Cultural Tours & More

Ethiopia has a wealth of cultural sites to visit. Below are some of the highlights that you can include in a trip with Simien Trek.

Lalibela

In Lalibela you will find rock churches like nothing you have seen before. Built in the 12-13th centuries by King Lalibela and according to legend with the help of angels, there are two main clusterings of churches in the town. All the churches are sculpted out of the ground rock, with the highlight being the church of St George, carved out as a cross from the rock, and impossible to spot from afar.

Scattered around Lalibela are several monasteries, including Ashetan Maryam, which can easily be reached in 3 hours either by foot or on mule back.

Axum & Tigray churches.

Axum is best known as the supposed location of the ark of the covenant, linking the city to the Queen of Sheba, whose son Menelik brought the ark from his father King Solomon. The ark is believed by Ethiopians to be kept in a chapel in Axum, only accessible to the chosen few.

Once the capital of the powerful Axum empire which traded with all the great powers of its time (~2000 years ago) and during which time Christianity was first introduced to Ethiopia,  Axum has many fascinating remains from this era. Most impressive are the massive stellae, marking the burial of the kings of the Axumite empire.

Nearby Axum in the Tigrean countryside are over 100 rock churches perched high up in the rocks and often built into caves. Some in the Gheralta mountains are only accessed after a good hike, others require climbing with ropes and a very good head for heights and several are easily accessible from the road. The history of these churches is not clear, it is thought that they date from as early as the 5th century and they survived raiding parties due to their remoteness up in the rocks.

Gondar

Gondar was founded as the capital of Ethiopia in the 1630s by Emperor Fasilidas, and remained the capital for the next 150 years. Now you can visit the castles and the pleasure pools of the emperors.

Also not to be missed in Gondar is the church of Debre Birhan Selassie with its exquisite wall and ceiling paintings, which survive from an era when many other churches were destroyed.

Bahir Dar

Sitting on the shore of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, from Bahir Dar you can visit some of the lake monasteries scattered around its shores and on its islands. Reached by boat you can spot the local fishermen in their papyrus boats, hippos and pelicans on the way.Nearby are also the Nile Falls, particularly spectacular after the rains in September-November.

Lake Tana can also be easily accessed from Gorgora at the northern end, a small harbor village, which the peaceful and beautiful church of Debre Sina. From here you can also visit some of the small fisherman islands by canoe.

Harar

Situated in the far east of the country towards Djibouti, Harar is a great historical city, different from anywhere else in Ethiopia and still very much lived in. The 1km2 walled city with its narrow alleyways and almost 100 mosques is a fascinating place to wander and get lost in, coming across the old palaces of Haile Selassie and the French poet Rimbaud, the camel market, glimpses into traditional Harari houses, holy tombs and after dark the hyenas which are fed by hand just outside the city walls.

Rift Valley

East of Addis Ababa down to the Kenyan border is a string of beautiful lakes along the Rift valley. All with their own character, some are deep caldera lakes, others flat and host to hundreds of flamingos.

Bale Mountains

Ethiopia’s second mountain range, the Bale Mountains offer excellent bird watching and are home to the largest population of the threatened endemic Ethiopian wolf.

Omo Valley tribes

In the south of Ethiopia around the Omo valley you can visit the unique tribes with their own traditions.