For many people, the most vivid impressions of Ethiopia are still those harrowing news reports of the terrible famines in the 1980s and the unforgettable Band Aid concert that followed. Needless to say, Ethiopia still has its challenges but the country is filled with cultural treasures, incredible natural beauty and the most delightful people. Ethiopia is unique on so many levels and not least because they work to a 13-month calendar – and thereby are currently in 2009. Not only is the Ethiopian calendar different but so are their clocks, and, some might say quite sensibly, they start their day at sunrise. This means when the sun rises, it is one o’clock and when the sun sets it is 12 o’clock; it’s all very logical, albeit quite unnerving when trying to keep to appointments.
Having been fortunate enough to travel around Ethiopia I was keen to create a tour which customers could undertake and experience for themselves. Tourism in Ethiopia is still in its infancy and when creating the tour it was important to me that our groups were not too overwhelming for the local people, but at the same time had the chance to interact with them. Considering this, our Ethiopia tours will have a limited group size of just 16, ensuring travellers get a genuine and immersive experience of this fascinating country.
Our tour starts in the capital, Addis Ababa where we visit the National Museum to see Dinknesh, the fossilised remains of our early human ancestors dating back some 3.2 million years. Lake Tana, one of the sources of the River Nile, is our next stop. Here we will be able to cruise on the lake and see an abundance of birdlife along with hippos and crocodiles. Whilst on Lake Tana we’ll discover the impressive island monasteries which are adorned with colourful images from the Bible, and which to me almost look like a cartoon strip, even though they date back to the 14th century. There will also be time downriver from Lake Tana with an included visit to the Blue Nile Falls. Nature lovers will adore our next location, the Simien Mountains, featuring one of Africa’s highest points after Mt. Kilimanjaro. Whilst in the Simien Mountains we have organised a walking tour with a professional ranger to see the unique wildlife this region has to offer along with the jaw-dropping vistas and dramatic canyons. There will also be an opportunity here to sit amongst the Bleeding Heart Baboons which are indigenous to these mountains.
Our tour snakes its way down from the Simien Mountains to the medieval town of Gondar where it’s easy to imagine that you have travelled back in time with its imposing medieval castles and forts. Coffee is extremely important to the Ethiopian people and therefore we have included a coffee-making ceremony in Gondar. The tour also holds an element of mystery with a visit to Axum, in the north of Ethiopia, said to be the home of the Ark of the Covenant. Sadly it’s unlikely you will get to see this spiritual artefact as it’s fiercely guarded by priests and I’m sure they growled at me when I got within 50 meters of them. Don’t be too disappointed however, as whilst in Axum we will visit the Queen of Sheba’s palace and the ancient stele (obelisk) fields.
The final chapter of this tour, which I’m sure will be the highlight for most travellers, is Lalibela, with its collection of 11 intricate rock-hewn churches dating back to the 12th century. These incredible Christian churches were believed to have been created by King Lalibela as a New Jerusalem following the Muslim conquest which halted all Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. This site is extremely moving and to this day it’s a pilgrimage site for many Christians. Whilst in Lalibela we have also included a visit to a local home to see how they cook their traditional cuisine.
There are two aspects of Ethiopia which I have not touched upon above and these are the people and the birdlife. Firstly the people of Ethiopia are some of the most hospitable and friendly I have ever had the pleasure of encountering and it’s worth visiting for them alone. If, however, you favour our feathered friends then the birdlife of Ethiopia certainly won’t disappoint; I was staggered by the vast variety and abundance of species to be found in nearly every part of this magical land.
Ethiopia has certainly made an impression on me and I hope that our new tour will give you the opportunity to experience this impressive country for yourselves.