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Explore Ethiopia's incredible landscapes and fascinating culture on a seven-day trip through Lalibela, Tigray, the Simien Mountains and the Danakil Depression

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  • Helicopter transfers and excursions throughout
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At a glance

From the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and the sweeping plateaus of the Ethiopian Highlands to the otherworldly Danakil Depression, a trip to Ethiopia is a chance to see the world at its most dramatic.

During your seven-day adventure, you will travel by helicopter – not only does this let you cover vast distances in comfort but it also allows you to really appreciate this country’s epic landscape. This trip is based on four people sharing – the maximum number the helicopter accommodates.

After arriving in Addis Ababa you will head straight to Lalibela, following the course of the Blue Nile Gorge. You will explore its famous rock churches, some of which sit 40 feet below the ground. This is Ethiopia’s holiest city and walking along the dimly lit passeways and into hidden crypts carved  a millennia ago is a really special experience.

From Lalibela you will fly through the spectacular Tekeze Gorge into the heart of the Simien Mountains. Enjoy scenic flights through this incredible landscape and discover a wealth of wildlife, from the Gelada Baboon to the endangered Walia ibex who scamper across the craggy peaks with enviable ease and grace.

The northern province of Tigray will be your base for the next three nights. From here you’ll explore the fascinating churches of Gheralta and the ancient town of Aksum with its curious stellae stone monuments that soar towards the sky.

You will also discover one of the lowest, hottest and driest places on earth – the Danakil Depression. This is an alien landscape
of bubbling lava lakes, vast salt pans and hydrothermal fields in vibrant shades of green, red and yellow. To outsiders it may seem like one of the world’s most inhospitable environments, and in many senses it is, but the Afar people have made this place their home. As much as the landscape leaves those who visit in awe, so too does the human ability to adapt and survive.

Example Trip Itinerary

Days 1-3

Lalibela

Flights & Transfers

Transfer

Meet and greet at Addis Ababa airport

 
Helicopter flight to Lalibela Helicopter flight to Lalibela

Take a helicopter flight to Lalibela, passing through astonishing landscapes as you follow the course of the Blue Nile Gorge.

Two nights in Lalibela Two nights in Lalibela

The mountainous north is home to Ethiopia’s most famous historic site – the eleven stone churches of Lalibela. The churches were said to have built as a symbolic ‘New Jerusalem’ after the capture of the Holy Land in 1187 by Saladin. These incredible structures have hand carved doors, windows, columns and floors, connected by passageways lined with hermit caves and catacombs.

St. George Church in Lalibela Ethiopia
Discovering Lalibela's rock churches Discovering Lalibela's rock churches

Lalibela is Ethiopia's holiest city and a site of pilgrimage for many Orthodox Christians. The 900-year-old church of Bet Giyorgis - church of St. George - is located on the western side of the cluster of 11 churches. It was carved from a single piece of rock 40 feet into the ground in the shape of a Greek cross. There is a curtain that shields the Holy of Holies, in front of which usually stands a priest displaying scripture and paintings.

Yemrehana Krestos is a stone and wood church in the Aksumite style, located inside a dark cave 12 miles north east of Lalibela. Until 15 years ago, this church, could only be reached after a long and difficult journey by foot or donkey.

Helicopter flight through the Tekeze Gorge to the Simien Mountains Helicopter flight through the Tekeze Gorge to the Simien Mountains

Enjoy a spectacular flight through the Tekeze Gorge to the Simien Mountains. The Tekeze River has created one of the world’s deepest canyons, over 2000 feet in places. The striking turquoise blue river flows through this stunning, dramatically eroded and barren landscape.

Days 3-4

Simien Mountains

Accommodation in Simien Mountains

One night in the Simien Mountains One night in the Simien Mountains

The deep ravines, craggy peaks and sheer cliffs of northern Ethiopia's Simien Mountains make this one of Africa's most spectacular landscapes. The mountains are surrounded by deep valleys and on a good day, you can enjoy views that stretch for hundreds of kilometres. As well as the epic vistas, the Simien Mountains are important for the diversity of flora and fauna.

They are home to the endangered Walia ibex, who cling to the impossibly steep cliffs, as well as the gelada baboon, often referred to as the bleeding heart baboon on account of its heart-shaped patch of hairless skin on their chest. If you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Ethiopian wolf.

Game drives in the Simien Mountains Game drives in the Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains are home to some very unique wildlife, including the Gelada Baboons with their iconic heart-shaped patch of skin on their chest. The endangered Walia ibex also reside in the mountains, their long curved horns standing out against the horizon as they dart across the craggy peaks. The Ethiopian wolf is rather elusive and spotting one can be tricky, but game drives through this area are wonderful regardless.

Helicopter flight to Tigray Helicopter flight to Tigray
Days 4-7

Tigray

Accommodation in Tigray

tigray-landscape-ethiopia
Three nights in Tigray Three nights in Tigray

The northern region of Tigray was once the core of the ancient Aksumite kingdom. It is home to the historic settlements of Aksum as well as the ruined city of Yeha and is scattered with rock hewn churches, some of which are thought to be older than those in Lalibela. It has a particularly striking landscape with red stratified mountains and sharp peaks that rise from the plains.

The rock hewn churches of Gheralta The rock hewn churches of Gheralta

Very little is known about the origin of the 120 or churches carved into the rock and cliffs, or their architectural history. Local tradition attributes most of the churches to the 4th century Aksumite Kings, Abreha and Atsbeha. Access to the churches involves some interesting hikes up the steep, and sometimes sheer, cliff faces. Inside many of the churches are colourful frescoes, hundreds of years old. The priests who live on these mountains follow a simple life that revolves around the Orthodox Christian calendar.

Abuna Yemata is known as Gheralta's church in the sky and is one of the most inaccessible place of worship on earth, perched on top of a vertical spire. Carved by hand from the rock in which it stands, this 5th century monastery is decorated in exquisite frescoes, and is so sacred that mothers bring their newborn babies up here to be baptised, and bodies have been laid to rest on this mountain.

The monastery of Abune Gebre Mikael has a modest whitewashed entrance set within the natural rock, with old wooden window frames. It opens into a beautiful and classical place of worship, cruciform in plan with dome ceilings, pillars and arche, covered in amazing unspoiled frescos of Christian saints and biblical scenes.

Rectangular in shape with six freestanding pillars, Debre Zion is known for its architectural features, including decorated dome ceilings, bas-reliefs and carved crosses on the walls. It also has beautiful, though faded murals and a unique ancient ceremonial fan.

Danakil Depression Danakil Depression

More than 100 metres below sea level, the Danakil Depression is peppered with colourful sulphurous springs, acid lakes, active volcanoes and giant salt pans. Some of the hottest temperatures known to man are found here. Unlike anything else on this planet, this extraordinary place is located on a geographical fault within the Great Rift Valley.

Danakil Depression: Salt Pans Danakil Depression: Salt Pans

The nomadic Afar people inhabit this region and are frequently seen with their huge trains of camels, gently snaking their way across this inhospitable land to collect salt.

Danakil Depression: Turquoise Pools Danakil Depression: Turquoise Pools

In the heart of the Danakil, between the cracks of the lava flow and within craters, lies Lake Asal, as well as smaller pools of turquoise water. These cool salt lakes, which are mildly saline, are a welcome escape from the heat of the desert.

Danakil Depression: Erta Ale Danakil Depression: Erta Ale

Known by the Afar people as the smoking volcano, Erta Ale has been active for much of this current decade. Surrounded by basaltic lava flows with a molten lake in its crater that goes through cycles of liquid lava simmering, with the occasional fountain that sprays 12 feet into the air, then cooling forming a black crust.

axum-tigray-ethiopia
Aksum Aksum

The ruins of the ancient city of Aksum mark the heart of ancient Ethiopia, when the Kingdom of Aksum was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The town is most famous for its stellae stone monuments. Carved from a single piece of stone, the stellae are engraved with windows and a door. The apex is carved into a semi circle which symbolises the heavens. All of them face south so as to watch the sun move across the sky.

In the heart of Aksum is the 17th century Church of Saint Maria of Zion. The chapel is believed to house the Ark of the Covenant and is still a popular site for many pilgrims.

tropic-air-flight-over-blue-nile-gorge
Helicopter flight to Addis Ababa Helicopter flight to Addis Ababa
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Epic Ethiopia by helicopter

7-Day Example Trip
 
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