Ethiopia - Addis to Axum

Experience the ancient kingdom of Abyssinia




From $2,580 Land only

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Holiday Overview


  • See the `Smoking Water` of the Blue Nile Falls & Lake Tana
  • The breathtaking Simien Mountains & their endemic Gelada baboons
  • Explore Axum - rumoured resting place of the Ark of the Covenant
  • Visit the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela & the castles of Gondar

North of the pleasant capital of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia can boast a wealth of historical and cultural treasures unlike anything else on Earth. Our 'Northern Circuit' starts out with a short flight to Bahir Dar, where we visit the Blue Nile Falls and take a cruise on Lake Tana. Proceeding to Gondar, we have a day there to explore the Royal Enclosure, and the ruined fairy-tale castles which have earned it the name 'African Camelot'. Heading north-east, we spend time in the Simien Mountains, famous for far-reaching views and for rare wildlife species. Our next port of call is Axum, home to giant engraved obelisks, the Queen of Sheba's palace and the Saint Mary of Zion Church, the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. We have time to check out more of Tigray's amazing rock churches before heading south to Lalibela, a medieval city that ranks amongst the wonders of the world, thanks to its outrageous complex of 12th century rock hewn churches. The landscapes, people and history of northern Ethiopia are a revelation!

Is this holiday for you?

A touring holiday exploring the highlights of Ethiopia. Overall this trip is yellow grade 3. However, there are several long drives and some days where we may clock up considerable walking time as we tour the historic sites. Road conditions can be variable, so you should be prepared for adventurous journeys and occasional delays. In the Simien Mountains we will hike for approximately 3 hours to various viewpoints. You should ensure that you are fit enough for this trip.

Brief Itinerary

View in full
  • Meet at the group hotel in Addis Ababa. A single transfer from Addis Ababa Airport is provided.
  • Transfer to Addis Ababa Airport. Fly to Bahir Dar (1840m). Blue Nile Falls walk.
  • Day boat cruise of Lake Tana’s islands and churches. End at Gondar.
  • Tour the castles and churches of Gondar, including Debre Berhan Selassie Church.
  • Drive to Debark (2700m) market town of the Simien Mountains National Park.
  • Drive to Senkaber for day walk in the Simien Mountains.
  • Drive to the ethnically diverse northern region of Tigray. Afternoon of sightseeing.
  • Day tour of the UNESCO town of Axum. Includes visit to the resting place for the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Explore the Yeha Temple, one of the oldest sights in Ethiopia. Drive onto Hawzeen.
  • A full day to discover the rock-hewn churches of Tigray. Return to Hawzeen.
  • A scenic day of driving through the Ambalage Mountains to Lalibela.
  • A day of exploration in the city once known as ‘New Jerusalem’.
  • Fly to Addis Ababa. Free afternoon with use of hotel day room, then transfer to Addis Ababa Airport.
Sun 17 Jan - Fri 29 Jan Code ATA /01/16/ Adult$2,580 Status Available Book now
Sun 27 Mar - Fri 08 Apr Code ATA /02/16/ Adult$2,580 Status 2 more to guarantee Book now
Sun 23 Oct - Fri 04 Nov Code ATA /03/16/ Adult$2,580 Status Available Book now
Sat 31 Dec - Fri 06 Jan Code ATA /04/16/ Adult$2,580 Status Available Book now
The LAND ONLY dates and prices are for the itinerary joining in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. For clients making their own flight arrangements, Addis Ababa International airport is the most convenient for transfers to the group hotel. Please refer to the 'Joining arrangements & transfers' section in the trip dossier for further details.

Domestic Flight Update
Included in the land only cost are 2 domestic Ethiopian Airlines flights. Please note, clients not travelling with Ethiopian Airlines internationally will incur a surcharge on the domestic flights of approximately £150, which will be confirmed at the time of booking. As this surcharge, imposed by Ethiopian Airlines and is beyond our control we strongly advise travelling with Ethiopian Airlines internationally to avoid any extra charges.

Flights SHOULD NOT be booked until you have received your booking confirmation and the trip is showing 'Guaranteed to Run' or 'Limited'.

BOOK WITH KE CONFIDENCE - No surcharge guarantee*

* Against Land Only services.

Map & Itinerary

The Route

  • point
  • trip direction
  • airport
  • transfer
  • internalflight

Holiday Itinerary

  • Meet at the group hotel in Addis Ababa. A single transfer from Addis Ababa Airport is provided.

    Meet at the group hotel in Addis Ababa. A single timed group transfer is provided in the morning (See Joining arrangements and transfers). KE Land Only package services begin with lunch and afterwards we set off on a city tour which includes its museums, churches and the 'mercato'. Addis’s central produce market is the largest in East Africa and has an array of fascinating goods and colourful people. It is a perfect place for exploration and people watching. At an altitude of over 2200 metres, in the foothills of Mount Entoto, Addis Ababa is one of the highest capital cities in the world. On account of the need to acclimatise, we will take it easy on our first day in the country. Overnight at the group hotel.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals d

  • Transfer to Addis Ababa Airport. Fly to Bahir Dar (1840m). Blue Nile Falls walk.

    Return to the airport for the internal flight to Bahir Dar (1840m) on the shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. We visit the Blue Nile Falls at Tisisat, meaning "smoking water" in Amharic. The spectacular falls are 100m wide and plunge 45m when in full spate ending spray high in the air and forming multi-rainbows. We have a 1 hour round trip walk and cross a 17th century bridge to get a close-up view of the falls. We then return to Bahir Dar for some lunch before heading into the colourful market. Later in the afternoon we drive up Bezawit Hill for impressive views over the town, the Blue Nile, and of Lake Tana with its island monasteries. We aim to get here shortly before sunset to enjoy the magnificent natural light show. Afterwards we return to our hotel for dinner. Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Day boat cruise of Lake Tana’s islands and churches. End at Gondar.

    Today we have a full day of boat cruise on Lake Tana. Along the way we stop to explore some of the 30 islands populated with churches and monasteries, some containing relics and frescos dating from the 16th century. After a day of cruising, we land at Gorgora on the north shore where we meet our vehicle and drive north (35 kilometers/20 miles) to Gondar to check into our hotel.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Tour the castles and churches of Gondar, including Debre Berhan Selassie Church.

    Gondar, founded by Emperor Fasilidas around 1635, has become one of Ethiopia's largest and most impressive cities, with its walled Royal Enclosure which contains several well-preserved and very medieval-looking castles, dating from as early as 1650. The castles are unusual for the Horn Of Africa, deriving their architectural style from the Moors and the Portuguese. Additionally, Gondar has dozens of churches, the most important being Debre Berhan Selassie (Trinity Church of the Mountain of Light), which has an impressive hilltop location. The yellow-robed priest there will explain the story of the many paintings and carvings inside the church…the interior of the church was covered in paintings by a famous artist called Haile Meskel and the famous ceiling is covered with the winged heads of 80 Ethiopian cherubs. Gondar is well-placed, watered by mountain torrents and sitting at an altitude of 2300 metres. There are views from the city which extend across the surrounding farmland back to Lake Tana. This is an historic settlement with an atmosphere of mystery. In the afternoon, we will make a sightseeing tour of Gondar to include a visit to the Royal Enclosure. We spend a second night at the group hotel in Gondar.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Drive to Debark (2700m) market town of the Simien Mountains National Park.

    We now make the highly scenic 2 to 3-hour drive from Gondar to Debark, a small market town at an altitude of 2700 metres with a colourful and busy market. Debark is close to the boundary of the Simien Mountains National Park, which boasts one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world and is listed by the UNESCO as a world heritage Site. Arriving in Debark we check into a basic hotel.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Drive to Senkaber for day walk in the Simien Mountains.

    We start the day with a drive to the town of Sankaber inside the national Park. En route, we pass through the foothills of the Simien Mountains, with carefully tended fields and open pasture with grazing horses, stands of trees and distant rocky peaks. At the high-point of the road, there are superb views across the weirdly eroded foothills of the range. The Simien chain of mountains is the steepest and most precipitous on the continent and is often compared to the Grand Canyon. Its highest peak, Ras Deshen, is 4543m above sea level which makes it the fourth highest mountain in Africa. The area is also famous for being the habitat of three large endemic mammals: Geladas, Ethiopian Wolf and Walia Ibex. From Sankaber we will make a small trek in the company of a park guide who will take us to local viewpoints, and we may also be lucky enough to spot lammergeiers and Gelada Monkeys. Afterwards we return to our basic hotel in Debark.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Drive to the ethnically diverse northern region of Tigray. Afternoon of sightseeing.

    Today we leave the Simiens and drive to Axum. The road snakes down through the Simien foothills on one of the most dramatic roads in Ethiopia losing close to 2000 metres elevation within just a couple of hours. We descend to the Tigray region, the most northerly of the nine ethnic regions of Ethiopia, famous for its rock-hewn churches and continue to the town of Axum, once the capital of a mighty empire that ruled the region from 400 BC to the 10th century. Arriving in Axum after a full day of driving and sightseeing we check into our hotel.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Day tour of the UNESCO town of Axum. Includes visit to the resting place for the Ark of the Covenant.

    Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage, Axum is believed to date back over 2000 years and tradition has it that it was the Queen of Sheba’s own city. We visit the Stelae Park, a collection of giant columns (stelae) each carved from a single piece of granite. The stelae resemble tall, slender, multi storey houses and are totally unique architecture. We will also visit the 17th century church of saint Mary of Zion where the original ark of covenant is said to reside. The archaeological Museum which houses several stones bearing Sabean and Geez inscriptions, as well as many other artefacts is next on the list, and in the afternoon we visit the hill tombs of Kaleb and his son Gebre Meskal, and also Queen of Sheba's palace. After a full day of sightseeing we return to our hotel in Axum.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Explore the Yeha Temple, one of the oldest sights in Ethiopia. Drive onto Hawzeen.

    After breakfast we drive across an arid landscape to visit the Yeha Temple. The town of Yeha is one of the oldest sites in Northern Ethiopia, probably predating Axum by a thousand years. The temple itself now a ruin is certainly the oldest building in Ethiopia. We continue our drive via visits to Adigrat and the rock-hewn Tigray church of Wukro before arriving in the late afternoon at Hawzeen where we check into Gerhalta Lodge. From the lodge we have panoramic views of the stunning rock formation after which it is named. Please note: it is not always possible to confirm rooms at Gerhalta Lodge due to the limited supply. Where we cannot accommodate our groups at Gerhalta Lodge, the closest acceptable accommodation is in the town of Mekele where we will use a hotel.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • A full day to discover the rock-hewn churches of Tigray. Return to Hawzeen.

    We have allowed a full day to explore the fascinating rock-hewn temples and famous Tigray churches of the area. The only way to see these impressive structures or sculptures (depending on your point of view) is on foot and so we have quite a bit of trekking to do today and it can be hot work. At the end of the day we return to Gherhalta Lodge or our Mekele Hotel.

    • Accommodation Lodge

    • Meals bld

  • A scenic day of driving through the Ambalage Mountains to Lalibela.

    We have a long drive toady from Hawzeen to the city of Lalibela with the spectacular Ambalage mountains as a backdrop. Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities and a centre of pilgrimage for much of the country. It was built in the 12th century to be the ‘New Jerusalem’ following the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin, and was laid out to resemble that city. Lalibela is most famous for its rock-hewn churches which like those of Tigray, are literally carved out of the surrounding rock, and which date back to the 12th century. In all there are 11 ‘rock churches’, assembled in four groups. Bete Giyorgis (the Church of Saint George) in the Western group is the best known and most impressive. Described as the eighth wonder of the world the church is carved in the shape of the cross and stands 12m high in a square cut ‘hole’ in the rock outcrop from which it is carved.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • A day of exploration in the city once known as ‘New Jerusalem’.

    It is impossible to see all that Lalibela has to offer in a single day and we have scheduled a second day for sightseeing in and around this fascinating town.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Fly to Addis Ababa. Free afternoon with use of hotel day room, then transfer to Addis Ababa Airport.

    After breakfast, we transfer to the airport and take the short flight back to Addis Ababa where, we have the use of day-rooms at the group hotel. Meals other than breakfast on this day are not included in the trip price to give the group freedom to choose the restaurant for the final dinner. KE Land Only package services end with a single, timed group airport transfer in the evening.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals b

Holiday Information

  • An experienced English-speaking local guide
  • Addis Ababa Airport single timed transfers
  • Internal flights and associated airport transfers
  • All land transport involved in the itinerary
  • All accommodation as described
  • Meals as described in the the Meal Plan
  • Entrance fees and local guides for all mentioned excursions.

  • Travel Insurance
  • Visa
  • Airport transfers other than those described
  • Meals as per the Meal Plan
  • Addis Ababa Departure tax (if applicable)
  • Tips for staff
  • Miscellaneous personal expenses - drinks and souvenirs etc.

During this trip the group will spend 1 night at a tourist class Hotel in Addis Ababa. We also have the use of day-rooms in this hotel during our final day in the capital. In Bahir Dir we have 1 night in a centrally located hotel where rooms are in separate bungalows set in a peaceful garden. In Gondar we stay 2 nights at a tourist class hotel. We stay 2 nights in Debark in a basic hotel (there are few accommodation options here) and 2 nights in Axum in a modern tourist standard hotel. We have 2 nights in the Gheralta Lodge in Hawzeen: please note that it is not always possible to confirm rooms at Gheralta Lodge. When this is not possible, you will be accommodated in a hotel in the town of Mekele. In Lalibela we have 2 nights in a comfortable tourist class hotel close to the town's major sites. It pays to remember that Ethiopia is a developing country and that accommodation can be basic in comparison to European standards. All accommodation is based on twin sharing. If you are travelling by yourself you will be paired up with another single client of the same sex. Depending on availability, it may also be possible to book a single room for the hotel nights. For single supplement please refer to the dates and prices page of the trip on our website. Hotels are subject to availability and prices may vary.

View the gallery below for images of the style of accommodation used

All meals except lunch on day 13 are included in the holiday cost. On this day the group have free time to spend in Addis and the choice of where to take lunch is up to you!

Meals during the trip are provided from breakfast on day 2 to breakfast on Day 13. Breakfasts consist of bread and jam, porridge, omelette or pancake, tea and excellent Ethiopian coffee. Depending on the day’s activity we may eat at a restaurant or have a picnic lunch of sandwiches (cheese, egg or ham) and fresh fruit. Dinner will be a variety of local and international dishes. A local speciality is Injura, a flat bread made from a grain grown in the highlands called Tef. It's served in a big basket, and eaten with an array of different lentil and meat curries.

You must rendezvous with the group at the hotel in Addis Ababa, preferably by lunchtime on Day 1. A single group transfer from the airport is provided and the trip leader or a representative of our local agent will assist with this transfer. The transfer is timed to the arrival of the Ethiopian airlines flight from London Heathrow and will normally depart the airport around 8.30 - 9.00 am. Anyone may use this transfer regardless of flights. If you cannot take advantage of these group transfers, you will need to make your own transfer arrangements at Addis Ababa Airport. Ethiopian Airlines run a free shuttle bus into the city. Metered and fixed-price taxis are also available. At the end of the trip there will be a single group transfer from the group hotel to Addis Ababa Airport in the late evening of the last day of the trip itinerary. Private airport transfers each way can be arranged at an additional cost through the KE office. Clients booking a Land Only Package MUST provide the KE office with full details of their flights. . Hotel contact details and an emergency number will be provided with your booking confirmation.

The group will be accompanied by an experienced English-speaking local guide plus drivers and various local support staff.

Approximately £150 - £200 (or equivalent in Euros or Dollars) should be allowed for miscellaneous expenses. This should be sufficient to cover the non-included meals and staff tips as well as miscellaneous personal spending. If you expect to buy considerable quantities of soft drinks or beer, you should make an allowance for this. It is not necessary to purchase local currency (Ethiopian birr) prior to travel and sterling, euros and US dollars are all readily exchanged in Addis Ababa. We suggest you carry your travel money in the form of cash as it can be difficult to change travellers cheques in Addis Ababa and there are no bank ATMs currently in service. If you are intending to buy expensive souvenirs, you should also budget accordingly. Credit cards can be used to purchase goods and services and it is a good idea to carry one in case of emergency.

Tipping should not be seen as something you have to do but in Ethiopia as in many parts of the world it is an appropriate way of saying thank you for a service well done. For each of your drivers and guides on this trip we would recommend an equivalent of £5 - £10 per day from the group as a whole.

The weight allowance on this trip is governed by the internal flight baggage allowance which is usually 20kg. We ask you to restrict your luggage to one main bag (your KE trek bag) and a small daypack.

All KE clients will receive a FREE KE trek bag.  These have been specially made to stand up to the rigours of adventure travel.  Your KE bag will be posted to you when your trip is guaranteed to run or on receipt of your booking if the trip is already guaranteed.  If you have travelled with us before and already have a KE trek bag you can select an alternative free gift in the booking process.

This holiday involves going to moderately high altitude.  During the course of your trip you will reach altitudes in excess of 2500 metres.  Most people will have no difficulty with this level of altitude but before coming on the holiday, we recommend you read the advice on trekking at high altitude.  You can also talk to one of our trekking experts if you have any concerns about altitude.

The following checklist should help you with your packing. As a general rule, you should always try to keep the weight of your equipment to a minimum.

You must bring the following items:

  • Lightweight boots or strong walking shoes
  • Trainers or sandals
  • Socks
  • Lightweight trousers / pants
  • Warmer trekking trousers / pants
  • Underwear
  • T-shirts
  • Lightweight UV and insect-proof ‘safari’ shirt
  • Warm fleece jacket or jumper
  • Lightweight windproof/waterproof jacket
  • Sunhat
  • Eyewear - sunglasses
  • Daypack c.20 litres – 1200 cu in
  • Head torch (lamp) with spare batteries
  • Sun protection (including for lips)
  • Insect repellent (DEET)
  • Basic First Aid Kit including: A broad spectrum antibiotic, antiseptic cream, throat lozenges, diarrhoea treatment (Imodium), altitude (Diamox), painkillers, plasters (band-aids) and blister treatment, insect repellent, and re-hydration salts (Dioralite). Glucose tablets and multi-vitamin tablets are also a good idea.

The following items are optional:

  • Water bottle 1 litre / 1 quart
  • Washbag and toiletries
  • Antibacterial handwash
  • Small towel
  • Selection of dry bags (to keep trek bag contents dry)
  • Small padlock (to lock your KE trek bag)
  • Travel washing line
  • Spare laces
  • Shorts
  • Swimwear (for hotel pools)
  • Binoculars (for the game drive)
  • Camera with telephoto lens (at least 200mm recommended)
  • Pen-knife
  • Nailbrush
  • Travel clothes

For each holiday there is a minimum number of participants required to enable it to go ahead. Once the minimum number is reached, the trip status will change from 'Available' to 'Guaranteed to run'. You can check the trip status for each departure in ‘Dates and Prices’ table. Other than in exceptional circumstances, we will not cancel a trip once it has achieved this guaranteed to run status and so you are free to proceed with your international flight booking and other travel arrangements.

A passport with 6 months remaining validity at the end of your stay is generally required. The information that we provide is for UK passport holders. Please check the relevant embassy or consulate for other nationalities. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct travel documents and visas for your holiday. Visa requirements and charges are subject to change without notice. If you are travelling outside the EU you should have at least 2 blank pages in your passport.

Visa Ethiopia

UK and USA passport holders do require a visa. The visa fee is $50 and is obtainable on arrival at Addis Ababa Airport and there may be a queue. Payment must be in cash. If you prefer you can obtain your visa prior to departure. Currently passport photos are not required, however we recommend taking along 2 passport photos just in case.

You should contact your GP or travel clinic to check whether you specific require any vaccinations or other preventive measures. You should be up to date with routine courses and boosters as recommended in the UK e.g. diphtheria-tetanus-polio and measles-mumps-rubella), along with hepatitis A and typhoid. A certificate of yellow fever vaccination is required if travelling from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travellers having transited for more than 12 hrs through an airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. On holidays to more remote areas you should also have a dentist check up. A good online resource is Travel Health Pro.

The Ethiopian unit of currency is the Birr.

We recommend you check if you require an adaptor for your electrical items at:

This is not a trekking trip but it makes a lot of sense to spend some time before coming on any adventure holiday getting some additional exercise. The fitter you are, after all, the more enjoyable you will find the experience. Although the walking on this holiday is not difficult, the heat and altitude can make this much harder than the same distances back home. We suggest that you take regular exercise walks in the period leading up to departure, and also try to fit in at least a couple of longer walks (2 – 3 hours) preferably in hilly country.

As a reputable tour operator, KE supports the British Foreign & Commonwealth Offices ‘Know before you go’ campaign to enable British citizens to prepare for their journeys overseas, and we recommend that all KE travellers take a look at the FCO Travel Advice for their chosen destination on the official FCO website: North Americans can also check out the U.S. Department of State website: for essential travel advice and tips.

KE treat the safety and security of all clients as the most important aspect of any trip we organise. We would not run any trip that we did not consider reasonably safe.  Should the FCO advise against travel for any reason, we will contact everyone booked to travel to discuss the situation.  We receive regular updates direct from the FCO and are in constant touch with our contacts on the ground.  If you have any questions about government travel advice, please call our office.

Ethiopia has a wet season from June to September and a dry season for the rest of the year. Following the wet season, the country is lush and green, with lots of flowers and growing crops. Thereafter, the country dries out progressively until the next rains. The climate of the Simien Mountains has been likened to the perfect English summer day with temperatures around 15°C / 59°F to 20°C / 68°F. In the lowlands we will find daytime temperatures of 25°C / 77°F to 35°C / 95°F.

Ethiopia & Eritrea. Lonely Planet Guide to Ethiopia. Phillip Briggs. Ethiopia. The Bradt Travel Guide. Lonely Planet. Trekking in East Africa. In Ethiopia with a Mule. Dervla Murphy The Sign & The Seal. Graham Hancock

ITMB - International Travel Maps. 1;20,000,000

Indexed road map with historical information about the country and a basic plan of Addis Ababa. Contours and altitude colouring show the general relief. Road network includes seasonal tracks and oxcart paths, with intermediate driving distances on main roads. Also indicated are border crossings, bus stations, police, medical facilities, banks, places of interest including the national parks, accommodation (hotels, campsites, rest houses, etc.). Latitude and longitude are marked at intervals of 1°. Map legend is in English.

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