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

January 26 to February 10, 2020


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 the 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. The latest peace agreement with Ethiopia has finally put an end to the utter isolation that Eritrea suffered for the last decades and carries a great future for development.

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.

Eastern Ethiopia 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.

This trip can be combined with Ethiopia trip (Timket Festival) January 13 to 26, 2020 OR

Nigeria & Sao Tome (Feb 09 - 21, 2020)

Tour cost (Air & Land from NYC): $10,500.00 per person (Sharing in double occupancy)
Single Supplement: $995.00   

Airline credit for not using the included air: $1,000.00

 Led by Lecturer Bruce Wannell

Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 16 participants

Your tour does not include

  • Visas, currently costing: Ethiopia (obtainable online); while those 3 must be obtained from DC consulates): Somaliland ($74); Eritrea ($160) and Djibouti ($160)

  • Any required additional dayroom or hotel overnights if necessary due to airline schedule changes or for long layovers in Cairo or in Istanbul.

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

  • Flight from Asmara to Addis on the last day in case you must leave from Addis.

  • Any nights between Nov. 24-26 to connect this tour with Ethiopia’s trip of Nov 26- Dec 08, 2019)

  • Travel insurance (highly recommended).

Your tour includes

  • Roundtrip International air into Addis and out of Asmara (Using Egyptair or Turkish Airlines)

  • 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 within the Horn Of Africa starting in Addis and ending in Asmara as per the itinerary.

  • All meals; and bottled mineral water daily on tours

  • All entrance fees as per the program.

  • English speaking guides in each country.

  • Government taxes on all included services.

  • Gratuities to guides, drivers, porters, hotel and restaurant staff (for min of 6 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,...Scholar Bruce Wannell has been traveling for over 40 years through North and East Africa, the Levant, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, Northern India and the Deccan sometimes living in such places for an extended period of time. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Africa, Asia, the Near East and the Islamic world and is a linguist fluent in French, German, Italian as well as Arabic and Persian languages. Mr. Wannell was educated at Wellington College in Surrey and at Oriel College, Oxford, in the UK. His background has served him well as he regularly translates and gives lectures related to his field of expertise. He has also worked as a teacher with refugees. Bruce enjoys an eclectic array of pastimes, from gardening to French cuisine and chamber music (piano and harpsichord, accompanying instrumentalists and singers in the classical and Baroque style). We believe he is the perfect companion to accompany you across this rich historical crossroad of civilizations. His engaging, captivating personality and eloquent, narrative style will entertain as he seeks to enlighten you on the interdisciplinary subjects related to the history of the Horn of Africa and the struggles and exchanges that happened for millennia through this strategic region. 

View Tour Itinerary

Sunday, Jan 26
Depart USA

Depart your hometown for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, arriving the following day.

Monday, Jan 27
Arrival in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)

Evening arrival at Bole International airport where you will be met by your guide and transferred to Harmony Hotel or similar. (D)

Tuesday, Jan 28
Addis Ababa – Hargeisa (Somaliland)

Morning transfer to the airport for your flight to Hargeisa, capital of the autonomous region of Somaliland. Upon arrival, you will be met by your drivers and guide and transferred to the cattle market, which attracts many people and where so many animals such as sheep, goats and camels get sold. Check-in at your hotel and have lunch before venturing out to visit the amazing Neolithic rock paintings at Laas Geel that are about 5,000 years old. Here you will see paintings of giraffes, dogs and antelopes. There are also vivid images of cattle in ceremonial garb being worshipped by men who appear to be bowing before them. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. Mansoor Hotel. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Jan 29
Hargeisa - Harar (Ethiopia)

Depart for an interesting drive to Ethiopia crossing the border at Tog Wechaleyou’re your drive, you be passing through villages where Somali tribes who inhabit Somaliland and parts of Eastern Ethiopia live. Enjoy your lunch box along the way then continue to the historic walled city of Harar passing through the famous rock formations at Babile and some other picturesque landscape. Dinner and overnight at Wonderland Hotel, or similar. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Jan 30

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 partake in the hyena-feeding experience in the evening. Back to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Jan 31
Harar – Lake Abbe (Djibouti)

Drive 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 Gazebo tents. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Feb 01
Lake Abbe - Tadjourah

Today’s tour will take you to Tadjourah passing through to 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 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 at Hotel Golf, or similar. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Feb 02
Tadjourah – Djibouti City

Drive to Djibouti city by way of the new fissure that began to form and grows slowly every year, which is an extension of the Rift Valley. Once you arrive to the city, visit Djibouti’s markets, the old French mansions, the post office and the old railway station. Dinner and overnight in Acacia Hotel or similar. (B,L,D)

Monday, Feb 03
Djibouti – Addis (Ethiopia) - Mekele

After breakfast fly back to Addis where you will connect with your flight to Mekele, upon arrival meet and transfer to Planet Hotel or similar for check in and overnight (B,D)

Tuesday, Feb 04

After breakfast drive to see Gheralta Mountains, According to local tradition the churches in the Gheralta Mountains were constructed in the 4th Century by the first Christian kings of Ethiopia, Abraha and Atsbeha, although it is more likely that many are from the 6th Century when monasticism was spreading throughout the region. Back to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Feb 05
Mekele – Tigray - Adigrat

After breakfast, drive to the rock hewn churches of Tigray where over 125 of them are recorded in this cluster. These churches span a period from 4th to 15th century. Most of them are visited around the Gera-Alta chained mountains. Afterwards continue to Gera Alta Lodge or similar for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Feb 06
Adigrat – Massawa (Eritrea)

Morning drive to Massawa port in Eritrea. Along the way, you will visit an archaeological site which was believed to be the palace of the Queen of Sheba. After crossing the border, you will drive to Metera archaeological site where you will see a Stelae that resembles those of Axum. Continue your drive to Massawa on a scenic road and transfer to the sea side Dahlak Resort which also has a swimming pool. Dinner and overnight in Massawa (B,L,D)

Friday, Feb 07
Massawa – Adulis - Massawa

Morning excursion to the archaeological site at Adulis. Visit to the ancient port 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. Return to Massawa for lunch and afterwards enjoy a walking tour in the old city of Massawa. An amazing eerie city, destroyed completely by the Ethiopian army in 1990, the town has an amazing feeling walking around its crumbling old buildings, palaces, mosques, Ottoman mansions, Italian villas and market place. Walk along the port then return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Feb 08
Massawa – Dahlak Islands - Asmara

This morning enjoy a boat excursion to Dahlak Islands, located in the Red Sea near Massawa. It consists of two large and 124 smaller islands. The pearl fisheries of the archipelago have been famous since Roman times and still produce a substantial number of pearls. After lunch head out on the mountain road towards Asmara, passing through many picturesque villages, railroad tracks, Italian bridges and stop to admire and photograph the baboons before arriving to Asmara for dinner. Dinner at the Gibabo restaurant and overnight Asmara Palace Hotel. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Feb 09

Spend the full day in Asmara exploring the cathedral of Asmara which was built in 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 (located on Peace Street). The mosque was built in 1938 and its blocks of dark stone arranged in various geometrical patterns on the façade are beautiful. 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. Then visit the old Post Office, and the Italian Opera House. Dinner in one of the restaurants in town and overnight at Asmara Palace Hotel. (B, L, D)

Monday, Feb 10
Asmara - Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) – USA

This morning you enjoy visiting the open air market of Keren, which only takes place one a week, 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, before your flight to Addis Ababa, where you will connect to your international flight (if you have booked a roundtrip USA/Addis/USA) (B,L,D)

NB: depending on the international airline used, you may be able to leave early morning from Asmara to USA connecting (either on Egyptair via Cairo or Turkish Airlines via Istanbul)
“Itinerary, hotel, flight arrangements as well as local guides are subject to change with best available alternatives if necessitated and program sequence is also subject to alteration and reshuffling if needed due to any unforeseen conditions that may arise"