Meskel Festival Tour - The finding of the true Cross

By the end of September Ethiopians remember the finding of the true cross of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. A colorful holiday that is celebrated all over the country in peoples homes and outdoors by lighting big Meskel bonfires. Combine the holiday and Ethiopia's northern sights and see green landscapes after the rainy season. This is the best time to travel Ethiopia!

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We offer this trip in two variations for our Italian as well as Spanish-speaking clients. Each group will be accompanied by a tour guide in the correspondent language of the clients. Important notice: The two trips run independently from each other. There will be no sharing of transportation, hotel rooms or other services among different groups!

Starting from Addis Ababa where you will see the biggest Meskel celebration all over Ethiopia, you will then 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. In the north-western Lake Tana region you are not missing out the region's famous sights such as Gondar's castles, and the nature highlights such as the Blue Nile Falls and Simien Mountains National Park with its iconic wildlife and flora.

Dates:

  • GR09-01: September 27 to October 9, 2021 (Tour guide: Italian-speaking)
  • GR09-02: September 27 to October 9, 2021 (Tour guide: Spanish-speaking)
  • GR09-03: September 27 to October 9, 2022 (Tour guide: Italian-speaking)
  • GR09-04: September 27 to October 9, 2022 (Tour guide: Spanish-speaking)

Tour code: GR09

Operator: SimienEcoTours

Gallery

Itinerary & In/Exclusions

Day 1

Arrival and Meskel evening celebration

Travel: 2 h; 30 km

Arrival in Addis Ababa in the morning and formalization of entry visas, followed by a transfer to your hotel for some refreshment. On your full day city tour you will visit the National Museum, interesting for its archaeological findings and Lucy's remains, an australopitecus afarensis who lived in the Awash valley more than 3 million years ago and the proof that Ethiopia is the craddle of mankind. Then lunch in a typical restaurant, before reaching the Entoto Mountain at 3,000 meters, from where you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of Addis Ababa. Afternoon return to your hotel for some rest. If interested, you can also visit a local charity project that is supported by our agency.

Finally, in the evening you will witness the celebration of "Meskel", the festival for the finding of the "True Cross of Jesus Christ", which will flood the city of Addis Ababa starting from the famous "Meskel Square", where every year a huge and dazzling bonfire is lit to start the celebrations: a truly unforgettable ceremony!

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Caravan Hotel or similar, Addis Ababa

Day 2

Flight to the ancient city of Axum

Flight time: 1 h

Travel: 1 h; 20 km

Early morning breakfast and transfer to the airport for your domestic flight to Axum, the capital of the ancient Axumite kingdom and the cradle of one of the most powerful African civilizations, originated in the second century BC and reached its peak around the second century AD. Upon arrival Axum city tour where you visit the ancient the steale, the 'Palace of the Queen Sheba' and the Saint Mary of Tsion Cathedral, that hosts the Ark of Covenant. The legend says it was brought to Ethiopia in the time of King Salomon. Its small museum hosts interesting artifacts and scripts which are a great a testimony of the trades between the Axumite Empire, Egypt and the Southern Arabic peninsula.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Atranos Hotel or similar, Axum

Day 3

Pre-axumite history - visit the temple of the moon in Yeha

Travel: 6-7 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 in your lodge in Gheralta settled in an amazing landscape with towering sandstone mountains.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Gheralta Lodge or similar, Hawzien

Day 4

First traces of Christianity in Ethiopia

Travel: 2-3 h; 30 km

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

After your breakfast you begin the visit of the spectacular rock churches, excavated in the barren rock facades of the sandstone mountains. The existence of more than 120 rock churches is documented in this area, three quarters of which are still perfectly functional. Their origin is still unknown: according to some accredited scholars, they were built in ancient times when Christianity was introduced and only later converted into churches. You discover Medhane Alem Adikasho church. It is one of the oldest and biggest rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia and iconic for its complex architecture. Many of these churches are accessible only through an often difficult but always spectacular route. In the late afternoon you will return to Gheralta Lodge, where you will enjoy an excellent typical dinner and then spend the night in the pleasant quiet of your lodge.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Gheralta Lodge or similar, Hawzien

Day 5

Through the Tigray higlands

Travel: 6-7 h; 360 km

In the morning you will start to descend south towards Woldya, and on the way you will take a break in Wukro, once founded by Italians and famous for its rock church of Wukro Cherkos, a few hundred meters from the road. After lunch, you resume the journey until you reach the town of Woldya, the region's most popular resting place, located in the heart of a wide and fertile valley, at an altitude of 1,930 meters above sea level. In the evening, dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Lal Hotel or similar, Woldya

Day 6

The holy city of Lalibela

Travel: 4-5 h; 170 km

Today you will head towards Lalibela, one of the most fascinating places on the planet and considered on of the holiest places for Ethiopian christians. It is one of the most sacred and frequented places in Ethiopia, destination of pilgrimages that have been going on continuously since the 12th century, when the city was founded. The main attraction of Lalibela are the famous monolithic underground churches carved into the rock, separated by the Jordan River in two distinct groups. These churches have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arrival in the late afternoon in Lalibela and visit of the first group of churches.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Lalibela Lodge or similar, Lalibela

Day 7

Further excursion day in Lalibela

Travel: 0.5 h; 4km

After breakfast you complete the visit to the famous rock churches of Lalibela. You are entering the heart of the complex that resembles many places known from Jerusalem.

These 11 monolithic underground churches according to tradition were built in the 12th century. Numerous books have been written in this regard, supporting different theories. One is that it was ment to be a new center of pilgramage as the way to Jerusalem was far and blocked in medieval times by many Muslim empires. After the visit of the second group of churches and the famous Bet Giorgis church, perhaps the most famous monolithic building in Lalibela, with a cruciform plan, you might have your own impression which legends might be true.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Lalibela Lodge or similar, Lalibela

Day 8

Awura Amba - the village of the godless

Travel: 6-7 h; 300 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

Excursion day to the Simien Mountains National Park

Travel: 3 h; 130 km

Hiking: 1-2 h, 3 km (difficulty: easy/moderate, 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. The area has peaks that often reach 4,000 meters and with the Ras Dashan peak, fourth in altitude of the African continent, reaches 4,543 meters. 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

The majestic nature of Simien Mountains

Travel: 3-4 h; 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 return to Gondar and visit the church of Debre Birhan Selassie in the late afternoon, 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 emperors castles in Gondar

Travel: 0.5 h; 10 km

In the morning you will visit the UNESCO sites of Gondar, unique on the African continent: the historic center was founded in 1635 and is in fact occupied by the walled Royal Enclosure, built in perfect Portuguese medieval style. The compound has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. 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. Every January thousands of pilgrims celebrate on of the biggest holidays here.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Herfazy Resort or Similar, Gondar

Day 12

The roaring waters of the Blue Nile Waterfall

Travel: 3-4 h; 200 km

Today you will head towards Bahar Dar: after a typical lunch, 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. Along the picturesque path lie villages and an old Portuguese bride to cross the river gorge. Tropical bird are all over the place along the fertile lands. To reach back to your car you have to cross the river once more by boat. Finally, you drive to your accommodation in the lake town of Bahir Dar.

Meals: B/L/D

Accommodation: Jacaranda Hotel or similar, Bahir Dar

Day 13

Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve - Christianity in nature

Flight time: 1 h

Travel: 1 h; 50 km

Early in the morning you will take a boat trip on 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 on a relaxing forest walk, you will reach Bahir Dar airport and fly to Addis Ababa. 

After reaching Addis Ababa airport, you will finalize your 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 or Spanish & 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.