You will witness the festival in Lalibela, the site of the famous rock churches. You will also visit other awe-inspiring historical and spiritual sites, including the castles of Gondar, the source of the Nile, and the sanctuary reputed to hold the Ark of the Covenant. This trip is designed for the experienced and adventuresome traveler. You have to expect the unexpected and be able to revel in it. Parts of the trip will entail long drives over extremely bumpy, muddy, almost non-existent roads and accommodations will be marginal at times. Vehicles may break down or roads may be closed. Each day must be taken on its own terms and enjoyed for the unique experience it offers.
Day 1: Addis Ababa. Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, you will be met and transferred to the Hilton Hotel (or similar). Located in the heart of the city on a 15-acre site, the Hilton is an ideal base for exploring the city. Addis Ababa means “new flower” in Amharic, and it is Ethiopia’s largest city. Sitting at an elevation of about 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level, it enjoys an excellent climate all year. In the evening, you will have a trip orientation.
Day 2: Addis Ababa. This morning, you will take a tour of Haile Selassie’s former palace, which is now the home of the Ethnological Museum. Exhibits here represent the best arts and crafts of the country, and give an in-depth view of the various peoples of Ethiopia. You may also be able to meet with one of the professors from the Ethiopian Studies department who will give you the opportunity to ask questions about what you’ve seen, but this is not guaranteed. Then, visit Ba'ata Church (Menelik’s Mausoleum) one of the oldest churches in Addis. Observe its beautiful paintings and the royal tombs of past emperors.
Finally, visit the National Museum, known to be the best museum in Africa. Here, cultural and archaeological relics, including a plaster cast of "Lucy," the 3.2 million-year-old hominid, are displayed. At the end of the day, you will see the Mercato, which is said to be Africa’s largest open-air market. Rumor has it that you can bargain for anything there, even a new soul! Return to the Hilton Hotel (or similar) for a belated welcome dinner, followed by your overnight. Includes: (B).
Days 3 & 4: Addis Ababa/Lalibela - Timkat. After breakfast, you will head to the airport for your flight to Lalibela. At the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries, King Lalibela organized the construction of a series of rock-hewn churches that are now one of the wonders of the world. The largest, Bete Medani Alem, is 100 feet long, 70 feet wide, 35 feet high, and has walls that are up to six feet thick. You will visit several churches, each one with its unique character. You will overnight for two nights at the Roha Hotel (or similar), which is furnished and decorated with artifacts inspired by the rock-hewn churches.
Your first day in Lalibela is Timkat Eve, so the city will be quite festive and on your second day, the festival will be in full swing. Though it makes for crowded viewing of the rock churches, this inconvenience will be more than compensated for by the opportunity to share in the celebration. Timkat is the most important festival in the Ethiopian calendar. Crowds of revelers, all dressed in white, dance and sing in the streets to the beating of drums. Priests, dressed in jewel encrusted velvet and satin robes, carry a replica of the Arc of the Covenant, known as a talkbot, in a grand procession through the streets. The procession arrives at a water source and events culminate around 2 am when the priests perform mass and and bless the water. A communal baptism follows, with the most fervent Christians throwing themselves fully clothed into the water! Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 5: Gondar. After breakfast, you will fly to Gondar, Ethiopia's royal capital until 1868. Its position at the intersection of several caravan routes made it the perfect location for a capital city. Gondar was previously the home of the Falasha, the "Black Jews" of Ethiopia, most of whom left for Israel in 1991. Founded by Emperor Fassilides in 1635, it has been called the "Camelot of Africa" because of its castles and churches. It is not known for certain who built the castles, but many surmise they are the work of Portuguese craftsmen. The day will be spent touring the fascinating sights for which Gondar is famous. You will explore the Royal Enclosure, which lies in the heart of the city and it is surrounded by high stone walls and Fasiladas’ Palace. From the southwestern corner of the structure, there is a terrific view all the way to Lake Tana! You will also visit the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, famous for its ”winged angel” faces that decorate the entire ceiling. Called the “Trinity at the Mount of Light,” it is one of Ethiopia’s most renowned places to visit. The ceiling and wall paintings depict the life, wit and humanity of Ethiopia. Dinner and overnight at the Hotel Goha (or similar). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 6: Bahir Dar. In the afternoon you will drive to Bahir Dar, which is a pleasant city located 1,800 meters above sea level on the shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia. Out of the 37 islands on Lake Tana, 30 of them have churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest. Dinner and overnight at the Tana Hotel, where you can relax in the pleasant lakeside garden (or similar). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 7: Bahir Dar. In the morning you will visit the Blue Nile Falls, which is known locally as Tissat Falls. This 100 meter wide cascade plunges 45 meters, giving rise to clouds of mist and rainbows. You will have the opportunity to descend to the base of the falls, climb back up the other side, and cross the Nile in a papyrus boat (known locally as Tankwaså ), returning to your point of departure. In the afternoon, you will enjoy a boat trip on Lake Tana. Overnight at the Tana Hotel (or similar). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 8: Bahir Dar - Addis. Today you will fly back to Addis and have the day free for a final exploration of the city, as well as the chance to pick up any last minute souvenirs. This evening, you will have a traditional dinner accompanied by cultural music. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 9: Addis - Langano. If this is your final day in Ethiopia, you will have the day free to explore. Then you will be transferred to the airport at the proper time for your return or onward flight. For those who have selected the Omo Valley Cultural Extension, you will be driven to Langano. Not far from Addis Ababa, this popular holiday resort has a splendid beach dotted with acacia tress and pinkish volcanic water that is ideal for swimming. Overnight at Sabanna Beach Resort (or similar). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 10: Langano - Abraminch. On the road to Abraminch, you will cross fertile land planted with bananas, cereals and tobacco. This area is inhabited by the Dorze people, famous for their textiles and their bamboo “beehive” houses, each surrounded by a small garden. Overnight stay and dinner at the Jinka Resort. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 11: Abraminch. In the morning, you will take a boat trip on lake Chamo, populated with crocodiles and hippos. This afternoon, you will meet the Konso, a people that boast a rich culture and a highly specialized agricultural economy. Their beautifully constructed, buttressed stone terraces have allowed them to carve out a living from the dry and unyielding land around them. You may see totem poles, which are erected on the tombs of their dead. To the southeast of the Konso village are the Borena, who are semi-nomadic shepherds. Their lives revolve around their cattle and they take extraordinary steps to ensure a water supply for them during the dry season. Overnight stay and dinner at the Jinka Resort. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 12: Mursi Tribe. The Omo River Valley is very special, because nowhere else in the world are there so many ethnic groups inhabiting such a small area. During the next couple of days, you will see many of these people - all of whom have their own languages and, for the most part, have few interactions between each other. The Mursi are perhaps the best known of the tribal peoples, due to the many documentaries made about them. They are nomadic pastoralists that move with the season. The most famous Mursi traditions include the lip plates worn by the women and the fierce stick fighting done by the men. Dinner and overnight at the Jinka Resort. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 13: Jinka - Dimeka Market - Turmi. Today, you will visit the colorful Dimeka market that is frequented by the Bena and Hammar people. The Hammar, one of the largest groups in the valley, cultivate millet, vegetables, tobacco and cotton, as well as raise cattle and goats. They are known for the fine pottery they produce and their remarkable hairstyling. Most dramatic of all are the clay hair buns with ostrich feathers that the men don after killing a fierce animal. These buns remain on for 3-6 months at a time! The women wear beaded necklaces and iron coils around their arms and their skin is decorated with cowry shells. These decorations indicate the wealth and prestige of a woman’s husband. Overnight and dinner at Evangadi camp site in Turmi. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 14: Turmi - Karo Tribe - Turmi. The Karo are one of the most endangered tribes, with only about 1,000 people. They inhabit the eastern bank of the Omo. Formerly herders, many of their cattle were wiped out by disease so they have since turned to agriculture. These people are masters at body decorating during festival time. They use chalk to imitate the spotted plumage of the guinea fowl and make unique jewelry from most everything they find! You will also see villages of the Dus, Korcho and Geleb peoples. Dinner and overnight at Evangadi camp site. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 15: Turmi - Omorate - Turmi. Today you will drive to Omorate, a town a few hours north of the Omo valley, to visit the Galab or Dasanech people. Although they originally led an almost totally nomadic lifestyle, the abundant water frontage and fertile soil of their present territory has subsequently led them toward a more diverse agricultural economy. Despite these changes, their nomadic roots are still clearly visible in their traditional villages comprised of small, domed huts, which are reminiscent of the impermanent structures of other nomadic peoples. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 16: Turmi - Abraminch: Heading towards the Rift Valley, you may be lucky enough to see oryx, dik-dik, and lesser kudu. You can also keep an eye out for lesser bustards, secretary birds, and ostriches. After arriving in Abraminch, you will dinner and overnight at a local hotel. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 17: Abraminch - Addis. Today you will fly back to Addis. You will enjoy a farewell dinner tonight, before your departure tomorrow. Overnight in a local hotel. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 18: Addis - Onward. You have this morning free to explore and do some last-minute shopping, before transferring to the airport for your onward flight home. Includes: (B).
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