An ancient land of fertile well-watered mountains that form the main source of the Blue Nile, northern Ethiopia has long stood at the cultural crossroads of Africa, Arabia and the Mediterranean. These divergent influences have bequeathed the region a unique cultural and historical heritage epitomized by a quartet of unique and magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Aksum, Lalibela, Gondar and the Simien Mountains National Park - as well as a vast array of lesser-known but equally fascinating historical sites. An ancient land of fertile well-watered mountains that form the main source of the Blue Nile, northern Ethiopia has long stood at the cultural crossroads of Africa, Arabia and the Mediterranean. These divergent influences have bequeathed the region a unique cultural and historical heritage epitomized by a quartet of unique and magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Aksum, Lalibela, Gondar and the Simien Mountains National Park - as well as a vast array of lesser-known but equally fascinating historical sites.
Early in the morning, depart north to Bahirdar via Debre Markos. On the way visit the Portuguese bridge, said to have been the first bridge in Ethiopia. Afterwards, you will pass through the spectacular Blue Nile Gorge. The gorge extends nearly 400km and reaches depths up to 1500m. Overnight in Bahirdar.
In the morning, take a boat trip on Lake Tana to visit a selection of the monasteries hidden on the islands and shores of this sacred lake. Visit the Zege Penninsula and the monasteries of Azuwa Maryam and Ura Kidane Mehret and the island monastery of Debre Maryam near the outlet of the Blue Nile River. In the afternoon, drive out to the Blue Nile Falls for a short hike in the area. Finish the day with the sunset over the lake. Overnight in Bahirdar.
After breakfast, continue north to Gondar. The four-hour drive will take you through rural villages, offering wonderful insight into the Amhara culture. After briefly settling in your hotel, explore the sites of Gondar, including a visit to the Royal Enclosure, with six castles and several other buildings. Additionally, visit Fasilidas’s Pool, still used for Timket celebrations today, Ras Gimb Palace Museum and the Debre Birhan Selassie church, with the most famous ceiling in Ethiopia. Overnight in Gondar at Taye Hotel/Fasil Lodge/Queen Taitu Pension.
Early morning, depart north for Axum, enjoying spectacular views of the Simien Mountains. After stopping for lunch in Adi Arkay, proceed driving through the dramatic Tekeze Valley, offering some of the best landscapes in the country. Proceed to Axum, home of the ancient Axumite Empire, the Queen of Sheba, and the Ark of the Covenant. Overnight in Axum .
Today will be a full day visiting the sites of Axum, including the famous obelisks (one that was recently erected after being returned from Italy) and the archeological museum, the Queen of Sheba’s Bath (which supplies water to Axum year-round), Ezana’s enscription, King Kaleb’s tomb, King Bazen’s tomb, and the Queen of Sheba’s Palace. You can also visit the St. Mary of Zion church, where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. Men only are allowed to enter the old church. Unfortunately, no one (except one specially chosen guardian monk) is allowed to enter the chapel where the Ark is kept. Overnight in Axum.
After breakfast, drive to visit the ruins of Yeha, dating from the 8th to 5th centuries BC, and thought to be the capital of Ethiopian civilization before Axum. Afterwards, visit the Debre Damo monastery, where the men (sorry! No women allowed.) must climb up a 15-m rope to enter. Proceed through the state of Tigray, stopping en-route at Wukro to visit the rock-hewn church of Chirkos. Overnight in Mekele.
Early in the morning, embark on a full day of driving to Lalibela. Here you will pass through several small villages, with typical sandstone homes of the Tigray people. Proceed through this rural area for the stunning approach to the home of Ethiopia’s most prized destination – Lalibela. Overnight in Lalibela .
In the morning, start your tour of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, visiting the Northwestern Cluster of churches - Bet Medhane Alem, Bet Maryam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danaghel, Bet Mikael & Bet Golgotha (entry not permitted for women). After lunch, continue with the Southeastern Cluster of churches – Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Bet Merkorios, Bet Amanual, and Bet Abba Libanos. Finally, you will visit the most famous of all the churches – Bet Giyorgis, constructed in honor of the patron saint of Ethiopia – Saint George. Overnight in Lalibela.
After breakfast, visit the nearby monastery of Na’akuto La’ab, set on the side of a cliff. After the visit, proceed driving to Kombolcha via Woldia. On the way you will stop for a rest in Hayk where you can enjoy the views of this stunning lake, visit the local monastery (open for men only) and enjoy the birdlife. Overnight in Kombolcha.
Return driving to Addis via Debrebirhan. On the way you pass the Mezezo Escarpment, with a good chance to see the endemic gelada baboons. If today is a Sunday, you can stop in the town of Senbete to visit the lively market including the interesting camel market.