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The ancient history of Ethiopia - also known as Abyssinia will unfold as you make your way to the northernmost parts of this beautiful country.


Day 1 


You will be welcomed by Alligan Travel at Bole International Airport.  We will drive to Bahir Dar via the spectacular Blue Nile Gorge, stopping for lunch on the way.  The drive will take most of the day and so when we arrive in the late afternoon you will probably want to relax at your hotel. 

Day 2  

After breakfast we will take a boat on Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake and the source of the Blue Nile.  The lake has 37 islands, some of which are home to very beautiful traditional Coptic monasteries.  We shall visit some of the monasteries on the islands and shore by boat.  Our local guide will discuss with you the selection of places to visit. We could visit Narga Sellassie (Trinity of the Rest) on Dek Island where tradition says the Arc of the Covenant was kept when Axum was endangered. You may meet one of the hermit priests who live and worship in these churches and spend their whole lives on the islands.  Narga Sellassie is also home to many beautiful murals including one of the Scottish explorers, James Bruce.Ura Kidane Mehret on the Zegie peninsula is a circular mud and straw structure with 12 gigantic wooden doors representing each of the apostles. The 16th-Century house of worship is still used for services today. Interior walls are covered with 450-year-old cotton frescoes painted with images from Christian and other religions.  Here you will see St. George slaying the dragon, the birth of Christ even Mary beating the boy Christ!  

Kebran Gabriel is a traditionally circular construction and is decorated by highly coloured murals – the Devil, serpents, St Paul and a beautiful image of the Archangel Gabriel.   You may also be shown exquisitely illuminated ancient manuscripts.  Only men are allowed in this monastery so you may opt to leave this one out if you so choose.Your guide will be able to discuss the origins of many of these images and you will also learn something of the history of the church.  After a day spent exploring the churches you can retire to your hotel and enjoy a leisurely evening meal made from local produce.

Day 3  

Making an early start, we should arrive in Gondar around lunch time. You will be able to check in to your hotel and have something to eat before we set off to explore the town. 

Gondar is sometimes known as the Camelot of Ethiopia and, like Camelot, it is rich in art and culture as well as being famous for its many medieval castles and churches.   As there is so much to see, you can discuss options with your guide.  We would recommend a visit to the Emperor Fasilides’Palace and bath.  Legend tells that the town was chosen by God who instructed the emperor to build his palace here.  Also the palace of Iyasu 1, whose rule from 1682-1706 is considered one of the city’s greatest periods. 

You might be surprised by the European ‘feel’ to some of the architecture.  This was the influence of Portuguese soldiers, led by Don Christopher Da Gama, who came to Gondar in 1541 to assist the Christians in the war against the Muslims. In the late afternoon, you may like to visit an Ethiopian home and participate in the Coffee Ceremony or wonder around the lively market. 

Your guide will then point you in the direction of the Bar Balageru where you can enjoy a drink of the local honey wine (tej) or you may prefer to rest at your hotel.  You will have a traditional supper of injera with meat and home grown vegetables. 

Day 4 

Today, we drive to Axum pas the dramatic Simien Mountains. Reaching the Limalimo terrain, you will plunge down a 2000 metre escarpment. This beautiful looping Italian built road provides memorable views, including a glimpse of the peak of Awaza near Adi Arkay. We will stop for a picnic lunch near Shire.  Crossing the Tekezze Rive, we will arrive in Axum before dark.  We shall check in to your hotel in time for an evening meal.   

Day 5   

A full day to visit Axum (Aksum).  We will start at the chapel in the old church compound, where the biblical Ark of Covenant is said to be kept.   It is believed that the Ark contains the Tablets of Law on which are inscribed the Ten Commandments.  It is looked after by a monk known as the "Keeper of the Ark" who spends his whole life guarding it and is the only one allowed to see it.  He will name the next ‘Keeper’ on his death bed.  The story is that the Ark was acquired during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik I, also son of the Queen of Sheba, stole it after a visit to Jerusalem.  We will also visit the old church itself, with its beautiful murals and collection of musical instruments and the nearby small museum. 

You can see the Stelae – the famous obelisks – which once announced to the world the authority and importance of Axum’s ruling families. They include King Ezana’s Stele which still stands and is embraced by the Ethiopian Orthodox church as its centrepiece during the celebrations of Maryam Zion on 30th November.  There are many other ruins from this ancient civilization that began to rise in 400 BC and remained one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world for a thousand years.  

There will be time for shopping.  Axum boasts three markets – the main market, a basket market and an animal market.  It is unlikely that you will want to make a purchase in the animal market but it is a worthwhile sight with its camels and donkeys.   Market day in Axum is Saturday. 

Overnight at your hotel where you will have a choice of Western or traditional food. 

Day 6 

An early start – we take to the road again for the scenic drive to Gheralta which will take us around 5 hours. We will pass through Adwa, scene of Menelik ll’s defeat of the Italians in 1896 and then on to Yeha, once the foremost city in the Tigray region. Here we can visit the well preserved temple erected 2,500 years ago and view other ruins of the monastic Christian community that settled there during the 6th century. 

The cliff top monastery of Debre Damo is reached by a rope ‘hoist’ and only male animals and men are allowed.   We will make a stop here if you wish to explore – and it is worth the climb, but equally if you are an all women party or not wanting the adventure we can continue to Sinkata with its rock hewn church of Arbuta Insesa (The four animals).  After you have completed your inspection of the church, we will proceed to your overnight stop - the Gheralta Lodge – a comfortable Italian run bungalow hotel with panoramic mountain views, where you will enjoy good facilities and a satisfying evening meal made from local produce. 

Day 7 

After a good breakfast, the day begins with a short trip to the nearby village of Megab where we will climb the mountain to reach Debre Mariam Korkor, one of the biggest rock hewn churches in the Tigray region.  The ascent itself is amazing, with spectacular views of the Hawzien plane and your arrival at the church will not disappoint. The shrine is rich in ancient murals and paintings and will delight.  There is one interesting painting of the Archangel Raphael on one of the pillars which is thought to be similar to the painting in the Cathedral Church of Faras in Egypt. Abuna Yemata Guh – named after the priest who carved out the rock to hide his church from its enemies – lies behind an anonymous wooden door on the edge of an abyss.  If you have doubts about your ability to make the climb successfully, you can rest on the ledge and enjoy the view.  However if you can make it, you will be rewarded by a treasure trove of ancient paintings which although made in the 15th century look freshly painted, maybe because the only light comes through the open door – so take your torch!

Then it’s a clamber down the mountain and back to your hotel for a well earned rest. 

Day 8 

A gentler day today after yesterday’s adventure will start with a drive.  We are headed to Mekele, Tigray’s capital.  We will stop off at Abraha Atsbeha, a semi-monolithic cruciform 10th century church with its Italian built portico (which they added to convince locals that they were not Muslims).  Again, it is rich in murals and paintings depicting biblical scenes.  

 In Mekele itself, we will check in and (time permitting) we will visit the Yohannes 4th museum which is housed in the emperor’s palace built in 1886.  You may prefer to visit the market where you could be treated to the sight of the salt traders from Arho arriving with their slabs of salt carried on camelback.  Overnight in Mekele  

Day 9 

We start early for Lalibela taking a quiet all weather road via Samre, Abergele and Sekota.  It is about 70km shorter than the better known less scenic route. 

Day 10 

We will start your visit to the north-west cluster of the underground rock-hewn churches for which the town is famed.  The structures were hand carved out of single pieces of stone during King Lalibela’s reign.  Eleven cruciform churches excavated from ground level downwards into red volcanic rock.  

The town, capital of the dynasty, was named after King Lalibela, who was believed to be primarily responsible for building the churches.  It is thought that the King may have been trying to build a new Jerusalem that would be a haven for Ethiopian Christians, far away from the Muslim marauders The story goes that, finding himself exiled in Jerusalem, Lalibela promised himself that he would recreate the holy city.  Another version of the story relates that the churches of Bet Abba Libanos were built by angels.  However it came about, they continue to amaze and delight all comers. 

After we have explored these churches your guide will discuss tomorrow’s options with you when we will visit the churches outside the town.  Your guide will tell you about the churches and plan your route with you.  You will have the choice of using the vehicle, with some walking, or of riding mules. Overnight in Lalibela. 

Day 11 

 The day starts early whether you have chosen the vehicle or mule option.  Using the vehicle, you will be able to visit one of the 4 churches near the village of Bilbilla.  We recommend  Bilbilla Chirkos - 30km outside of Lalibela– a semi monolithic church surrounded by trenches (and scaffolding) where we can find ancient paintings of George and the dragon and beautiful 800 year- old goatskin books.  Sundry beehives provide a holy honey which is believed to have curative powers.   In the afternoon, you might visit the Nakuta La’ab Monastery, which is so named after the king who succeeded King Lalibela.  It is a veritable treasure trove of crosses and paintings and you will also see its illuminated leather Bible. ALTERNATIVELY, in the afternoon, you might prefer to visit the Yemrehanna Kristos monastery in its cave – the ‘wedding cake church’ because it looks like a giant chocolate cream cake.  Apart from its stunning carvings and decorations, this church is known for hosting the bones of some 11,000 Christian pilgrims who came here to die. If today you decide on the option of walking or taking a mule ride, we shall visit the Asheten Mariam Church.  This involves an interesting journey, by mule or on foot, with spectacular views of the countryside and passing through friendly local villages.  Then in the afternoon you can drive to Nakuta La’ab Monastery with its treasures as mentioned above. We shall try to set aside some time so that you can browse in Lalibela’s small shops and stalls for souvenirs – maybe a Lalibela cross or some local weaving.

Overnight in Lalibela 

Day 12

Today we will fly back to Addis Ababa for your international flight.  Depending on the time of your flight we suggest a short tour of Addis.

After dropping your luggage at your hotel and freshening up, we can visit some of the many interesting sites. You can discuss with your guide who will make suggestions so that you can decide what you would like to be top of the agenda.  

We recommend a visits to Trinity Cathedral,  the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie,  the Menelik II Mausoleum, which contains the tombs of the former Emperor Menelik II and his family, and perhaps some of Addis Ababa’s monuments. These monuments include the Yeketit 12 at Arat Kilo, which commemorates the thousands of Addis residents massacred by the occupying Italians in 1937. 

We can take a short drive out of the city up into the Entoto Hills, where there is an excellent viewpoint overlooking Addis Ababa.  Here, you will be able to visit the Entoto Maryam church which was built by Emperor Menelik in 1876.  As well as a museum nearby there is a magnificent 120 year old eucalyptus tree.  

You will then be dropped back at your hotel to be picked up at an agreed time and escorted to a local restaurant for a farewell dinner.  As well as sampling delicious traditional food - you will also have a chance to see a display of Ethiopia’s unique music and dancing. 

We will drive you to Bole Airport in time for your international flight.

 This is a responsible tour to choose for a number of reasons. Firstly we only use local guides, educated within Ethiopia. Thereby ensuring employment for local men and women.  We protect the local environment and offer our clients tips on taking a non invasive approach, always removing all signs of our presence and respecting the environment with its vegetation and wildlife. Travellers may keep a record of animal and bird sightings for ongoing listing to be published on the website for other travellers – making a positive contribution to the conservation of the wildlife in the locality. This tour is culturally sensitive - staying in hotels run by local people where clients will learn about local environmental, social and cultural issues.  You will be encouraged to visit local restaurants and to buy from local shops and markets.  This will be made easier for you by the provision of an Ethiopian SIM card or phone with which you can keep in touch with your guide helping you to feel safe to wander. Ethiopia is pledged to be carbon neutral by 2025.  Clients will be made aware of the various projects in Ethiopia with which Alligan Travel is personally acquainted. These projects are effecting a positive change to the environment by their actions; i.e. tree planting, seed distribution