From the Queen of Sheba to Emperor Haile Selassie in the 20th century, Ethiopia has carved out for itself a unique identity among African nations. This itinerary uncovers the remarkable history and culture of Ethiopia, from the archaeological discoveries that illuminate our prehistory, to the civilisations whose sophistication were renowned throughout the world, to its cultural diversity today. The tour travels from Addis Ababa to Lake Tana, Gondar, the ancient capital of Axum and the spectacular rock-cut churches of Lalibela, and enjoys the best of this beautiful country from its plains, to its lakes and mountains.
Centuries of tradition and belief, evident in Ethiopia’s many beautifully decorated churches
The legend of the Queen of Sheba and her son Menelik, first Solomonic emperor of Ethiopia
The cradle of mankind in abundant archaeological finds, including the famous skeleton of ‘Lucy’
The Kingdom of Axum and the history of trade in the Roman Empire
A culturally-rich nation: a strong, stable population with over 80 different ethnic groups and languages
The origins of coffee and coffee ceremony, the symbol of Ethiopian hospitality
Paleoanthropology in Addis Ababa’s National Museum and Haile Selassie’s resting place in Holy Trinity Cathedral
Cruise Lake Tana to the isolated and beautifully decorated churches of the Zege Peninsula
Restored 17th-century castles and palaces at Gondar’s magnificent Royal Enclosure
Axum’s 2000-year-old carved stele, the Queen of Sheba’s palace and the legendary location of the Ark of the Covenant
The scenic and remote Simien Mountains, spotting the endemic gelada or ‘bleeding heart’ baboons
The extraordinary undertaking of Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches, including the less-visited Western Group
Days 1–2: Arrive in Addis Ababa and visit the National Museum and Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Days 3–4: Fly to Bahar Dar, take a boat ride to the Zege Peninsula’s decorated monasteries and visit the source of the Blue Nile.
Days 5–6: Drive to Gondar and explore the Royal Enclosure.
Day 7: Overnight in the Simien Mountains.
Days 8–10: Drive to Axum, visit the Stelae Park, Queen of Sheba’s palace and the vibrant Adwa markets.
Days 11–13: Fly to Lalibela and explore its unique rock-hewn churches, including the Western Group.
Days 14–15: Fly to Addis Ababa to overnight, before departure.
A detailed itinerary for this tour is available. Click on the link above to view or download.
Emirates has daily flights to and from Addis Ababa. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Thursday September 13: Arrival in Addis Ababa
Tour leader Chris Bradley and your local tour escort will meet you on arrival at Addis Ababa airport shortly after the arrival of the Emirates flight from Dubai. After a coach transfer to the hotel and time to check in and freshen up, we meet Chris in the lobby for a tour briefing and dinner in the hotel. Overnight Addis Ababa (D)
Friday September 14: Exploring Addis Ababa
This morning we enjoy an orientation tour of the capital city, including Ethiopia’s National Museum. On exhibit are the remains of a 3.2 million year old australopithicus afarensis skeleton, better known as ‘Lucy’, as well as a collection of the colourful regalia of former emperors. We visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral, a flamboyant mixture of architectural styles and the final resting place of Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie. In the cathedral gardens are the tombs of many patriots who died fighting the Italian occupation, including the grave of British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. This afternoon we make a special visit to the Fistula Hospital and Hamlin College of Midwives, established by Australian gynaecologist Catherin Hamlin and her late husband. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Addis Ababa (B, L, D)
Saturday September 15: Bahar Dar
An early start this morning for our flight to Bahar Dar on Ethiopian Airlines. Bahar Dar is beautifully situated along the southern shore of Lake Tana, often referred to as the ‘watershed of Africa’ and a magnet for some of Africa’s colourful birdlife. A drive through the countryside, followed by a 40-minute walk, brings us to Tissisat Falls, where the Blue Nile River drops over the edge of a lava flow. Towards sunset we visit a viewpoint to see the source of the Blue Nile as it flows out of Lake Tana. Dinner is in the hotel. Overnight Bahar Dar (B, L, D)
Sunday September 16: Lake Tana
This morning we board a boat on tranquil Lake Tana to reach the Zege Peninsula. After walking through small villages and coffee plantations we visit the isolated church of Mahal Girgiss, which contains beautifully crafted manuscripts, and Ura Kidanemehret, the most well-known of the peninsula’s monasteries. Local churchmen will explain the wonderful Coptic artwork and religious stories, which often differ from more familiar biblical versions. Some of these churches have treasuries where religious memorabilia and ancient artefacts are kept. Overnight Bahar Dar (B, D)
Monday September 17: Gondar
Leaving Bahar Dar we drive 185 kms around the shoreline of Lake Tana to reach Gondar in historic Begemder Province, and a former 17th–18th century capital of Ethiopia. After lunch we visit the World Heritage-listed Royal Enclosure, containing numerous restored castles and palaces. The most impressive of these is Fasilidas’ Castle, reputedly the work of an Indian architect. Also within the grounds is Iyasu’s Palace, once sumptuously decorated with gilded Venetian mirrors and goldleaf and Dawit’s Hall, where many religious ceremonies and lavish entertainments took place. Overnight Gondar (B, L, D)
Tuesday September 18: The royal Enclosure and Qusqwam
Today we enjoy a more expansive city tour, including the delightful Fasilidas’ Baths where sections of the walls are enveloped by tree roots, and Debre Birhan Selassie Church, with its painted ceiling of angels’ faces. We also see the Qusqwam ruins, built by Empress Mentewab in the 18th century after the death of her husband, Emperor Bakafa, and visited by Scottish adventurer James Bruce soon after completion of his journey to discover the source of the Blue Nile. Overnight Gondar (B, L, D)
Wednesday September 19: Drive to Simien Mountains
Leaving Gondar we drive out to the remains of a Felasha village, abandoned only recently by its Jewish inhabitants, thought to be the direct descendants of Emperor Menelik, who reigned almost 3,000 years ago. Approaching the Simien Mountains the landscape is a rugged mixture of jagged peaks and deep gorges, sparsely populated by farmers and herders. Our hotel is a great base from which to walk in the spectacular highlands towards stunning viewpoints and try to spot Gelada Baboons and lammergeyers. Overnight Simien Mountains (B, L, D)
Thursday September 20: Drive to Axum
Today we continue driving north through small settlements in the mountains. After climbing Woldabat Pass and passing through Adi Arkay town we drive into Tigrey Province. A long descent then takes us across the Tekezze River, a major contributor to the distant River Nile. Approaching the historical city of Axum, we pass some typical old stone houses at Wukiro. Axum was the capital of its own powerful kingdom, and claims to be the original home of the Queen of Sheba and location of the Ark of the Covenant. Overnight Axum (B, L, D)
Friday September 21: Queen of Sheba’s Palace
Our sightseeing includes St Mary of Zion Cathedral, the holiest site in the country, inside of which are modern murals, including a painting of the nine saints. Nearby is the treasury, where every Ethiopian Orthodox Christian believes the Ark of the Covenant is located. The small treasury compound is out of bounds, but its museum has some wonderful religious items, especially a display of Ethiopian church crosses and an unsurpassed collection of former rulers’ crowns. The Stele Park houses a group of monolithic carved stones dating back 2,000 years, including the largest single block of stone ever erected in antiquity. Axum’s astonishing carved steles were erected to show the world the kingdoms great power and authority. We also visit the Queen of Sheba’s Palace and Baths and King Kaleb’s tomb, attributed to the 6th-century ruler who succeeded in bringing southern Arabia under Axumite rule. Overnight Axum (B, D)
Saturday September 22: The Birthplace of Ethiopia
We embark on a full day drive through the mountains of Tigrey to visit Adwa and Yeha. Adwa is famous as the site where the Ethiopians defeated the Italian army in 1896, thus becoming the first African nation to successfully defend themselves against a European power. We shall also spend time at Adwa’s thriving weekly market. Yeha’s impressive temple is considered to be Ethiopia’s oldest building. The temple is a grid of perfect lines and the sandstone blocks are fitted together without a trace of mortar. The immense windowless walls are reminiscent of the temples of the kingdom of Sheba across the Red Sea in Yemen. Overnight Axum (B, L, D)
Sunday September 23: Lalibela rock-cut churches
Departing mid-morning we fly to another of Ethiopia’s former capitals, Lalibela. Lalibela is famous for its remarkable series of 11 unique rock-cut churches, excavated from the ground almost 1,000 years ago during the Zagwe dynasty. After lunch we visit the northern circuit of churches, including Beit Medhane Alam, the largest monolithic church in the world. The church resembles a massive Greek temple rather than a traditional Ethiopian church and is surrounded by 34 large rectangular columns with a further 38 columns supporting the gabled roof inside. Overnight Lalibela (B, L, D)
Monday September 24: Southern Churches
Today we visit the Bet Giorgis, considered Lalibela’s masterpiece, a 15-metre-high three-tiered plinth carved in the shape of a Greek cross. Inside light from the window illuminates the large crosses on the ceilings. Finally we see the smaller group of southern churches, many of which are connected to each other by tunnels, trenches and bridges. One of the most unusual is Abba Libanos, whose four sides have been freed from the surrounding rocks, but is still connected by its roof and floor. While the church looks large from the outside, the interior is actually quite small. Overnight Lalibela (B, L, D)
Tuesday September 25: Western Churches
Travelling in small minibuses along mountain roads through this spectacular highland region, we visit some of the more distant and less frequented churches around Lalibela. These churches are all slightly different constructions, each in their own stunning locations. First is Yemrehanna Kristos, built rather than excavated and one of the best preserved examples of late Axumite buildings. Created from alternating stone and wood layers, it sits on olive wood panels that ‘float’ above the marshy ground below. Our next church visit is to Bilbila Chirkos, a three-quarter monolith known for its ancient frescoes. To the west is Bilbila Giorgis, attributed to King Kaleb and home to five swarms of bees said to have taken up residence shortly after the church was completed and whose honey is believed to have curative properties. On the return journey we can see the daily lives of the local people tending cattle, collecting water and working the crops in the fields. Overnight Lalibela (B, L, D)
Wednesday September 26: Fly to Addis Ababa
This morning we return to Addis Ababa by air. We visit the art gallery within the Ethnological Museum and its impressive collection of coins, banknotes and stamps. Our drive into the surrounding Entoto Hills affords us wonderful panoramic views across the city, and an opportunity to witness the arduous collecting and carrying of firewood from the high forests into the city. Farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Addis Ababa (B, L, D)
Thursday September 27: Departure
This morning is free. For those travelling on Emirates flights to Australia a late check out and transfer to the airport have been arranged. (B)
Has an honours degree from Liverpool University and specialises in the history and art of North Africa and Arabia.
Chris Bradley is a cultural historian specialising in the religion and art of the Middle East and North Africa. After many years of leading tours he has built up an enviable knowledge and personal photographic library that he uses to enhance the Academy Travel tours that he leads to Ethiopia, Iran and Central Asia.
Chris gained an honours degree at the University of Liverpool and spent several years working in Arabia, which gave him a good foundation for understanding the Middle East in general. The Arabic that he learnt through the 1970s proved invaluable for his own travels throughout the Middle East whilst researching, writing and photographing more than a dozen guidebooks as well as countless travel articles. For 30 years he has supplied international picture libraries with photographs that are used worldwide in newspapers, magazines, websites and museums, including the V&A and British Museum in London. This experience also led to his filming and producing credits on many television documentaries for the BBC and National Geographic TV.
Chris was invited by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to analyse sustainable tourism development, initially for Libya and later Egypt. His interest in Islamic and early Christian art is an underlying theme for many of his illustrated talks and lectures for the Arts Society (formerly NADFAS) in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and around the world. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and regularly gives lectures at their various locations. His study days on Islamic Art, The Silk Road, Roman and Islamic Art of North Africa are always over-subscribed.
In the 40 years since Chris started leading group tours in the Middle East he has worked in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Oman, Yemen, Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia. This experience has allowed him to design and develop his own itineraries to Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. His tours aim, where possible, to go beyond the obvious major sights and search for the hidden gems.
We asked Chris, what do you enjoy about tour leading?
“Because of the scope of my interests I enjoy making connections between countries and religions that are often not obvious and I am always searching for links along the lines of ‘where did that idea come from?’ Working with each country’s national guides (many of whom are now personal friends), I love to expand every aspect of the subjects that we cover for the groups, which could be the Queen of Sheba, Zoroastrianism or Shia Islam.”
Hotels on this tour have been carefully chosen based on location and service. The standard varies from four-star in Addis Ababa to simple regional hotels outside the capitol. Please also note that the overall quality and service standards in the hotels are not necessarily at the same level as other countries. Rooms are basic and clean but have few extra amenities. Issues with hot water and water pressure in Lalibela are not uncommon.
Addis Ababa, Radisson Blu Hotel (3 nights)
Bahar Dar, Kuriftu Hotel (2 nights)
Gondar, Goha Hotel (2 nights)
Simien Mountains, Simien Park Lodge (1 night)
Axum, Yeha Hotel (3 nights)
Lalibela, Mountain View Hotel (3 nights)
Hotels may be subject to change (to another hotel of equivalent quality). Any changes will be advised to all clients booked on the tour.
What is included in the tour price? Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price? Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.