Essentials of the North

Trip description

Circuit - Most of the North
9 days / 8 nights

Highlights :

3 domestic flights: minimised ground transfers. Perfect for a quick first visit or to follow up with a combination with another region.

No particular physical condition required

Main sites of interest in the North visited

You have little time for this first visit to Ethiopia? Your usual travel pace is high? You want to make the most of your time, why not continue to another region? Then this short circuit, which brings together almost all the sites of interest in the North, is for you! Possible extensions: Danakil Depression (Dallol sulphur lakes) - Trek in the Simiens National Park - An extra day at Gheralta and/or Lalibela.

D1 - Arrival in Addis. Immediate connecting flight to the North (Mekele) in the morning (ET 100, 8h > 9h25). Visit of the Palace of Yohannes IV - Lunch in Mekele - Transfer Wukro visiting the church of Wukro Chirkos on the way. Night Wukro (Wukro Lodge)

D2 - Visit of the Abreha Atsbeha church, and a rock church in Gheralta during the day, depending on the interests and physical condition of the group. Continuation and Axum Night (Sabean Hotel)

D3 - Visits of the ancient city of Axum: field of steles, archaeological sites, church of the Ark of the Covenant... Night Axum (Sabean Hotel)

D4 - Surface transfer to Simiens by the magnificent road of the Tsellemti massif. Night Debark (Jeramba Hotel)

D5 - Visit of the Simiens National Park (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for one day. Night Gondar (Goha Hotel)

D6 - Visits of the ancient royal city of Gondar: royal castles and baths, and Debre Birhan Selassie church. Transfer mid-afternoon and night Bahir Dar (Solyana Hotel)

D7 - Cruise on Lake Tana in the morning visiting two churches on the Zeghie Peninsula, and short walk to the Nile Falls in the afternoon. Night Bahir Dar (Solyana Hotel)

D8 - Morning flight to Lalibela (ET 126, 9am > 9.30am) Visits to the main rock churches listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Night Lalibela (Cliff Edge)

D9 - Morning flight to Addis (ET 126, 10am > 11am). Afternoon visit of the capital: National Museum and Ethnographic Museum. Purchase of souvenirs - Courtesy room - Farewell dinner-show - International flight

++ Best Hotels: Atronos Hotel in Axum - Simiens Park Lodge in Debark - Gondar Hills Resort in Gondar - Kuriftu Spa&Resort in Bahir Dar - Mezena Lodge in Lalibela

-- More basic hotels: Fasil Lodge in Gondar - Vision Motel in Hawzien - Top Twelve in Lalibela

Discover the agency :
MonPays Tours

9 days

From : €1,600*

Maximum recommended reservation date

Louis - Responsable des Opérations - Monpays Tours Ethiopie

After travelling all over the world in his youth, Louis met his wife in Ethiopia, who convinced him to pack his suitcases in Addis Ababa (2500m altitude).

After several years as a freelance guide (especially on the Historical Route), Louis still strives to bring the beauties of his adopted country to travellers from elsewhere - with a special mention for the delicious Ethiopian gastronomy.

Day 1: Wukro

Day 2: Gheralta

Day 3: Axum

Day 4: Panoramic route

Day 5: Simiens NP

Day 6: Gondar

Day 7: Bahir Dar

Day 8: Lalibela

Day 9: Addis-Abeba

Day 1 : Wukro


Immersion in the historical region of Tigray

In order to quickly reach Northern Ethiopia and save you a full day's driving, we offer a domestic onward flight to the city of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. (ET 160, 8h-9h25) - The language spoken there is Tigrigna, as are the neighbours of nearby Eritrea.

Your vehicle will be waiting for you at Mekele airport, to land in the cobbled streets of this beautiful ancient city. We visit the palace of Yohannes IV, the former Ethiopian emperor who was born here.

We will take time for a leisurely lunch in one of the excellent local establishments.

After lunch, your vehicle finally hits the road.

Not far from Wukro, there is only one easy-to-reach tour planned for this day to help you acclimatise: Wukro Chirkos. Dated in the 10th century AD, this church is dedicated to a child martyr. The interior layout is of cruciform architecture; the capitals and friezes are noteworthy. Some modern improvements do not spoil the centuries-old interior rooms.

Take a stroll through the quiet streets of Wukro if you wish.

Overnight at Wukro Lodge (Wukro)

Breakfast not included.

Lunch (in town) and dinner (at the hotel) included.

Day 2 : Gheralta

Champ des stèles d'Axoum. ©Meinzahn - iStockphoto

The Gheralta massif reveals its treasures

After this day of acclimatisation, we get up very early to hit the road.

In the morning we visit the church of Abreha Atsbeha, named after the twin kings. Built in the 4th century A.D., it is one of the oldest in the country, with singular arches.

It is not long before we arrive at the Gheralta massif, made up of a single rock, of an astonishing size and a singular shape. This is the cradle of Orthodox Christianity, where countless churches were built on the rock to absorb the faith of the many faithful.

Depending on the artistic interests and condition of each traveller, a point will be made with the local English-speaking guide to determine the church of the day which will suit you best, and from which you will bring back an invariably unforgettable memory.

As a rough guide, here is a brief summary of the difficulty of climbing to the following churches.

Easy physical level: Maryam Papaseti & Giorgis Maikado

Moderate physical level : Debre Tsion & Yohannes Maiqudi

Experienced physical level: Maryam (and Daniel) Korkor & Abune Yemata Guh.

We also encourage you to consult a specialist book to determine which church or churches would best suit your wishes.

In the mid-afternoon, continue to the ancient city of Axum via the Adwa shortcut; this is the site of a great Ethiopian victory over the Italians in the year 1896, the first success of an African army over the European colonisers. No memorial site is to be noted, however.

Overnight at Sabean Hotel (Axum)

Breakfast (at the hotel), lunch (picnic) and dinner (at the hotel) included.

Day 3 : Axum

Église Sainte-Marie-de-Sion. ©Alamer - Iconotec

Discovering the kingdom of the Queen of Sheba

The ancient city of Axum is home to the seat of the Queen of Sheba, who is said to have reigned a millennium BC. Her ephemeral union with King Solomon of Jerusalem is said to have produced a son, Menelik, founder of the royal Ethiopian dynasty of the Menelids.

The city of Axum was the centre of an immense empire, the richest in the world at the time, which covered a geographical area including present-day Eritrea and Yemen, and dominated the Red Sea trade route, from which goods were channelled to Europe and the Near East.

The city of Axum remains today the religious spiritual centre of Ethiopia, as it is said to house the relic of the Ark of the Covenant (stolen by Menelik from his father Solomon in Jerusalem), and this is why the Patriarch of Ethiopia (the national equivalent of the Catholic Pope) is installed there alternately with Addis Ababa.

During this day we will therefore visit the stelae field of the Axumite kingdom and its attached museum as well as the church complex housing the Ark of the Covenant, which however no one is allowed to contemplate except its Eternal Guardian. Various archaeological sites dotted around the city's surroundings bear witness to its past greatness: the tombs of Kaleb & GebreMeskel, the baths of the Queen of Sheba, the Palace of Dongar will transport you all back in time to the past millennia.

Overnight at Sabean Hotel (Axum)

Breakfast (at the hotel), lunch (in town) and dinner (at the hotel) included.

Day 4 : Panoramic route

Montagnes du Simien. ©DavorLovincic

Towards the infinite summits by the most beautiful road in the country

This magnificent road passes through the Simiens and Tsellemti massifs, where work has just been completed. You will be able to admire the famous Simiens ridges through the windows of your vehicle, and if you wish, immortalise them with photo stops on request.

This road also takes us from the Tigray region (where Tigrigna, a regional language also derived from ancient Geza and shared with neighbouring Eritrea, is spoken) into the Amhara region, where Amharic - the only official language of the Ethiopian nation - is now spoken.

We will arrive at your accommodation in the late afternoon.

Overnight at Jeramba Hotel (Debark)

Breakfast (at the hotel), lunch (picnic) and dinner (at the hotel) included.

Day 5 : Simiens NP

Les plateaux majestueux du massif du Simien offrent des panoramas grandioses. ©Abdesslam BENZITOUNI

On the Roof of Africa: the Simiens' spikes

Simiens National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) offers both breathtaking views and the observation of many endemic (Ethiopian-specific) animals, including the famous "bleeding heart" Geladas baboons, or the "Walia" chamois if you are lucky.

The Austrian government (an Alpine country if ever there was one) has made a major contribution to the creation and management of this national park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by laying out hiking trails and gathering scientific knowledge specific to the local fauna and flora, which was then passed on to the local Ethiopian guides, who are now the transmitters of this knowledge.

It is an ideal breath of fresh air that you will experience on the roof of Africa.

Civilization" is less than two hours away, at the former royal capital of Gondar, where we will sleep.

Overnight at Goha Hotel (Gondar)

Breakfast (at the hotel), lunch (picnic) and dinner (at the hotel) included.

Day 6 : Gondar

Palais de Fasilidas. ©Alamer - Iconotec

A fairy tale page with the colourful castles of Gondar

After centuries of the royal court roaming between various temporary locations, King Fasilidades in the 17th century set the capital city of the country at Gondar. Drawing inspiration from the aesthetic influence of the Portuguese father Pedro Paéz (leader of the expeditionary force that came to support the Christian army of the highlands against the Muslim invasions from Harar), Fasilidades built a magnificent castle there, to which his successors each added their own castle or special building.

We will therefore visit these singular buildings, at the crossroads of Europe and Africa, as well as the Baths of Fasilidades - also a major place to attend Timkat (Orthodox Epiphany) on January 19th!

Excellent lunch at the colourful restaurant "The Four Sisters", masterfully run by these admirable women.

The Debre Birhan Selassie Church is also renowned for the quality and quantity of its wall and ceiling paintings.

Between these visits, you will wander through the ancient streets of this peaceful city with its pleasant climate and welcoming people.

In mid-afternoon, we head to Bahir Dar to spend the night.

Overnight at Solyana Hotel (Bahir Dar)

Breakfast (at the hotel), lunch (in town) and dinner (at the hotel) included.

Day 7 : Bahir Dar

Femmes Amharas devant une maison traditionnelle. ©Alamer - Iconotec

Lake Tana, epicentre of the country's history

Bahir Dar has been the capital of the Amhara region for several decades, located on the shores of Lake Tana, which is a veritable inland sea.

It is a city with wide pavements locally called "African Riviera", where it is particularly pleasant to stroll in the shade of the palm trees, and its port is the starting point in the morning of a cruise on Lake Tana, to discover the very old hidden monasteries of the peninsula of Zeghie.

In the afternoon, a short drive will take us to the starting point of a short hike in the countryside, culminating in the Blue Nile Falls (always impressive after the end of the rainy season, from September to December inclusive).

This is a chance to remember that Ethiopia is the water tower of Africa, and you will have two choices for dinner: either an excellent fish restaurant on the lakeshore, or a traditional restaurant in the city centre (with traditional music and dance if the day lends itself to it).

Overnight at Solyana Hotel (Bahir Dar)

Breakfast (at the hotel,) lunch (in town) and dinner (at the hotel) included

Day 8 : Lalibela

Maison de Saint-Georges taillée dans le rocher. ©Alamer - Iconotec

Pilgrimage to Black Jerusalem

It is the " Chinese Route " that we are flying over today (ET 126, 08h35 > 09h05), which finally connects two major axes of the country that were separated until now, and especially the village of Lalibela with its regional capital, Bahir Dar.

Around the 11th century, many Christians from Abyssinia went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As this journey from Africa to the Near East was particularly perilous (passing through the Sudanese and Egyptian deserts), King Lalibela decided to build a "Black Jerusalem", in parallel with the schism of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church emancipating itself from that of Alexandria (Egypt). Thus was born Lalibela, a group of troglodytic churches, each with its own personality.

The main church complex of Lalibela is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the wonders of the world. President E. Macron stopped here during his State visit in March 2019, and initiated a conservation programme in collaboration with French academics.

Today we will visit this group of churches, under the attentive guidance of your French-speaking guide who will show you the best details of the rocks and paintings.

Night at Cliff Edge (Lalibela)

Breakfast (at the hotel), lunch (in town) and dinner (at the hotel) included.

Day 9 : Addis-Abeba

Beta Mariam (l'église de Marie) à Lalibela. ©TRINITY

Everything comes to an end... even the most beautiful journey.

As Lalibela is located two days' drive from the Ethiopian capital, we prefer a mid-morning domestic flight (ET 126, 10am > 11am).

Addis Ababa was founded at the end of the 19th century, when Queen Taitu, wife of King Menelik, saw a green valley from her palace at the top of Entoto hill; Addis Ababa means "New Flower" in the official language of Ethiopia, Amharic.

On landing, we will start a short tour of Addis Ababa if you wish: a visit to either the National Museum (where Lucy is), the Ethnographic Museum in the former palace of Negus Haile Selassie (now located in the heart of the university), or a drive to the Entoto Hill viewpoint overlooking Addis, where King Menelik's Palace is located.

This indicative programme is subject to change: depending on your wishes and your state of fatigue, we can arrange a souvenir shopping session, and/or take you to a courtesy room to refresh you and reorganize your luggage.

A colourful farewell dinner with your English speaking guide and a member of the Monpays Tours office will be a wonderful farewell to the Horn of Africa, where we hope to see you again very soon.

Courtesy Room in Addis Ababa

Breakfast (at the hotel), lunch (in town) and farewell dinner and show included.

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