UK - In flight
Titan’s VIP door-to-door travel service collects you from home for your flight to Addis Ababa.
The name of the Ethiopian capital translates as ‘new flower’, and it makes for a splendid introduction to the country. After a little time to rest and acclimatise to the city’s lofty altitude, our sightseeing tour takes in its wide jacaranda-lined boulevards and bustling markets, and makes stops at the lovely Baroque Trinity Cathedral and the National Museum, which presents the story of ‘Lucy’ (known locally as ‘Dinknesh’, meaning ‘thing of wonder’), the 3 million-year-old hominid fossil which changed our understanding of human evolution upon its discovery in 1974. Our hotel for two nights is the Golden Tulip Addis Ababa Hotel (4T).
Melka Kunture and Tiya
History is everywhere in Ethiopia, and today’s excursion introduces the archaeological site of Melka Kunture and the Tiya Stelae Field. Melka Kunture is a place most associated with our early human ancestors and boasts a continuous record of archaeological artefacts spanning more than 1.5m years. And Tiya, the most important of an astonishing concentration of 160 archaeological sites, is the UNESCO-listed home to 36 megaliths. The majority are carved with enigmatic symbols - 12th century remnants of an ancient Ethiopian culture which remains largely a mystery.
Addis Ababa - Bahir Dar - Blue Nile Falls
After breakfast, we transfer to the airport for a short flight to the lakeside city of Bahir Dar, checking in to the Avanti Blue Nile Hotel (4T) upon arrival. In the afternoon, we enjoy an excursion to the breathtaking Blue Nile Falls, considered one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Africa. Impressive at any time of year, but particularly in full summer flood, the falls are 400m wide and 45m high. Take your time to appreciate them from a selection of vantage points, which may also afford you a glimpse of hippo and crocodile basking on the banks and myriad bird species in the surrounding foliage.
We head out by private boat onto nearby Lake Tana today, to visit the monasteries of the Zege Peninsula. A short walk from our docking point through local villages and coffee plantations takes us to Ura Kidane Meret, a circular monastery housing an important collection of crosses and crowns dating back to the 16th century. Its vibrantly colourful maqdas (friezes) tell the stories of Ethiopian saints. Our second visit is Azwa Maryam, a small and pleasant monastery set in delightful gardens. It too has fine works of art to admire. On our return to Bahir Dar, we make a short tour of the city to visit its characterful market and appreciate fine views from Bezawit Palace.
Bahir Dar - Simien Mountains National Park
A pleasant drive through rural villages and highland passes takes us to the green heart of the Simien Mountains. This national park occupies an area of 70 square miles at altitudes between 1,900m and 4,430m and boasts three distinct botanical zones with varied flora. Take a walk in search of the Gelada, also known as the ‘bleeding heart monkey’ for their extraordinary chest markings, or simply relax in surroundings of natural splendour. Our hotel for the night is the Simien Lodge (3T) or Limalimo Lodge (3T+).
Simien Mountains National Park - Gondar
After spending much of the day in further appreciation of the pinnacles, valleys and wildlife of this stunning region, we drive to Gondar by way of Kossoye, where we enjoy an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Our base in Gondar is the Goha Hotel (3T).
The first capital of the Ethiopian Empire, Gondar is renowned for its 17th century complex of castles and palaces. We explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site, with particular focus on the Royal Enclosure and the two-storey palace of Emperor Fasilidas, built of solid basalt stones. The monumental library of Emperor Yohannes I, the House of Song, the banquet hall of Emperor Bakaffa and the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie also richly reward a visit, as does the bathhouse of King Fasiledes, where the brightly coloured modern day Timkat (Epiphany) festivals take place. Later in the day, we make a short visit to a local school to meet students.
Gondar - Axum
A further short flight takes us from Gondar to Axum, another ancient Ethiopian capital and a place to excite the imagination. In the morning, we visit the Archaeological Museum and the Cathedral of St Mary of Zion, built on the oldest Christian site in Africa, with a guarded chapel said to house the Ark of the Covenant and an onsite museum of precious relics. In the afternoon, there is time to explore Axum’s Stelae Field of ancient monuments, including the 25m Rome Stela, along with millennia-old royal tombs and the reputed residence of the Queen of Sheba. Our hotel tonight is Axum’s finest, the Sabean International Hotel (3T).
Axum - Lalibela
In this huge country of highland plateaux, flying is the most convenient means of transportation, and we take the aerial route this morning from Axum to Lalibela, one of the most important religious and historical sites not just of Africa, but of the entire Christian world. Though there are more than 200 monumental churches in the area, 11 demonstrate true master craftsmanship and comprise what is often described as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Though some have espoused theories that these rock-hewn masterpieces were constructed by the Knights Templar or even by angels, they date back to the 12th and 13th century, and the reign of King Lalibela of the Zagwe Dynasty. We visit the finest churches in two groups, the first this afternoon including Bete Madhane Alem, the largest monolithic church in the world, and Bete Maryam, the oldest Lalibela church, with exquisite early frescoes and carvings adorning its ceiling, upper walls, arches and capitals. We retire this evening to the comfortable Maribela Hotel (3T+) or Mountain View Lodge (3T+).
This morning we visit the second group of rock-cut churches said to represent King Lalibela’s ‘heavenly Jerusalem on earth’. These include the majestic cross-shaped Bete Giorgis (Church of St George), perhaps the most perfect and beautiful of them all, with interior decorations depicting that hero’s slaying of the dragon. In the afternoon, we visit an Ethiopian family in Lalibela to enjoy some home cooked delicacies.
Lalibela - Addis Ababa
A final domestic flight returns us to Addis Ababa and the opportunity to explore the Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa. Bemusing and fascinating in equal measure, there is no better place to shop for mementoes of this amazing trip. In the evening, savour a farewell dinner at a local restaurant to the accompaniment of ethnic music and dancing. Overnight back at the Golden Tulip Addis Ababa Hotel (4T).
Day 13 Addis Ababa - UK
We transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK. Upon arrival, your Titan vehicle will be waiting for the journey home.