Ethiopian orthodox church with sunrays in Addis Ababa
Ethiopian orthodox church with sunrays in Addis Ababa
NEW for 2019

Ethiopia: Ancient Kingdoms & Legends


16 days From $7,525

October 8 2019

Linked to the ancient Near East by three thousand years of recorded history, Ethiopia, the fabled Land of Punt, has fired the imagination of travelers for hundreds of years. The Kingdom of Axum, traditionally founded by descendants of King Solomon and the legendary Queen of Sheba in Yemen, where much of Ethiopia’s culture originated, was one of the oldest empires of Africa. Incense, ivory and spices were traded via the ancient port of Adulis across southern Arabia into India, Ceylon and Rome during the Classical and Early Christian periods, establishing its wealth and power as an equal to Rome and Byzantium. Later, as Axum’s power waned, a usurping dynasty was installed at Lalibela, where, in the late 12th or early 13th century, the enormous project of carving out a series of churches from the solid rock was undertaken. Finally, after several wars with Muslim states, which destroyed many of the Christian cultural monuments, descendants of the royal line recovered the kingdom and built the castles and churches of Gondar.

Untainted by colonization, a distinct form of Orthodox Christianity has been preserved in Ethiopia. We will see its extraordinary pageantry, its unique variations of church architecture as well as traditional lifestyles in the countryside, where ancient agriculture and pastoral nomadism continue. Our tour will expose us to the enigmatic remains of the region’s great historical periods as we travel through breathtakingly beautiful mountains, the lushly cultivated islands of Lake Tana and the stark desert landscapes pierced by the bright waters of the Blue Nile. This visual feast, together with the diversity of religions, languages and tribal traditions, makes Ethiopia an intriguing and exciting place to visit.

This tour is perfect for our relatively more adventurous clients. Tourism in Ethiopia is quietly in the midst of a significant increase in visitor numbers, yet remains off the beaten track for many. It is important to note that during our program we will travel between destinations over roads that are often unpaved and bumpy, with sparse restrooms that when available will require squatting. All our accommodations are clean and comfortable, and the places you will you will visit will far outweigh the need for creature comforts.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Dr Jacke Phillips

Dr Jacke Phillips

Dr. Jacke Phillips is a specialist in the archaeology of Ethiopia, from prehistory to the medieval period.

Book Now $7,525
Includes deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,050

Tour highlights:

  • Follow the full arc of Ethiopia’s history, from Palaeolithic settlements, via Medieval churches, to recent colonial clashes
  • Embark on a breathtakingly scenic drive through the peaks and gullies of the Simien Mountains National Park
  • Explore the marvelous rock-cut churches and labyrinthine tunnels of Lalibela, carved by the kings of the Zagwe dynasty
  • Luxuriate on Laka Tana on a half-day boat trip, visiting the Island monasteries of Ura Kidane Mihret and Awza Mariam

Tour details

Dates October 8 2019 - October 23 2019
Duration 16 days
Cost $7,525
Single supplement: $1,050
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by July 16 2019
Activity Level Challenging
Tour code A19ETH

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

October 8 2019: Itinerary

We arrive into Addis Ababa today and transfer to our hotel for the following three nights.

Hotel: Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa

After an orientation lecture by Dr. Phillips, we begin at the National Archaeological and Ethnographic Museums. After lunch, we continue to St. George Cathedral and its museum, which displays the best collection of ecclesiastical materials in the country.

All meals included

Hotel: Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa

This full day takes us south of Addis Ababa to the archaeological site at Melka Kunture, where ongoing excavations are uncovering exciting evidence of early man. In the fields outside the small village of Tiya, we find a wonderful group of menhirs (standings tones), many carved with symbols and weapons. We end the day in the capital built by Emperor Menelik II, including Entoto Hills and Menelik’s Palace.

All meals included

Hotel: Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa

This morning we fly to Mekele and drive to Wukro. In this region, known as Tigray, numerous rock-hewn churches were built from about the 10th to the 15th centuries. Most of these churches are hewn out of remote cliff faces in a style evolved from hermits’ caves. Some are elaborately decorated while others are little more than a room cut into the rock. Among the churches we visit is the 10th-century Abraha Atsbeha, renowned for its lovely 17th- and 18th-century murals, valuable artifacts, and the tiny Dugem Selassie nestled within a newer church. We then venture into the Danakil Desert, where we might see caravans of Afar nomads bring slabs of salt from the Danakil Depression.

All meals included

Hotel: Wukro Lodge

We drive west to Axum via Adwa, site of the decisive battle that saved Ethiopia from colonization. Our home for the next four nights, the city of Axum was founded as early as the 10th century BC and reputed as the one-time home to the Queen of Sheba. The Axum Empire was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world, and contemporary of Rome and Byzantium lasting until the 7th century AD. The city is most famous for its large granite stelae, some decorated with doors, windows and beams to resemble multistoried palaces, ranking among the largest stones ever used by man in building. They marked the royal cemetery, where the tombs of the kings are still being excavated.

All meals included

Hotel: Sabean International Hotel, Axum

These days will be spent touring in and around Axum. We visit the Archaeological Museum, which hosts a wide range of artifacts dating to the Aksumite Empire that flourished until the 7th century AD. We also explore the Tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, the Mai Shum reservoir, also known as the Queen of Sheba’s bath, and as the quarry from which the large granite stelae were carved. We discover St. Mary of Zion Cathedral, the oldest church in Africa. According to long tradition, the Treasury houses the Ark of the Covenant. A few miles outside of Axum we make our way to visit an interesting relief known as the Lion of Gobedra (actually a lioness) then continue on to explore the palace complex at Dungur. This excavated site, of 16th century AD date, was undoubtedly the semi-fortified residence of one of the great nobles of Axum, although today it is better known as the Queen of Sheba’s Palace, even though she lived some 200 years previously. Our touring will also include a trip to Yeha to visit the ruins of a Sabaean city with architecture reminiscent of that seen in Yemen. The so-called temple, which is now enclosed in a church, is built of huge sandstone blocks, some of which have been reused in the nearby church and are inscribed with Sabaean inscriptions and a relief of ibexes, a sacred animal of southern Arabia.

All meals included

Hotel: Sabean International Hotel, Axum

Our drive through the scenic Simien Mountains will be memorable for spectacular vistas and breathtaking landscapes. According to Homer, these mountains were so beautiful that they became the playground of the gods. We will arrive at the Simien Lodge near the village of Debark (elevation 3,000 meters) in the afternoon.

All meals included

Hotel: Simien Lodge

This morning we explore the area with an opportunity for a light hike. After lunch we depart for our next destination. In the foothills of the Simien Mountains we reach the imperial splendor of Gondar, the first capital city of the Ethiopian Empire.

All meals included

Hotel: Goha Hotel, Gondar

Gondar, formerly Ethiopia’s capital, was the site of great building projects, including several castles and churches originally constructed by the emperors of the 17th and 18th centuries. Today we will visit the imperial precinct, which contains five castles with battlements, observation towers and connecting tunnels all surrounded by high stone walls. The oldest, Castle of Fasilades was built in the mid-17th century and reflects Axumite, Portuguese and Indian influences. Touring continues at the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie, which is beautifully decorated with paintings dated to 1815–1826 by the artist Haile Meskel. This afternoon, we visit Emperor Fasiladas’ Bath, used today for ceremonies and reenactments of baptism and cleansing.

All meals included

Hotel: Goha Hotel, Gondar

Today we head south to Bahir Dar, modern capital of the Amhara region of Ethiopia, stopping off in Guzara village along the way. Bahir Dar was a focal point of the European kingdoms and Christian missionaries in the middle ages, resulting in a wide variety of archaeological sites from this pivotal period in Ethiopian history. Bahir Dar, often described as the Ethiopian Riviera, is a lakeside city decorated with wide avenues, palm trees, and colorful flowers. It is located on the south shore of Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile.

All meals included

Hotel: Goha Hotel, Gondar

This morning we venture out on a half day boat trip to visit the island monasteries of Ura Kidane Mihret and Awza Mariam. Their distinctive round churches constructed of mud, wood and reeds woven into intricate patterns are lavishly painted with biblical stories and Ethiopia’s own pantheon of saints. After lunch, we visit the impressive Blue Nile and appreciate its power and drama at Tisisat Falls. While not always in full flood, this misty deluge measuring 148 ft high and 1,312 feet wide, is a remarkable spectacle to all visitors. We also have the opportunity to view the source of the Blue Nile and a fortified stone bridge built in the seventeenth century by Portuguese adventurers. After our morning of adventuring, there will be time to relax and enjoy our lovely lakeside resort hotel.

All meals included

Hotel: Kuriftu Resort and Spa Bahir Dar

An early morning flight over vast desert and mountain landscapes brings us into Lalibela, center of the Zagwe dynasty of medieval kings. Here we will spend two days exploring the unique churches that recall the ancient Axumite architectural tradition. Upon arrival we explore the Medieval cave monastery of Yimrehanne Kristos, with its preserved church and royal lodge of the 12th century. Still maintained by monks it remains a center of worship and seasonal pilgrimage for modern Ethiopians. After lunch, we visit the new Lalibela Cultural Center with exhibits that include ancient manuscripts, cultural artifacts and archaeological finds from local sites.

All meals included

Hotel: Zagwe Hotel, Lalibela

Today is a full day in Lalibela spent visiting the iconic medieval rock-hewn churches and monasteries. The city is almost a work of art completely carved from the rock. The Zagwe dynasty ruled at a time when the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was impossible, so they built their own. The churches are organized in two groups- those of “Earthly Jerusalem” on the northwest side of the river Jordan, and those of “Heavenly Jerusalem” on the southeast side. These eleven monolithic structures are a testament to the skills of Ethiopia’s stone masons and were understandably declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. We visit a whole series connected by dark tunnels, wide plazas, and steep worn steps.

All meals included

Hotel: Zagwe Hotel, Lalibela

Today we fly back to Addis Ababa where we have day use of our hotel. The rest of the day will be at leisure to explore Addis Ababa’s galleries and famous marcato or return to the museum before we transfer to the airport for our evening or early morning flights.

Meals include: Breakfast

October 8 2019: Additional Info

October 8 2019: Accommodation

Offering a large swimming pool surrounded by a tropical garden and sun loungers, the Hilton Addis Ababa is within 4.3 miles from the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

The classic rooms come complete with a balcony offering views of the garden, pool or city and include air conditioning, a flat-screen satellite TV, desk and tea-and-coffee-making facilities. Some units have a kitchenette and a lounge.

Hilton Addis Ababa offers 3 restaurants and 2 bars. Cuisines comprise of Italian-inspired wood-fired oven pizzas, as well as local and international flavors. The bars serve light snacks, cocktails and a variety of drinks.

The hotel boasts a tennis court, fitness center and a children’s playground. Guests can relax and unwind in the sauna, hammam and hot tub. Massages can also be arranged upon request.

Wukro Eco Lodge is located 45kms from Mekele in the town of Wukro. This Eco lodge is strategically located from which all the cluster rock hewn churches of Tigrai can be visited. The historic mosque of Negash and the town of Agulae, the entrance to Danakil depression, are located with in 10 kms from the lodge.

The lodge is constructed in an Eco friendly manner in that all the rooms are fitted with Solar panel water heater,as well as the walk away paths leading to every room and restaurant are illuminated with solar lights.

Located in Axum, 0.9 miles from King Bazens Tomb, Sabean International Hotel features a shared lounge. Located around 1.8 miles from Bath of Queen of Sheeba, the hotel is also less than 0.6 miles away from Church / Axum. Tourist Info Center is an 18-minute walk from the hotel and Tigray Tourist Bureau is 1.2 miles away.

The rooms in the hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV. Free WiFi is available to all guests, while some rooms also feature a balcony. Guest rooms feature a desk.

A continental breakfast can be enjoyed at the property.

A tukel is the name that Ethiopians give to a house. In the case of Simien lodge, the tukel forms two rooms with two bathrooms. Each room is of a good quality inside with 2 large single beds (2m x 1m). There is a bathroom with shower. All rooms have under-floor heating by solar (which of course works when there is sun). Each room has a sheltered balcony. All rooms have fibreglass insulation to the ceiling, walls and floor. Remember we are a mountain lodge and nights can be chilly. So come prepared with warm clothes.

There are 26 main rooms. Twenty four rooms have twin beds and two have double beds. The bedding is quilts with pure white cotton sheets and extra blankets if needed.

The bathrooms have a shower (we do not have baths because of the scarcity of water in the dry season). Hot water is by solar with electricity backup.

Goha Hotel offers accommodation situated on a hill and offering panoramic views of the city of Gondar. The property boasts an outdoor swimming pool and free WiFi in the public areas.

Each room at Goha Hotel features traditional decor and a seating area. It is equipped with a telephone and a writing desk, and the private bathrooms are fitted with a shower.

The restaurant at Goha Hotel serves traditional Ethiopian meals as well as European cuisine, and frequently features live entertainment, with traditional music and dance.

Guests can relax at the pool or on the terrace. The property has a gift shop and a business center on site, and meeting and banquet facilities are also available.

Offering a year-round outdoor pool, Kuriftu Resort and Spa Bahir Dar is situated on the shores of Lake Tana. The resort is located 0.6 miles from the Marine Authority Boat and Ferry Launch.

Each room has a flat-screen TV. Certain units have views of the lake or pool. The rooms have a private bathroom and also feature a sofa and fireplace. For your comfort, you will find bathrobes, slippers and free toiletries.

Kuriftu Resort and Spa Bahir Dar has a restaurant and bar on site. Room service is offered at the property and breakfast is served daily.

Zagwe Hotel is offering accommodation in Lalībela. Featuring a restaurant, the property also has a garden. The property is set 350 yards from Bet Abba Libanos.

Guest rooms at the hotel come with a seating area and a flat-screen TV. The private bathroom is fitted with a hair dryer. All units include a desk.

An American breakfast is available each morning at the property.

Zagwe Hotel offers a terrace.

October 8 2019: Enquiries

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