Ethiopia: The Heart of African Civilisation
Explore the monolithic rock churches of Lalibela, the monasteries of Axum and the proud imperial castles of Gondar, built by the heirs of King Solomon in the birthplace of humanity.
From the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton of Lucy to the Queen of Sheba and the mighty Emperors of the Solomonic Dynasty who held out against European colonisation, Ethiopia has been the heart of African civilisation since time immemorial. One of the very first kingdoms to adopt Christianity as its state religion in the 4th century CE, Ethiopia evolved a distinct religious and cultural tradition which gave rise to stunning works of architecture such as the monolithic Lalibela rock churches, hewn from solid rock, the 24-metre-tall Great Stela of Axum and the 17th century Castle of Gondar, the ‘Camelot of Africa’.
Along the way, visit the verdant Simien Mountains and discover jaw-dropping natural beauty and come face-to-face with wildlife endemic to this region.
**LIMITED NUMBERS! EARLY BOOKING RECOMMENDED**
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Emirates flights to Addis Ababa via Dubai. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive in Addis Ababa in the afternoon on suggested flights and transfer to the hotel (transfer included in tour price).
In the evening, join Genevieve and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing, followed by a special welcome dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.
In the morning enjoy a talk by Genevieve before a full-day tour of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. Visit Mt Entoto, the former site of the Ethiopian royal capital and the highest peak overlooking the city. Visit the Entoto Maryam Church and Museum, browse the colourful Shiro Meda, the city’s traditional clothes market, and enjoy a visit to the National Museum, where Ethiopia’s oldest resident, the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis ‘Lucy’, is housed.
After lunch visit St George Cathedral. Originally constructed in the 15th century, the church is built in the traditional Ethiopian Orthodox octagonal design. Then enjoy a visit to a traditional Ethiopian textiles workshop before returning to the hotel.
This evening enjoy dinner at a local restaurant including a performance of Ethiopian cultural dance and music.
This morning visit the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Founded in 1974 by Australian obstetrician-gynaecologists Dr Catherine Hamlin AC and Dr Reginald Hamlin, the hospital was the first in the world dedicated to the relief of obstetric fistula (the tearing of the birth canal during childbirth), a condition particularly prevalent in developing countries, which can cause ongoing health complications and social ostracisation.
After lunch visit the Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum for a private guided tour. The museum was established in 2010 as a memorial to those who died under the communist Derg government in the late 20th century.
Continue to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the highest-ranking Ethiopian Orthodox church in the capital, which houses the tombs of Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen Asfaw.
In the late afternoon return to the hotel to enjoy the evening at leisure.
Check out of the hotel in the early morning and transfer to the airport for a flight to Axum (flight included in the tour price).
The ancient capital of the Kingdom of Axum is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Africa and its rich history is recalled in its stone stelae, churches, monasteries, tombs and ruins of fine palaces.
On arrival visit the archaeological site of Yeha, dating from the 5th to the 8th centuries BCE, which is thought to be the capital of Ethiopian civilisation before Axum.
Continue to Adwa, site of the famous battle where the Ethiopian Empire threw back the forces of the invading Kingdom of Italy in 1896. The leader of the Ethiopian forces later ascended the throne as Emperor Menelik II, who remains a figure of esteem and respect amongst contemporary Ethiopians.
Check in to the hotel in the afternoon.
Begin the morning with a talk by Genevieve before spending the day visiting the religious and historical sites of Axum. See the archaeological museum and the famous granite stelae, erected from the 5th century CE onwards to mark noblemen’s burial chambers, as well as the colourful woven basket market. After lunch, visit the Queen of Sheba’s Bath (which supplies water to Axum year-round), King Ezana’s inscription, King Kaleb’s tomb, King Bazen’s tomb and the Queen of Sheba’s Palace.
Continue to the St. Mary of Zion church, where tradition holds that the original Ark of the Covenant is kept, accessible only to a chosen guardian monk.
Then visit the heavily-decorated Church of Arbatu Ensessa, the interiors of which are adorned with lively depictions of saints and angels in the distinctive Ethiopian Orthodox aesthetic.
Check out of the hotel in the morning for a full day’s drive to the Simien Mountains. Experience the dramatic countryside of Ethiopia and stop by the Tekeze River to enjoy a picnic lunch.
Check in to the mountain lodge in the afternoon. Dinner this evening will be at the lodge restaurant.
In the morning travel to Ankober to enjoy beautiful views over both sides of the escarpment. Gazing over the broad grassy expanse, there may be the opportunity to see large troops of gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelada), the world’s only grass-eating monkey.
See the Geech Abyss waterfall, where the Jinbar River plunges into the valley below and enjoy a picturesque picnic lunch at the waterfall.
Return to the lodge in the late afternoon.
In the morning check out of the lodge and travel to Gondar.
Arrive in Gondar and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before checking in to the hotel. After some time at leisure, enjoy a talk by Genevieve, followed by dinner at the hotel.
Spend a full day exploring Gondar, the capital of the Ethiopian Empire from the mid-17th to the mid-19th centuries. Ethiopian emperors traditionally had a ‘moving capital’ that followed them around the country, but after Emperor Fasilides was led to a choice riverside spot in Gondar by a docile buffalo, he decided to build a permanent royal capital on the spot.
Visit the Royal Enclosure, including Fasilides’s evocative Castle of Gondar, which gives the city the moniker the ‘Camelot of Africa’, as well as several other castles and official buildings. Continue to Fasilides’s Pool, still used for Timket (Epiphany) celebrations today, the Ras Gimb Palace Museum, the melancholy ruins of Kuskuam and the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, which has the most famous ceiling in Ethiopia where every inch is covered with frescoes of smiling cherubim.
Check out of the hotel in the morning and travel south to Bahir Dar through rural villages which offer a fascinating glimpse into Amhara culture, the dominant culture of northern Ethiopia and ethnic group to which the Solomonic Dynasty of emperors belonged.
Arrive in Bahir Dar, which is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile. Check in to the hotel in the mid-afternoon and enjoy some time at leisure.
Dinner tonight will be in the hotel’s restaurant.
In the morning transfer to the Blue Nile Falls, known as Tis Abay, or meaning ‘great smoke’ in Amharic. The falls are located approximately 30km downstream from Lake Tana, the source of the river.
After lunch enjoy a tranquil boat trip on Lake Tana. Pass by monasteries, nunneries and thatched churches otherwise hidden on the islands and shores of this sacred lake. Stop to visit the thatched Azuwa Maryam monastery located on the Zege Peninsula and view the outflow of the Blue Nile River, where men still make traditional tankwas (papyrus reed boats).
Check out of the hotel in the morning and transfer to the airport for a flight to Lalibela (flight included in the tour price).
On arrival in Lalibela, enjoy lunch before a tour of the famous rock-hewn churches, all carved into a single great hill of basalt (solidified lava) and tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) on the Ethiopian Plateau. Visit the north-western cluster of churches and see the 12th century Bet Medhane Alem, home to the holy relic the Cross of Lalibela, Bet Maryam, which is thought to be the oldest of the Lalibela churches, the chapel of Bet Meskel, the simple Bet Danaghel and Bet Mikael, with its cruciform pillar.
Check in to the hotel in the mid-afternoon. Dinner this evening will be in the hotel’s restaurant.
In the morning enjoy a talk by Genevieve before a stroll through the town of Lalibela to the south-eastern cluster of rock-hewn churches. Sunday is Ethiopia’s holy day and, as such, there may be an opportunity to stop and witness a religious procession as it passes through the town centre.
Visit the most famous of all the rock-hewn churches, Bet Giyorgis, constructed in honour of the patron saint of Ethiopia, Saint George. Bet Giyorgis is the best executed and best preserved of all the Lalibela churches.
After lunch visit the church of Yemrehana Kristos. The most popular of the churches outside of Lalibela, this church is built with layers of wood and granite, set inside a large cavern on the west side of Mount Abuna Yosef.
Check out of the hotel in the morning and transfer to the airport for a flight to Addis Ababa (flight included in the tour price).
On arrival in Addis Ababa enjoy a private viewing at the St. George Art Gallery, a pioneer at the forefront of Ethiopia’s art scene.
Check in to the hotel in the mid-afternoon for some time at leisure.
In the evening enjoy a special farewell dinner with Genevieve and fellow travellers in a nearby restaurant.
Check out of the hotel in the morning and transfer to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport for flights returning to Australia and New Zealand (transfer included in tour price).
Tour arrangements conclude on arrival at Addis Ababa Airport.
Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements including additional nights’ accommodation either before or after the tour.
Per person, twin-share
Deposit per person (at time of booking)
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Final payment due
18 September 2020
Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.
This tour requires a good level of fitness and a sense of adventure. The tour includes the exploration of remote areas with basic tourist infrastructure and services.
Dietary requirements such as vegetarian or gluten-free diets cannot be catered for on this tour. Please seek advice about your level of fitness required to undertake this tour.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a visa to visit Ethiopia, which must be applied for online prior to arrival. Renaissance Tours will assist you with your visa application.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally located 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including wines with welcome and farewell dinners
- Talks with your tour leader, Genevieve Jacobs
- Economy Class flights from Addis Ababa to Axum, from Bahir Dar to Lalibela and from Lalibela to Addis Ababa (Luggage allowance 20kg)
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on air-conditioned buses
- Gratuities for local guides, drivers and waitstaff
- Airport/hotel transfers on tour arrival and departure
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Visa for Ethiopia
- Airport porterage
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis, minibar, room service etc.
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Addis Ababa – Sheraton *****
Axum – Sabean International Hotel ***
Simien Mountains – Simien Lodge****
Gondar – Gondar Hills Hotel***
Bahir Dar – Avanti Blue Nile Resort****
Lalibela – Mezena Lodge***
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.