Ethiopia is a land full of history, culture and beautiful environments. It’s a magical place to explore and an adventure you will never forget. Spending two weeks in Ethiopia is the perfect amount of time to see all the great bits of it and really take in the culture around you. There’s volcanos, mountains, ancient churches and more to see. Here I have put together a two-week itinerary which will take you to all the best parts of Ethiopia.
Getting To Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia and is where you will land after taking your international flights. It’s a well-connected airport and several airlines will get you there. The best airline to fly with it Ethiopian Airlines, they offer great service and flying with them will give you a discount on all your internal flights.
Tip: Don’t book your internal flight for Ethiopia until you have landed, as booking them at a local Ethiopian Airlines office will get you a large discount.
What To Bring With You
Here is a packing list of things that will make your trip to Ethiopia more comfortable. You may ask why now, but once you have read through the itinerary, it’ll make sense.
- A head torch
- Walking boots
- A warm sleeping bag
- Baby wipes
- Clothes for warm and cold weather.
When To Go
As a rule, the best time to be in Ethiopia is between October and April in the dry season. This will make getting around much easier as the roads get bad in the rains and will make for a sunny, dry holiday rather than a wet-cloudy one.
Day 1: Addis Ababa
On arrival in Addis, hop in a taxi to your chosen hotel. I would personally recommend Arequ Guest House. It’s a family-run guest house and the rooms are beautifully decorated with traditional Ethiopian furniture. There’s good wifi, hot water, it’s clean and close to the airport. If it’s not your style there are quite a lot of other options.
Your first day in Addis will be a balance of admin and culture, as you need to take advantage of being in the capital before you move on. Firstly, ask your hotel to organize a taxi for you for the day. Remember to negotiate on price, it should be around 600 birr. In the morning, hop in the taxi and take this chance to accomplish the list below.
- Change any money you have to Ethiopia Birr if you need to. This is done at a bank usually.
- Get a local sim card, if you want one.
- Got to a local Ethiopian Airlines office and book the following flights and remember to mention it if you flew in with Ethiopian Airlines.
- Addis to Mekele for tomorrow (day 2)
- Mekele to Lalibela (day 6)
- Lalibela to Gondar (day 9)
- Gondar to Addis Ababa. (day 13)
Once you have accomplished what you need it’s time to have some fun and see what Ethiopia’s like. Ask your taxi to take you to the ‘Red Terror’ Martyrs Memorial Museum. This is a bit of a brutal introduction and the museum exhibits one of the hardest times in Ethiopian history, the Derg. The museum takes you through what it was like during the Derg where over half a million Ethiopians were killed in order to keep the population in fear. It’s a very moving and heart hitting exhibit but it’s a great thing to experience before you begin your trip.
From here, it’s time to get into the local cuisine. Ask your driver to take you over to the Itegue taitu Hotel where they serve an amazing vegan buffet of traditional Ethiopian food. This is some of the best in the city and you may be spoiled here before eating it again elsewhere.
Spend the afternoon at the Ethnological Museum based inside Haile Selassie’s old palace and surrounded by gorgeous gardens and fountains. It is known as one of the best museums in Africa and exhibits Ethiopia’s social and cultural history over two floors. The exhibits are arranged in order of the life cycle to give you a view of what it was like to grow up as an Ethiopian.
To finish the day, head for dinner at Yod Abyssinia. It’s great for local food and tej (honey wine). At 7:30 pm local musicians, dancers, and singers take to the stage to perform traditional acts. It’s a fun show and a great way to get into the culture at the beginning of your trip.
Day 2-5: Erta Ale & Dallol
Hop on your flight from Addis to Mekele and prepare yourself to hike up Erta Ale volcano and to see Dallol, a cinder volcano that sits below sea level in a world of color both found on the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places in the world. When you land in Mekele you will be met by your tour guide for the trip and we would recommend booking with Smiling Ethiopia.
You will struggle to do this part of the trip alone and you will need a tour guide. They will provide you with your equipment, vehicles, food, water, an English speaking guide, drivers, cooks and of course your military escorts. Military escorts are mandatory for this trip.
Once you have found your guide, they will take you to Wikro for the night where there are some beautiful ecolodges to stay in.
Day 3: Erta Ale
Wake up early in the morning for breakfast and begin the long drive to Erta Ale. You’ll drive across the Danakil desert in a 4×4 watching the fog of sand fly by, stopping for lunch on the way. You’ll arrive at Erta Ale basecamp in the late afternoon. Once at base camp, you’ll have dinner and prepare to hike up the volcano in the dark, it’s far too hot to go up in the day. At this point, you will be given gas masks to wear by your guide.
Erta Ale is an active volcano and has the longest existing lava lake that has been erupting since 1906. It is around 2000 feet high and you’re about to climb it and stare into the fields of lava, exciting right? Volcanos with consistent lava lakes are rare, there are only 8 in the world. They give off toxic gases, which is why you are issued with gas masks before you begin your ascent.
At around sunset, you will begin the 3-hour hike up the volcano. Your guides set the pace and it is fast, if it’s too fast, don’t be scared to ask for a break or to slow down. Make sure to have your torch with you as the path is gravelly and it’s easy to slip on. When you approach the summit, you’ll be met by a red glow of the lava field and you’ll be blasted by the heat running off it. Once you reach the top, you can stare into the lava lake and watch as the glowing angry liquid oozes and pops as it erupts around the summit. It’s fixating to see and hard to stop staring into, a bit like the fires of Mordor in Lord of The Rings. Once you’re ready, you will walk down for around 20 minutes and camp near the summit, before waking up at 4 am to get back to base camp for sunrise and breakfast.
Day 4: Erta Ale to Dallol
This is another long day in the car. After breakfast at Erta Ale, you will drive all day towards Dallol stopping for lunch and the sunset at Lake Asale. Once you arrive close to Dallol you will sleep under the stars and enjoy a campsite dinner.
Day 5: Dallol and Back to Wikro
Dallol is a much easier day than Erta Ale and you’ll aim to be there after breakfast at around 8 am before it gets too hot.
Once there you’ll spend about an hour walking around the salty color-filled land. Dallol is like another world. You can feel the heat pushing out from the earth and your nose is full of the smell of sulfur while you walk around this odd place. You’ll be surrounded by salt cones and craters all colored in yellow and blue in the middle of a craggy baron desert. It’s hard to put into words how foreign the environment feels, it’s like being on one of Jupiter’s moons. Be sure not to get too close to the water, its 100 degrees celsius, very acidic and there is no hospital nearby.
Once you’re ready, it’s time to transfer back to Wikro stopping for lunch on the way. You will be so happy to be back in a world of running water and electricity, you have no idea. And you’ll find it hard to comprehend the things you have seen in the last few days.
What To Expect
These two days are tough and you will have to rough it. Here is what to expect so you don’t have any surprises.
There is no infrastructure. No showers, no toilets, no fresh water, and no electricity. The ‘bush’ will be your toilet and you won’t be able to clean yourself while you’re there. Take some wet wipes with you. Your drinking water should be provided by your guide but always check before you begin your journey.
Stay hydrated and be ready to feel uncomfortable, it’s very hot. Take a hat and suncream. Most of the walking happens before the sun is too hot or when it’s dark, so you will avoid the hottest times.
Military escorts are mandatory and don’t less this put you off, however. Your escorts will change from time to time and they may not all look or dress the same. The Danakil is a poor area and your escorts take their roles seriously.
Your guides will often pick up people in need of a lift and this is normal and nothing to worry about. You’ll see people randomly appearing from the desert, this is also normal and the Afar people wander to create a living.
You will be given gas masks when you get to Erta Ale. This is to protect you from the toxic fumes of the lava. Make sure you use them when you’re told to.
Day 6-9: The Churches Of Lalibela
Now it’s time to relax and bit and head to Lalibela to take in a bit of culture and history. You can also book this part of the trip through a tour company or it’s quite easy to do your self. If you would like to book a tour, Smiling Ethiopia is a good choice again or you can look online here.
Lalibela is a quaint little village in the rural highlands of Ethiopia. It’s a relaxed town with no hawkers, touts or fake culture and is most famous for its rock-hewn churches. The churches were built by laborers under the direction of Emperor Lalibela in the 12th century. There are eleven churches in Lalibela each one carved from living rock with nothing but chisels and hammers. They were built as a symbolic representation of the layout of Jerusalem. One cluster of churches denotes heavenly Jerusalem and the other, earthly Jerusalem. There is a trench between them that represents the river of Jordan.
The eleven churches are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and architecturally, the churches are amazing to see. The most impressive of these rock-hewn churches is the Church of Saint George or Bete Giyorgis. It is by far the most well-known church in the area and has been referred to as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.
Where To Stay
There are lots of choices for accommodation in Lalibela and finding something to suit your needs won’t be hard. If you want a budget option, the Red Rock Lalibela Hotel is a great shout. You’ll have a nice ensuite room with hot water and a balcony for $15 a night. There is free wifi, it includes breakfast and it’s central, making it an easy walk to the churches.
For a more luxurious experience head to the Maribela Hotel. The rooms are beautiful, there a restaurant and a 24-hour front desk. It has everything you would expect from a top-class hotel and rooms go for around $100 a night.
Enjoy your morning at Wikro and get on your transfer to Mekele Airport to catch your flight to Lalibela. Once you land at Lalibela, you will need a transfer to town from the airport. It’s about a 20km drive and you can book a transfer through your hotel.
On arrival at your hotel, ask them to organize a guide to take you around the churches for the next two days. You can go unguided but there is not much written information or signage at the churches. The guides know the best way around the churches, where the good picture spots are and will teach you about the local legends, depth, intricacies and customs of Lalibela. If you have booked with a tour operator, you won’t have to do this.
Once you’ve settled in and if you have some time, have a walk around the town, take in the culture and watch the sunset from one of the many amazing viewpoints.
After a lovely breakfast, meet your guide and take a short walk to the churches if you are at a central hotel. Tickets cost $50 and last for five days, so do not lose your ticket as you’ll need it the following day. You have two days to explore the churches and it’s best to do half one day and half the other. The churches are open from 6 am to 12 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm.
Spend the morning going around the northern cluster where you will get some lovely pictures in the morning light as your guide fills you with the history of each of the churches. Once you have gone through them all, head back into town for lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing, exploring the town or head back to the churches for a second look.
It is off to the churches again but this time to the southern cluster which includes St George’s or Bet Giyorgis, the most impressive church. At around noon head back to town for lunch and spend the afternoon as you wish. It’s your last chance to see the churches before you leave so maybe it’s the moment for one last look.
Day 9-13: The Simien Mountains
It’s time to put your hiking shoes back on and explore some more of Ethiopia’s unique nature in the Simien Mountains National Park.
Wake up to your final breakfast in Lalibela and when you’re ready, hop in a taxi to the airport to catch your flight from Lalibela to Gondar. Once you arrive in Gondar you will meet your new guide and he will take you via the park headquarters to Limalimo Lodge, where you’ll be staying for the night. The lodge is on the outskirts of the park, is beautifully designed and with inspiring views of the park. Spend the day enjoying the scenery and preparing for your three-day trek which the lodge will have organized for you. Now is also a good time to discuss your route for your hiking trip and be sure to let them know if there is anything, in particular, you would like to do, like summitting one of the peaks.
Wake up to a delicious breakfast, amazing views and get excited to walk around some of the most stunning scenery on earth. You’ll be walking about 7-8 hours a day from campsite to campsite for the next 3 nights. The park is made for hiking and it is by far the best way to see it. The lodge will provide all the equipment you need as well as food and water for the trip, but do bring your sleeping bag with you. You’ll walk with a guide, an armed park ranger, and a cook. Once you have met your team and agreed on your route, it’s off into the park for three nights until you return to the lodge for your final night on day 13.
What’s it like?
While you hike over the Simien massif, you’ll notice how the park’s features were forged over millions of years of volcanic eruptions and intense erosion to form craggy peaks, deep canyons, and oddly shaped pinnacles. As you wander on the high-altitude escarpments, alpine meadows, and the colorful lowlands, you’ll begin to see how diverse the park is.
The escarpments are made up of the sheerest of cliffs with giant waterfalls pouring off them into tiny plunge pools, and rocky spits poking out from the forests below. Clouds and mist fog around your feet as you walk on the roof of Africa, in amongst giant heather and lobelia, listening to the cry on endemic vultures. You truly feel like you have been teleported into another world.
While on your journey through the Simien Mountains National Park, you might be lucky enough to see some of the amazing endemic species that call the park home. You are likely to spot some gelada monkeys around the escarpments, where they live in groups of a hundred or more. They are very playful and are happy to be approached, you can get within meters of them. If you are very lucky, you may see the rarest canid in the world, the Ethiopian wolf. They live at high altitude and if you plan on summiting a peak, you’ll have a good chance of running into them. Then there is the Walia Ibex which is only found in the Simien Mountains and nowhere else. It’s a form of mountain goat but it looks more deer-like. They are very pretty and graceful, you’ll see them in steep rocky places, grazing the vertical cliffs around the escarpments.
This is your last day of hiking through the park and you will slowly make your way back to the lodge. You’ll arrive before sunset and enjoy a delicious dinner in the evening. Being in a real bed and having a shower is going to feel like a real treat after the walk you have just been on. It’s also time to think about packing as it’s your last night in Ethiopia. It’s crazy to think of all the wonders you have seen in just two weeks.
Day 14: Home Time
Wake up early to enjoy your last morning in the Simien Mountains and the head to Gondar to catch your flight to Addis and then on to home.