Get off the beaten track and explore one of the world’s most fascinating and least understood destinations. Ethiopia has medieval castles, churches hewn out of solid rock, ancient temples, and nine United Nations World Heritage sites; more than any other African country. Never colonized and one of the oldest nations in the world, archaeologists have also made discoveries in Ethiopia that date back to the origins of humankind. This amazing country should be on all travelers’ “must-see” lists.
Day 1 – Morning Fly Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar. After you checked into the hotel, you will drive some 30 km to the Blue Nile Falls. The drive for most part is on well paved gravel road. The width of the Falls varies with the season, and the needs of the nearby Tis Abay hydro-electric scheme, but the drop is over 45m (148 ft) and very dramatic if you hike to the base for a closer look – as we will. A little downstream, we will cross the Blue Nile by boat and return to our transport and Bahir Dar. In the afternoon, there are 37 islands on Lake Tana and 30 of them have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest. We will visit the monastery churches of Ura Kidane Mihret. Ura Kidhane Mihret is the most famous monastery and has an important collection of religious icons from the 16th to 18th centuries. Ura Kidane Mihret is known for its paintings and small museum. The inner walls the church is decorated from floor to ceiling with incredibly vivid images from Christian traditions. Retrace your way back to Bahir Dar and before you reach the port visit the outlet of the Blue Nile River and it is also at this spot hippos are seen. Overnight in Hotel.
Day 2 – Drive to Gondar and the afternoon is for sightseeing. The drive to Gondar is 180km on well constructed asphalt road and takes 2 ½ hrs. Gondar was the former capital city of the Ethiopian Empire, and was founded in 1635 by King Fasilidas. It remained influential for nearly 250 years until the seat of power moved further south. Several castles – seemingly more European than African – were built during this period. Gondar as an old town has other treasures too. After checking in our hotel we will visit Gondar’s most famous site, the Fasil Ghebbi or Royal Enclosure. This royal estate is characterised by its massive stone ramparts and a fascinating, dynastic series of castles, built one after the other by Ethiopian Kings. Our guide will help us understand the history of the Fasil Ghebbi before giving us the chance to wander through the site in our own time. Have lunch in one of the restaurant in the town. After lunch we spend some time walking in the town and visiting the open air market before heading to the church of Debre Berhan Selassie (Light of the Trinity), which is located at the summit of a hill and surrounded by fortified walls. The interior is decorated with beautiful frescos.
Day 3 – Fly from Gondar to Axum. Today we explore Axum – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The legends narrated in the Kebre Nagast (Book of Kings) recount how the city of Axum, as early as the 10th century B.C, was already the city in which the Queen of Sheba resided. It is recounted that the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant to Axum and it remains there to this day, preserved in a sanctuary. Famous long before the time of Christ, Axum was the capital of the long Axumite reign, one of the oldest African empires and represented a crucial connecting-point between Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years. We visit the stelae: granite monoliths dating from pre-Christian times and decorated with symbolic engravings. The stelae are elaborately carved and the erection of these massive pillars remains a mystery. The largest of these stelae (33m) collapsed centuries ago but great national pride is invested in the ‘seventh’ stele which was plundered by Mussolini during the Italian occupation; it has recently been returned to Axum and now is in the process of re-erection on its original place.
Day 4 – Fly from Axum to Lalibela, home of rock hewn churches. Lalibela is located at an altitude of 2,600 meters above sea level. The city contains 11 monolithic churches that were built in the twelfth century and are carved out of the pink granite rock. They have been classified as one of the wonders of the world. Each church has a unique architectural style; all are superbly carved and most of them are decorated with well-preserved paintings. The entire city may be described as a sculpture dedicated to the glory of God. The day is spent visiting the first and the second groups of churches and Lalibela is a typical rural town and spending some time visiting the town is more compelling. In the evening we will attend a coffee ceremony.
Day 5 – Fly back to Addis and evening departure. We will catch a morning flight before back to Addis Ababa, arriving in time for lunch. Lunch will be at Top View restaurant which is located on the top of a Hill and allows a view over the city. The afternoon is for sightseeing of Addis, you spend the remaining time exploring Addis Ababa beginning with a visit to the National Museum, one of the most important sub-Saharan museums in all of Africa. The museum is home to the fossilized humanoid Lucy, as well as an amazing collection of artifacts, royal items and art. We then visit the Ethnological Museum, which was the former palace of Haile Selassie. You also take time to visit Mercato, the largest open air market in Africa. The remaining time is for optional last minute shopping. This evening we will enjoy a farewell dinner of Ethiopian cuisine with traditional music and a dance show.