Large lake tana king

Highlights of Northern Ethiopia

Passing through a dense concentration of historical, cultural and religious sights with a backdrop of magnificent mountain scenery, this holiday takes you on a tour of the cultural highlights and stunning landscape of the North, including Lake Tana, Gondar, Simien Mountains & Lalibela.

Tailor-made Classic 9 - 14 days

'From Price' is the average price per person for ground arrangements for two people sharing.

Flights are typically an additional $810 per person economy class from London

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Itinerary

Overview

  • Visit the Blue Nile Falls & Lake Tana Monastries
  • See the unique gelada baboon and walia ibex in a spectacular mountain setting
  • Explore the well-preserved royal compounds in Gondar
  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage ancient rock hewn churches of Lalibela
  • Domestic flights, comfortable hotels and local guides throughout

Ethiopia’s Northern Circuit offers a remarkable density of historical and religious attractions coupled with a striking landscape of endless mountains. This tour combines the incredible historical sites: the castles of Gondar, the island monasteries of Lake Tana and rock hewn churches of Lalibela, with the wildlife and stunning scenery of the Simien Mountains

After arrival and a first day recovering from your flight in Addis, fly on the excellent Ethiopian Airlines domestic schedule flights to Bahir Dar, home to the fascinating Lake Tana Island Monasteries and Blue Nile Falls. Your base here will be a very comfortable spa lodge on the shores of the lake. You'll have the opportunity to enjoy a moderate walk around the thundering Blue Nile Falls and a boat tour of the Island Monasteries.

Heading North from Lake Tana, the scenery becomes gradually more dramatic as you gain altitude. The Mountains of Northern Ethiopia are one of the largest ranges in Africa with endless mountain scenery and highland plateaus. The Simien Mountains National Park covers one of the most dramatic areas with the range and hosts some unique wildlife which can be explored from the comfort of a lodge base within the park. Gelada baboon, the rare Ethiopia wolf and Walia ibex, are three of Ethiopia’s endemic mammals founds in this area. The combination of spectacular mountain scenery and unique wildlife make this national park a must see.

From the Simien Mountains it is a relatively short drive to Gondar, which with its well preserved royal compound was once the Camelot of Africa. We usually find one day is enough to see the Royal Compound and Baths before catching the morning flight to Lalibela. Lalibela is justifiably the star in the collection with its fascinating ancient churches carved out of the bare rock all concentrated within walking distance of the town.

The itinerary includes internal flights with Ethiopian Airlines and specialist local guides in each location. This keeps the overall cost down and saves on some long and arduous journeys. If preferred we can quote to include an accompanying tour leader for the whole trip and / or overland travel by 4wd instead of internal flights.

Day-by-day

Brief Itinerary
DAY 1: Arrival & Half Day Addis Ababa Guided Tour
DAY 2: Fly Addis - Bahir Dar & Visit The Blue Nile Falls
DAY 3: Lake Tana Monasteries
DAY 4: Drive to Simien Mountains
DAY 5: Simien Mountains
DAY 6: Drive to Gondar
DAY 7: Fly to Lalibela
DAY 8: Lalibela
DAY 9: Return To Addis Ababa & Depart

Full Itinerary
DAY 1: ARRIVAL & HALF DAY ADDIS ABABA GUIDED TOUR
You will be met at the airport and transferred to your central hotel. After a rest and refresh at the hotel, your guide will take you around the highlights of Addis. Depending on time and how you feel after your flight, you can choose to sample some of the best coffee in the world in the Piazza (old town), explore the National Museum and Archaeological Museum (home to the 3.5 million year old remains of Lucy) or explore the largest open air market in Africa.
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: Addis Regency
Transport (where relevant): Airport transfer and half day city tour

DAY 2: FLY ADDIS - BAHIR DAR & VISIT THE BLUE NILE FALLS
After a morning flight and checking into your accommodation, you will have the afternoon to visit the Blue Nile Falls (40 minutes from Bahir Dar). Although the power of the falls has been subdued by the hydro electric plant, they are still an incredible sight. A lovely circular walk takes you over an ancient bridge built by the Portuguese in the 15th century, passing fantastic viewpoints of the falls, over a rope bridge and then up to top of the falls where you will cross by boat to meet your vehicle.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Kuriftu Spa
Transport (where relevant): Transfer to Addis Airport and from Bahir Dar Airport to hotel.

DAY 3: LAKE TANA MONASTERIES
After breakfast you will go for an early morning boat excursion on Lake Tana, the highest and largest lake in Ethiopia and also the source of the Blue Nile. Dotted on its shores and islands are 20 monasteries, most of which were hidden to the outside world until the 1930's. You will visit two examples of monasteries before ending your excursion by passing by the mouth of the Blue Nile. Once you have arrived back, you can enjoy a relaxing lunch on the shore and then spend the afternoon at leisure.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Kuriftu Spa
Transport (where relevant): Boat tour of Lake Tana monasteries

DAY 4: DRIVE TO SIMIEN MOUNTAINS
An early start today for your journey north to the Simien Mountains, which takes you past low land rice paddy fields and dramatic highland scenery. Once you have arrived and settled in, you can enjoy a relaxed afternoon at the lodge, watching the troops of Gelada Baboon and admiring the stunning scenery.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Simien Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Road transfer from Bahir Dar to Simien Moutains. Driving time 4 ½ to 5 hours

DAY 5: SIMIEN MOUNTAINS
4x4 day tour of Simien Mountains with some stops for walks in search of Gelada monkeys and Walia ibex.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Simien Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Day tour around the Simien Moutains.

DAY 6: DRIVE TO GONDAR
This morning you will drive to the medieval town of Gondar. Once you have checked into your hotel, your guide will take you to explore the castles of Gondar built during the Gondorian period that began in the 16th century. You will also visit King Fasiladas’ bath a short way from the castle compound and discover Debre Birhan Selassie Church, one of the more famous of Ethiopia’s churches.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Mayleko Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Road transfer of 3 hrs from Simien Moutains to Gondar. Guided tour of Gondar

DAY 7: FLY TO LALIBELA
Today is an early start for your morning transfer to Gondar airport. Once you have landed, you will be picked up at Lalibela Airport and transferred to your central hotel. Lalibela is world famous for its monolithic rock hewn churches. Carved by hand out of solid rock in the 12th and 13th Centuries and filled with the evocative sound of chanting of monks, this is a deeply spiritual place and quite rightly a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will visit most of the Central churches that Lalibela is so famous for including the Northern Group (containing the Lalibela Cross), The Western Group (Bete Giyorgis) and the Eastern Group.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Tukul Village
Transport (where relevant): Transfer to Gondar Airport. Transfer and half day tour in Lalibela

DAY 8: LALIBELA
Today is an opportunity to take it a little slower. you can choose to walk or ride a rented mule (small extra cost for the mule) up to Asheton Maryam Church, situated at about 3100 metres. Here you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Lalibela town and the surrounding valleys.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Tukul Village
Transport (where relevant): Day tour of Lalibela

DAY 9: RETURN TO ADDIS ABABA & DEPART
Road transfer to Lalibela Airport. Most international flights are in the late evening, so you will have a long afternoon to spend in Addis. We will provide a driver and vehicle for the afternoon. Suggested activities include stocking up on souvenirs, visiting one of the museums or just heading to the Sheraton or Hilton for day access to their pools (extra cost applicable).
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: n/a
Transport (where relevant): Airport transfers

Accommodation


Guide price is based on recommended accommodations. Alternative accommodations and upgrades are available. Please get in touch or click on 'alternatives' below for alternatives and upgrade options.

Addis Regency

Addis Ababa

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 3

- Lovely rooms
- Solid mid-range option
- Good value

Kuriftu Lodge

Lake Tana

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 4

- Swimming Pool
- Lake-side Lodge
- Spa treatments included

Simien Lodge

Simien Mountains

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 4

- Comfortable rooms
- Mountain views
- National park location

Our rating

7/10

Price guide

Price rating 3

- Comfortable accommodation
- Relaxed rural location
- Swimming pool

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 3

- Central location
- Comfortable rooms
- Pleasant gardens
- Good service

Details

Getting there

Ethiopia’s national airline, Ethiopian Airlines is arguably one of the best in Africa. International services are reliable with good seat pitch, whilst domestic flights are serviced by a brand new fleet of twin props. Ethiopian flies direct from London, Frankfurt, Paris and Rome in Europe. The flight takes around 8 hours. Return flights from London are usually around £650 per person including domestic internal flights

Price includes

All guides and transfers and accommodation as detailed in the itinerary
Entrance fees to museums and national parks and attractions
Meals where mentioned
Domestic flights (discounted rate only applicable if booked together with international fare)

Excludes: International flights, airport taxes, additional meals, visas, tips, medical vaccinations, comprehensive travel insurance and incidental expenses are not included.

When is best?

The Ethiopian Tourist Board proudly promotes their slogan “13 months of sunshine” to anyone who will listen, but they are not far off the mark. The rainy season in the North is in July and August, but whilst that might stop you attempting a multi-day trek in the Simien Mountains, it won’t really affect you if you are planning on touring the Northern Historical route. The best time to visit the North is in autumn, after the rains when the mountains are full of lush green and the views are unimpeded by haze.

Is it for me?

If you are considering Ethiopia in the first place, you are probably aware that the standard of hotels, road and general comfort is not going to match what you might expect at home. Travelling in Ethiopia is always an adventure and it is incredibly important you come with the right mind-set. The challenges are the lack of luxuries (a reliable hot shower in Ethiopia is a rare thing, even in upmarket hotels), the unique cuisine and occasionally hassle from hawkers (no worst than most tourist destinations). Having said that it also happens to host one of the most unique cultures in the world with a rich cultural heritage and some of the best trekking in the world.

What customers are saying after travelling with Tourdust

Average Rating

based on 603 reviews

(4.93/5)

  • We've just returned from an incredible trip to Ethiopia, covering the classic northern circuit, the Simien mountains and the rock churches of Gheralta. Friends are asking which part of the trip was the most memorable but everywhere had its own special feel and we were constantly surprised and amazed by this extraordinary country. Our main reason for the trip was to visit the churches at Lalibela, but I think the churches of Gheralta made almost more of an impression as they were so unexpected - and the views from some of them are incredible!

    We had an excellent guide in Ermias and also an excellent driver, Mikael. We loved the coffee and the Ethiopian food - just ask for rice if you can't face injera - and had an especially good fasting/vegan buffet one lunchtime at the Fasil Lodge in Gonder. On the whole the hotels are all clean and comfortable and we had hot showers everywhere. Go to the local markets - they are fascinating.

    We talked with Ben a lot before booking the trip, planning all the different stops and changing our itinerary from some of the set trips. We had two full-day drives, rather than internal flights, which was our choice as we wanted to see the country, but they are long, dusty days and the roads are still under construction in some places! However, the countryside is fascinating and you get a real feel for the place and the people. Everything went smoothly, which isn't always the case in Africa, so I can only commend Ben and the team in Ethiopia for making sure this was the case.

    Ethiopia is a wonderful, surprising country.

    MissingJohn Loveys Jervoise reviewing Highlights of Northern Ethiopia on 18 March 2014

  • We were extremely impressed with the organisation, logistics and execution of the trip by the local team on the ground - we didn't expect a trip to Africa to run so smoothly! Plus a lovely touch by a few hotels who acknowledged it was our honeymoon....petals on beds in Addis Regency and Gondar, with a free evening meal at the latter too!

    MissingRichard Waters reviewing Highlights of Northern Ethiopia on 11 December 2012

  • Our trip was excellent. Thank you! We were particularly impressed with the way it all worked seamlessly: someone was at each arrival point to meet us (or Alex was on the end of the phone to tell us what to do) or there was a phone message at Reception for when to expect someone.

    The Jerusalem Hotel in Lalibela is not the same standard as Tukul Villages but it was OK for one night & we had plenty of warning. Lalibela at Christmas is pretty manic: full to bursting!

    I must say that Alex looked after us well. He came to see us in Gondar to make sure everything was in place for the Simiens Trek & that we knew what to expect. When we got back after it, there he was again! Small but highly-valued pieces of customer care, evident again when he spoke to drivers while we were travelling.

    All the staff who worked with us were of high quality, especially drivers and guides. Two who stood out were Younus, our driver both times we were in Addis Ababa, who we felt went beyond the call of duty & made our time there enjoyable - our last evening when waiting for a 2 a.m. flight could have been a drag, was in fact absolutely fine because of his suggestions (the Via Via cafe for dinner & then Mama's Kitchen for some music) and company.

    The Simiens Trek was outstanding. Spectacular scenery, challenging at times, full of interest. Key to making it so was Dereje Gedamu who is a wonderful guide: we felt privileged to have him. he was ably assisted by the other staff & when our first, excellent chef had to leave at short notice to visit his mother in hospital, a replacement was found immediately (at Chenek!) who fed us to the same high standard. It was all a great experience that we will be talking about for a long time.

    We were all pleased to have selected the 8 day option (& were not at all jealous of the peak-baggers heading for Ras Dashen). The second half of the trek was a good contrast to the high altitude section in the National Park's heartland as we descended through more intensively cultivated and populated areas, down steeply to the river and then back up past wonderful rock formations towards Mulit and out to the road at Adi Arkaye. It was full of interest and we were pleased to be pretty much on our own, rather than with the crowds at Geech & Chenek.

    By comparison, the TESFA trek was rather tame, although an interesting comparison to see a more pastoral landscape and less remote villages. We had another good guide & enjoyed the lunch & evening stops, and the "loos with a view".

    Pleased as we were that we had opted to drive from Bahir Dar to Lalibela, we had mixed feelings about driving the rough Gashena-Lalibela road three times - the starting and finishing points for the TESFA trek were just beyond Gashena. In 3 years when the road is complete this point may become academic, but meanwhile - if anyone else wants to do the same thing - it would be better for them to drive from Bahir Dar to Gashena, meet the TESFA crew there, do the trek & then continue to Lalibela. I am sure that TESFA could look after any extra baggage that people did not want on the trek.

    One other point about the TESFA trek: we were not aware that there are several grades offered. I think we did the easiest and might well have preferred something more challenging so perhaps you could clarify the options available.

    Only one other critical comment: we were underwhelmed by the Mayleko Lodge near Gondar airport. It was indeed welcome to have somewhere peaceful to return to after the trek, the rooms are nice & a couple of us enjoyed a "refreshing" swim, but on the other hand the restaurant was pretty mediocre and slow: we might have preferred to be out in the town.

    Apart from that it was all good! A glimpse of Addis and another of Gondar; trekking with some R&R in Bahir Dar with its different scenery and history, ending with the religious fervour at Lalibela. A great holiday.

    MissingGordon Parker reviewing Simien Mountains Trek & Northern Highlights on 09 February 2016

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Alternative Itineraries

Our itineraries are carefully designed by our experienced travel designers based on years of experience and customer feedback. For a custom itinerary tailored to you, please enquire giving as much detail as possible on your brief.

Highlights of the northern historical circuit with extension to Bale Mountains to see rare edemic species such as Ethiopian wolf and array of birdlife

Tailor-made Luxury 10 - 14 days

Adults from $3,825 pp plus flights

'From Price' is the average per person price for ground arrangements for two people sharing.

Flights are typically an additional $795 per person economy class from London

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