Spend 10 days on a tour of Ethiopia that includes many of its cultural sites and spend time in Lalibela on January 7, otherwise known as Ethiopian Christmas. Participate in the Christmas ceremony into the early AM hours in Lalibela and listen to the priests chant at sunrise as you join the locals in this sacred festival. Also tour ruins near Gondar, cruise on Lake Tana near Bahir Dar, and visit Genete Mariam and rock-hewn churches. This main highlights tour of Ethiopia only takes place in January to participate in the Christmas festival there.
Witness the sacred all-night ceremony at Beta Mariam Church in Lalibela
Hear the chants and fervent dancing of the white-robed priests and locals
Tour churches, cathedrals, and markets along the Historic Route
Cruise on Laka Tana and hike to Blue Nile Waterfall near Bahir Dar
This morning, transfer back to the airport for your flight to Bahir Dar. Transfer to your hotel here, the Kuriftu Resort & Spa Lake Tana. Bahir Dar is situated on the southern side of Lake Tana and near the Blue Nile River. Settle in to freshen up before an afternoon boat cruise to some of the islands on Lake Tana, home to some of the oldest churches and monasteries in the world. Visit the 14th-century monastery Ura Kidane Mihret, most famously known for its painted maqdas and collection of crosses and crowns. This afternoon, drive to the village of Tis Isat and see the Blue Nile Falls, a scenic waterfall created by a dam along the river a short drive outside of town.
Today, set out for a drive to Gondar, once the royal capital of Ethiopia. The landscape here is beautiful, and the area is dotted with castles and churches built by Emperor Fassiladas and his descendants. Visit the Debre Birhan Sealssie church today, which has ornately decorated walls and ceilings depicting biblical and medieval history stories.
Drive to Sanqaber in the Simien Mountains today for a full day of hiking and exploring the breathtaking scenery, some of the most wild in all of Ethiopia. Known as the "rooftop of Africa," the Simien Mountains are one of the largest mountain ranges in all of Africa. Enjoy the afternoon by taking in the scenery and having a picnic lunch before returning to Gondar.
This morning you drive to the airport for a short flight on to Lalibela, the crown jewel of Ethiopia, often referred to as "Africa's Petra." The most well-known and preserved churches in the country can be found here, as well as the location of many religious ceremonies throughout the year.Visit the magnificent rock-hewn churches, which were built by hand between 800 and 1200 AD and are still active worship places. This afternoon's tour includes the following churches: Bete Amanuel, Bete Markorios, Bete Aba Libanos, and Bete Gebriel-Rufael. Rest up late in the afternoon for the long evening ahead.
This evening, attend the Christmas Eve ceremony with the pilgrims at Bete Mariam Church. Listen in awe as the priest and deacons chant throughout the night. Priests are clothed in white turbans lined with red sashes and carry gold scarves. Pilgrims clap to the drumbeat, and everyone joins in on the celebration through the night and into the early AM hours. At midnight, a candle lighting ceremony is performed to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
Enjoy the ceremony through the night, or return for a few hours of sleep before the two-hour-long sunrise procession. About 100 priests form a line and climb the rocky steps to the rim of the pit overlooking the church. They follow the beat of the drum as they surround the edge and begin to sway in unison. They rattle their sitars and alternate between crouching and standing to the beat of the drum to simulate King David’s dance and finish up the Christmas celebration.
In the courtyard below, other priests form a tight circle with two drummers in the center and begin chanting a hymn to the priests standing overhead, who respond in kind, symbolizing the people on earth below and the angels in heaven joining voices in unity. This continues for two hours, with the intensity continuing to swell. Upon its culmination, return to your hotel to rest after the long night. Spend the afternoon wandering Lalibela as you like.
Today, take a full-day excursion to Genete Mariam, one of the most interesting churches in the Lalibela area near the source of the Tekaze River. The large monolith was carved into a rocky hilltop and is supported by pillars. This site was first excavated during the reign of Yakuno Amlak in the early 13th century and contains some of the earliest discovered wall paintings in Ethiopia. Located about 30 km southeast of Lalibela, the trip out to the site and back took a total of about 4 hours today.
This morning transfer back to the Lalibela Airport for your flight on to Addis Ababa. Settle in to your hotel and set out with your guide to visit the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum, designed as a testament to the victims of a recent dark period in Ethiopia's history under the Derg Regime. The museum displays a number of graphic exhibits, including skeletal remains, photos, and models of how victims were tortured, and is not recommended for young children. From here, continue on to the Muya Abyssinia craft and see how the weavings and other handicrafts are used to create home furnishings, decor, and accessories.
Day 10: Addis Ababa | Return Home
Spend today sightseeing with a guide around Addis Ababa. Start your tour with a drive up north to Mount Entoto. Next, visit the Ethnographic Museum, which contains a large collection of Ethiopian handicrafts and historic artifacts. Visit the National Museum of Ethiopia, which houses Lucy's famous fossil. Enjoy lunch at a nearby cafe before visiting the Trinity Cathedral this evening. This is the largest and most revered of all modern churches. Finish up your tour with a drive through the largest open-air market in all of Africa. Rest up in your hotel room one last time before your transfer back to the airport for your flight home this evening.
Everything was amazing! The planning with Adventure Life went smoothly. The actual trip was fantastic! One of the best trips I have experienced. The cruise staff members were knowledgeable and attentive. I will be writing more about this on the blog!