket festival in the historic town of Adwa where you will see the priests and deacons bring the replicas of the Ark of the Covenant out of each church to where they will spend the night praying. Travel to Axum for dinner and overnight in the Yared Zema Hotel or similar. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Jan 19
Axum (Eve of Timket Festival)

Explore Axum with a stop at the archeological museum, the church of St. Mary of Zion, which is believed to house the original Ark of the Covenant. There is a monastery which was constructed by Emperor Fasiladas in the 17th century which is only open to men and the cathedral which was inaugurated by Queen Elisabeth II in 1964 that houses a 10th century church book, the book of the miracles of St. Mary. You will also explore the Stele Park to see the obelisks carved from single blocks of granite. Here in the field, you will see the tomb of King Remhai and the stele that was taken to Rome by the Italians only to be returned to its original site in 2005. After lunch, explore the remains of what was once a massive palace, which according to the legend was the original residence of the Queen of Sheba. Nearby are a number of rough-hewn granite slabs and giant stele, said to be the burial place of the queen. Drive to view the remains of a palace and the tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel from the 6th century. On your way back to to town, you will see the Ezana stone inscriptions written on a big granite rock in the Geez, Sabean and Greek languages. You will also see the bath of the Queen of Sheba. Afternoon attend Eve of Timket festival to witness colorfully dressed Priests, Deacons and the Orthodox faithful bringing out the Tabot, replica of The Ark of The Covenant from the church and taking it to the tent which is ready next to the bath of the Queen of Sheba. Return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, Jan 20
Drive to Simien Mountains National Park (285km)

After an early breakfast, you will attend the morning service to witness prayers, chanting, a procession and priests blessing the congregation with holy water. Drive to the Simien Mountains National Park, registered under UNESCO world heritage for the protection of the endemic flora and fauna such as the Abyssinian Wild Rose, Giant Lobelia, Walya Ibex, Gelada Baboons and Lammergeyer. Along the route, you will cross the Tekeze Valley and pass through the foothills of mountains. The Simien Mountains make Ethiopia to be the “roof of Africa” with its highest peak Ras Dashen (4.620 m). Arrive at Debark, headquarter of the national park, late in the afternoon and transfer to the Simien Park Hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Jan 21

Drive in the National park through the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes to the viewpoints at Chilquanit. The national park is home to the Gelada Baboons, Walya Ibex, Klipspringers, grey duikers and Wattled Ibis. Today you will see Gelada Baboons, different birds and plants. Spend some time at the viewpoints before you drive back to Debark and have lunch. Afterwards, drive to Gondar passing through the beautiful landscapes at Amba Ghiorgis and Kossoye. You will also pass through the Felasha village, former village of the Black Jews. Late afternoon arrival in Gondar, transfer to Goha Hotel for Dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Jan 22
Gondar – Bahirdar

Morning visit of the castle compound where you can explore the 17th C castles of Emperor Fasiledas, Yohannes, Eyasu, David, Bakaffa and Queen Mentiwab. Also visit the bath of Fasiladas where the Ethiopians celebrate Epiphany or Timket every 19th of January. Then head to visit the church of Debre Berhan Selassie with the famous wall paintings of more than 80 winged-angels covering the ceiling. Lunch in town before you drive south to Bahirdar. Your drive to Bahirdar will take you through the beautiful countryside of the Amhara people, the mountains at Adis Zemen and the wetlands around Wereta where you will see some interesting birds. Upon arrival transfer to the Abay Minch lodge or similar for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Jan 23

After breakfast set out by boat on Lake Tana to visit some of the more interesting churches of the area, Ura Kidane Mihret and Azwa Maryam. Please note that you have to walk about 25 minutes each way through the coffee forest to see the first church. You will also see the departure point of the Blue Nile River from its source before you return to Bahirdar. Have an early lunch in the Desset restaurant then drive to Tisissat to visit the Blue Nile Falls. The amount of water that passes over the falls has been greatly reduced due to the diversion of the river to the hydroelectric dam. Return to your hotel in Bahirdar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Jan 24
Bahirdar - Lalibela

Today’s drive will take you through some of Ethiopia’s beautiful landscapes to Lalibela. Your drive will be passing through the wetlands around Wereta where you will see some interesting birdlife. You will also pass through Debre Tabor and the beautiful landscape around Nefas Mewcha and Gashena. Arrival in Lalibela will be in the afternoon and you will be transferred to the Mountain View Hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Jan 25

Visit the first group of rock-hewn churches of Lalibela including Bete Medhanealem, Bete Maryam, Bete Meskel, Bete Denagil and the “double church” of Debre Sina and Bete Michael in which the “Selassie-Chapel” is located. After lunch, visit the second group of churches including “the double-church” of Bete Gebrel and Rafael, the tabot-less Bethlehem, Bete Merquorios, Bete Emanuel with its Axumite architecture on the exterior and interior walls and Bete Abba Libanos. You will also see the famous cross-shaped church of Bete Giorgis. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Jan 26
Addis – USA

Transfer to the airport after breakfast for your flight back to Addis. You will be met upon arrival and taken to a hotel for dayroom use. This evening enjoy a farewell dinner in one of the cultural restaurants with live music and folkloric dancing. Return to the airport for your flight back home arriving on January 27th. (B,L,D)

We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed