Travel Itineraries – Ethiopia
Hey folks, I thought I’d start up a new series of posts on some of my itineraries. Thought it might be useful for anyone planning a trip to various places at the very least, and I could talk about how I went about it and what worked, what didn’t.
My trip to Ethiopia was back in 2009 now, and I had decided to do a ‘Northern Circuit’, probably the most popular Ethiopian Itinerary for travellers coming for the first time. I flew into the capital Addis Ababa with Emirates. The capital is one of the better connected African capitals, and as a city is well worth a few days with museums and monuments aplenty, not to mentioned a chilled vibe and an agreeable climate. At 2800 metres it never gets particularly hot in Addis. I stayed at the worn out but extremely charismatic Ras Hotel which claims to have Nelson Mandela as one of its patrons, albeit a long time ago now!
From Addis it was on to the historical town of Lalibela. By road on a bus we were looking at a good day and a half of travel, but by plane it was less than two hours including a brief stop in Bahir Dar. Ethiopian Airlines are a pretty decent airline and connect almost all the main destinations the visitor would want to go to, and they are well priced to boot.
Lalibela is in a really pretty part of the world, and has seven historic churches to visit strewn across the mountains. A guide is a real must here, and you’ll find getting off the plane you’ll be approached outside the airport, and that you can also organise accommodation there too. Four days in Lalibela is about what you need, it’s a little cooler than Addis, and extremely pleasant. Tuck into the local food as well, the stews are great and injera bread, well, unique. But not in a bad way!
Another flight was in order to spare us another day and half bus journey in Ethiopia. No, I didn’t fly everywhere and this was the last flight taken. This time to ancient city of Gondar. I found this town to be pretty nice again. A tad warmer than Lalibela, but still only low to mid 20s in the day time. It’s a strange sort of long but thin city. There’s plenty to see and do in the area. Gondar has a wonderful old castle, and there are some ‘baths’ nearby which get filled every year for a mass baptism.
Then it was on the rickety old local bus, cheap as chips, and less comfortable. It took a few hours to get up to Debark. In the evening myself and the two friends I was travelling with organised a four day/three night trek into the amazing Simien Mountains. The tourist office there can help anyone out with the long list of things you need to organise including a guide, a scout, a cook, and donkeys of course.
That was an amazing four days and if you like trekking you can’t miss this opportunity in Ethiopia. Back to Debark for one night and south back to Gondar where we spent another night so that we didn’t need to do two bus trips in one day.
Bus down to Bihar Dar, the warmest and lowest place of the circuit at 1,800 metres. Bahir Dar is located on the shores of Lake Tana, which is a great place for a boat ride and to explore the many churches on the lake’s islands. Also not too far from the Blue Nile Falls, which used to be even more impressive before the dam was built. I went there after the dam was built, but was lucky enough to visit at a time when there was a lot of water passing through them.
A four o’clock wake up for a bus ride back to Addis Ababa that got in mid-afternoon. The bus was a ‘VIP’ bus, and wasn’t too bad – I generally found the buses in Ethiopia to be much better than the ones in West Africa, but still not as comfortable as we’d expect here at home or in Europe.
All in all this itinerary had 4 nights in Addis Ababa (two at the start, two at the end), four nights in Lalibela, two nights in Gondar, one night in Debark, three nights trekking, another night in Debark, another night in Gondar and two nights in Bahir Dar. That’s 19 days and 18 nights.
You could go elsewhere obviously, there’s so much to see and do in Ethiopia. With a few more days I would have added Aksum, another ancient city, to my itinerary. I was hoping to go there and have a short sort of day trek in the Simien Mountains but my friends wanted a longer trek and in reflection that was the right call because it was four magical days and one day wouldn’t have done the region any justice.
The south of the country is supposed to be very beautiful, and the east is supposed to be very dry and poor but also some amazing cities and beauty. I hope to get back one day, but I feel that way about so many places. I’ve been permanent at my job now for a month, so in 9 years and 11 months I will have long service leave! Hehehe…
I hope this is useful to anyone planning to head to Ethiopia, or has piqued people’s interest because Ethiopia is an absolutely stunning, friendly and incredibly rewarding place to visit. One of my favourite countries, certainly my favourite country in Africa. May the Journey Never End!