The Simien highlands of northern Ethiopia form one of the major mountain massifs in Africa. A highlight is the ascent to the summit of Ras Dashen - Ethiopia's highest peak and the fifth highest on the continent. As we trek through this isolated region we admire the spectacular scenery of rocky plateaus, spires, mesas and deep gorges. On our return we also visit Lalibela, home to the impressive rock-cut churches.
Simien Mountains: trek one of Africa's most spectacular and least visited mountain ranges in Africa.
Ras Dashen: climb Ethiopia's highest peak at 4543m.
Camping: enjoy wild camping in stunning locations.
Gondar: discover the medieval Fasilidas Castle and Debre Berhan Church.
Lalibela: Explore impressive churches carved in rocks.
- Simien Mountains
- Small Group
Day 1: Join tour Addis Ababa. PM: orientation tour of the city
Addis is situated at an elevation of around 2438m and is just over a century old. It has some elegant modern buildings and is quite spacious with wide streets and green areas. It remains the capital of a predominantly rural area and the Mercato is one of the largest open markets in Africa. This afternoon we will have an orientation tour of the city visiting the Ethnographical Museum and the church of the Holy Trinity, whose large dome and slender pinnacles make it a landmark in the city, followed by a drive up Entoto Hill to take in a panoramic view of Addis Ababa.
Day 2: Fly to Gondar and visit local sites including castle ruins
Today we take a short, but scenic flight to Gondar, located on the high plateau just north of Lake Tana. The town of Gondar was the imperial capital of Ethiopia for 200 years. Gondar's most famous monuments are its exceptionally well preserved 17th century castles. The largest and best is that of King Fasilidas. It is a stone-built construction with round turrets and wooden balconies. This whole complex of buildings is unique in Ethiopia and unlike anything found elsewhere in Africa. On arrival, as well as visiting the castle ruins and King Fasilidas baths, we'll also make a visit to the Debre Berhan Selassie Church famed for its ceiling frescoes of many angel faces.
Day 3: Drive to Simien Mountains National Park via Debark; PM trek to Sankaber
Today, we drive to Debark, the village base for hiking in the Simien Mountains.The range lies north of Gondar and many of the peaks rise above 4,000m with the highest being Mount Ras Dashen at 4,543m, the fifth highest in Africa. The mountains are criss-crossed with tracks made by the local people travelling from village to village or moving their animals to fresh pastures. The combination of these tracks and the spectacular scenery make for excellent walking. We start our trek with walk to our first camp Sankaber. Todays 5.5km walk is expected to take around 2.5 hrs.
* During the trek we may spend each night in a different place. The circuits walked will vary depending on local conditions and on the group's ability. Details of the standard circuit we might take are given below - the itinerary for days 6 to 12 is given as an example only.
Day 4: Trek to Geech Camp via Sankaber
We trek today to Geech camp via Sankaber , with the possibility of seeing gelada baboons and red-hot poker plants en route. The gelada baboon is endemic to Ethiopia and has adapted to living on the nearly vertical cliff faces. We may also see the Jinbar river waterfalls today that plummet into Geech Abyss. The Abyss is a vast canyon cut into the main wall of the escarpment.
Todays 12km walk is expected to take around 6hrs.
Day 5: Optional acclimatisation hike to Imet Gogo from Geech Camp
A flexible day with a morning optional acclimatisation hike to the viewpoint of Imet Gogo (3926m). From the viewpoint there are spectacular views of the lowlands and across the Simien range with rock spires and mesas prominent. Keep a close look out for the elusive simien fox. It's misnamed as it is not really a fox but a member of the dog family restricted to Ethiopia. Todays optional hike of 10km is expected to take around 4hrs.
Day 6: Trek to Chenek Camp traversing the Jinbar river
We aim to trek to Chenek camp today on a good trail via Inatye (4070m) and along the escarpment . This exciting walk traverses the Jinbar river and provides us with fantastic views. You may like to take the opportunity to freshen-up in the nearby stream south of camp. Todays 13km walk is expected to take around 8hrs.
Day 7: Trek to Ambikwa
Today we trek to Ambikwa and plan to stop at a spectacular viewpoint (4200m) north of Bwahit where, on clear days, we can see across the Mesheha river to Ras Dashen peak. We then descend steeply and pass through the village of Chiro Leba to follow a stream bed until we reach the large Mesheha River. We'll cross the river and follow a path up the east side of the valley to Ambikwa village, (3200m) where our camp sits in a little meadow next to a small church. Todays 17km walk is expected to take around 11hrs.
Day 8: Ascent of Ras Dashen; returning to Ambikwa
Starting before sunrise we follow the main valley up and climb steeply via Mizma village houses to reach a ridge crest and open grassy slopes (3700m) on our invigorating ascent of Ethiopia's highest mountain. Next we traverse around ridges and climb more steeply to a broad col at 4250m. Keep an eye open for giant lobelia, by far the most spectacular plant of this region with flower stalks up to 8m high. Eventually we enter a huge semicircular basin of rocky peaks and buttresses - Ras Dashen. The last section involves some rock scrambling and climbing to a fine viewpoint at 4543m. We'll spend the rest of the day hiking back to our camp. Todyas 21km walk is expected to take around 10hrs.
Day 9: Recross the Mesheha River en route to Arkwasiye
Today we recross the Mesheha River as we make our way to Arkwasiye and our campsite there (3150m). Todays 15km walk is expected to take around 6hrs.
Day 10: Walk to Chenek. Drive to Gondar
We have an early start this morning for our trek to Chenek (3620m). On arrival we have a packed lunch before our drive to Gondar. The drive takes three to four hours and about a third of the road is unmade. On arrival we check into our hotel for the night. Todays 12km walk is expected to take around 6hrs.
Day 11: Fly to Lalibela. Visit rock stone churches
This morning we fly to Lalibela for a two-night stay in one of the world's most remarkable historic sites. Although churches carved in rock are found in other parts of the world, those found in Ethiopia are particularly interesting. Generally, they were excavated on all sides of a rectangle, leaving a large block of granite isolated in the centre. This rock was then shaped and formed both inside and out and the carvings show extremely skilful workmanship. Lalibela, the New Jerusalem, is thought to have been constructed some 800 years ago by King Lalibela as his capital city. These days, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a small village. This afternoon's tour involves a certain amount of scrambling through a labyrinth of tunnels. The churches stand in two main groups on either side of a stream, known locally as 'The River Jordan'. There are 11 rock-cut churches, and we will visit several. The most impressive of the churches is Bet Giorgis, which is carved in the form of a Greek cross and approached through a passage in the rock. Between them, these rock-cut churches are one of the great wonders of the world.
Day 12: Mule trek to Ashatan Maryam Church
Located among the mountains that encircle Lalibela are several more isolated churches. Using mules, we journey for some two hours to Ashatan Maryam Church and are rewarded with stunning views over Lalibela and the peaks and mountains of these remote highlands. Reached by steep shale paths, it will be necessary to dismount in places due to the terrain. Good footwear is a must. Vertigo sufferers or people with a low level of fitness may choose not to partake in the mule trek, your tour leader can advise you.
This afternoon we return to Lalibela, allowing more time to explore the rock-cut churches.
Day 13: Fly to Addis where tour ends
We fly back to Addis Ababa this morning where the tour ends.
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