This journey takes us through the scenic Ethiopian highlands, visiting the historical sites of the northern parts of the country. The trip takes us to Lalibela, known as the Jerusalem of Ethiopia with its 11 rock hewn churches – centuries later still a place for active worshiping. We go to Mekelle and the Gheralta Range, home to many of Ethiopia’s rock churches, some famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts. We visit Axum, the ancient city of Ethiopia known for the famous obelisks standing in the center of town and where the ark of the covenant is believed to be kept. Gondar, the Camelot of Africa with its 16th century castles and churches is the last stop before Bahir Dar at the coast of Lake Tana with its more than thirty island monasteries.
DAY 01- DEPARTURE FROM YOUR HOME COUNTRY
DAY 02- CITY TOUR OF ADDIS ABABA
The city is situated where the Great Rift Valley crosses Ethiopia’s mountain range at more than 7000 feet above sea-leve. Addis Ababa is a large sprawling city with a population of more than five million people. We visit Entoto Mountain, the site from which Addis Ababa’s founder, Menelik, descended down to the plains. We visit the two churches he built and his palace, which displays 19th-century royal attire, weaponry, furniture, and intricately designed crosses made with precious metals. We enjoy the view of the city and the Entoto Mountain Range.
We visit the National Museum – home to the skeleton of Selam, who like Lucy, is an Australopithecus afarensi, often nicknamed Lucy’s baby, Selam actually lived nearly 150,000 years before Lucy. We continue to the Ethnographic Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, located in the palace of former Emperor Haile Selassie. Here we see precious pieces of Ethiopian Christian art. We also visit the Trinity Cathedral.
We stroll for a while in the Merkato – the largest open market in Africa and in the Piazza-area with its old houses.
Overnight Nexus Hotel or similar
DAY 03 – FLY TO LALIBELA
Lalibela is a striking little town set at more than 2500 meters in wild, craggy mountains. Its two-story stone houses are quite different from those in the rest of Ethiopia. We are here to visit the huge 12th and 13th century rock churches carved below ground level and connected by a maze of subterranean passages. Each of the churches is unique and intricately carved, and is in continuous use. – The churches are a World Heritage Site since 1978.
Overnight Mountain View Hotel or similar.
DAY 4 – LALIBELA
Early morning drive to visit Yemrehane Kristos 42 kms northwest of Lalibela, Yemrehane Kristos is undoubtedly the finest church outside of town. Unusually, this church is built rather than excavated, within a cave. The whole church rests on a foundation of carefully laid olivewood panels, which float it perfectly above the marshy ground below. Behind the church are the bones of countless pilgrims who chose to be buried there. There is also a tomb that includes the remains of Yemrehane Kristos.
In the afternoon we explore the most elegant of Lalibela’s churches, Bet Giorgis, located in an isolated part of the village on a sloping rock terrace. This is said to be one of the most finely executed and best preserved churches.
Overnight Mountain View Hotel or similar.
DAY 5 – DRIVE TO MEKELLE
The drive takes us to Mekelle – one of the fastes growing cities of Ethiopia and the capital city of Tigrai regional state. We go via the interesting landscapes of Sekta and Agew and follow the river Tsilare on our way to Mekelle. Along the way we will see a lot of baobab-trees.
Overnight Planet International Hotel or similar.
DAY6- DRIVE TO HAWZIEN
We visit the palace of Yohannes IV. This is Mekelle’s oldest royal house, built during the emperor’s reign (1872-1889). The palace, situated behind a double rounded wall compound, is actually two buildings facing each other. The museum has in its collection the incredible throne of the emperor from 1874, the royal bed, ceremonial dress, rifles and many other valuable items of Ethiopian heritage.
In the afternoon we drive to Hawzein, on the way we visit Abreha and Atsbeha. This church was built in the 4th century by two royal brothers, Abreha and Atsbeha, known in the west as the kings Ezana and Saizan, who were responsible for converting Ethiopia to Christianity. The church is large and cruciform in shape, with interesting architectural features such as cruciform pillars and stepped capitals. There are also well preserved 17th century paintings depicting saints and biblical scenes. The church contains many valuable masterpieces including a beautifully decorated prayer cross, said to have belonged to Frumentius, the first Bishop of Ethiopia, whose ecclesiastical name was Abba Selama, meaning the father of peace.
Finally we visit Yohannes Maequddi. This rectangular chapel has six free standing pillars that support a ceiling carved with geometrical designs. The church contains many early paintings which are thought to be at least 300 years old, and are very different in style to any other churchpaintings found in Gheralta. The walls of the building are covered with murals of saints and apostles – it has an intense atmosphere that most visitors remember. From the village of Matari it is a 40 minutes` walk via a steep footpath. We drive to Hawzein to stay overnight.
Overnight Gheralta Lodge or similar.
DAY 7 – GHERALTA – DEBR TSION ABUNE ABRHAM
We visit Debre Tsion about 40 minutes’ walk from the escarpment. It is a monastic cliff church carved in to a rusty sandstone face. It has an impressive and unusually symbolic exterior. The interior of the church is lovely decorated. The back walls of the holiest of holies, the domes and wall panels are abundantly decorated with fine painting of saints and apostles. Especially the dome is beautifully adorned with patterns. Because of the simplicity of the lines and colors, the paintings are estimated to be of the 15th century although the church officials prefer to date it, in the 14th century. A 15th century unique circular ceremonial fan (one meter in diameter) with wooden framework makes the visit to this church special. Each of its 34 panels is finely painted with figures of apostles. The walls are decorated with many geometrical designs and carvings in relief depicting angels and saints. It is indeed a manifestation of the great stone workmanship that was common in the whole of Tigrai both at that time and before.
Overnight Gheralta Lodge or similar.
DAY 8 – DRIVE TO AXUM
Morning drive to Medhane Alem (Saviour of the world). The church can be reached through a combination of asphalt and dirt roads through Freweyni via Hawizien. To access the church you climb a slope of exposed sandstone. It is covered with potholes which local people believe to be the hoof prints of St. George’s horse. This church is one of Tigrai’s oldest and finest rock-hewn churches. Its exterior and interior walls are roughly hewn, which only makes the elaborately carved coffered ceiling much more special. It is quite possibly the oldest rock-hewn church in Tigrai, or anywhere in Ethiopia.
The next visit will be at Petros Paulos church. It is situated in the same locality as Medhane Alem Adi Kesho. A ten minutes’ drive across fields brings you to this antiquity, which is visible from the main road because of its white-washed façade. It is on the top of a bluff, reached by carefully climbing rickety ladders and platforms placed against the cliff side. The architecture of this church is not very impressive. It does, however, boast some fascinatingly primitive paintings. On the walls and on the chamber antecedent to the Holiest of Holies a number of striking paintings depict the Madonna and Child, Angles, the Nine Saints, and Christ resurrecting Adam and Eve.
Finally we visit Yeha. This city was founded at least 2,800 years ago and served as the capital of a pre-Axumite empire. The well-preserved stone temple was built 2,500 years ago. It also served as a center of a monastic Christian community in the early 6th century. A modern church built next to the temple ruins contains some of the ancient temple stones and its treasury contains illuminated manuscripts and crowns.
Overnight Sabean Hotel or similar.
DAY 9 – AXUM
Recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in1980, Axum is a testament to the rich and glorious past of the mighty Kingdom of Axum, 2nd C. BC-700 A.D. This morning the visit will start with the famous stelae-field with its Axumite stelae in various sizes and shapes. The archaeological museum is nearby and it offers an opportunity to bring context to relics on view today. In the afternoon we visit the Kaleb and Gebremeskel tombs, dating to the 6th century A.D and on the way to town, the Ezana inscription( Ethiopia’s Rosetta stone). Tradition has it that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia in the 10th century BC by Menelik I and later Ethiopian kings and emperors would proclaim their legitimacy to rule by their lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Through the day we will discuss the development of Christianity in Ethiopia and its relation to the Ark, and the story of Queen of Sheba too.
We also visit the vernacular architecture of the old city of Axum. The Tukul and rectangular houses in Axum shows the diversification of architecture, an both the change and continuity that has occurred through centuries. We will visit a famil- house where we will observe their daily life activities and have a coffee ceremony with the family.
Overnight Sabean Hotel or similar.
DAY 10 – DRIVE TO DEBARK
We travel through the remarkable Tekezze Gorge where again altitude becomes below 800m. This route is rich in natural attractions such as mountains, gorges, baobab trees, incense tree and such. We go through the Limalimo Mountains and the Simien Mountain range and on to the Simien National Park. Our drive takes us through extraordinary scenery, pass small villages glimpsed between mountain massifs where people eke out an existence in this unforgiving countryside. We will stop for photo at view points along the way.
Overnight Limalimo Lodge or similar
DAY 11 – EXCURSION TO SIMIEN MOUNTAIN
After an early breakfast we will drive to Sankaber in the National park accompanied by a local guide and a scout. Our drive (40km) takes us through a breathtaking, fertile landscape of wide open fields in a typical African undulating farmland, and then on to the highest highlands of Ethiopia. We will walk for 2-3 hours and enjoy the spectacular views and natural attractions of the park
Rising to over 15,000 feet, the Simien Mountain Range is a striking contrast to other regions in Ethiopia. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers some of Africa’s most dramatic scenery: alpine peaks flanked by glaciers such as Mount Ras Dashen, steep escarpments rising above remote valley settlements, and an abundance of wildlife including the endemic bleeding heart baboons, the walia Ibex and innumerable species of birds including the famous Lammargeyer. After the excursion we drive to Gondar. On our way to Gondar we visit the Falasha village of Waleka to see pottery still made by the few Jewish people remaining after the exodus to Israel in 1991
Overnight at Goha hotel or similar
DAY 12- GONDAR
After breakfast in the hotel we see the imperial city of Ethiopia, Gondar. Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia for two hundred years. It was a center of great commerce trading with wealthy lands south of the Blue Nile, west to the Sudan, and north-east to the port of Massawa along the Red Sea. The city is known for its medieval castles and finely adorned churches. We visit the Royal Enclosure, the Bath of King Fasilides, and the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, with its extensive murals of angels faces.
Overnight at Goha Hotel or similar
DAY13 – DRIVE BAHIR DAR
On our drive (180km) to this city, we travel through a fertile landscape of wide open fields of typical undulating farmland. After arrival in Bahir Dar we take a boat trip on Lake Tana. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and is famous for its many monasteries, including the Ura Kidane Meret. Our travel across the lake to the monastery islands will take you back to the ancient times when Greeks and Egypitans had close contact due to that Lake Tana is the source of the longest river in the world.
Overnight at Abay Minch Lodge or similar
DAY 14– MORNING EXCURSION TO BLUE NILE FALLS AND FLY ADDIS ABABA
The water to the Blue Nile falls are these days most often led through pipes leaving the former “Smoke of Fire” merely a small trifle of water. If we should be lucky to be in Bahir Dar on a day when the water flows like before, we drive to the small town of Tiss Abay to visit to the impressive Blue Nile Falls. The falls can at its fullest throw up a continuous spray of water droplets which drench onlookers up to a kilometer away. The surrounding area is extremely fertile and the Amhara people who live here farm wheat, sorghum and teff, which injera, the national bread, is made from.
If the water does not flow when we visit, we spend the morning in the exciting marked of Bahir Dar before we fly to Addis Ababa.
Overnight Caravan Hotel or similar
DAY 15 – ADDIS ABABA AND FLIGHT HOME.
We spend the day in the Merkato, the biggest outdoor marked in Africa – and in the Piazza area – for shopping.
In the evening we enjoy our farewell dinner with all kinds of traditional food accompanied with local live music before we drive to the airport for your flight home.
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