Historic North Circuit
Explore the Simien Mountains from a luxury lodge perched high in the escarpment, discover the architectural remains of ancient civilizations, and watch the sunset over the sandstone cliffs of Tigray. The Historic North Circuit is a flagship itinerary in the northern highlands of Ethiopia, combining all the highlights north of Addis Ababa along a perfectly paced trip.
- Domestic flights.
- All road transfers and airport pickups/drop-offs by private minibus or 4WD where appropriate.
- All accommodation as per the itinerary. Accommodation can be amended based on budget and preferences.
- All camping equipment while trekking in the Simien Mountains.
- Fees for guides, scouts, drivers, and cooks.
- All entrance fees as per the program.
- Meal plan bed and breakfast. All meals are included while on treks and at Limalimo Lodge.
- All government taxes for the services are included in the tour price.
- International flights and visa fees.
- Lunches and dinners, unless stated as included above.
- Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary.
- Fees for photos and video.
- Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips, and gratuities, etc.
Fly to Addis Ababa, where you will be met at the airport. After a transfer to your hotel, enjoy a little down time by the pool, before taking your first steps into the city. The Italian-built Piazza sits next to famous markets and bustling streets. Nearby are the Grand Anwar Mosque and the Ragual Church. The Mosque and church are within a stone’s throw of each other, highlighting the peace between different religions in Ethiopia. Get lost in Mercato, the largest open-air market in Africa. Its labyrinthine alleys are perfect for people watching or enjoying a coffee. Coffee ceremonies here are famous and a source of pride, be sure to try to experience this at least once on your trip!
Venture to the National Museum to see how it all started: meet Lucy, the 3.2 million year old fossilised skeleton here. Her discovery re-wrote the story of human evolution, as she was found to have walked on two legs. See the Holy Trinity Cathedral, famed for its copper dome and neo-baroque architecture. It houses the tombs of the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassi, and the British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. A short drive up Mount Entoto will take you to the Palace of Emperor Menelik II. From this vantage point, you have an excellent view of the city. On the way back to Addis, perhaps stop by Shiro Meda, the biggest garment market in the country, where hundreds of vendors line the busy Entoto Road and sell hand woven traditional cloths.
In the evening, enjoy a traditional dinner at one of the capital's fantastic cultural restaurants.
From Addis, you’ll take a one hour flight north to Bahir Dar. Here, your guide will accompany you on a boat trip on Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake. Visit some of the peaceful monasteries nestled on the islands and peninsulas around the lake and wander through coffee plantations, enjoy some of the local brew and meet local farmers.
As the monasteries were used for religious retreats, the lake and its islands serve as an unofficial nature reserve. Look out for white pelicans and ‘airbreathing’ catfish. Your boat tour will end at Zege peninsula. There is a short path walk towards Ura Kidrane Mehret, arguably the most beautiful of all the churches at Lake Tana, with hundred-year-old characterful frescoes.
Later venture towards the only outflow of the lake: Blue Nile Falls. These 42 metre falls create such large amounts of spray that they are known in Amharic (Ethiopia’s official language) as ‘Tis Abay’ meaning ‘Smoking Water’. A short distance down the Blue Nile lies a stone bridge built in 1626: potentially one of the famed seven stone bridges built by the emperor Fasilides. This river and another, the White Nile, are the two main tributaries to the Nile, the world’s longest river.
From Bahir Dar, a short flight takes you to Lalibela, home of the rock-hewn churches and a World Heritage Site. These eleven structures are world-famous, having been built in the 12-13th century and carved out of single pieces of rock. Haile Selassi reportedly risked his life to make a solo pilgrimage here during the war with Italy, seeking clarity and guidance.
Discover Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the world), believed to be the world’s largest monolithic church, before navigating through the system of trenches to arrive at Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), the most famous and isolated of all the structures. It’s worth spending a day wandering through these mazes of rock and soaking up the heritage. If you’ve time, there is also a wonderful hike to a monastery up on the mountainside.
Finish the day with a delicious dinner in the famous Ben Abeba restaurant, a crazy structure of steel and concrete overlooking the hills and valleys of the mountains.
Brilliant says: it's often worth spending more than one night in Lalibela to really soak it up. An extra day also gives you the opportunity to explore some of the wonders in the highlands around Lalibela.
Spend the morning visiting the remaining rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. Catch a midday flight to Gondar, the old capital of the country. Your first stop will be Debre Berhan Selassie Church, whose heavy and unassuming stone facade hides the colourful frescoes inside.
After this you will head to the well-preserved Fasil Gebbi in Gondar, described by some as the ‘Camelot of Africa’. Now known as the Royal Enclosure, this was initially founded in 1636 and built by Emperor Fasilides as his home, but successive emperors and rulers added to his blueprint. Now, the buildings span over 70,000 square metres of land and include palaces, libraries, two lion houses, royal baths, and a women’s vocational school built by Mentewab, the Empress of Ethiopia. Within the enclosure there are multiple architectural styles and influences jostling for position. The influences include Indian, Portuguese, Moorish and Aksumite.
A car will pick you up from your hotel in Gondar take you to Debark, the headquarters of the Simien Mountains National Park. Here you’ll meet with your trek leader and scout. You’ll take a 4×4 some of the way to your first camp at Sankaber, but you will walk the final stretch (approximately 3 hours) in order to acclimatise to the altitude.
Ascending to over 3,000m above sea level and with a jagged landscape, you’ll be stunned by the views from the offset. You’ll be met with drinks, a tasty and hearty dinner, and a campsite in Sankaber where you can sit around the fire and swap stories with guides and other trekkers.
The first full day of hiking starts with breakfast, and then a trail along the ridge. This gives you a vantage point and incredible views over the foothills some 800m below. The mountains are known worldwide for their biodiversity: Ethiopia’s placement on the equator makes this mountain range a particularly temperate one. Your guides will point out flora and fauna of note, but regular sightings on this trail are of Gelada Monkeys, Klipspringer, and Ibex. From these heights, you’ll be able to watch birds of prey soar on the thermals below.
A highlight of today’s path is Genbar Falls, a waterfall over a sobering 500m sheer drop which you’ll see from the opposite side of the ridge. After a break for lunch, you’ll carry on towards Geech, a remote traditional village with thatched roofs. This is the perfect opportunity for a booster: some coffee and injera. Then onwards to the camp which is a great spot for watching the sunset.
Most of today’s path hugs the edge of the ridge. You’ll drop down through a forest of Giant Hazel before rising back to open grassland and continuing on your ascent up to Inyate. The views from the top are monumental. After recovering from the climb and the view, you’ll descend towards Chenek camp. This camp is well known for its visitors: Wallia Ibex and Gelada Baboons.
Today you’ll reach the highest point of the trek so far. The day will start with a gentle trek up the Buhait pass before the trail steepens. The climb will test but reward you, with the jagged and steep terrain giving way to striking views once you reach the summit. As with the other areas, wildlife is plentiful here and people have spotted the elusive Ethiopian Wolf as well as Ibex, monkeys and an array of bird life.
Brilliant says: it's possible to replace camping in the Simiens with lodge stays, or extend/reduce the amount of camping in the Simiens depending on your interests and fitness levels.
In the morning, drive (~2.5 hours) to the incredible Limalimo Lodge. Spend the day relaxing around the idyllic lodge - the perfect way to bring your adventure in the Simien Mountains to an end.
Brilliant says: you might want to consider spending at least 2 nights at Limalimo Lodge - it's a real treat!
After breakfast at Limalimo, drive down the switchbacks (4-6 hours) to Axum, Ethiopia’s most religious city which is home to an impressive display of Obelisks. The city is purported to have been the home of the Queen of Sheba. Rumour has it that the lost Ark of the Covenant is in the Church of St Mary of Zion. A short walk through the cobbled streets brings you to the stelae fields. Some of the 4th century AD granite structures rise to over 23 metres.
Head to Gheralta Lodge, the perfect way to end your adventure around northern Ethiopia.
After lunch at the lodge, explore some of the rock-churches in the region. The rock churches of Tigray are astounding not just for their history, rock carvings and paintings, but also for their representation of the religious commitment of the local people. Built high into the cliff face, some of these churches are only accessible through climbing the vertical cliff, and yet they’re still used by local Ethiopians of all ages. The views from inside the churches is extraordinary. The view as the sunsets behind the mountains and the sky illuminates in dark reds, yellows and oranges is the perfect end to your adventure.
Brilliant says: You might want to consider extending your stay at Gheralta to two nights and/or upgrading to Korkor Lodge.
Head to Mekele airport and visit two fantastic churches en route. Fly to Addis Ababa where your Ethiopian adventure will draw to a close. Be sure to squeeze in a coffee and some market walks before you head home.
Brilliant says: it is easy to adjust the start/end of your adventure to line up with your international flights.