Fly overnight to Ethiopia’s intoxicating capital, Addis Ababa. Addis has not always been the capital: it was chosen for its verdant setting and wonderful climate. As the story goes, it was a love gift from a consort of the Emperor Menelik II, and it was his affection for the place that led to it becoming the seat of power. We think you’ll love this charismatic city and its striking surrounds too.
In Amharic, Addis Ababa translates as new flower. And it’s certainly in bloom. The streets are alive with Menelik remains and dizzying investment. Horns honk, goats bleat and shops sell colourful baskets among the jacaranda trees. Your guide will take you to the former palace of Haile Selassie, which is now an ethnographic museum situated among beautiful gardens and twinkling fountains.
A morning flight delivers you to the ancient city of Gondar, where you will be met and driven to the dramatic Simien Mountains National Park. Upon arrival, enjoy a gentle trek from your lodge.
Simien Mountains National Park’s precipitous cliffs and verdant terraces are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bring your binoculars – there’s some marvellous wildlife. Ibex joust on ledges, while gelada baboons frolic. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the rare Simien fox, Ethiopian wolf and several birds of prey.
Your drive to Chenek takes you through dramatic landscapes, and the gentle hike here through grasslands and ancient volcanic ridges is just as beguiling. Your guide will help you track the endangered walia ibex (wild mountain goat) and help you spot and identify the abundant birdlife. The park is rich with raptor and vulture, while the threatened pallid harrier and augur buzzard are still commonly found here too.
Return by road to Gondar, with inspiring photo opportunities along the way. The Italian-built piazza at the town centre is the perfect spot for a well-deserved buna (Ethiopian coffee). For dinner, we recommend some local cuisine. Injera and tibbs is a huge pancake stuffed with a variety of delectable spiced meats and vegetables – particularly tasty when washed down with a local beer.
You’ll fly back to Addis Ababa and head out into the Great Rift Valley. As the city melts into nature, the lake road offers a striking drive. You’ll stop at Lake Ziway, which attracts birdlife including white pelican, hamerkop, African fishing eagle and marabou storks. Lake Langano is a popular destination for water-based activities, and you’ll spend the night overlooking the lake.
Depart Langano and continue to the province of Bale where you can traverse the lush woods of Kofele, before hitting the vast open Ethiopian plains. The road is a little rough, but you’ll be richly rewarded with jagged outcrops, dramatic valleys and perhaps even the odd grumpy-looking warthog.
The extraordinary Sanetti Plateau lies at a dizzying 4,000m. It’s hunting ground for the rare Ethiopian wolf, and your guide will try to spot one for you. This is the last remaining alpine landscape in Africa, and birds flock to Sanetti’s twinkling high altitude lakes, including the golden eagles that circle the plateau’s peaks. Hidden by a thick belt of nearby heather, we recommend a walk through the magical Harenna forest.
Returning to Shashemene to explore more of its lively Rastafarian community, you’ll travel on to your evening base at Yirgalem. Since you’re not far from Lake Awassa, we highly recommend fish curry for dinner. Nestled in the coffee fields, sipping a nightcap, this is the perfect place to learn about the history of the magnificent coffee bean. It’s said to originate from Ethiopia.
Depart Yirgalem for Addis Ababa, stopping at the Senkelle Wildlife Sanctuary enroute, home to the Swayne’s hartebeest. After your final Ethiopian dinner, bid farewell to this culturally rich and visually dramatic country, before flying home.