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Ethiopia - Timkat, Simien Mountains & Danakil Depression

from £3999
Magnificent views in the Simien Mountains, colourful Timkat Festival, rock churches and Mother Nature's greatest handiwork - the Danakil Depression.
  • Product Code 48465
  • Holiday Type Pioneer Holidays, Sightseeing And Walking Holidays, Experiential Holidays, New Holidays
  • Grade

    Grades 1, 2 & 3 - Leisurely grades

    Grades 4, 5 & 6 - Moderate grades

    Grades 7, 8 & 9 - Challenging grades

    Grade 6
  • Holiday Duration 20 Nights

A visit to Ethiopia unveils so many contrasting experiences. From the Roof of Africa in the Simien Mountains to the Danakil Depression, from the rock-hewn churches to the centuries-old Ethiopia coffee ceremony, from Gelada monkeys to a visit to the earliest human, the country’s epic landscapes, culture and rich history make every day one to savour.

We begin our adventure in the bustling city of Addis Ababa. We then fly to Bahir Dar and explore Lake Tana and its centuries-old monasteries. Here we also see hippos, visit the Blue Nile Falls, and discover Gondar, known as the Camelot of Africa, with its castle and stone churches.

We spend four days hiking and camping in the Simien Mountains which give the Grand Canyon a serious run for its money. We encounter Mother Nature’s finest work and spot Gelada monkeys as you leave civilisation behind. Delve into religious history in Axum and get amongst rock churches in Lalibela.

This departure coincides with Timkat Festival. Timkat, which means ‘baptism’ in Amharic, is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church's celebration of Epiphany, which represents the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The Timkat celebration in Gondar is considered the most colourful and vibrant festival in Ethiopia.

Finish the tour with a visit to what feels like the end of the world in the Danakil Depression; one of the hottest places on earth. Stand metres away from a spitting volcano, admire cascading salt formations washed in the most striking colours, and observe camel trains passing through the salt pans. Whilst a trip to the Danakil Depression is extremely basic and not for a traveller seeking comfort, it is an experience absolutely not to be missed.

Holiday Highlights

  • Simien Mountains – experience dramatic scenery and some of Africa’s finest walking
  • Visit the Danakil Depression for out-of-this-world views and experiences
  • Attend the largest and most colourful festival in Ethiopia - Timkat
  • Discover rock churches and religious architecture
  • Spot Gelada monkeys, hamadryas baboon, hyena and jackal
The holiday inclusions and exclusions at a glance
What's included in this holiday Items that are covered in the cost of holiday price.

      Flights from London Heathrow to Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines)
      Internal flights and airport transfers
      Fourteen nights in en suite hotel accommodation
      Three nights fully supported tented accommodation (four season sleeping bag recommended)
      Two nights basic wild camp nights (no facilities)
      16 breakfasts, 9 lunch and 17 dinners
      English speaking local guide
      All local transport costs
Whats not included in this holiday Items that are not covered in the cost of holiday price.

  • Entrance fees to some museums and historic buildings (unless otherwise specified)
  • Personal expenses (such as your bar bill)
  • Discretionary tips
  • Optional excursions
  • Insurance
Please select Departure Date to view:

Please see Holiday Information Sheet for this holidays individual departures itinerary (located under View Departures & Book tab)

Whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the outlined itinerary and advertised programme, local conditions can change due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. This may mean that routes and timings need to be amended or the order of days may change, sometimes at short notice.

This departure: Grade 6/SS

  1. Day 1

    We depart from London on our overnight flight with Ethiopian Airlines. If you are booking your own flight, it is important to fly internationally with Ethiopian Airlines otherwise you will be charged a supplement for internal flights locally.

  2. Day 2

    After an early morning arrival into Addis Ababa (2400 metres above sea level), our local guide will transfer us to the hotel. The rest of the morning is free to wash, sleep and enjoy breakfast. Addis Ababa is the gateway to the rest of the country. Visitors sometimes bypass the contradictions of this complex city but we know where to go and its attractions set the scene for modern Ethiopia, before we explore the older parts.

    This afternoon we’ll visit the Ethnological Museum, set within Emperor Haile Selassie’s former palace and surrounded by the beautiful gardens and fountains of the university's main campus. The museum has a wealth of fascinating displays which delve into the culture and customs of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups and tribes. The city is infamous for its heavy traffic problems so expect to travel to a cacophony of horns and brightly coloured cars.

    Accommodation: Addis Regency Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast and dinner

  3. Day 3

    We drive out of the city for an hour, following the snaking road towards Mount Entoto (2600-3100 metres above sea level), the highest peak of the Entoto Mountains where we are rewarded with panoramic views over Addis Ababa. This historic area was where Emperor Menelik II resided before founding Addis Ababa and we’ll visit the old palace. Jumping at the chance to stretch our legs, we enjoy a leisurely 20-minute walk down the mountain through eucalyptus trees.

    In the afternoon, we enjoy a guided sightseeing tour of the National Museum of Ethiopia, home to the remains of ‘Lucy’, Ethiopia's most famous ancestor who roamed this country some 3.2 million years ago. The museum helps put into perspective the importance of Ethiopia’s history.

    Our introduction into Ethiopia's heritage continues with a guided visit to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, one of the most important places of worship in Ethiopia and home to the remains of the last emperor, Haile Selassie.

    Accommodation: Addis Regency Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast and dinner

  4. Day 4

    This morning we fly to Bahir Dar where we enjoy a one hour walk around a section of Lake Tana. This is the largest lake in Ethiopia, located in a depression of the northwest plateau, 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) above sea level.

    We then set sail across Lake Tana to explore the remote islands, visit some of the regions famous churches and monasteries and hopefully encounter some of the lake’s famous hippos! We’ll visit Ura Kidane Mehret, arguably the most beautiful church in the Tana region where we have approximately 30-40 minutes’ walk time. This monastery dates to the 14th century and its inner walls are covered with hundreds of restored paintings that depict every face of Ethiopian ecclesiastical life.

    In the afternoon you can choose to do an optional excursion to the Blue Nile Falls. This is one of Ethiopia’s most popular attractions and you’ll understand why when you stand beneath the 42m-high cliff, watching the water cascade over it. There is a short walk to the waterfall and back along uneven surfaces, and down to the waterfall itself. Worth noting that the journey will take approximately 1 hour each way along an extremely bumpy road; it is not for the faint hearted but the view at the end is worth it. It will be a long day for anyone opting to do both activities. Anyone choosing to stay behind will enjoy free time.

    Accommodation: Homeland Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast and dinner

  5. Day 5 to 6

    Departing Bahir Dar, we drive approximately four hours north to Gondar, the former capital of Ethiopia. Our hotel is perfectly positioned on a cliff top with wonderful views looking over the city.

    Timkat is the most important day in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar and on arrival, we visit the Timket procession in the evening, a precursor to the main event the following morning. On day 6, we rise early to join in the Timkat festivities. We link in with the crowds at Facilides baths whose water has been blessed by priests, and by the side of which the Talbot (replica of the Arc of the Covenant) has spent the night. Younger males dive into the water to symbolise the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. Later a procession chanting and singing walks the Talbot back to the church. The Timkat Festival has been described by some as one of the greatest festivals in the world.

    Later this day we head out on a guided tour to explore castles, built in the 17th and 18th centuries by several generations of Ethiopian kings. Please note the itinerary for days 5 and 6 may change swap around due to local conditions.

    Accommodation: Gondar Hills Resort

    Meals: Breakfast and hotel dinner

  6. Day 7

    Leaving city life behind, we transfer by road (3 hours approx.) to the remote Simien Mountains National Park for breath-taking views that give the Grand Canyon a run for its money. Known as the ‘Roof of Africa’, the park is home to some rare species, many of which we will hopefully spot during our time walking in the mountains.

    On arrival in Debark (3250 metres above sea level), we’ll begin trekking to our first overnight at Sankaber Camp. While hiking through the national park, we may encounter Simien Fox (the Ethiopian Wolf) in the shadow of the Ras Dashen mountain, the highest in Ethiopia.

    This evening will be the first of our three nights camping in the Simien Mountains. Most equipment is provided and transported for you each night, plus camp will be set up and taken down for you. The exception being a day pack and trekking poles which you will carry yourself. Please note that temperatures drop at night so you will need to bring warm clothing and a four-season sleeping bag.

    Accommodation: Wild camping (basic in nature)

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    Distance: 9 kms / 5.6 miles

    Duration: 4 hours

    Total ascent: 320m

    Total descent: 320m

  7. Day 8

    Today will be our first full day trekking in the Simien Mountains. Along the scenic route to our next camp, we’ll stop and enjoy the incredible Jinbar Waterfall as it cascades down a sheer cliff on the other side of the valley. Throughout the day we will slowly gain in altitude, stopping along the way to take in the majestic views and catch our breath.  Keep your eyes out for Gelada monkeys which are commonly spotted along the way.

    Life in camp is simple and relaxing. We will stay in designated campsites, but services range from basic, to non-existent. This is one of the realities of hiking in such a remote corner of the world, but it enables us to achieve such magnificent views. Meals are cooked for you allowing you free time to stroll or simply relax and admire the views.

    Accommodation: Wild camping (basic in nature)

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    Distance: 12 Kms / 7.45 miles

    Duration: 7 hours

    Total ascent: 350m

    Total descent: 250m

  8. Day 9

    After breakfast we’ll head out for another incredible full day of walking as we make our way to Chennek, our final camp. The trek today takes in one of the finest walks in the Simien Mountains, the view from Imet Gogo point is considered the best view of the Simien range. We should have a good chance of Gelada monkey viewing today.

    Accommodation: Wild camping (basic in nature)

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    Distance: 13 Kms / 8 miles

    Duration: 7 hrs

    Total ascent: 650m

    Total descent: 570m

  9. Day 10

    Today we’ll have an exhilarating trek from Chennek Camp to Mount Bwahit, where we are rewarded with yet more spectacular views before boarding the coach back to Gondar (3 hours). We’ll return to our hotel in Gondar for a relaxing evening and enjoy dinner together in one of our favourite restaurants in Ethiopia – The Four Sisters Restaurant.

    Accommodation: Gondar Hills Resort

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    Distance: 5 kms / 3.1 miles

    Duration: 5 hours

    Total ascent: 830m

    Total descent: 830m

  10. Day 11

    We fly to the ancient city of Axum for two nights and visit the famous monolithic stelae of Axum; the tallest remaining one is over 21 metres and the greatest one of them all, once 34 metres high, now lies toppled on the ground.  The subterranean tombs, stone inscriptions of ancient Axumite kings, plus a small archaeological museum, are living witness to its ancient Axumite history.

    In the afternoon we’ll visit the ruins at Dungur, as well as the Palace of the Queen of Sheba, who is said to have given birth to Menelik the First, fathered by King Solomon, the founder of Ethiopia's ruling family until the late Emperor Haile Selassie.

    Accommodation: Sabean Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner 

  11. Day 12

    In the morning, we’ll drive to Yeha through the spectacular Adwa Mountains where we visit the Pre-Christian Great Temple of Yeha from around 700BC, the oldest standing structure in Ethiopia. The Temple of Yeha consists of large smoothly polished stone blocks, some as much as three metres long, neatly placed one above the other, without using any mortar. The roof and one side of the wall are missing but several square holes in the remaining walls indicate where a partition, probably of wood, once stood

    Axum is the origin of Christianity in Ethiopia and claims to house the original Ark of the Covenant. In the afternoon we will visit the old church of Our Lady Mary of Zion - the first church to be built in Sub-Saharan Africa around 30CE. We then have a free afternoon so everyone can enjoy Axum at their own pace.

    Accommodation: Sabean Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast, dinner

  12. Day 13

    A short 30-minute flight takes us from Axum to Lalibela. As we have a guided tour tomorrow, today is either a free day or our tour leader will take the group on a walk into the mountains for views back across Lalibela. The duration will change depending on conditions.

    Accommodation: Harbe hotel

    Meals: Breakfast, dinner

  13. Day 14

    Today we’ll enjoy a full day exploring Lalibela’s famous rock-hewn churches, designated one of UNESCO’s original 12 World Heritage Sites in 1978.

    We begin by exploring the northern group containing seven churches, a tomb, a chapel and a sunken chapel. At the centre of the group is Bet Medhane Alem, measuring 33.5 metres by 23.5 metres and said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world. A tunnel connects three of the churches in a courtyard to the east, whilst another tunnel connects two other churches to the west of Bet Medhane Alem. However, it is the Church of Saint George, carved in the form of a Greek cross and lying slightly apart from the main northern cluster, that is the most famous.

    In the afternoon, we will visit the eastern group of five churches. Here is Bet Abba Libanos, unique among Lalibela’s churches because the roof and floor remains attached to the strata rock.

    Accommodation: Harbe hotel

    Meals: Breakfast, dinner

  14. Day 15

    Today we’ll transfer from Addis Ababa to Mekele, the transfer will take nine hours by road but the experience awaiting us will be well worth the drive. Please note, the remainder of the tour will be led only by a local guide, not a Ramblers Walking Holidays leader.

    Accommodation: Zemarias Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

  15. Day 16

    In the morning, we’ll leave the comfort of our hotel behind and drive to Erta Ale (180 kms, 5/6 hrs) mostly on Asphalt road and 40 kms on sandy and volcanic lava rock. Upon arrival at the base camp, we start our walk to the Erta Ale Volcano, one of the few volcanoes in the world with an almost persistent lava lake. It is likely that we will begin walking in the evening at dark so you will need a decent torch and pair of walking boots. The ground is extremely rocky and uneven so walking poles are recommended.

    We’ll spend time standing close by to the lava field, watching the molten lava bubbling and boiling in the evening air. This is a true skin-pinching moment. We will camp in the open air tonight on mattresses provided, however using your sleeping bag which will be transported to the peak of Erta Ale for you. Please note, your sleeping conditions are extremely basic and will be without bathroom facilities.

    Accommodation: Basic wild camping

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

    Distance: 9 kms

    Duration: 4 hours

  16. Day 17

    In the morning we’ll descend from Erta Ale volcano, most likely beginning whilst the sky is still dark however, the sky will turn light quickly. The return journey to our base camp should take around four hours. Please note that base camp is extremely basic with no bathroom facilities or running water. Here we will enjoy breakfast before beginning the long drive to our next camp and arriving late afternoon. The camp has no facilities and is extremely basic in nature. There is one sleeping area and other groups who are visiting the Danakil Depression will also be staying nearby. Sleeping arrangements are either on open air straw raised beds, or inside a tent although it can be too hot for a tent at times. Please be aware that the lower accommodation standards, should pale into comparison when you experience the salt pans.

    Then it is only a short drive to Lake Asale where the wide-open spaces of the salt pans await. Here you can observe mirror-image reflections of the clouds against the salty surface, watch as camel caravans return after a day mining salt, and sunset colours as hey light up the sky in this beautiful landscape wilderness.

    Accommodation: Basic wild Camping

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

  17. Day 18

    Following an early breakfast, we drive to Dallol (25 kms), the base of the hill is the lowest place in Ethiopia and one of the hottest places on planet Earth, with an average temperature of 34.4°C. We walk through this dramatic landscape formed by volcanic activity; here sulphur and iron oxide create some of Mother Nature’s greatest work. Unique greens, vivid yellows, browns and orange hues all merge together as though there has been an explosion in a paint shop.

    On our route back, we’ll stop at the salt towers and Atsebo (the salt desert) to watch as local workers cut the salt from the ground, shape into rectangular blocks, and load them onto the camels for the salt caravan trade. We then begin the drive back to Mekele (140 kms, 3/4 hrs), arriving in the late afternoon. Time permitting, we may visit the War Museum before dinner.

    Accommodation: Zemarias Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

  18. Day 19

    We take a flight back to Addis Ababa and visit the oldest coffee shop in Ethiopia, Tomoca. By now, one thing that should have become evident is that Ethiopian’s know how to make a great coffee. In fact, coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the 9th century and cultivated by the Arabs in the 15th century. Tonight we enjoy our final dinner together at a local restaurant.

    Accommodation: Addis Regency Hotel

    Meals: Breakfast, dinner

  19. Day 20

    Today is a free day to relax at the hotel, enjoy last minute shopping, or take the opportunity to explore further throughout Addis Ababa. Whilst we need to check out of our hotel rooms, we have arranged for two-day use rooms to be available for the group, so you are able to shower and store your luggage.

    Late in the evening, we will transfer to the airport for our overnight flight which departs just after just after 01:00.

    Meals: Breakfast

  20. Day 21

    This morning we arrive back into London Heathrow just before 07:00am, with a bag full of memories from our Ethiopian adventure.

Travel Details

  • Return flights from Heathrow to Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines)
  • Arrival transfer by road c.20-30mins
  • Upgrades are available on most flights. For scheduled flights this may be Premium Economy, Business or First Class. Most low-cost carriers also have extra legroom seats.
  • If direct regional flights are not available, we can often offer add-on flights to a London airport at a competitive rate. Please ask us for details and a competitive quote.
  • An Ethiopian eVisa is required prior to arrival.

Trip Map

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Our Accommodation on this holiday

Below is the accommodation featured on this holiday. If you are on a multi-centre holiday, these are highlights of the places where we stay. Please refer to your Holiday Information sheet (which can be found under View Departures & Book), for your departure date and for all your accommodation details.

Addis Regency Hotel

Addis Regency Hotel offers accommodation with a garden and located only a 9-minute walk from the Ethnological Museum. Rooms include a desk, a flat-screen TV, kettle and a private bathroom, and some rooms have mountain views. Buffet breakfast is included and relaxing sun terrace.

Gondar Hills Resort

Located on a mountaintop overlooking the famous Fasil Ghebbi (Royal Enclosure), Gondar Hills Resort combines traditional stonework with a modern stone-and-glass finish. The hotel provides a luxurious experience while exploring Gondar's historic sights. Gondar Hills features 78 en suite rooms and amenities include a swimming pool, restaurant and bar, and incredible views across the city.

Harbe Hotel

Situated deep in the hilly historic area of Lalibela lies the beautiful Harbe Hotel. The hotel is nearby to the historical churches and sites and the Lalibela Airport. Free Wi-Fi is available. Each room is fitted with a reading desk, satellite TV, balcony and en-suite bathrooms. Guests can enjoy their meals at the onsite restaurant with options ranging from local to International cuisine.