If we are entirely honest, we had no clue what to expect of Ethiopia when we first started planning our trip. If you think about Ethiopia, things like LiveAid, poverty, dusty dry land and ethnic groups are popping up. But after a deep dive into our Lonely Planet it turned out that Ethiopia is like Pandora’s box, with many undiscovered treasures. We left the adventurous Danakil Depression and continued our journey through the North of Ethiopia.
Gheralta Rock-Hewn Churches
We met our driver Wosen in Mek’ele and headed to Gheralta. Gheralta is located in the Tigray Region. The region is known for its 120+ rock-hewn churches. The landscape exists out of sharp red peaks that rise into the sky out of a dusty semi-desert. We decided to visit Maryam Korkor, a beautiful church on the top of a cliff. In order to reach the church, you first need to climb a steep “path” for about 1,5 hours. Quite challenging after spending some time below sea level, because Maryam Korkor is located at 2650m above sea level! At the top we first had to catch our breath, before enjoying the wonderful view! The remote and high locations have protected the churches from their enemies, so the hand-carved churches are still well preserved. Tip: if you go to Gheralta, stay the night at the Gheralta lodge. Beautiful view and cute little cabins, it was our best night in the whole tour!
Impression of the locals along the way:
Aksum, the next stop on our trip, was the capital of the Aksumites. The kingdom of Aksum started to rise around 400BC. For around 1000 years the Aksumites controlled the trade between Africa and Asia. It was one of the great empires besides the Greek and Roman Empire. Nowadays Aksum is the holy city for Ethiopians. It is believed that the city houses the Ark of the Covenant, which holds the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. Aksum is a must, because it plays such an important part in Ethiopian history and culture. It was however our worst experience in Ethiopia from a hotel perspective. Whatever you do don’t stay at Yeha Hotel, unless you want cold water, dirty and old rooms, a toilet that does not flush and a disgrace of a coffee (Ethiopians are extremely proud of their coffee culture, which made it worse). Go to Aksum, but pick a different hotel!
After a couple of days of culture it was time for some action! We headed to the Simien Mountains, also known as the Roof of Africa. This mountain massif is home to Ethiopia’s highest mountain, Ras Dajen 4543m, and is the perfect place to spot the bleeding-heart Gelada baboons and other endemic animals like the Ethiopian Wolf. No matter where you look, the scenery is, literally, breathtaking. We have spend 3 days in this beautiful park and hiked first towards Sankaber campsite (3250m). From there we had a very tough 6-hour hike towards Geech campsite (3600m). I could say that the surroundings moved me to tears, but in all honesty, my lungs and legs could barely set one foot in front of the other once we reached Geech. I have never been happier in my life to see a tent! After a small break we decided to even climb a little further to Kedadit (3725m), to watch the sunset, while herds of Gelada’s made their way downhill. On our way up we spotted the rarely seen Ethiopian wolf, the cherry on the cake. After a lovely candlelight dinner we started putting on as many layers of clothing as possible to stay warm in our tent during the freezing cold nights in the Simien. Overall a fantastic experience!
After leaving the peaks of the Simien behind, our journey continued to Gondar. This medieval town has a lot to offer. The major attraction is the Royal enclosure, the Camelot of Africa. Visiting a real castle is something you don’t expect in Africa. Also Fasilada’s bath was worth a visit and we can imagine that during Timkat (the celebration of the baptism of Christ, biggest religious festival of the year), this place is truly magical. Even though Timkat was still a month a way, we experienced the importance of religion in Ethiopia during the weekly ceremony in the Debre Berhan Selassie Church. The chanting of the priests and their students, combined with the religious paintings from the bottom of the floor all the way up to the ceiling, created an intoxicating atmosphere.
After the Roof of Africa and the Camelot of Africa it was time for the Ethiopian Riviera. The city of Bahir Dar is located at the shores of Lake Tana, one of the biggest lakes on the African Continent. Lake Tana’s waters are the source of the Blue Nile. Perfect location to take a boat trip and spot some hippos!! 🙂 It was also the starting point of an excursion to the Blue Nile falls. The falls itself are not that impressive, watching everybody heading back from the market during our hike was much more fun!
For us one of the ultimate highlights of our trip to Ethiopia was the visit to Lalibela. This town is also called the Petra of Ethiopia. Lalibela is well known for its red-colored rock hewn churches. Unlike the churches in Gheralta, the churches in Lalibela are carved into the ground. The 11 churches can be divided into two groups; representing the old and the new Jerusalem. The size of the churches makes you feel really humble, knowing that men carved these churches by hand. Equally as impressive are the surrounding Lasta Mountains. We decided to visit the Ashetem Maryam monastery and head for lunch at the Hudad Eco Lodge. A beautiful day packed with mesmerizing views and lovely encounters with the locals in the surrounding villages. We even got to attend a coffee ceremony at somebody’s home.
Awash National Park
The final stop of our trip was Awash National Park. We stayed in two lodges: the Awash Falls Lodge and Doho lodge. The first night in, we were taken on a trip to the Hyena cave. Great idea, however leaving at sunset means arriving at the cave just before dark. Let’s say we don’t feel comfortable sitting in the dark not seeing a thing, while hearing the hyenas around you. Heart rate 180 for sure! Next day we left on a small ‘safari’, we explored the park and we did see some wildlife, however it is nothing compared to a South-African safari. We took the perfect picture of a Jackal and saw an Oryx and a secretary bird. On our way to Doho, our driver got lost. I think everybody stressed out quite a bit, when we drove right through an Afar village, since they are not known for their hospitality. Once arrived at Doho it was time to relax and enjoy the natural hot springs. A crazy experience, to be able to bathe in a warm lake and enjoy some warm natural showers, in the middle of the desert. It was the perfect ending to our fantastic trip.
Sorry for the long post, but Ethiopia definitely deserved it! All that is left to say is: Amasege’nallo, thank you, Ethiopia!
Here are some of our favourite pictures of our trip: