Day 1: Addis Ababa
You will be met on arrival at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The capital city and the seat of the African Union (AU), Addis Ababa is one of the largest cities in Africa with a population of five million. It is the third highest capital in the world sitting at 8,200 feet. Highlights include the Merkato, one of the largest open-air markets in Africa and the National Museum where the 3.2 million year old “Lucy” hominid skeleton now resides.
2 Nights in Addis Ababa
Take a privately guided city tour of Addis Ababa including visits to Trinity Cathedral, and the National Museum where there are many archaeological and historical findings including the famous complete hominid fossil remain of ‘Lucy.’ After lunch at the Lucy Restaurant at the Museum you can drive through the Merkato open-air market. Later you can visit a workshop to learn more about traditional weaving and designs for cultural cloth.
Day 3: Bahir Dar
Fly to Bahir Dar, a beautiful city on Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. This afternoon you can hike to the viewpoint for the Blue Nile Falls enjoying some great bird watching along the way. Later you can tour the tree lined avenues and the market.
2 Nights in Bahir Dar
Board your private boat on Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake, studded with many islands where you will visit two different monasteries. A short hike through local villages and coffee farms brings you to the monastery of Ura Kidane Mehret, home to collections of crosses and crowns dating back to the 16th century. The magnificent wall murals tell stories of the many Ethiopian saints. The second monastery is, Azwa Maryam, a small and pleasant site with gardens and a humorous young priest.
This afternoon you will visit the unique Awra Amba community founded in 1972 by Zumra Nuru on the principles of gender and social equality, the importance of hard work and the absence of organized religion. Children have access to primary education and community health services are available to all.
Day 5: Gondar
Depart with your guide in a private vehicle to travel to Gondar which sits in the foothills of the Simien Mountains. This was the 17th century royal city of Ethiopia. Stop to tour some of the castles and palaces from those imperial days including the Fasil Ghebbi, a fortress-enclosure, and the Baths of King Fasiledes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by a 300-foot-long wall. The oldest and most impressive structure is the palace of Emperor Fasilidas, constructed of solid basalt stones. And the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie is an impressive and an imposing structure with its harmony of brightly colored ceilings completely covered with intricately painted angels.
Have lunch at the Four Sisters restaurant and stay to learn how the Ethiopian traditional wine called Tej is prepared. This sweet wine, similar to mead, is made from fermented honey and a special kind of hops called gesho. It is traditionally served from a vase-like vessel called a berele.
1 Night in Gondar
Day 6: Lalibela
Rise early for the short flight over the stunning peaks and canyons to Lalibela, one of the most important religious and historical sites in all of Africa. It was created as the ‘new Jerusalem’ by King Lalibela who was exiled in Jerusalem and then returned to Ethiopia in the 12th century. The site features 11 rock-hewn churches which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and most are still in use today. These brilliant feats of engineering and architecture are often referred to as the "eighth wonder of the world".
2 Nights in Lalibela
Today you will see the second group of the Lalibela churches representing the heavenly Jerusalem. In this group are the Bete Gabriel & Raphael, Bete Merquorios, Bete Emmanuel which is architecturally the finest, and Bete Abba Libanos. Finally, visit the most interesting cross-shaped church of Bete Giorgis (St. George), which is said to be the symbolization of Noah’s ark. The cruciform-shaped Bete Giorgis is the finest of all; its interior is dominated by depictions of Saint George killing the dragon.
We can arrange a visit to a local household to experience the unique cuisine and learn about Ethiopian cooking traditions. Ethiopian food is a spicy mix of vegetable and lentil stews and slow-simmered meats. Straddling the Rift Valley of East Africa, Ethiopia has been called the "Land of Bread and Honey."
Day 8: Axum
Fly to Axum, the earliest capital of Ethiopia. Begin your exploration of this historic place, full of ancient relics and mystery with the Archaeological Museum and the Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion. See the famous stele field from the 4th century A.D., featuring more than 120 granite monoliths decorated with symbolic engravings. Nearby are the palace ruins of the legendary Queen of Sheba which date to the 9th century B.C. The story of the Queen of Sheba appears in religious tenets sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. She traveled to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon who was reputed to be a wise man. He taught her about his god and Ethiopians believe that is how Christianity was introduced to their county. She returns home and gives birth to a son who she raises herself. The son returns to meet his father and takes the Ark of the Covenant to Axum where legend has it that it rests here in a guarded chapel on the oldest Christian site in Africa.
1 Night in Axum
Day 9: Hawzen
Depart with your guide in a private vehicle this morning on a scenic drive to Hawzen, stopping at Yeha to see the 8th century B.C. Sabaean temple, thought to be one of Ethiopia’s oldest standing structures. After lunch in Adigrat, visit one of the best preserved rock hewn churches in the Tigray region, which also exhibits some beautiful wall paintings.
2 Nights Gheralta Lodge
There are rock hewn churches to discover, hiking for all levels of interest, or just relaxing at the lodge.
Day 11: Mekele
Depart by road to Mekele with a few stops along the way including the semi-monolithic church of Abrha and Atsbeha, said to be hewn in the 4th century in the time of the twin emperors of Axum, and decorated with mural paintings that describe biblical scenes. You can also visit the church of Wukro Cherkos, located close to the half-Islamic, half-Christian town of Wukro. Built of sandstone the most striking feature is the decorated 15th century pillar depicting pictures of saints and angels.
2 Nights in Mekele
Mekele is the fast growing capital of the Tigray region with a large university and a lively café scene. We can arrange visits to NGOs operating in the area or you can visit the market and the former palace of Emperor Yohannes IV which is now a museum.
Fly back Addis Ababa this morning. Your private guide and vehicle will take you to visit the Ethnological Museum on the main campus of the Addis Ababa University. The collections will give you a historic overview of the cultures and traditions of the people of Ethiopia. After lunch you will check in at a local hotel day room. Tonight you will have dinner at one of the best traditional restaurants of Addis where you will sample a variety of local dishes and be entertained by folkloric dancers. Transfer to the airport in time to check in for your evening departure.