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2018 Ethiopian Highlands and Holy Sites

Key Information

Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Duration: 7 Days
Places: 10

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Gelada Baboons in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia


Ethiopia’s highlands embrace the central part of the country like a necklace.  The incredible Simien Mountains are home to some of Africa’s rarest wildlife including the Walia Ibex, Simien (or Ethiopian) Wolf and the gentle, vegetarian Gelada Baboons.  It is a high altitude wonderland filled with incredible wildlife, soaring cliffs, tussock grasses and stands of iconic Mountain Lobelias.  While we explore the dramatic scenery of the Simien Mountains, we will also be looking for numerous birds of prey species, Thick-billed Ravens and for Wattled Ibis, a high altitude Ibis that is endemic to Ethiopia.

A highlight of the Simien is undoubtedly the encounters we hope to have with Gelada Baboons.  These gentle apes are vegetarian and they are usually quite accustomed to visiting photographers.  If we find a troupe, we may simply sit or slowly walk with them as they move along a field to graze on grasses and shrubs, while baby Baboons play near our feet.   As the sun goes lower in the sky we will search for them on the cliff edges as they return to their cliff nests to sleep after a day of grazing on the plateau.

After Simien we will drive to the lively town of Gondar which served as the former capital of the Ethiopian empire.  The city holds the remains of the Fasil Ghebbi, or Royal Enclosure, a walled stone fortress with numerous buildings connected by grassy paths.  Founded by Emperor Fasilides, the Fasilides castle is the core building in this complex and it is accessed by an ancient stone staircase which leads you to a number of very grand rooms that open on to a balcony where the emperor used to address the Ethiopian people.

The rock hewn churches of Lalibela are some of the holiest sites in all of Africa.  Lying on a hill that is surrounded by the town of the same name, the group of churches at Lalibela are presided over by a number of priests who host numerous pilgrims and visitors to these churches each year.  Exploring the labyrinth of hand carved rock tunnels at Lalibela is an absolute highlight of any trip to Ethiopia.

We will visit each of the eleven churches in the complex and conclude one of our days in the famous Biete Giyorgis, or the Church of St George, to watch the sunset.

A highlight of our journey to Lalibela will include a relatively easy trek to the hill behind the town to visit the spectacular monastery of Asheten Maryam.  The views from Asheten Maryam are so incredibly beautiful.  There is quite literally a 270 degree view of the countryside surrounding Lalibela from up there.  While the monastery itself is tiny, it is home to some fascinating biblical scriptures including ornamental bibles, scrolls and books.

Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1978, Lalibela is a beautiful destination for photography and the ideal place to end our photography tour in the highlands.

Portrait of an Ethiopian Wolf in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia



We start the tour with an early transfer to Addis Ababa airport for the flight to Gondar.  On arrival we leave directly for the World heritage site of Simien Mountains National Park. The drive between Gondar and Debark is very scenic, particularly at Kosoye some 32km north of Gondar, where Queen Elizabeth II of England camped in 1965 while driving between Gondar and Axum. We will collect park scouts, permits and local guides at the headquarter located in Debark, and continue drive to Simien Lodge to stay two nights. Created by massive erosion, Simien Mountains is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world: jagged mountain peaks with many peaks over 4000 meters, deep valleys and 1,500 meter sheer precipices. The park is home to the highest peak in the country, Ras Dashen which is 4543 metres above sea level. The Simien Mountains is also the refuge of the extremely rare Ethiopian wolf, Gelada baboon and Walia ibex, a wild goat unique to Ethiopia. It is also home to endemic birds such as the Thick billed Raven and Wattled Ibis. In addition to its wonderful scenery, the park is also famous for its Afromontane forest, Hypericum woodland, Afromontane grassland and Afro-alpine moorland dominated by Giant Lobelia, Red Hot Pokers, tree heathers, giant St. John’s Wort and African rose.

After we stop for lunch at the Lodge, we will  make our first light walk along the scenic escarpment to spot the endemic Gelada Baboons. Nicknamed  “bleeding heart baboon” and “lion-monkey”, Geladas are peculiar to Ethiopia, mainly to Simein Mountains. Geladas are mainly vegetarian, living on herbs, grasses and roots, but they also eat insects and locusts. Geladas live along the rim and steep slopes of the escarpment, which are their refuge when danger threatens.

Overnight:  Simien Lodge


After an early breakfast we will leave the lodge for Chenek with a picnic to spot the endemic Walia Ibex. We may have a chance to spot klipspringer, Menelik Bushbuck, Bush Duiker, and raptors including the magnificent Lammergeyer or Bearded Vulture. We will have more chance of spotting the Gelada baboons both in the morning and late afternoon.

Overnight:  Simien Lodge


On our last morning in the Simien Mountains, we will spend a part of it with the Geladas bewfore leaving the mountains for Gondar.  Arriving at Gondar we will check into Goha Hotel. After lunch we will visit the Imperial castles and Debre Birhan Silassie church. Officially founded by Emperor Fasiledes in 1636 as a third permanent capital city of Ethiopia, Gondar was and is notable for its most impressive Imperial Castles and churches. The dramatic castles built over a period of more than 150 years reveals the influence of Axumite, Indian, Portuguese and Moorish architecture in Ethiopia. The church of Debre Berhan Selassie, famous for the mural paintings on the ceiling, which according to legend was saved by a swarm of bees when the Mahadist soldiers sacked and burnt down the city in the 1880’s heralds the religious art of the Gonderine period.

Overnight:  Goha Hotel

The fortress of Gonder, Ethiopia


After breakfast we will transfer to the airport for the 25 minutes flight to Lalibela. Often described as the Second Jerusalem and African Petra, Lalibela is the museum of rock-hewn churches built in the 12th century. Founded at the center of the Lasta mountain chain, Roha, the historic name of Lalibela, was a site of the Zagwe dynasty, of the Agew people. The 11 churches are divided into First Group, Second Group and a separate Church, St. George using Jordan River as a dividing line. It is estimated that the churches took 23 years to construct. After lunch, we will visit the First group of churches and the traditional Tukul houses that surround them.

Overnight:  Cliff Edge Hotel

The Priests of Lalibela in Ethiopia


After breakfast we will drive to the church of Asheten Maryam situated on the very top of the mountain above Lalibela with a terrific view of the surrounding countryside and the town. The monastery is simple in the eyes of Lalibela churches but there is an opportunity to experience rural life and the scenic landscape on this walk. Descending from the mountain we will be back in Lalibela for lunch at the hotel.  Afternoon, continue visiting the econd group of churches including the dark tunnels that connect them.

Overnight:  Cliff Edge Hotel


Morning short excursion to the built up cave monastery of Nakuto Le’Ab. Here we will enjoy the calm atmosphere and the priceless heritage of Lalibela including processional crosses, historical parchments and other ecclesiastical objects. We will then return to Lalibela for an early lunch and proceed onto the famous monastery of Yimrehane Kirestos. The monastery was built inside a huge natural cave using the Axumite architectural style by King Yimrehane Kirestos, one of the four saintly canonized kings of the Zagwe Dynasty.

Overnight:  Cliff Edge Hotel


Flight from Lalibela to Ethiopia to conclude the photo tour.


Accommodation on the tour will be in lodges and hotels.  Transport will be undertaken by Coaster buses.


Most of the walks on this tour are relatively easy and short, with the exception of the hike to Asheten Maryam which is easy, yet it takes about an hour in each direction, depending on stops for photography.


The highlands of Ethiopia enjoy pleasant daytime temperatures of around 20C but at night the temperatures can drop well below zero.


For the wildlife of the Simien Mountains you may require a travel lens like the Canon 24-105mm but any zoom or prime lens with a focal length between 100-600mm is fine. (If your budget does not run to prime lenses, a high quality 100-400mm or similar zoom can be a great alternative.) Alternatively, you can get wonderful results with a high quality digital compact camera with a 20x or higher optical zoom.

For landscape and night photography we suggest you bring a wide angle lens from 10mm upwards.

For the priests of Lalibela you may wish to have either a wide angle lens, point and shoot camera, a standard zoom i.e. 24-105mm or even iphones and ipads!

If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact us.

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