Day 1: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Welcome to Addis Ababa “New Flower,” the third highest capital in the world. It is at an altitude of 3,000 meters/9,843 feet. It has wide avenues lined with jacaranda trees and features fine museums and one of the largest open-air markets in Africa, Mercato. This is Africa’s diplomatic capital with headquarters for the Organization of African Unity and the United Nation Economic Commissions for Africa. The capital is rich in impressive monuments of colonial architecture scattered among stretches of sun-bleached shacks.
On arrival, you are welcomed and transferred to your hotel. After check in, relax before exploring the city with your guide. Explore the fascinating Ethnographic Museum within late-Emperor Haile Selassie’s former palace, surrounded by gardens and fountains at the university’s main campus. One of the finest museums in Africa, it shows the full sweep of Ethiopia's cultural and social history and its rich ethnic diversity. The National Archaeological Museum ranks among the most important museums in sub-Sahara Africa. It housed the 3.5 million-year-old bones of Lucy, believed to be the ancestor of all human kind, which hints at Ethiopia as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’. After lunch, see the Holy Trinity Cathedral, built in 1945, and renowned for its stain glass windows. Trinity Cathedral also houses the tombs of the late emperor and his family as well as the tomb of English feminist Sylvia Pankhurst.
Stroll through Merkato Market selling everything from livestock to computers. There is also a large selection of Ethiopian arts and crafts (closed on Sundays). Or, you can opt for a drive into Entoto Hills, where Mt. Entoto is the highest peak in Addis Ababa (3,200 meters/10,500 feet). This was the first settlement in Addis Ababa where Emperor Menelik II built his palace in 1887. It offers a unique glimpse into the history of Ethiopia’s distinct culture. The compound at the peak is Entoto Mariam Church, an Ethiopian artefact museum as well as Menelik II palace. On the drive up, you may notice the scent of Eucalyptus and fresh Ethiopian coffee. Time permitting, stop at St. George’s Cathedral, built in 1896 and designed in the traditional octagonal shape. The Cathedral houses the work of Afewerk Tekle, the renowned Ethiopian artist responsible for the stain glass windows of the Africa Hall and also houses a small museum. Sheraton Addis Hotel
Day 2: Addis Ababa / Langano
Following breakfast, you head to Langano by road, about a four-hour drive. En route, visit Lake Ziway, the largest of the northern group of freshwater Rift Valley Lakes. It is known for its population of birds and hippopotamuses. It is best known for its bird life. The shores and islands of Lake Zway are also the traditional home of the Zay people. Tradition states that when the Muslim Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi conquered Ethiopia, the Christians of the area took refuge on its islands. They were later isolated from the rest of Ethiopia by the Oromo people, who settled around the lake. At the time Menelik II conquered the lands around the lake, the lake-dwellers were rediscovered and found to have preserved both their Christian faith and a number of ancient manuscripts.
Then continue to Lake Langano, a holiday resort with a splendid beach dotted with acacia trees and pinkish volcanic water. The area is at the center of one of Ethiopia’s most interesting natural areas, surrounded by national parks and lakes with a diverse range of wildlife, much of it endemic and a great location for birdwatchers. In the Great Rift Valley, the lake is free of Bilharzias (schistosomiasis), unlike other freshwater lakes in Ethiopia, so Lake Langano is popular for swimming, water sports, horse riding, forest walks and mountain biking. The lake shares its waters with hippos, monkeys, baboons, warthogs, and a huge variety of birds. Bordering the eastern shore of Lake Langano is East Langano Nature Reserve, a beautiful lakeside forest and home to a variety of birds and mammals. The area is a delight to explore on foot or on horseback. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax or discover the natural beauty that surrounds the lodge. Hara Langano Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 3: Langano / Arba Minch
After breakfast, you begin a fascinating journey to explore ancient cultures that still survive in southern Ethiopia. Travel toward Arba Minch, en route stopping to meet the Dorze people in the town of Chencha. The Dorze are renowned for their skills at traditional cotton weaving and live in distinctive tall beehive-shaped dwellings that are among the most distinctive traditional structures in Africa. The main occupations of the region are subsistence farming and weaving. The Shama cloth produced around Chencha is regarded to be the finest in Ethiopia. Plain white Gabbi robes and brightly colored scarf-like Netalas are sold along the roadside.
Arrive at Arba Minch, Forty Springs, derives its name from numerous springs bubbling up in the evergreen, ground water forest covering the flats below the town. This is the largest town in Southern Ethiopia and sits in the foothills of the Rift Valley wall, above a cliff overlooking the mountains that separate the lakes of Chamo and Abaya. Check in to your lodge. Paradise (B,L,D)
Day 4: Arba Minch / Jinka
Today, you set out for Jinka, with a visit a Konso village along the way. The Konso people are known for their characteristic and intricately terraced hillsides as well as fine woven materials and the carved totems with which they decorate their graves. Then, continue to Jinka, where you visit the Museum of the South Omo Research Centre to further explore the ethnic groups of southern Ethiopia. In Yetnebersh, visit a village of the Ari people, who will demonstrate how they make liquor from Sorghum, garlic and maize. Note: On Thursdays, you have the opportunity to take in the weekly market in Key Afer, the most outstanding market of the Lower Omo Valley tribes. Eco-Omo Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 5: Jinka / Mursi / Turmi
Enjoy breakfast before leaving for one of Africa’s vast wildernesses, the Mago National Park, founded in the 1960s. It encompasses dense acacia forests and open savanna, providing sanctuary to nearly one hundred mammal species and 300 bird species, though population densities are sparse these days. Visit the Mursi village, who are known for their fierce warrior disposition and wildly decorative appearance. The women wear large circular clay labrets in the lower lip. The larger the lip plate, the greater the woman’s value when she is married. She removes her plate for eating and sleeping. The Mursi people have become a cultural symbol of the Lower Omo Valley. They are the most renowned of the Omotic-speaking tribes. They are also recognized for colorful dresses and body scarification.
Leaving the Mursi village, journey the Benna village to encounter the Beshada people, who are adorned with clay and an impressive headdress. Then on to Turmi, a market town in the southwest of the country. This area is home to the Hamer tribes. Both men and women take great pride in their appearance, shaving and coloring their hair, oiling their bodies and decorating themselves with beads and bracelets worn around arms and legs. They are famous for their body decoration, moonlight dance (Evangedi Dance) and bull-jumping. Bull jumping, done on special occasions, represents the traditional rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. The Hamer villages are incredibly neat and constructed entirely from mud, wood and thatch. One of the most striking aspects of these small villages, which typically consist of a few extended families living in perhaps ten to 15 huts, are the total absence of nonorganic or western artifacts. Note: On Tuesdays, Dimeka women’s market is running and other South Omo Tribes Market are held on Tuesdays and Saturdays, where you might encounter no less than four tribes at a time such as the Bennas, the Hamer, the Erbore and the Ari. Buska Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 6: Turmi – Karo – Bume – Turmi
Following breakfast, drive across the Omo River to engage the Bumi tribe, who are known as great warriors. They are also specialized crocodile hunters, using harpoons from dugout canoes. Cross back across the Omo River and drive to the village of Kolcho, home to the traditional Karo tribes. They are considered the masters of body painting, in which they engage when preparing for a dance, feast or celebration. Return to Turmi and your lodge. Buska Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 7: Turmi / Arba Minch
After breakfast, return by road to Arba Minch via Erbore village, a rustic drive through a relatively unaffected area than many of the same size towns in south Omo. The share a common with linguistic and cultural affiliation with their Tsemai neighbors. The Arbore migrated to their present homeland from Konso perhaps two centuries ago. Because they have ancestral and cultural links to Konso and the pastoralists of the surrounding lowlands, the Arbore traditionally played an important role as middlemen in trade between the Omo River and the Konso Highlands. The town of Arbore lies in an area where several tribal boundaries coverage. Paradise Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 8: Arba Minch / Yirgalem
Set out after breakfast to Yirgalem. Discover coffee towns and fruit-cultivating towns with splendid greenery everywhere. Check into your lodge. nestled between coffee fields and lush vegetation in Yirgalem town. The Aregash Lodge is a natural retreat of astounding beauty and tranquility. The bamboo thatched Tukuls are built in the style of a traditional Sidama village. Each bungalow is decorated with vibrant colors and furnished in local traditional style. A traditional Sidama village is nearby as is the forest, home to diverse flora and shelters more than 100 species of birds and mammals. The coffee plantation and nightly visits of jackals and hyenas assures you of a unique experience. Activities include trekking, horseback riding and explorations of historical caves and sacred sites and visits to natural hot and cold-water springs. Aregash Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 9: Yirgalem
Today explore the Sidama Village at Yirgalem. The nation of people called the Sidama are avid coffee drinkers and enset eaters, crops which they cultivate using some of the world’s oldest farming techniques, which honor not only the earth, but also themselves. The Sidama homeland is in the Sidama Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) in southern Ethiopia. The Sidama live close to the land and are closely connected to the earth spiritually. They are peace loving and have been remote and off the beaten track, avoiding much of the political turmoil that has arisen elsewhere in the country. The Sidama preserved their cultural heritage, including their traditional religion and language until the late 1880s with the conquest by Emperor Menelik II. Even so, many retained traditional beliefs until the 1960s when European missionaries arrived. By the 1994 national census, only 15% still practiced traditional beliefs while the majority were spread among Protestant, Muslim, Catholic, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. The Sidama speak a language called Sidaamu-afoo. Today, the pastoral life is disappearing due to the high density of population and education. Aregash Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 10: Yirgalem / Addis Ababa / Depart
Following breakfast, you drive to Awassa, about 40 kilometers/25 miles. Lake Awassa is a beautiful freshwater lake set in hills and luxurious vegetation unlike the alkaline lakes to the north. Birds are plentiful along with black and white colobus monkeys. Visit Amora Gedel, a daily fish market on the shores of Lake Awassa. See the eager pelicans, storks and other birds waiting nearby for the fishermen’s leftovers. Then, drive to Senkele Wildlife Sanctuary, originally established to protect the endemic and endangered antelope species called Swayne’s hartebeests. The scenic, open acacia woodland of the reserve is home to the Swayne’s hartebeests, the population of which is currently estimated at between 600 and 800. The sanctuary also harbors species including Bohor, reedbucks, greater kudus, orbis antelopes, spotted hyenas, serval and civet cats, caracals, warthogs, common jackals as well as 91 species of birds.
En route visit the Tiya prehistoric site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the northernmost example of a peculiar type of engraved, standing stelae, which stretch across areas of southern Ethiopia. These stelae are believed to have been erected between the 12th and 14th centuries and are almost certainly grave markers. Recent excavations at Tiya have revealed the remains of young people of both sexes, between about 18 and 30 years old, buried in fetal positions.
Continue on to Addis Ababa. Big Five has arranged for a day room for your use until it is time to be transferred to the airport this evening at the Sheraton Addis Hotel. Tonight enjoy a cultural evening at a restaurant in the city. Ethiopia is a mosaic of people with more than 80 languages, different lifestyles, costumes and cultural dances. Experience some of these cultural dances and savor a traditional meal with a drink of Tej, a type of wine made from Honey.
At the given time, you are transferred to the airport for your onward flight. Sheraton Addis Hotel – Day Use Room (B,L,D)
Land per person, double occupancy: Price starts at US$750 per person, per day