Northern Kenya to Ethiopian Highlands

Northern Kenya to Ethiopian Highlands

From $ 8,525 AUD

Description

Travel from the rarely visited northern region of Kenya to the Ethiopian highlands, an area steeped in natural beauty and human history. Head north from Nairobi to Nanyuki and Samburu, hiking in the shadow of Mount Kenya and searching for the ‘Special Five’, wildlife unique to this area. Spend some time learning about the traditional peoples of northern Kenya, including the Samburu and Hamar, before crossing into Ethiopia where you’ll witness the ancient cities of Gondar, Lalibela and Axum, as well as the World Heritage-listed Simien Mountains National Park.

Trip Name
Northern Kenya to Ethiopian Highlands
Last Updated
2018-12-10
Days
26
Capacity
12
Highlights
  • Hike to Old Moses Point for views over the twisting valleys and rugged peaks of Mount Kenya National Park
  • Embark on a game drive in the Ol Pajeta Conservancy, where you'll see giraffe, zebra, elephant, jackal, hippo, rhino, baboon and gazelle roam among the acacia trees and 'whistling thorn' shrubs
  • Visit the crater lakes that sit atop Mt Marsabit. The aptly named Lake Paradise is partly covered by Nile cabbage and rimed by verdant forest
  • Visit the Dorze people and immerse yourself in a culture well known for their unique beehive houses and colourful woven fabrics.
  • Take a boat trip on Lake Chamo for a chance spotting of the resident hippos, thousands of Nile crocodiles, rich bird life and local fishermen.
  • Search for the Gelada baboon in Ethiopia's Simien Mountains.
  • Visit Ethiopia’s ancient cities including Gondar, Lalibela and Axum.

Itinerary

Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Essential Trip Information a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. If you have any queries, please contact your travel agent or our staff. We are here to help you! Please note that while we operate successful trips in this region throughout the year, some changes may occur in our itineraries due to inclement weather and common seasonal changes to timetables and transport routes. This can happen with little notice so please be prepared for modifications to the route. The order and timing of included activities in each location may also vary from time to time.

Day 1 - Nairobi
Jambo! Welcome to Kenya. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm, but if you arrive early then why not head out on an Urban Adventure. Not only is Nairobi an energetic capital city, it's also the only major city in the world to contain a game reserve – Nairobi National Park. After you've met your fellow travellers, join them for an optional group dinner at a local restaurant with your leader.
Day 2 - Nanyuki (Ol Pejeta Conservancy)
Rise and shine: it's your first morning in Kenya! Enjoy breakfast in the hotel before the group travels to the Mount Kenya region, arriving at the hotel in time for lunch. Mount Kenya is Africa's second-highest mountain, rising to an elevation of 5199 metres, and the national park in which it sits is circled by a number of communities including Nanyuki, where you'll be based. In the afternoon, embark on a game drive in the Ol Pajeta Conservancy, a 24,000-acre rhino sanctuary. Here, among the acacia trees and 'whistling thorn' shrubs, you'll see giraffe, zebra, elephant, jackal, hippo, rhino, baboon and gazelle roam the savannah grasslands and the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River.
Day 3 - Nanyuki (Mt Kenya)
Today, after breakfast, you'll set off for hike in Mount Kenya National Park. Begin walking from the park's entrance gate and continue through the forest to Old Moses Camp at an altitude of 3000 metres. If the weather's right you'll have fantastic views of Mount Kenya and the surrounding high country. It's a favourite spot for ornithologists thanks to the opportunities for bird watching, and there'll hopefully be an opportunity to see Grevy's zebras as you walk through the forest. Also known as imperial zebra, they were given the name 'Grevy' after Jules Grevy, the French president in 1882, who was given one as gift. These are the largest and most threatened of the three zebra species, and are found almost exclusively in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. 
Day 4 - Samburu NP
Drive north after breakfast to the Samburu National Reserve, where you'll be spending the next two nights, via an optional visit to the Ngare Ndare forest canopy walk and waterfalls. Samburu is a rugged, remote reserve that provides some of the best game-viewing in the entire country. Covering an area of 104 square kilometres, it's home to a number of northern Kenya specialities including Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and the beisa oryx – known as the Special Five. Have lunch at the lodge on arrival, then take an afternoon game drive through the reserve keeping an eye out for not only the Special Five, but also leopards, elephants, hyenas and an abundance of birdlife.  
Day 5 - Samburu
Head off in search of the Special Five, this time on a full-day game drive through the reserve. Keep your eyes peeled for lions too, and crocodiles stalking the waters of the Ewaso Nyiro River that flows through the park. This region is home to the Samburu people, semi-nomadic pastoralists who live to the south and the east of Lake Turkana. They're a sub-tribe of the Maasai people and speak the same language, and can often be seen in their colourful dress leading cattle around. Return to the lodge for dinner and a relaxing evening.
Day 6 - Marsabit
Pack your bags for a four-hour drive to Marsabit, a small town bordering Marsabit National Park and Marsabit National Reserve. The views of the plains during the drive are phenomenal, and you'll stop by the appropriately named Lake Paradise on the way. Arrive in the late afternoon and, after settling in at the hotel, the rest of the evening is free for you to enjoy. Perhaps take a stroll through the small town.
Day 7 - Moyale
Today the group will take a long drive through the highlands, allowing plenty of time to appreciate the beautiful scenery. Your destination is Moyale, a market town on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya that's split between the two countries. The larger section is in Ethiopia, where the hotel is located, so after crossing the border and checking in at the hotel, the evening is free to check out the town.
Day 8 - Konso / Arba Minch
Enjoy a relaxed breakfast in Moyale before driving to Konso, a journey of approximately six hours. Stop en route at the beautiful El Sod Crater, which locals have been extracting salt from for centuries. Some members of your group will be departing tomorrow as this is a combination trip, so after arriving in Konso you may wish to get the group together for dinner to farewell those who are leaving.
Day 9 - Konso
Today is a free day until the rest of your group arrive on a flight from Addis Ababa. Take the time to walk around this World Heritage-listed town. Keep an eye out for the carved wooden grave markers in the area, a Konso tradition where the deceased warriors features are enhanced by using teeth made from animal bones. As the evening sets in, spend time relaxing in the Kanta Lodge and getting to know your new group members and leader.
Day 10 - Jinka
Visit a village within Konso and learn about the clan-based societal arrangement comprised of nine clans. Head onwards to Jinka to visit an ethnographic museum dedicated to the tribes speaking South Omotic languages. Jinka is a lively trading hub and known as a capital of sorts for the range of ethnic groups that call this region home.
Day 11 - Turmi
Head into Jinka's lush surroundings, home to the traditional Ari people. Spend some time in their villages, some of the most beautiful in the country, surrounded by banana, mango, avocado and enset (false banana) trees. Travel on to Turmi and visit one of the Hamar villages for an insight into their different way of life. There may be a chance to witness the highlight of the Hamar calendar – a bull-jumping ceremony. The culmination of a three-day rite of passage, this ceremony involves a young man having to jump on the backs of, and run down a line of 15 bulls before returning the same way. Overnight in Turmi.
Day 12 - Turmi
Travel south towards Omorate this morning, driving down a 75-kilometre stretch of paved road passing through acacia forests. Omorate lies on the bank of the Omo River, close to the border of Kenya, and is a popular base for exploring the rugged area. Wildlife roam freely in the nearby landscape and there's a good chance of seeing antelope grazing or raptor birds stalking their prey overhead. The local Hamar and Daasanach people hold on to their customs tightly, and you may witness evidence of their traditional scarification practices. The Daasanach are cattle herders that practice flood retreat cultivation. The women beautify themselves with colorful bead necklaces and bracelets. There may be a chance to visit a local market, savouring the smells and tastes alongside the Karo, Hamer and Benna people while checking out plenty of interesting handicrafts on offer.
Day 13 - Arba Minch
Travel north to Arba Minch after breakfast. This is a region noted for its variety of peoples and cultures, many of which are nomadic or semi-nomadic and live very differently to what most would consider a modern existence. Arba Minch is bordered by Nechisar National Park and lies between two of Ethiopia's largest lakes, Chamo Lake and Abaya Lake. Climb aboard a boat in the afternoon and travel across Chamo Lake on an excursion to hopefully see the resident hippos, Nile crocodiles, flourishing birdlife and the local fishermen working their trade on the water. 
Day 14 - Addis Ababa
Drive north and return to Addis Ababa. Have dinner at a local restaurant in the evening and meet your new group members.
Day 15 - Bahir Dar
Today we will take a spectacular flight to Bahir Dar. From the air we can gaze across the extraordinary nature of the Ethiopian Plateau, repeatedly cut by immensely deep gorges. Bahir Dar is a small but fast growing town on the southern shore of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. It has long attracted religious men and the area contains numerous churches and monasteries, many of them on the thirty or so islands of Lake Tana. This afternoon, board a sightseeing boat for a cruise around the lake. Covering over 3,500 square kilometres, this is Ethiopia’s largest lake and is home to 37 islands, 20 of which house some of Ethiopia’s most venerated monasteries. Many of these monasteries are believed to date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and feature superb ecclesiastical art. Legend has it that the Ark of Covenant was hidden here for protection during the times when Pagan forces invaded the ancient capital Axum. Your boat trip will take you to the monastery of Ura-Kidane Mehret, which dates from between the 16th and 18th centuries. It is renowned for its collection of crosses and crowns, and its incredible painted walls that offer up a virtual 'who’s who' of Ethiopian saints. The boat returns to your hotel via the source of the ‘Blue’ section of the Nile.
Day 16 - Bahir Dar
Head out to the Blue Nile Falls today. Located 32 kilometers south of Bahir Dar, the Blue Nile Falls measure over 400 metres wide and crash down 48 metres in full flood. These falls are known locally as Tis Isat (Smoking Water) and are a spectacular sight when the water’s high. New hydro-electrical plants and dams have somewhat impacted on their magnificence, but the sight is still a memorable one. You can take a longer scenic walk past the main viewpoint (1.5 kilometers) or a shorter walk to reach the foot of the falls. You will then cross the Nile River by boat to reach your vehicle. After a leisurely lunch back in Bahir Dar, perhaps visit the open air market to take a tuk-tuk up to the town viewpoint.
Day 17 - Gondar
Head for the regal city of Gondar by travelling north around the edge of Lake Tana this morning, a drive that'll take approximately 4.5 hours including photo stops. Gond was the capital of Ethiopia through the 17th and 18th centuries, and is famed for its medieval castles and churches. This afternoon or tomorrow, there's the option to visit the city's most significant churches and castles either as part of a tour or unaccompanied. The city's unique Royal Enclosure is a World Heritage site and home to dramatic, Emperor-built castles unlike any other in Africa. Spend the afternoon visiting these medieval castles and stop by the famous church of Debre Berhan Selassie, one of the finest in Ethiopia with walls and ceilings covered in stunning murals of angels.
Day 18 - Gondar
Today you'll have free time to explore the quiet streets of Gondar for yourself. Take a stroll to the markets, or otherwise perch up at the hotel by the pool. You'll be heading into the mountains tomorrow so there's nothing wrong with enjoying a little bit of luxury while you have it.
Day 19 - Simien Mountains National Park / Debark
Depart Gondar early in the morning and head towards Debark and the Simien Mountain National Park. The remainder of the day is free to explore the spectacular mountain scenery including Ethiopia's highest point – Ras Dejen (4550 metres). This area is home to much of Ethiopia's wildlife, including the Gelada baboon, which are only found in Ethiopia and have a shaggy coat with a red patch on their chest, hence being known as the 'bleeding heart baboon'. Once you pass the entrance to the park you'll hike and drive up to Sankaber Camp before heading back to Debark for the evening.
Day 20 - Aksum
Strap in for a long travel day up the winding road to Aksum. Though the journey will take approximately seven hours, you'll cross the lowlands of the Simien Mountains and the Tekeze River gorge and the views will be absolutely spectacular. Aksum was once the capital of the Kingdom of Aksum, Africa's oldest empire, which exsisted from around AD100 to AD900. It was at the centre of a trading route that stretched from Egypt all the way to India and grew to be one of the most powerful kingdoms in the ancient world. 
Day 21 - Aksum
Today is a free day with the option to tour the incredible historical sites of Aksum. Visit the stele fields, several tombs, the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an archaeological museum. The field is home to over 100 stele – the largest one measuring 33 metres and weighing an incredible 517 tones. Stele (or monoliths) are carved from a single piece of granite, and are often elaborately decorated to resemble a multi-story house complete with windows, doors, locks and structural beams. Their scale reflects how important Axum once was, and they were probably transported by elephants from a nearby quarry. The mausoleums in this area include the tomb of the false door and also the tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, while the archaeological museum houses fascinating displays. An unimposing building with a green picket fence is the St Mary of Zion Church, the first built in sub-Saharan Africa. This holds the crowns of various former Ethiopian emperors and is even said to house the most fabled biblical relic in history – the Ark of the Covenant. The afternoon is free for you to keep exploring – you might like to see some of the handcraft shops or take a walk out of Aksum for an hour or so to see Gobodera, the quarry place for the stele and rock lioness relief.
Day 22 - Mekele
Leave Axum for Mekele, looking across to see the spectacular Adwa Mountains and the battlefield of Adwa, where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians in 1896. Stop to visit the Pre-Christian Pagan Temple of Yeha before breaking for lunch at Adigrat. Yeha is though to have been Ethiopia’s first capital and the temple has been dated to around the 6th century BC. After lunch, drive to Enda Teka Tesfay and walk to the rock church of Medhane Alem Adi Kesho (approximately 4 hours). There are numerous magnificent rock-hewn churches in the Tigray region, but Medhane Alem Adi Kesho is one of the best in terms of architectural quality. The outside is roughly carved, but the interior ceiling is elaborately sculpted. Spend the night in nearby Mekele.
Day 23 - Lalibela
Start the long journey to Lalibela early in the morning on a smooth paved road and, after a couple of hours, reach the spectacular mountain range of Amba Alaje. Continue through green valleys and flat plains before turning west towards Lalibela at Woldia (approximately 4.5 hours). The road after Woldia offers one of the most scenic routes in the country. It involves climbing on winding roads along steep hills and evergreen lush valleys up to the Delanta Plateau (3,500 metres), then contouring around the valley for a couple of hours, before arriving at Lalibela in the late afternoon (approximately 4 hours). Despite the town of Lalibela being isolated in the Lasta Mountains at 2,630 metres above sea level, it is still the home of Ethiopia’s top sight, and one of the world's greatest historical and religious sites.
Day 24 - Lalibela
Today you’ll use the morning and afternoon to visit Lalibela’s amazing churches, which look like they've been dropped down from the sky. Between 1137 and 1270, several astounding rock-hewn churches were constructed in Lalibela; astonishing because most are not built from carved freestanding rocks, but instead created from huge single blocks of stone unearthed by the digging of enormous pits. The Northern Group contains seven churches, a tomb, a chapel and a sunken chapel. At the centre of the group is Bet Medhane Alem, measuring 33.5 metres by 23.5 metres and said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world. A tunnel connects three of the churches in a courtyard to the east, whilst another tunnel connects two other churches to the west of Bet Medhane Alem. However it is Bet Giyorgis (St George's), carved in the form of a Greek cross and lying slightly apart from the main northern cluster, which is the most famous and frequently photographed. This church is exceptionally well-preserved and is probably the most visually perfect. The Eastern group of five churches includes the only hypogeous church, where only the roof remains attached to the overhead rock.
Day 25 - Lalibela
This morning we trek to the rock church of Asheten Mariam, which sits on the 3,150-metre-high Abune Josef mountain that overlooks Lalibela. You will climb for 2.5 hours to the summit, where the church is carved out of a cleft into the cliff face. The monastery houses ancient parchments and crosses, but the real treasure is the setting and the view. Descend the mountain and return to the hotel for lunch. This afternoon is free to relax or continue exporing this fascinating town. This evening you will enjoy a special dinner at Ben Ababa open air restaurant.
Day 26 - Lalibela
This trip comes to an end today after breakfast. There are no activities planned and you are free to leave at any time.

Trip Dates

StartEndPrice FromRoom Type
25-09-201919-10-2019AUD $ 8,525-
23-10-201916-11-2019AUD $ 8,525-
05-11-201929-11-2019AUD $ 8,525-
16-12-201909-01-2020AUD $ 8,525-

Accommodation

Hotel (15 nights),Basic Hotel (1 night),Lodge (6 nights),Basic Resort (1 night),Permanent Tented Camp (2 night)

Transport

Overland Vehicle,4x4 Vehicle,Private vehicle,Boat,Plane

Map