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Festivity Tour - Ethiopian Christmas and Epiphany

The mystery of Ethiopian orthodox Christianity can be experienced best on one of the colorful religious festivals that Ethiopia has to offer. Tens of thousands of pilgrims and believers are out on the streets of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa when celebrating the Ethiopian Christmas every January. The medieval city of Gondar gets crowded with Christians only some days later when the opulent Timkat celebrations begin and go on for three days. Breathe the magic of these spectacular holidays while joining this special festivity tour of us.

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This Italian-speaking tour combines the classical Northern Ethiopian highlights with the hustle and bustle of two of the major Ethiopian holidays. Starting from Addis Ababa you will first visit the ancient ruins of the Axumite Empire in Ethiopia's far North. The epic Gheralta region with its towering sandstone mountains is rather less impressive with hundreds of century old rock churches that where chiseled by early Christians into the rock facades. Followed by the masterpieces of this church architecture: Lalibela where you spend some days to discover the world famous churches. Highlight of the trip surely will be your time in Lake Tana region where you follow colorful the Timkat celebrations in Gondar and Bahir Dar not missing out the region's famous sights such as Gondar's castles, the Blue Nile Falls and Simien Mountains National Park.

Dates:

  • GR07-01: January 7 to 19, 2021
  • GR07-02: January 7 to 19, 2022

Tour code: GR07

Operator: SimienEcoTours

Gallery

Itinerary & In/Exclusions

Day 1

Arrival Addis Ababa and experience Ethiopian Christmas

Travel: 2 h; 30 km

Arrival in the capital of Ethiopia, meeting with your Italian-speaking guide and transfer to the hotel for some refreshment. Afterwards you will go on a city tour visiting the National Museum and having lunch before reaching the beautiful Entoto Hills. From here you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Addis Ababa. If interested, you can also visit a local partner charity project that is supported by SimienEcoTours. Finally, in the evening you will witness the celebration of "Genna", the Ethiopian Christmas, which will literally flood the city of Addis Ababa. Celebrations will be ongoing throughout the night. A truly unforgettable ceremony!

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Caravan Hotel or similar, Addis Ababa

Day 2

Immerse into ancient archeology of the Axumite Empire

Flight time: 1 h

Travel: 1 h; 20km

Domestic flight to the city of Axum, the ancient capital of the Axumite kingdom. The city is located in the Tigray region, about 50 kilometers from the border with Eritrea. Axum is a holy city according to the tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church: in fact, in the chapel of St. Mary of Zion, the Ark of the Covenant, containing the 10 commandments, is preserved (however, access to the Ark chapel is not allowed to tourists, but only to the monk who keeps it). You will visit the accessable parts of the church complex of St. Mary of Zion, as well as the archeological parts of ancient Axum. Above all the famous Axumite obelisks. In the evening, group dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Atranos Hotel or similar, Axum

Day 3

Visit the Temple of Yeha

Travel: 4-5 h; 170 km

Today you drive from Axum to Gheralta. Along the way lies the Temple of Yeha that you reach driving through the volcanic landscapes of the Adwa Mountains. The ancient temple dates back to the pre-axumite period and is approximately 2,700 years old. Archeologists nowadays see clear signs of a pre-axumite civilisation coming from Southern Arabia. Some original artefact can been seen in the museum. The setting is beautiful. Surrounded by the volcanic mountains of Adwa. In 1896 this was the battle field of the historic battle between Ethiopians and Italians when Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II prevented his country from colonialism. In the late afternoon you arrive your lodge in Gheralta settled in an amazing landscape with towering sandstone mountains.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Gheralta Lodge or similar, Hawzen

Day 4

Explore the rock-hewn churches of Gheralta region

Travel: 2-3 h; 30 km

Hiking: 1-2h, 1 km (difficulty: easy, altitude difference: ↑50 m, ↓50m)

After breakfast we begin the visit of the spectacular rock-hewn churches of Tigray, excavated in ancient times and hidden in the Tigray mountains. Many of these churches are accessible only through an often difficult but always spectacular route. You will visit the easier accessible Medhane Alem Adi Kasho and Abraha Atbeha which are among the most impressive in the region. In the late afternoon we will return to Gheralta Lodge for some free time and dinner.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Gheralta Lodge or similar, Hawzen

Day 5

Onwards to the town of Woldya & exploration of the rock-churches of Wukro

Travel: 6-7 h; 360 km

In the morning you start to drive south towards the town of Woldya. On the way you will take a break in the historic town of Wukro, where you will visit the ancient rock church of Wukro Cherkos. After lunch, you will resume the journey until you reach the town of Woldya in the late afternoon. In the evening, group dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Lal Hotel or similar, Woldya

Day 6

Arrival in the holy city of Lalibela

Travel time: 4-5 h; 170 km

Today we move on to Lalibela, a place of pilgrimage and the holy city for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The main attraction of Lalibela are the famous mono- and semimonolithic churches carved into the rock in ancient times. Many legends exist about how these wonders were build. Some say angels were involved. These churches have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the afternoon you will reach Lalibela and start the visit of the first group of churches witnessing the daily religious festivities in such a magnificent setting, among sacred songs in Ge'ez language and liturgical ceremonies that have been marked with unchanged precision for centuries and centuries. To end the day well, you will have a sunset dinner with the group and then overnight at the hotel.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Lalibela Lodge or similar, Lalibela

Day 7

Another discovery day in Lalibela

Today you will have the full day to enjoy the mystical churches with a guide and on your own. According to the legend these eleven churches were built in the 12th century and excavated by over 16,000 Ethiopians in just 23 years of construction. After the visit of the second group of churches and the famous cruciform Bet Giorgis church, you will enjoy some free time and have dinner.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Lalibela Lodge or similar, Lalibela

Day 8

Journey through breathtaking landscapes from Lalibela to Gondar

Travel: 8-9 h; 400 km

In the morning you begin your journey westwards to Gondar, the medieval capital of Ethiopia until 1855. Halfway there lies the Awra Amba village, a community in the Amhara region that has been self-governing since 1980. Awra Amba is an interesting example for prosperity and welfare without foreign support. The comparatively well-being of the 500 villagers  with a library, kindergarten, school and elderly care was a vision by Zumra Nura that came to reality in Awra Amba. After an impressive visit you will move onwards to your hotel in Gondar.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Herfazy Resort or similar, Gondar

Day 9

Visit of Simien Mountains National Park

Travel: 3 h; 130 km

Hiking: 1 h, 3 km (difficulty: easy, altitude difference: ↑100m, ↓100m)

A day in the breathtaking scenery of Simien Mountains National Park awaits you. You drive from Gondar to the park. In Debark, a town of around 30,000 inhabitants at an altitude of over 2,800m, the guide will carry out some formalities in the park administration offices while you sip a cup of coffee. Then you will move on to Sankaber camp to enjoy a spectacular view of the impressive Simien mountain range. In this area you will probably meet the Gelada Baboons, the only grass-eating baboons in the world and endemic to Ethiopia: you will see how Geladas gather in groups of even one hundred specimens, and spend most of the time looking for grass and edible roots. Before sunset, you will return for dinner at the splendid Simien Lodge.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Simien Lodge or similar, Simien Mountains National Park

Day 10

Further excursion day in Simien Mountain National Park

Travel: 3-4 h; km: 150 km

Hiking: 1-2 h, 3-4 km (difficulty: easy/moderate, altitude difference: ↑150m, ↓150m)

After an excellent breakfast you will take a panoramic walk from Simien Lodge and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Once you reach the edge of the cliff, you will see the very spectacular Jinbar Waterfall plunging almost 400 meters into a deep canyon. A beautiful spot to see birds soaring including vultures, eagles and buzzards. Then you will descend again towards Gondar, to visit at the end of the afternoon the church of Debre Birhan Selassie, famous for its frescoes depicting the faces of angels. In the evening, group dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Herfazy Resort or similar, Gondar

Day 11

The medieval castles of Gondar

Travel: 3-4 h; 185km

In the morning you will visit the imperial enclosure of medieval Gondar, the fortified citadel with the royal castles of Gondar: the imperial enclosure has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the afternoon, refreshed by a typical lunch, you will also visit the pleasure residence of the Ethiopian Emperors with its immense pool that is still active up date. In the coming days tens of thousands of pilgrims will celebrate the colorful Timkat holiday here. Today's journey will bring you to the beautiful lake town of Bahir Dar right at Lake Tana.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Jacaranda Hotel or similar, Bahir Dar

Day 12

Blue Nile Waterfalls and Island Monasteries of Lake Tana

Travel: 2-3 h; 80km

Hiking: 1-2 h, 3-4 km (difficulty: easy/moderate, altitude difference: ↑100m, ↓100m)

Today you wake up in Bahir Dar: after a fabulous breakfast, you will discover the famous Tisisat waterfall, better known as "the source of the Nile". On a short walk you will reach the roaring waters. In the afternoon you will return to Bahir Dar, and you will take a boat trip on the Lake Tana, where you will visit one of the monasteries on the many islands, such as Ura Kidane Mihiret or other monasteries. During the boat trip you will also have the opportunity to observe several beautiful animals typical of the place (for example hippopotamuses and especially pelicans). After visiting the main monasteries and churches on the islands of Lake Tana, at sunset you will return to Bahir Dar, where you can watch the Christian Orthodox processions and liturgical chants in the ancient Ge'ez language, which announce the beginning of the celebrations for the "Timkat" (Ethiopian Epiphany). In the evening typical group dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Jacaranda Hotel or similar, Bahir Dar

Day 13

Timkat celebrations and farewell

Flight time: 1h

Travel: 1 h; km: 20 km

During the night you will hear the chanting of the nearby churches and in the morning of the Timkat holiday streets will quickly fill up with people to attend church service. You as well can attend the celebrations for the festivities of "Timkat" (Ethiopian Epiphany), where the faithful renew their vow of faith by celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ in the major churches of Bahir Dar. After participating in the spectacular religious services and sacred processions that literally flood the whole city, at the end of the afternoon you will transfer to Bahir Dar airport and fly to Addis Ababa. Once you reach Addis Ababa airport, you will finalize our trip and depart in the evening, depending on the flight schedule.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: ---

Included

Our services include:
  • all (2) domestic flights (Addis Ababa - Axum; Bahir Dar - Addis Ababa) Note: If the international flight is with a carrier other than Ethiopian Airlines, there will be a supplement of € 180 for the domestic flights;
  • all accommodations in double rooms with private toilet/shower in hotels or lodges (1x high-range, 11x mid-range);
  • all transfers and travels in Ethiopia with private car (minivan or Coaster bus);
  • full board (1 drink per meal included, alcoholic drinks excluded);
  • all entrance fees and permissions at tourist attractions, churches, museums and national parks;
  • for Simien Mountains National Park: entrance fees, guide, scouts and rangers;
  • all persons for safety and security (when prescribed);
  • all taxes and administrative fees;
  • all tips for meals;
  • all (mandatory) local guides in the single destinations;
  • 24/7 emergency assistance;
  • experienced SimienEcoTours cultural guide (fluently Italian & Amharic speaking).

Excluded

Our services do not include:
  • international flights;
  • travel insurance;
  • visa for Ethiopia (currently € 46);
  • alcoholic drinks;
  • tipping;
  • photo and video fees (if any apply);
  • all extras and personal expenditures.