Northern Ethiopia Historic Tour - 13 Day Tour » Venture Ethiopia - Tours and Travel

Northern Ethiopia Historic Tour - 13 Day Tour

Northern Ethiopia boasts a wealth of historical and cultural treasures unlike anything else on Earth. This 'Northern Circuit' starts out with a trip to Bahir Dar, where you'll visit the Blue Nile Falls and take a cruise on Lake Tana.  From Bahir Dar, the tour continues Gondar, where you can explore the Royal Enclosure, and the ruined fairy-tale castles which have earned it the name 'African Camelot'.  Heading north-east, you'll then visit the Simien Mountains National Park, famous for far-reaching views and rare wildlife species.  The tour continues to Axum, home to giant engraved obelisks, the Queen of Sheba's palace and the Saint Mary of Zion Church, rumoured to contain the original Ark of the Covenant. From Axum, you'll continue through the region of Tigray, visiting some of its famous rock churches before heading south to Lalibela.  Here, you can explore the complex of 12th century rock hewn churches, described as "the eighth wonder of the World". Finally, you'll travel back to Addis Ababa to complete the circuit.

Day 1: Addis Ababa

Day 1 starts with a half-day city tour of Addis Ababa, including its museums, churches and the 'mercato', reputedly the largest market in Africa.

Day 2: Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar

The journey to Bahir Dar will take most of the day, but it's a good chance to view the changing landscapes of the highlands and to see day-to-day life in rural Ethiopia.

Day 3: Bahir Dar

In the morning, you'll take a boat cruise on Lake Tana, stopping to explore some of the island churches and monasteries containing relics and frescos dating from the 16th century.  In the afternoon, you'll take a trip to the Blue Nile Falls at Tisisat, meaning "smoking water" in Amharic. The spectacular falls are 100m wide and plunge 45m, sending spray high in the air.  A short walk and a trip across a 17th century bridge gives a great close-up view of the falls.  

Day 4: Bahir Dar to Gondar

From Bahir Dar, it's about a 3 hour drive to Gondar, after which you'll take a sightseeing tour of the city.  Gondar is a historic settlement with an atmosphere of mystery and there are views from the city which extend across the surrounding farmland back to Lake Tana.  Founded by Emperor Fasilidas around 1635, Gondar has become one of Ethiopia's largest and most impressive cities.  It is most famed for its walled Royal Enclosure which contains several well-preserved and very medieval-looking castles, dating from as early as 1650. The castles are unusual for the Horn Of Africa, deriving their architectural style from the Moors and the Portuguese. Additionally, Gondar has dozens of churches, the most important being Debre Berhan Selassie (Trinity Church of the Mountain of Light), which has an impressive hilltop location. The priest there will explain the story of the many paintings and carvings inside the church.

Day 5: Gondar to the Simien Mountains

Leaving Gondar, you'll have a scenic 2 to 3-hour drive to Debark, a small market town at an altitude of 2,700 metres, on the edge of the Simien Mountains National Park.  After lunch, there's a trip into the park to see the spectacular landscapes which led to it being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There'll be a chance to stretch your legs, appreciate the views and possibly even spot some endemic wildlife before returning to Debark for the night.

Day 6: Simien Mountains to Axum

Leaving Debark, the road snakes down through the Simien foothills on one of the most dramatic roads in Ethiopia, losing close to 2,000 metres elevation within just a couple of hours. The descent will take you into to the Tigray region, the most northerly of the nine ethnic regions of Ethiopia and famous for its rock-hewn churches.  After arriving in Axum, the rest of the day will be spent sightseeing.  Axum was once the capital of a mighty empire that ruled the region from 400 BC to the 10th century.

Day 7: Axum

A full day of sight-seeing in Axum.  Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Axum is believed to date back over 2,000 years and tradition has it that it was the Queen of Sheba’s own city. You will visit the Stelae Park, a collection of giant columns (stelae) each carved from a single piece of granite. The stelae resemble tall, slender, multi storey houses and are totally unique.  You'll also visit the 17th century church of saint Mary of Zion where the original Ark of the Covenant is said to reside. The Archaeological Museum, which houses several stones bearing Sabean and Geez inscriptions as well as many other artefacts, is next on the list, as well as the hill tombs of Kaleb and his son Gebre Meskal, and also the Queen of Sheba's palace.

Day 8: Axum to Hauzien

From Axum, you'll journey across an arid landscape to visit the Yeha Temple. The town of Yeha is one of the oldest sites in Northern Ethiopia, probably pre-dating Axum by a thousand years. The temple itself is now a ruin, but is certainly the oldest building in Ethiopia. After visiting Yeha, you'll continue on to Adigrat and the rock-hewn Tigray church of Wukro before arriving in the late afternoon at Hauzien.

Day 9: Hauzien to Mekele

A full day to explore the fascinating rock-hewn temples and famous Tigray churches of the area.  At the end of the day you'll head to the bustling city of Mekele.

Day 10: Mekele to Lalibela

A scenic day of driving to the city of Lalibela with the spectacular Ambalage mountains as a backdrop.

Day 11: Lalibela

A full day of sightseeing in and around Lalibela.  Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities and a centre of pilgrimage for much of the country.  It was built in the 12th century to be the ‘New Jerusalem’ following the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin, and was laid out to resemble that city.  Lalibela is most famous for its rock-hewn churches which, like those of Tigray, are literally carved out of the surrounding rock.  In all there are 11 ‘rock churches’. Bete Giyorgis (the Church of Saint George) in the Western group is the best known and most impressive. Described as the eighth wonder of the world, the church is carved in the shape of the cross and stands 12m high in a square cut ‘hole’ in the rock outcrop from which it is carved.

Day 12: Lalibela to Kombolcha

From Lalibela, you'll start the journey back towards Addis, stopping overnight at the town of Kombolcha.

Day 13: Kombolcha to Addis Ababa

From Kombolcha, you'll complete the journey back to Addis, stopping on the way to see the historically important town of Ankober.  The tour ends with dinner at a cultural restaurant in Addis Ababa, where you can sample local dishes and watch energetic traditional dances from across the country.

Services Included

  • An experienced professional English-speaking guide

  • All meals from lunch on day 1 to the cultural dinner on day 13

  • All land transport involved in the itinerary

  • 12 nights hotel accommodation

  • Entrance fees and local guides for all excursions described 

Services Not Included

  • Travel Insurance

  • Ethiopian Visa

  • Tips for staff

  • Miscellaneous expenses – alcoholic drinks, souvenirs etc.


Is this holiday for me?

During this holiday, you'll explore the natural, cultural and historical highlights of northern Ethiopia.  You should be prepared to be on your feet for long periods of time as we tour the historic sites.  In the Simien Mountains, the best viewpoints are reached via a hike of around 3 hours. In order to see as much as possible in 2 weeks, there will be some long drives.



This trip includes 12 nights' accommodation in tourist class hotels.  The exact hotels used will be dependant on availability but please remember that Ethiopia is a developing country and that accommodation can be basic in comparison to European standards. All accommodation is based on two people sharing a room. If you are travelling by yourself you will be paired up with another single client of the same gender. Depending on availability, it may be possible to book a single room, although an additional charge may apply.


Group Leader & Support Staff

The group will be accompanied by an experienced English-speaking guide plus a driver and local support staff, as required.


Guidance On Tipping

Tipping should not be seen as something you have to do but in Ethiopia, as in many parts of the world, it is an appropriate way of saying thank you for a service well done. For each of your drivers on this trip we would recommend around £5 per day from the group, and for each of your guides around £10 per day from the group.



Upcoming group tour dates:

  • Christmas Trip: Saturday 28th December 2019 - Thursday 9th January 2020 (open for bookings).  This tour includes Ethiopian Christmas in Lalibela.  On Christmas Eve (6th January) you will gather along with thousands of Ethiopians to see the Orthodox priests singing and chanting as they begin their overnight vigil which marks the end of a 43-day fasting period.

Interested in this tour but can't make those dates?  We can arrange dates to suit you so please contact us.



The cost of this tour is 53,988 ETB (1,963 USD / 1,667 EUR / 1,458 GBP) per person for groups of 3 or more people.

It is possible to arrange this tour for 1 or 2 people, but a surcharge may apply.  Please contact us to find out more.

Please see the further details tab for information about services included.

A deposit is required upon booking.  For more details, please see our FAQ page, or read our full terms and conditions.