- Wilderness setting
- Comfortable eco lodge
- Ethiopian Wolf
- Endemic wildlife
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The Bale Mountains, famed for its endemic wildlife, has previously only been accessible with rather basic accommodation, based either in utilitarian Park accommodation or camping (our usual preference). The new Bale Mountain Lodge opened in 2014 with its feet planted firmly at the other end of the spectrum as an upmarket eco lodge with resident naturalist guides.
The central lodge nestles into the hillside so as to minimize the visual impact on the surrounding area, and is built using local slate-grey coloured stone. The attached dining room is a ‘tukul’ in style featuring a thatched roof, with a sweep of windows maximizing the amazing views of the natural clearing and mountain range beyond. A central sunken fireplace creates a snug area in which to relax during the chillier mountain evenings. All lodge ‘menyetta-bets’ (guest-rooms) are spacious and comfortable with a wood burning stove in each room to provide warmth and a cosy atmosphere. Furniture is being manufactured locally using sustainable wood, and all our soft furnishings are locally sourced and are of the highest quality with an emphasis on comfort with Ethiopian style.
We visited the location prior to opening. The lodge is in a superb location, with very good wildlife in the immediate vicinity. It is also convenient for day trips out to the Sanetti Plateau. 60% of the remaining Ethiopian Wolves, the world’s most rare canid, are found within the Bale Mountains National Park; other species include the endemic Mountain Nyala, Menelik’s Bushbuck, various rodent species and numerous endemic amphibians and reptiles, plus lions, rare Giant Forest Hogs and significant numbers of endemic or rare bird species.
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.
Gordon P reviewing Simien Mountains Trek & Northern Highlights on 09 February 2016
We had an excellent, stretching , fascinating mix of history (sites) , tough trekking , and wonderful views .. From the many treks that I have done to places including Nepal , Italy , Croatia , Crete , Myanmar , Japan I would judge that it would be very difficult to beat the 7 days that we had in the Simien Mountains .. Tigrai was spectacular for those willing to climb to all the churches. ( there’s a challenge for you to suggest the next adventure !).
Our guide Abebe was really excellent ( fit, engaging, knowledgeable and with a good sense of fun/humour ) and I would not hesitate in recommending him, the quality of the tents was excellent except that there were only 3 two man tents which were much roomier than the singles. We saw very few other people which was perhaps just as well in view of the loo situation at the camp sites. The food was reasonable .. in fact too much pasta and not enough rice. We certainly needed the heavier sleeping bags as it was very cold the first two nights out.
On the negative side .. the long drop loos at Geech were frankly a disgrace .. you could not stand in there for all the crap around and the smell ( even in the freezing evening ) .. surely they should be cleaned every morning / evening. The result is people are crapping in other places round the site .. not nice ! There was no water for washing at Geech ! At the Chennek camp the long drops were only marginally better but there were two dribbly very cold showers at least ! If the tourist board want to encourage tourism clean loos is the absolute must.
The trekking times were generally accurate which was a change as in most other treks that I have been on they are 25% overestimated. Our final 11 hour day was tough but perfectly achievable for fit walkers. I am glad we did not break it into two tranches … we had time to stop for a swim/wash in the river/pools and it was fantastic to spend two days at Geralti Lodge before our return. Addis is a bit of a disappointment but it was certainly worth spending a couple of hours walking the Mercato ( although you have to be very careful not to lose the guide !). I thought Axum was disappointing by comparison with Gonder and Lalibela and not really worth going to.
That’s about it .. I would certainly recommend Tourdust !! Thank you , James
James L reviewing Classic Northern Circuit & Simien Mountains Trek on 10 February 2015
We had the most fantastic time and loved the country and its people. The tour worked really well and including the internal flights meant that we could maximise our 2 weeks (if we had of had more time sure the drives would be lovely!) - the pace of it was busy but just right. You really put together a trip which showed us the beauty and culture of the North. I loved all the walking and timket was amazing. The advice just take yourselves and leave everything else at home for timket was perfect as we were free to just enjoy the experience - I have never experienced anything like it. The thing that surprised me about the trip was the variety and how each day was so different. The people were so warm and friendly and children were absolutely enchanting - the contrast of the privilege of children I know here and those living in poverty in Ethiopia is very humbling.
Having a driver guide worked extremely well - lema was excellent, he really added to our holiday through enabling us to have interaction with local people - he clearly had a way which gained acceptance and thus acceptance of us - for example with a family making injera and farmers threshing. He is a real ambassador for his country and was such a caring guide but also great fun. We always felt safe and he was an excellent driver - even when conditions were not easy.
As we had local guides everywhere, I think having a driver and a guide plus local guides would have been a bit too much. The local guides were all very good or excellent. They clearly had good relationships with lema and again I think this meant we in turn had a good experience.
The accommodation was generally very good/ excellent. We actually preferred the guest house we stayed in on the final night in addis to the regency hotel ( cannot remember the name but Stephen took us there - it had more character) I particularly liked fasil lodge as had great atmosphere, and gheralta was fantastic. I also liked lalibela lodge. I thought Kuriftu lodge was good but slightly impersonal.
My only criticism about whole trip really is about simien lodge - As you know the cost of food and drink at the lodge is inflated - I completely understand that the location would attract a premium but compared to everywhere else it is so over-inflated. I have seen their response on trip advisor to anyone who raises this - basically you a penny pinching tourist who expects a "cheap" trip and do not want to contribute to the country ( I do not think we fall into this category!) the main thing I objected to was only having the "choice" of a $18 buffet of food that was not of great quality as well very inflated prices for drinks
However, You did warn us and i know I wanted to stay in the park so this is not a complaint about tour dust or itinerary at all - I realise that they have a monopoly so unlikely to change but wonder if agents have any more sway in feedback than individuals. It is a shame as the lodge is in great location and the rooms, solar heating etc are all good.
I would contrast the simien lodge with the gheralta lodge which likewise has a captive audience but provides food of much higher quality and drinks at reasonable hotel prices - I know Kate would have preferred local food but I was very happy to have good Italian food in such a lovely place. It was the perfect place to spend our last couple of days.
Thanks for organising such a great holiday - I would highly recommend tour dust to anyone travelling to the countries you cover and I am promoting ethiopia as holiday destination at every opportunity!
ruth m reviewing Classic Northern Historical Circuit on 05 February 2015