Head to Ethiopia for a View of Sacred Medieval Churches, Baboons, and Simien Wolves

Lalibela, Ethiopia
Photo: Getty Images

The editors of Travel + Leisure have teamed up with Black Tomato—a company known for securing insider experiences—on a series of one-of-a-kind journeys around the globe. Plus: the must-see experiences and sites in each destination that are so unique we’ve designated them our new wonders of the world.

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Travel + Leisure has partnered with luxury travel experts Black Tomato for a fascinating trip through the heartland of Ethiopia, including the capital, Addis Ababa, and our New World Wonder, Lalibela, home to a collection of sacred, medieval churches carved of stone. Plus, a journey to the Simien Mountains in the south, to spot baboons, ibex, and the Simien Wolf (the rarest canine in the world).

Read the full trip outline below, and when you're ready to speak to an expert, get in touch with our luxury travel partner, Black Tomato.

Day 1: Addis Ababa

The Ethiopian capital makes an ideal first impression of the country, with its wide avenues of jacaranda trees, interesting museums and Mercato, one of the largest open-air markets in Africa. The city is rich in impressive monuments and colonial architecture. After checking into the Sheraton, head to the Ethnographic Museum, a good place to learn more about Ethiopia's rich ethnic diversity. The museum has an impressive array of religious crosses, triptychs, and murals. From there, continue onto The National Archaeological Museum which houses the 3.5 million-year-old bones of “Lucy,” believed to be the ancestor of all humankind. Finally, end your tour at The Holy Trinity Cathedral, built in 1945, renowned for its stained-glass windows that depict scenes from the Old and New Testament of the Holy Bible. In the evening, visit the recently reopened African Jazz Village, to hear some great musicians, including the Dr. Mulatu Astateke, known as the father of Ethiopian jazz.

Day 2: Lalibela

The small town of Lalibela is home to one of the world's most astounding sacred sites, a collection of eleven medieval rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single piece of stone. This ‘New Jerusalem’, was built by King Lalibela in the 12th century, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s perched among wild, craggy mountains and vast rocky escarpments, and you’ll get the chance to visit a few of these, as well as the isolated monolith of Bet Giyorgis (the Church of St George).

Afterwards, experience Ethiopia's an integral part of the social and cultural life, an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. passed from generation to generation. An invitation to attend one is considered a mark of friendship or respect and is an example of the warm hospitality in the country. In some households, the coffee ceremony is conducted three times per day by a female member of the family, and starts with raw coffee beans, which are washed and then roasted over a fire or stove in a long-handled pan until they’re black and oily. Guests are invited to come closer and savor the aroma before the hostess grinds the beans with a mortar and pestle, and adds it to boiling water in a coffee pot called a jebena. When it’s ready, she holds the jebena high in the air and pours the coffee into small cups. Each cup is served with a heaping spoonful of sugar and a snack of fresh popcorn or bread. In the evening, check into the rustically elegant Maribela Hotel, designed to resemble the famous monolithic churches of Lalibela.

Day 3: Lalibela

Today, you'll take a cooking class to learn how to make injera, shiro, and other vegetarian options before enjoying the results for lunch. If you like, begin the experience by shopping for ingredients at the local market with your chef before diving in. To the people of Ethiopia, injera is a staple food, eaten with every meal of the day. It’s a type of pancake made mostly from teff, a grain grown in the Ethiopian highlands.


Day 4: Lalibela

Lalibela is known for its huge market, where villagers set up temporary stalls made of eucalyptus poles, and today you’ll have time to explore this massive gathering, where people come from miles around, mostly on foot, to bring their goods to the market. People here sell everything imaginable, from firewood to salt blocks. Also for sale is teff (the local grain used to make injera), dried peppers, cabbages, onions, peas and lentils, wheat, collard greens, and numerous other grains and produce. You’ll also find traditional clothing, and colorful textiles and blankets.

In the afternoon, fly to Gondar and transfer to the Simien Mountains National Park, perhaps the most dramatic scenery in Africa. Here, visitors can catch the endemic Gelada or bleeding heart baboon, the Walia Ibex, the Simien Wolf (one of the rarest canines in the world) and endemic birds such as the Thick Billed Raven and Black Headed Siskin. The park is also famous for its Afro-Alpine flora, meadows, and grasslands. Your hotel, Limalimo Lodge, promotes sustainable tourism with minimal environmental impact.

Days 5 - 6: Simien Mountains National Park

Take a couple days to explore this wonder of Africa’s natural world. Activities include a scenic drive up to the village of Chennek (elevation: 11,876 feet), home to endemic Walia Ibex, as well as Klipspringers and Bushbucks. Chennek is one of the most spectacular spots in the Simien Mountains and the surrounding slopes are thick with giant Lobelias and Afro-Alpine scrub. Enjoy a picnic lunch here as you spend the day in the company of endemic wildlife.

Day 7: Gondar

Join a private guide for some sightseeing in Gondar. Sights include Debre Berhane Selassie church with its remarkable walls and ceiling, which are completely covered with murals (the angels’ faces on the ceiling have become a common motif in Ethiopian design). Then move on to the Royal Enclosure or Fasil Gibbi, which encompasses the castles of various Gondarene emperors, including the Fasiladas Palace; the Quskuam Church (believed to be the home of famous explorer James Bruce during the 1770’s).

Day 8: Bale Mountains

The Bale Mountains are virtually uninhabited and were set aside as a national park in order to protect the Mountain Nyala, an antelope found nowhere else in the world. Reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, the mountains are green and spacious and dotted with rocky peaks and crags, numerous small lakes, extensive heathland, and magnificent cloud forests and bogs. And within the park is Mount Batu, one of the highest mountains in Ethiopia. But for many visitors, the Ethiopian Wolf is the real star of the show—they are regularly sighted here.

Day 9: Bale Mountain National Park

Spend today on the Sanetti Plateau, the best place in Ethiopia to see the Simien Wolf. The rare Wattled Crane is another animal that’s often seen, and there are also a good amount of Spot-breasted Plovers. You’ll then return back to your hotel, Bale Mountain Lodge, through the Harenna forest and explore the surroundings where baboons, monkeys, bush h pigs, leopards, lions, and wild dogs can be spotted.

Day 10: Dinsho

Following breakfast, head to Dinsho (about a two-and-a-half hour drive away) and explore this small village on horseback. Dinsho is home to the Oromo people and while here you can spot three endemic mammals: Menelik's Bushbuck, Simien Fox and Mountain Nyala. As for birds, keep an eye out for the Blue-winged goose, Spot-breasted lapwing, Abyssinian long claw, Wattled ibis, Black-headed siskin and Rouget’s rail.

From $12,500 per person for ten days. To enquire about this trip with Black Tomato, click below.

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