Abyssinia and the Blue Nilefrom
Our Abyssinia and Blue Nile itinerary takes visitors to the north of the country, with its fascinating historical and religious sites. We start with the monasteries of Lake Tana and the spectacular Blue Nile Falls, before heading to the UNESCO recognised palaces and castles of Gondar
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Challenging
From here we travel further north to visit the unique 12th century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela,arguably the highlight of the trip and something not to be missed. Feast your eyes on the incredible views over the surrounding valleys and hills as you watch the sunset from the magical Ben Abeba restaurant.
Next we visit the ancient city of Axum and legendarily home of the Queen of Sheba and final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
- 12th century Rock hewn churches of Lalibela
- Ancient castles& Palaces of Gondar
- Spectacular Blue Nile Falls
Arrival and departure transfers are included, whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you.
Accommodation as listed in the itinerary. Should we need to change hotels, but we will endeavour to keep the same standard. However hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
You will be escorted throughout by an English speaking guide. You will also have local English speaking guides.
As listed within the itinerary (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner).
All entrance fees
A bottle of mineral water every day
Guests are responsible for arranging their own visa. We would recommend that you obtain your visa in advance of your trip using the evisa service.
We don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours
It is important that you have insurance in place prior to arriving in country.
Guide and porterage tips, also local payments for photography
Day 1 - Addis Ababa L/D
On arrival at Bole International Airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. After lunch a city tour will take you to the National Archaeological Museum, to view the 3.6 million-year-old remains of “Lucy”, discovered in 1974, Ethnological Museum at Addis Ababa University and Holy Trinity Cathedral. Drive to the top of Mount Entoto, which rises to an altitude of 10,500 feet for a panoramic view of the metropolis before making your way back to your hotel. Overnight at Swiss Inn Nexus Hotel or similar.
The Ethiopian capital is situated on the southern slopes of central Ethiopia’s Entoto Hills and is the world’s fourth highest capital city with altitudes of 2,350m to more than 2,600m. The city was founded in the 19th century by Emperor Menelik II.
Addis Ababa ”new flower”) or Addis Abeba, also known as Finfinne (”natural spring”), is the capital and largest city of Ethiopia.
As a chartered city, Addis Ababa also serves as the capital city of Oromia. It is where the African Union is headquartered and where its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was based. It also hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), as well as various other continental and international organizations. Addis Ababa is therefore often referred to as ”the political capital of Africa” for its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent. The city lies a few miles west of the East African Rift which splits Ethiopia into two, through the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate. The city is populated by people from different regions of Ethiopia.
Day 2 - Bahir Dar B
After breakfast transfer to the airport for your early flight to Bahir Dar. On arrival continue to Tiss Abay to visit the majestic Blue Nile Falls. After lunch board a boat for a cruise across Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake,and source of the Blue Nile, to visit two of the most accessible monasteries Ura Kidane Mehret and Azwa Maryam. Keep an eye open for white pelicans. Check into your hotel on the shores of the lake. Overnight at Blue Nile Avanti or similar.
The town of Bahir Dar is located in the north of Ethiopia, 180km south of Gondar on the shores of Lake Tana. It came into prominence in the 18th century. as a commercial destination for trade caravans to and from Gondar and the surrounding area. Today, it is one of the most attractive towns in Ethiopia and serves as a celebrated tourist destination. It hosts the fabled Blue Nile falls, the beautiful highland Lake Tana and 14th-century island monastic churches.
Day 3 - Gondar B
Scenic drive to Gondar, the so-called Camelot of Africa. Explore the royal enclosure containing six castles, a complex network of connecting tunnels and raised walkways and the fascinating Debre Berhan Selassie Church, one of Ethiopia’s most beautifully painted churches. Overnight at Goha Hotel or similar.
Gondar, once the Ethiopian capital, was home to a number of emperors and warlords, courtiers and kings. The graceful city of Gonder, founded by Emperor Fasilidas, become the capital of the Ethiopian empire around 1635. This settlement, which became Fasilidas principal headquarters, grew into an important town, and remained Ethiopia’s capital, and most popular city, for over two centuries.
The oldest of Gondar’s many imperial structures is the impressive 17th century palace of Emperor Fasilidas. Many other fascinating historical buildings and relics can be seen in the area. Gaze down from the balconies of the many castles and palaces to imagine the intrigue and pageantry that took place back in the 17th and 18th centuries of this great city.
Fasilidas endowed his capital with a sizeable palace, known as the Fasil Gemb, or Fasil building. It was larger and more impressive than any structure in Ethiopia up to that time. Fasilidas, who reputedly constructed many other buildings and bridges in the city, was succeeded by his son, Emperor Yohannes (1667-1682), and later by his grandson, Iyasu1 (1682-1706), both of whom built more palaces in the vicinity of Fasil Gemb. Iyasu’s most lasting achievement was the church of Debre Berhan Selassie, the light of the Trinity, which stands, surrounded by a high wall. The interior is marvelously painted with great scenes from religious history.
Apart from the famous castle in the royal compound, visitors should visit the so-called bathing palace of the Emperor. This two storey crenellated stone structure has a flat roof and two wooden balconies. It is set the middle of a large rectangular bath, reminiscent of a modern swimming-pool, which was traditionally filled with water brought by pipe from the nearby Qaha River. It was intended for the Timket Celebrations which commemorated the Baptism of Christ-a use to which the bath is put to this day.
Timkat celebration at Gondar several more palaces were raised by both Yohannes 1 and Iyasu 1. They later built a large two-storey crenellated structure beside that of their grandfather Fasilidas.
The reigns of the first three Gondarie rulers thus witnessed a steady expansion of the city, in the course of which an imperial quarter came into existence.
Gondar is a town of fairy-tale medieval castles and is noted for the design and decoration of its churches, masterpieces, which were constructed from stone in the form of crenellated castles, are of a significant distinctive design.
Flanked by twin mountain streams Gondar retains an atmosphere of antique charm mingled with an aura of mystery. The city was once a vigorous and vital centre of religious learning and art. Painting and music, dance and poetry, together with skilled instructions in these and many other disciplines, thrived for more than two hundred years. Fasilidas and his successors saw their elegant capital as a renaissance of Ethiopian culture and so patronized the arts.
The fascination with painting, mainly expressed through church murals, icons, illuminated manuscripts and scrolls, has remained. Religious themes dominate all but the most recent Ethiopian art.
It is also worth visiting the ruins of the palace and abbey of the redoubtable 18th century Empress Mentewab at Quesquam overlooking Gondar. The royal compound, like that at Gondar proper, contains a number of buildings. The largest was apparently used for receptions and served as headquarters of the garrison.
The palace compound was surrounded by a ’high outer-wall;’ which was about a mile in circumference, with outer precincts all occupied by soldiers, labourers and out-doors servants. Quesquam is wonderful and historic place.
Outside the palace compound, a second important building constructed during Iyasu’s reign is the church of Debre Birhan Selassie (or light of Trinity), which stands on raised ground to the north west of the city. This is the finest of the Gondarine churches, with its ceiling decorated with many winged angels.
In the old days it was surmounted by a gold cross, which is now gone. However, original walls painted from top to bottom with scenes of Biblical lore and medieval history is well preserved. Because of its extensive population, and the considerable patronage offered by both state and church, Gondar emerged as a major handicraft centre. Many of the city’s principal artisans come from minority groups. Falasha (Jewish) craftsmen include blacksmiths, weavers and masons, and their womenfolk are potters. Muslim craftsmen are mainly weavers and tent¬makers, some of whom also served as tent carriers and carpenters.
Day 4 - Lalibela B
Travel to the airport for your flight to Lalibela. On arrival visit the impressive rock-hewn churches and undoubtedly one of the highlight of the trip, Bet Giyorgis, the town’s most iconic sight. Overnight at Cliff Edge Hotel or similar
Located in the north-east of Ethiopia, Lalibela is another renowned historical destination. Placed third in historic sequence, its site hosts the “eighth wonder of the world”, the Lalibela rock-hewn churches. UNESCO has recorded this site as one of the world wonders. It is also holy land for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians.
Today the town of Lalibela hosts eleven rock-hewn churches and all, apart from their historic significance, are renowned for their excellent and unique rock-carvings. The art displayed on the rocks dates from the twelfth century yet is still intact and in great shape. An active pilgrim site, the town is extensively visited and a source of admiration for architects and tourists alike.
Founded at the centre of the Lasta mountain chain, Lalibela was originally called Roha and was a site of the Zagwe dynasty, of the Agew people. The decline of the Axumite dynasty gave rise to the Zagwe dynasty and, as a result, power shifted southward from Axum. After an interruption of the Solomonic line for almost 12 years, King Lalibela III, from the last of the Zagwe dynasty, managed to have these rock-hewn churches carved.
It took King Lalibela his entire reign and more than 60,000 men to finish the work. According to local accounts, the work was assisted by angels. Other erected and cave churches built during this period are found at a short distance from the town.
Day 5 - Lalibela B/D
Morning visit the exquisite church of Yemrehanna Kristos. After lunch visit the remainder of the 11 rock-hewn churches before heading to Ben Abeba to watch the sunset and unique dining experience. Overnight at Cliff Edge Hotel or similar
Yemrehanna Kristos is set at an altitude of 2,700m and is a particularly fine example of late Axumite architecture and different from the other churches in the town. Among the many interesting archiyectural features are the cruicified carved windows, an etched wood-panel roof, a coffered ceiling with inlaid hexagons and alarge dome over the sanctuary
Day 6 - Axum B
Fly from Lalibela to Axum, the heart of ancient Ethiopia, and capital of the Kingdom of Axum. Visit the famous ‘Stele field’ (4th Century AD and UNESCO World Heritage Site), the ruin palace and tomb of King Kaleb and King Gebre Meskel and the residence of the legendary Queen of Sheba and the new and the old Cathedral of St Mary of Tsion (Zion) and the sanctuary that is said to house the original Arc of the Covenant. Overnight at Atranos Fantasy Hotel or similar.
The kingdom of Aksum, the first verifiable kingdom of great power to rise in Ethiopia, immerge during the first century AD. The Persian religious figure Mani listed Axum with Rome, Persia, and China as one of the four great powers of his time. It was in the early 4th century that a Syro-Greek castaway, Frumentius, was taken to the court and eventually converted king Ezana to Christianity, thereby making it an official religion. For this accomplishment, he received the title ”Abba Selama”. At various times, including a period in the 6th century, Axum controlled most of modern dayYemen just across the Red Sea.
The Aksumite Empire or Axumite Empire (sometimes called the Kingdom of Aksum or Axum), was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa, growing from the proto-Aksumite period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. It was a major player in the commerce between the Roman Empire and Ancient India and the Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own currency. The state established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula, and would eventually extend its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom.
Under Ezana Aksum became the first major empire to convert to Christianity and was named by Mani as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and China. In the 7th century the Muslims who originally converged in Mecca, sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to Aksum which is known in Islamic history as the First Hijra. Its ancient capital is found in northern Ethiopia. The Kingdom used the name ”Ethiopia” as early as the 4th century. It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
Day 7 - Addis Ababa B/D
Morning flight to Ethiopia’s capital. On arrival visit the ‘Merkato’, cited as the largest open-air market Africa and explore the maze of stalls.
Late afternoon farewell dinner, music and coffee ceremony at a famous traditional Ethiopian restaurant. After dinner, transfer to the airport for you flight home