The Northern Route EENT 007 (10 days and 9 nights)
Four flights and road trip to north
For most visitors to Ethiopia, it’s all about the north. More than anywhere else on Earth, northern Ethiopia has the ability to wow you day after day after day.
Known as the Historical Circuit, there are over two millennia’s worth of ancient treasures scattered about, from giant obelisks and hidden tombs at Aksum to a collection of castles in and around Gonder, to unique churches in Lalibela, Tigray, Lake Tana and many other places. Not to be outdone by human mastery, Mother Nature really let her creative juices flow here. The Danakil Depression, an esteemed destination among adventure travellers, features a permanent lava lake and a bright-yellow sulphuric plain, while the Simien Mountains wrinkle the land with canyons and peaks with a beauty you’ll struggle to find anywhere else in Africa.
In Ethiopia’s central highlands, Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world. Emperor Menelik II selected the site in 1887 because its location within the Entoto Hills has long been the centre of Shoan politics. This afternoon take a tour of the city – visit the Ethnographic Museum, an ideal place to start learning about Ethiopia’s rich ethnic diversity, and Holy Trinity Cathedral, built to commemorate liberation from Italian occupation.
Today take a short flight to Bahir Dar, meaning “by the side of the sea” in the Amharic language. This afternoon take a journey overland to the Blue Nile Falls, known locally as Tissiat or “Smoking Water”. Embark on a boat trip over Lake Tana to see the Monasteries of the Lake, with wonderful paintings depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Depart this morning with a leisurely drive to Gondar (a journey of around 3 hours) stopping en route to visit the Amhara’s village. Gondar was the first capital city of the Ethiopian empire, with numerous castles built by the emperors over 200 years. Parts of the city seem more European than African. Visit the castle complex, the baths of Fasilidas and the church of Debre Berhan Selassie decorated with beautiful frescoes.
Fly this morning to Lalibela, site of the famous medieval and monolithic rockhewn cave churches. This city was built by King Lalibela in the 12th Century in an almost inaccessible mountain stronghold. One legend tells of the young Prince Lalibela being taken to Heaven where God told him to build churches in Roha. The work was completed quickly because angels were said to have continued the work at night.
After breakfast, drive to the outskirts of the city to see the Monastery of Nakutoleab hewn out of a rock cave and the famous Bete Georgis. This Greek cross-shaped church is accessible only by a tunnel a small distance away. It was built by Lalibela for Saint George, who is said to have supervised construction himself – just ask the monks who will show you the hoof marks left by his horse.
Fly from Lalibela to Axum, capital of one of the oldest African empires and a crucial bridge between Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years. The Kebre Nagast (Book of Kings) recounts how the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba brought the Ark of the Covenant to Axum where it is believed to reside to this day. See the steles, granite monoliths decorated with symbolic engravings, and visit the church of Saint Mary of Zion to see the crowns of Ethiopian kings.
Take a leisurely drive to Hawzen, passing through the Mountains of Adwa that were the site of the battle with the Italians in 1896, visiting the impressive pre-Axumite temple of Yeha, and enjoying distant views of the great clifftop monastery of Debre Damo that is forbidden to enter.
Today is dedicated to visiting the famous churches of the areas that go back to the foundation of Christianity including Abreha Atsbeha Monastery, Cherkos Wukro and the church of Petros and Paulos.
Drive from Hawzen to Mekelle, from where you will take a flight to Addis Ababa. You may like to spend your final afternoon in the Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa, an array of colours, aromas, costumes, produce and jewellery where you are sure to find memorable souvenirs.
today your journey comes to an end as your return to the airport for your flight to your destination.