A three-week stay is ideal for visiting northern Ethiopia. First of all because the history is rich, from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, there are many sites: Aksum, Tigray, Bahar Dar, Lalibela and Gondar... And because the geography is varied, from the Danakil desert to the Simiens mountains, passing through the altiplano of Addis Ababa, the capital at an altitude of 2,500 m.
The Ethnological Museum provides a very good overview of the cultural reality of contemporary Ethiopia. You can eat at his restaurant Lucy's, delicious. An escapade to Entoto Hill allows you to discover one of Menelik II's first palaces and have a panoramic view of the Ethiopian capital.
Early in the morning we take an Addis-Lalibela flight. Arrival at the hotel and departure for the visit of the Estifanos monastery on the shores of Lake Hayq, or some churches around the city. The bravest can go to the Yemrehanna Kristos church near Bilbila, one of the most surprising in terms of its decoration.
It takes a good day to take the time to visit and immerse itself from the faith of the eleven incredible churches dug in the rock of Lalibela, also known as the new Jerusalem. We advise you to visit the northern group in the morning, the most spectacular, and the south group in the afternoon.
We recommend a magnificent road trip to reach Mékélé, the capital of Tigray, from Lalibela, through a long road in the middle of the Ethiopian plateaus. Take a break in Sekota, a village where the beautiful Recorded Meskal Kristos recorded church is located. On arrival in the afternoon: walk in the city of Mékélé and visit the palace of Johannès IV.
Departure very early in 4 x 4 from Mékélé following a descent from the altiplano to the arid plains at the gates of the desert. Stop in the village of Berta Aventura for lunch, then road trip through the desert, with breaks in Afar nomadic camps. At sunset, departure for 3 h from hiking to volcano. Bivouac at the foot of the crater to the beautiful star.
New departure by 4x4 early in the morning, this time to Lake Assal and the Dalol Depression. The road is long, we cross the caravans of hundreds of camels leaving from Lake Assal loaded with salt blocks. Photos on the shores of Lake Assal. Night in Hamed Ela, an Afar village at the end of the world, where the conditions are really extreme
In the morning: departure for the depression of Danakil, this geological formation unique in the world, almost Martian, where the rock in creation forms pallets of improbable colors of green, blue, ochre, yellow and white. Visit of salt mountain and open salt mine, where for 2000 years men have manually sawing salt blocks. Return to Hamed Ela and night on the spot.
The journey is trying at this stage, without shower or electricity. You leave early in the morning in a 4x4 to cross the desert and return to the Tigray region. Stop for lunch in an Afar village, and in Berta Alé again to drink - finally! - an ice drink. Return to Mékélé around 4pm after a winding road, back to the freshness of the altiplano
Visit of some churches in Tigray, some of which are accessible and some more spectacular, isolated on their rocky spur. We advise Celles Tsion and Abouna Yemata on the first day, if you are a minimum sport and not subject to vertigo. Night in Wikro or Hausien.
Many spectacular churches in the region, but for this second day don't miss those of Mariam Korkor and Abouna Daniel, among the most incredible, carved into the rock and rarely visited for thousands of years. Then go by 4x4 to Adigrat, night of rest before taking the road that will take you to Aksum the next morning
Drive to Aksum, with an excursion on the way to Debre Damo Monastery, one of the most impressive in the country (but forbidden to women), and to the Temple of Jeha, the oldest building in Ethiopia. The journey through mountainous tracks with visits takes a full day. Arrival in Aksum, discovery of the lively city in tuk-tuk.
Visit Aksum, the northernmost city on the Somali border. Its majestic erected stelae are from a pagan era of which little is known today. You can visit royal tombs, the ruins of the Queen of Sheba's palace and churches, as everywhere. Flight to Gondar at the end of the day, overnight stay on site.
Gondar: visit the fortified complex of the city's six castles, capital of Ethiopian rulers from the 17th to the 19th century, and the unmissable Debre Birhan Selassie church. A stroll through the city, quite developed and dynamic. Rest in preparation for the trek in the Simien the next morning very early.
Early morning departure by 4x4 to Debark, a town located at the entrance to the Simien National Park, where you will have to take care of the administrative formalities and have lunch on site. Ascent by 4x4 to the Simien lodge, located at an altitude of 3,500 m. Dinner, walk in the pretty surroundings of the lodge and overnight on site
You leave early on an excursion with guides, mules, tent, sleeping bag, food, etc., to trek to the second base camp of the Simien ascent, the Sankaber Camp. On the way, you will meet gelada baboons with impeccable blond brushing, and some mountain ibex, the local chamois. Overnight in a bivouac
A new start this time in less oxygenated conditions, you have to go slowly to climb the mountain. You meet many farmers who live in these extreme conditions. Arrival at the last base camp, the Gish camp, at an altitude of 4,200 metres where you can rest after lunch. Stroll in the surroundings to observe the fauna and flora
Last trek to the top of the Bwahit at 4,200 meters, from where the view is necessarily very spectacular. Oxygen is scarce! Return to the base camp where a 4x4 in charge of all business awaits you to return to Gondar. A well-deserved night's rest after a long half-day of 4x4 driving home
Drive towards Bahar Dar, take half a day in 4 x 4. On the way, admire the beautiful landscapes around Lake Tana. Afternoon: walk in the pleasant city of pleasure on the edge of the lake, shopping shopping of the region, well deserved rest and dinner in a good restaurant in the center.
Take a day to carry out excursions on the monasteries of Lake Tana and visit the beautiful churches that are built there, some of which have the finest frescoes of the country. Return to Bahar Dar late afternoon and plane for Addis Ababa. Arrival at the hotel and exit in a good restaurant in the capital.
Take advantage of being in the capital to visit the lively and popular market districts in the hypercentre, and go shopping. Traditional fabrics, silver jewellery, crafts... You will find all kinds of gifts to bring back. Go out in the evening to an ethiojazz or traditional Ethiopian music and dance club
Enjoy a last half day to visit the places of the capital that you haven't had the opportunity to discover. Return to Paris by plane from Bollé airport.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette