Northern Ethiopia and Danakil Depression (11 days)
About this Tour:
Ideal trip for travellers who like to move off the beaten track. You will experience stunning landscapes, spectacular natural wonders, a rich and diverse flora and fauna, unique cultural sites as well as authentic everyday life of the locals. A true and very diverse adventure between the lush Ethiopian highlands and the surreal landscapes in the Danakil desert.
- Animal viewing in the Guassa Conservation Area, one of the best spots in Ethiopia to encounter large groups of the endemic gelada baboons in beautiful surroundings. A little more luck is needed to see the Ethiopian wolf.
- Visit Senbete and Bati markets, the biggest and most colourful markets in Northern Ethiopia are with no doubt among the most interesting markets in Africa.
- Lalibela, the unofficial 8th wonder of the world (UNESCO world heritage site)
- Trekking in the Gheralta mountains to the rock-hewn churches of Tigray in spectacular surroundings
- 3-day expedition to the Danakil depression with visit to Dallol and ascent of Erta Ale Volcano
- Tour code: WET-NEDD-11
- Overnight: hotels and lodges / camping under the stars in the Danakil Depression
- Number of domestic flights: 1
- Required fitness level: reasonably fit and heat tolerability
Day 1: Arrival in Addis Ababa and City Tour
Upon arrival at Bole International Airport you will be met by a Welcome Ethiopia Tours representative and be taken to your reserved hotel. Depending on your arrival time, we have various sightseeing options:
- Mount Entotowith the best views over the capital.
- Institute of Ethiopian Studies, where you can see a variety of artifacts from all the different regions reflecting the history and culture of the country
- National Museum which among other exhibits the 3.5-million-year-old bones of Lucy.
- George Cathedral, where paintings by the famous Ethiopian artist Afework Tekele and other ecclesiastical wealth and cultural heritage of the past are displayed.
- Trinity Cathedral: this is the burial place of members of the imperial family and noted patriots; the cathedral is the most magnificent of its kind in the country, ornamented with carvings, mosaics and other artistic works.
- The Mercato, the largest open-air market in Africa
Accommodation: Hotel, Addis Ababa
Day 2: Addis Ababa – Guassa Conservation Area (265 km)
After breakfast, we start our journey northward via Debre Birhan to the “Guassa Conservation Area” (approx. 5 hrs.). The Guassa plateau lies between 3200m and 3600m above sea level is one of the most significant examples of Ethiopia’s afro-alpine eco-systems. Numerous mammals live in the area, amongst them, the Ethiopian Wolf, Gelada Baboons, Klipspringer, hyenas, leopards, jackals and serval cats. Moreover, 114 different bird species have been registered to date.
We will go on a walk on the plateau and hope for some interesting animal viewing.
Accommodation: Guassa Community Lodge
Day 3: Guassa – Senbete Market– Dessie (300 km)
After breakfast, we start our drive to Dessie (approx. 8h). We will make a stop at the Senbete market (Sundays only). The market is frequented by different ethnic groups such as Oromo, Afar and Amhara and is one of the most authentic and colourful markets in Ethiopia. It also has a dedicated area for the trade of livestock, particularly camels, cattle and donkeys. In the late afternoon, we will arrive in Dessie, where we will spend the night.
Accommodation: Hotel, Dessie
Day 4: Dessie – Bati Market – Woldyia (250 km)
After breakfast we drive to Bati and visit the 2nd largest market in Ethiopia (after the Mercato in Addis Ababa). Like Senbete, Bati is frequented by many different ethnic groups, trading everything you can possibly think of. The market is huge and chaotic covering a whole hill side. There is a separate market for the trade of livestock.
We continue our journey to Woldyia. On the way, we can stop at lake Hayk, known not only for its diverse bird life, but also for being a spiritual centre of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The monastery on the Western shore hosts an interesting museum (entrance for men only).
Accommodation: Lal Hotel, Woldyia (www.lalhotelsandspa.com)
Day 5: Woldyia – Lalibela (180 km)
We have another 3 hours driving time until reaching Lalibela.
We will visit the 11 rock hewn churches of Lalibela, also known as the “8th wonder of the world”. The Lalibela rock hewn churches are physically carved from the rock on which they stand. These towering edifices seem to be a superhuman creation in scale, workmanship and concept. Some are sculptured out of a solid volcanic rock, others are connected by long underground tunnel and mazes. Some are quarried enlargements of caves. The first group of six churches lies in rock cradles, one behind the other: Bet Golgotha, Bet Mikeal, Bet Mariam, Bet Maskel, Bet Dangal and Bet Medhanealem. Bet Medhanealem, the largest rock hewn church in the world is built like a Greek temple. The second group of churches is located to the south of the river Jordan and comprises Bet Giyorgis, possibly the most elegant of all the Lalibela churches. Bet Giyorgis lies somewhat isolated to the southwestern part of the village on a slopping rock terrace and can only be reached through a tunnel. The group of four churches, south of the river Jordan river, comprises Bet Emanuel, Bet Mercurios, Bet Aba Libanos and Bet Gabriel and Rufeal. Bet Emanuel’ s elaborated exterior has been much praised by international art historians.
Accommodation: Hotel, Lalibela
Day 6: Full Day in Lalibela
If you wish we can spend some more time exploring the rock-hewn churches. Alternatively, we may take an excursion to the Asheton Maryam Monastery (3200 m above sea level) from where you will enjoy spectacular panoramic views over the beautiful surroundings.
After lunch we will visit the fascinating cave church of Yirmahne Kristos dating from the 11th century. Driving through the local villages located in scenic landscape will take us 2 hours each way.
Hotel: Top 12 Hotel or similar, Lalibela (www.toptwelvehotel.com)
Day 7: Lalibela – Mekele (400 km)
Today we have along but interesting drive through ever changing landscapes until reaching Mekelle (approx. 8 hours.). We will reach Mekelle in the late afternoon.
Accommodation: Hotel, Mekelle
Day 8: Mekelle – Erta Ale Volcano (320 km)
After breakfast, we will start our expedition to the Danakil depression driving to the Afar village of Dodoma, the starting point of our trekking to the Erta Ale, approx. 17 km away from the volcano.
We will have an early dinner and will start trekking up to Erta Ale after sunset. The trekking will take us 3-4 hours. Camels will transport our camping materials and food to the rim of the volcano, where we will spend the night watching the dramatic action of the boiling lava. Erta Ale is 613 meters high and ranks as one of the most alluring and physically challenging natural attractions in Ethiopia. It is a shield volcano with a base diameter of 30 km and a 1km square caldera at the summit containing the world’s only permanent lava lake.
Accommodation: Camping at the rim of the crater of Erta Ale volcano
Day 9: Erta Ale Volcano – Lake Afrera – Hamed Ela
After a spectacular sunrise over the lava lake we start our descent down to the vehicles from where we will continue to lake Afrera. Here we can not only admire the traditional way of the local salt mining but also freshen up and recover from the trekking in the hot springs.
We continue to Hamed Ela.
Overnight: Camping under the stars, Hamed Ela
Day 10: Hamed Ela – Dallol – Wukro (120 km)
We start early in the morning to explore the unbelievable landscapes around Dallol and lake Assal. Dallol lies 116 meters under sea level turning it into one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. The Dallol volcano is covered by a thick layer of salt, however, it still shows its presence through bizarre salt formations, hundreds of fumaroles (escapes of gas) as well as acid lakes in all colours.
It is slowly time for us to leave the dessert. We start our drive back and in the late afternoon reach the highlands around Wukro. We will spend the night in the newly built Wukro lodge located in a superb area.
Accommodation: Wukro Lodge, Wukro (www.wukrolodge.com)
Day 11: Wukro – (Hawzen) – Mekelle – Addis Ababa (flight)
Depending on the flight time from Mekelle back to Addis, we can visit today some of the fascinating rock-hewn churches of Tigray. If the flight is in the late afternoon, we may still undertake a spectacular half day trekking near Hawzen to the churches of Maryam and Daniel Korkor. The views over the plains of Hawzen are breath-taking.
In Addis you will be picked up at the airport. You will be invited to a memorable farewell dinner in one of Addis Ababa’s traditional restaurants with cultural songs, dances and traditional food and drinks to a successful trip. You will then be transferred to Bole International Airport or, if you continue your stay in Ethiopia, to your reserved hotel.
Departure or individual extension