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Horn of Africa.. (Eritrea, Somaliland, Djibouti and Eastern Ethiopia)

January 26 to February 11, 2019

This tour is Shangri-la for those who dare to break the mold of conventional travel. This is the road less travelled, and virgin territory for explorers.

Eritrea is a state on the southern shores of the Red Sea whose history dates back to the Stone Age. Following a succession of wars with Ethiopia that spanned a thirty-year period, Eritreans under a United Nations’ supervised referendum voted for independence in 1991 and gained international recognition in 1993. Asmara, the capital, proudly displays a shining collection of Art Deco and other architectural wonders. Massawa, a port city on the Red Sea, was heavily influenced by the Turks and Europeans. This coastal city is the starting point for visits to the Dahlak Islands, one of the most unspoiled and least known reefs in the Red Sea. Eritrea's nine colorful ethnic groups are diverse and individual, and are a major highlight.

Somaliland should not be confused with Somalia.  Westerners are welcome there... Somaliland is home to what is often considered to be one of the most interesting attractions in the Horn of Africa, the Laas Geel cave paintings. Untouched for nearly 10,000 years until discovered by a French archaeological team in November 2002, Laas Geel cave paintings have become a major tourist attraction and a national treasure. Somaliland boasts many natural attractions including mountains, mangrove marshes and pristine beaches as well as opportunities for cultural interaction in its colorful markets.

Djibouti draws few tourists thanks to its reputation for being the hottest place in Africa (probably true) and being ridiculously overpriced (also probably true). However, with vistas that will take your breath away, and a culture caught half way between 20th century France and modern Africa, the smallest country in the region is most definitely worth a visit. Despite the tensions that at least two of these neighbors often display, it remains somewhat removed from the hostility. Thanks largely to it being located at the entrance of the Red Sea. Djibouti has found itself in the enviable position of being a strategically important point with both global industry and the military. The country itself, outside of Djibouti City the capital of the Republic of Djibouti, is largely composed of volcanic wasteland an apocalyptic looking terrain of naturally-formed chimneys and beautiful lakes.

 Many of you may have joined us on the Ethiopia tours in the past years, but most likely you have not visited this gem of a city. Harar, a well preserved walled city that stands to the east of the Great Rift Valley. It was founded between the 7th and the 11th centuries and emerged as the center of Islamic culture and religion in the Horn of Africa; it also served for a long time as an important trading center. Harar was a fiercely religious city and was closed to visitors until 1887 when King Menelik restored central rule. With its 99 mosques, including the 16th century Grand Mosque with is beautiful twin towers and slender minaret, it is considered to be the fourth most holy city in Islam after Mecca, Medina, and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Besides its many mosques, Harar is also home to 102 shrines and a very vibrant market place, regarded as one of the most colorful in all of Ethiopia. The surrounding Ahmar Mountains are where Ethiopia's best coffee is produced.


Tour cost (Land ONLY): $9,995.00 per person (Sharing in double occupancy)
Single Supplement: $1,250.00   

Led by Dr. Emily Jane O’Dell, Yale University

Price based on a group size minimum of 4 and maximum of 10 participants


Your tour does not include

  • Roundtrip International air into Asmara and out of Addis.
  • Visas, currently costing: Ethiopia ($70); Egypt ($30.00), Somaliland ($74) as well as Eritrea ($160) and Djibouti ($160) (all must be obtained from DC consulates).
  • Any required additional dayroom or hotel overnights if necessary due to airline schedule changes.
  • Items of personal nature: beverages, laundry, phone calls, email, souvenirs, camera fees at sites, etc. 
  • Any tours in Cairo between flights.
  • Travel insurance (highly recommended).

Your tour includes

  • All transfers and ground transportation (A/C coaster bus, English speaking drivers, 4 x 4 vehicles on some portions of the tour –not necessarily A/C equipped).
  • Accommodations in a mix of Tourist class (3*) and first class (4*) or best available hotels outside of major cities (some are as low as simple 2* hotels).
  • Flights Asmara/Cairo/Addis as well as Addis/Djibouti & Hargeisa/Addis.
  • All meals; and bottled mineral water daily on tours
  • All entrance fees as per the program.
  • Day use room at hotel (+ transfers) in Cairo.
  • English speaking guides in each country.
  • Government taxes on all included services.

Gratuities to guides, drivers, porters, hotel and restaurant staff (for min of 4 people joining tour).

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 services in Eritrea are very often slow.

Lodging Level:

*Simple: One or more properties on the trip are very basic, and primitive, with shared bathroom facilities (1 or 2 stars)- One night is camping on simple mattressed bed and sheet and pillow with mosquito net and shared bathrooms.

*** Superior: Lodges & hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)

Special tour remarks:

These countries are primitive and not touristy (aside from Ethiopia, though the Eastern frontier where you will go is also rather backward).  Many of the services are missing a lot to be desired. Therefore, some meals may be simple; food may be very slow coming, some hotels are quite basic and you will encounter issues like electric outage or lack of hot water or poor internet service. And one camp in Djibouti is primitive with shared bathroom facilities (for one night). Some roads are in need of repaving, some sites can be closed without prior notification. These drawbacks require a sense of tolerance, acceptance, and visitors are reminded that they are pioneering in unchartered terrain and this is the real attraction of these destinations. Also the internal flights are unpredictable and could be cancelled at the last minute or rescheduled and thus require flexibility and humor. In this trip you have a bonus of spending a possible day in Cairo between connections; we can assist with any services in either city. This journey is an adventure for those prepared to accept some uncertainties as well as gain the rewards of travel to a region where Americans are seldom seen. If for any reasons we need to alter the itinerary, we will do our best to make the most reasonable substitutions but any additional expenses, the travelers will be responsible to pay them. The trip also requires participants to be in fit physical conditions and be able to walk and climb and endure sightseeing in the heat (usually between upper 80’s to mid 90’s at day time). By joining this tour, you fully accept the conditions explained above and agree to abide by the spirit of adventure and pleasantness throughout the tour.

About your lecturer...Dr. Emily Jane O’Dell has just been appointed a Resident Fellow in Islamic Law at Yale Law School, after having spent over half a decade teaching in the Middle East at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman and at the American University of Beirut as the Whittlesey Chair of History & Archaeology.  Emily completed her Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the Humanities Center.  She received her PhD, MA, MFA, and MA from Brown University, and an additional Masters in Central Asian Studies from Columbia University.  She has taught stateside at Columbia University, Brown University, and Harvard University -- where she received an award for excellence in teaching. She is currently an editor for SHARIA source at Harvard Law School. Emily is a global mentor for the Coalition for Women in Journalism, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Al Jazeera, Christian Science Monitor, NPR, and Huffington Post.  Her recent & upcoming academic publications on East Africa touch upon Islam, Sufism, film, colonial history, and cultural heritage.  After co-founding the first Semitic Studies Program in the Middle East at the American University of Beirut, Emily was the first person to teach Ge'ez (Classical Ethiopic) in the modern day in the region.  She has had the unique experience of teaching Islam in the Ivy League, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf.  In her East African adventures, she has excavated an ancient temple in Sudan, re-traced Rimbaud's steps in the holy city of Harar, studied Ge'ez grammar in the Christian monasteries of Lalibela, swung with golden monkeys in Rwanda, tracked wild mountain gorillas in Uganda, and led a Columbia University safari through Kenya and Tanzania. For her field-research on Islam, Sufism, and cultural heritage, Emily has been an American University of Beirut Traveling Fellow, a Fulbright Fellow, a Harvard Traveling Fellow, an Edward A. Hewett Policy Fellow, an American Councils Research Fellow, an IREX Fellow, an American Center for Mongolian Studies Fellow, and a Columbia Pepsico Fellow.


View Tour Itinerary

Sat-Sun, Jan 26-27
Depart USA

Depart your hometown for Asmara, Eritrea via Cairo, Egypt arriving the following day. If using Egypt air from JFK, you will have a full day in Cairo before your late night connection to Asmara on Jan 27.

Monday, Jan 28
Cairo- Asmara-Keren (Eritrea)

Arrive very early morning from Cairo to Asmara (If Egypt Air) which is first hours of Monday and transfer to hotel for rest. Breakfast in the morning and travel from Asmara to Keren. Enjoy visiting the open air market of Keren, which only takes place once a week on any given Monday, shop for baskets, and pottery. It is a photographer’s delight with all the colors and excitements. View the camel and livestock market as well then visit the Shrine in the Baobab. Dinner and overnight at hotel. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Jan 29
Keren - Asmara- Massawa

After breakfast stroll down town and visit some beautiful Italian buildings from early 20th Century and finally visit WW2 British and Italian Cemeteries before heading back to Asmara to continue driving across some of the most picturesque roads and mountain paths of the country to the port city Massawa. Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Massawa. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Jan 30
Massawa - Dissei- Massawa

After breakfast head by a ferry to one of the many islands in the Dahlak Archipelago, enjoy the ride and do snorkeling by the beautiful unspoiled reefs spend half day swimming, snorkeling and exploring the island before return to Massawa. Overnight in Massawa. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Jan 31
Massawa- Zula- Massawa- Asmara

The day starts early in the morning heading south east of Massawa. You will start by a visit to the ancient port of Adulis that had links to the Egyptian, Greek and Roman Empires. You will also visit the Gulf of Zula, the birthplace of the Great Rift Valley on the African continent. UP on return to Asmara take some time to visit the old town of Massawa, an amazing city, destroyed by the Ethiopian army in 1990, the town has an amazing feeling walking around its crumbling old buildings, palaces, mosques, Ottoman mansions and Italian villas. Return back to Asmara. Overnight in Asmara.(B,L,D)

Friday, Feb 01
Asmara

Spend the full day in Asmara exploring the local attractions. The Catholic Cathedral is a top rated attraction in the city. This cathedral of Asmara was built in the year 1922. The Lombard-Romanesque style of the building is simply amazing. It is a tall Gothic bell tower that is visited by many people from abroad. The Nda Mariam Coptic Cathedral and the Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque are also ideal places of visit, which is located on Peace Street. It was built in 1938. The blocks of dark stone arranged in various geometrical patterns in front of the mosque is simply beauty. The Synagogue of Asmara built in 1906 is another important place of the city. Other places of attractions are St. Michaels Orthodox Church and the old market. Gibi is one of the significant public buildings. Built in 1897 as the former palace of the government, it was the seat of the first Italian governor of Eritrea. Eritrea's White House which is the office of the President is also very beautiful. The Denden Club which stands next to the president’s office is a remarkable place. Then visit the Old Post Office and the Italian Opera House and after lunch visit to the small but rich Museum of Antiquities of Asmara where a vast collection of the various finds and relics from the entire country are stored. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Feb 02
Asmara–Cairo-Addis (Ethiopia)

Very early morning transfer to airport and flight to Cairo. Another full day in Cairo for optional activities or touring, otherwise relax at your hotel. Late evening transfer to the airport for your flight to Addis Ababa. (B)

Sunday, Feb 03
Addis to Djibouti

Arrive early morning arrival in Addis Ababa and spend the day in a city tour visiting the highlights of Addis. Begin with a stop at the National Archeological Museum to see some interesting collections including Lucy. You will also visit Ethnographic Museum which is also known as “Institute of Ethiopian studies“with the palace of Haileselassie in the University of Addis Ababa before transferring to the airport for your flight to Djibouti (B,L,D)

Monday, Feb 04
Djibouti City

Start your tour of the capital that includes the colorful market, the railway station and the main port. Have some free time before dinner in one of the restaurants in town that specializes in seafood. Return to the hotel for your overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Feb 05
Lake Abbe (190km)

Drive southwest to Lake Abbe, on the border between Djibouti and Ethiopia. The Awash River in Ethiopia crosses the Great Rift Valley and flows for a total distance of 1,200kms to the lake. This area is home to many species of water birds including the Greater and Lesser Flamingoes. There are also hot springs and strange lava chimney formations to be seen. Overnight at a simple Afar house type lodge. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Feb 06
Tadjourah (250km)

Head north to Tadjourah by way of the salt lake Assal and the new fissure, an extension of the Rift Valley. Continue to Tadjourah, a 12th century historic capital and spend some time sightseeing before heading to Sable Blanc Beach for a little down time. Have dinner and overnight in a resort near the Red Sea. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Feb 07
Lake Assal to Dire Dawa, Ethiopia

Depart after breakfast for Lac Assal (the lowest spot in Africa). Stop on the way to see the volcano. The last big eruption in Djibouti occurred in November 1978, when Ardoukoba, which translates to “flooding” in Afar, lived up to its name. At this time, there are no active volcanoes in Djibouti, but the Danakil depression is divided between Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Eritrea and the volcano Erta Ale in Ethiopia is still active. Near the lake, stop once again in Korilli to see the hot springs before visiting Lac Assal (Bahr al Assal in Arabic, which means the sea of honey). Enjoy a picnic lunch along the way. Tour the area around the lake before heading to Dire Dawa crossing the border and transfer to Samrat hotel for check in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Feb 08
Dire Dawa to Harar

Depart to Harar and explore the walled city of Harar with the Christian and Muslim markets, the former residence of the French author Arthur Rimbaud and the Harari Museum that depicts the interior architecture and decoration of the homes of the Harari people. You will also have the chance to visit the hyena-feeding man in the evening. Transfer to Heritage Plaza hotel for check in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Feb 09
Harar to Hergeisa, Somaliland

After breakfast, drive to Hargeisa in Somaliland, via some very interesting countryside where you will see the locals growing coffee and Quat (chat). Upon arrival at the border, you will obtain your visa for Somaliland (the land of Punt to the ancient Egyptians). After formalities, you will be transferred to Maan Soor Hotel or similar for check in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Feb 10
Somaliland to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)

Depart with a picnic lunch for a day tour to the amazing Neolithic rock paintings at Laas Geel that are more than 5000 years old. Here you will see paintings of giraffe, dogs and antelopes. There are also images of cattle in ceremonial garb being worshipped by men who appear to be bowing before them. After lunch drive back to Hargeisa for your flight to Addis Ababa. Upon arrival in Addis, you will either catch your International flight to return home or transferred to the hotel for overnight. (B,L)

Monday, Feb 11
Addis to USA

Depart Addis either on the very early flight to Cairo to connect to JFK or on other carriers back to USA, arriving the same day.

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