Ethiopia - Historic North and Danakil

Ethiopia - Historic North and Danakil 1690 , 11 Days

Ah, Ethiopia! A land of ancient mysteries, dramatic landscapes, and festivals that rival any global celebration. If your wanderlust calls for a destination that offers the perfect blend of history, culture, and jaw-dropping natural beauty, look no further. Ethiopia’s got it all: the searing Danakil Depression, the rock-hewn wonders of Lalibela, the medieval grandeur of Gondar, and the vibrant Timket festival. Grab sunscreen and a sense of adventure as we take you on a whirlwind tour of this enchanting East African gems.
On this tour, we will explore the surreal Danakil Depression with its neon-colored geothermal pools and the fiery Erta Ale volcano, we will marvel at the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, masterpieces carved from solid rock in the 12th century and we will wander through Gondar’s medieval castles. If you book the January tour, you will also experience the Timket festival, a dazzling celebration of Epiphany filled with colorful processions, singing, and spiritual renewal.

Lalibela - renowned for its stunning rock-hewn churches, carved directly into the rugged hillsides over 800 years ago.;
♦ Gondar - the former royal capital of Ethiopia, also known as "The Chamelot of Africa" due its impressive castles and fortresses:
Danakil Depression - one of the hottest and most inhospitable places on Earth, boasting surreal landscapes of neon-colored geothermal pools, salt flats, and active volcanoes:
♦ Timket Festival (only during the January tour) - Ethiopia's lively Epiphany celebration, a vibrant festival that honors the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

View Route Map


Day 1. Arrival
Arrival in Addis Ababa Airport and transfer to the hotel. Free time to explore the city on your own. -/-/

Day 2. Addis Abeba - Bahir Dar
Our day will start with an early morning flight to Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara Region. We will continue driving to the region's highlight: the Blue Nile Falls. Known locally as "Tis Abay" or "the smoking water," the falls are a breathtaking sight, especially during the rainy season when they're at their fullest. The roar of the water crashing down, the mist rising to meet the sky—it's nature's symphony, and you're front row. Located just a stone's throw from Bahir Dar, this natural wonder, plunging over 40 meters (130 feet) in height, is a must-see for any adventurer or nature lover. In the afternoon, we will embark on a scenic boat trip on Lake Tana, Ethiopia's largest lake. As we glide across the lake, we can see fishermen in traditional papyrus boats, called tankwas, skillfully casting their nets. The scenery is breathtaking, with lush green hills rolling down to meet the water's edge, dotted with small villages and patches of vibrant wildflowers. The air is fresh and filled with the calls of birds, many of which are unique to this region.Our next destination is one of the lake’s hidden treasures: Ura Kidane Mehret, a centuries-old monastery on the Zege Peninsula renowned for its unique circular architecture and conical roof. Stepping inside the monastery, visitors are struck by the vivid frescoes adorning the walls. These colorful paintings, dating back to the 16th century, depict scenes from the Bible, Ethiopian saints, and significant historical events. In the evening, we will return to Bahir Dar and spend the night in a hotel. -/-/-

Day 3. Bahirdar - Gondar
After a short drive, we will arrive at our next destination - Gondar. Often referred to as the "Camelot of Africa," Gondar is a treasure trove of ancient castles, churches, and monuments that tell the story of a once-great empire. Founded in the 17th century, Gondar was Ethiopia's royal capital for over 200 years. The city is famed for its Royal Enclosure - a walled compound that houses several well-preserved castles and palaces, which we will explore today. The centerpiece of the Royal Enclosure is Gondar Castle, also known as Fasil Ghebbi. This majestic fortress, with its towering battlements and labyrinthine corridors, offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of Ethiopia's Solomonic dynasty. We will then continue with a visit to the iconic Debre Birhan Selassie Church, renowned for its breathtaking ceiling paintings. These stunning artworks, dating back to the 17th century, depict biblical scenes and Ethiopian saints, reflecting the deep spiritual heritage of the region. Our local guide will share the captivating history of Debre Birhan Selassie, bringing to life the stories behind its construction and the remarkable events that have shaped its legacy. One of the most intriguing tales is the church's miraculous survival during the Mahdist War in the late 19th century. As the story goes, when the Sudanese Mahdist forces approached Debre Birhan Selassie, a swarm of bees emerged from the church and attacked the invaders, driving them away. This miraculous event is believed to have been an act of divine protection, ensuring the preservation of the sacred site. The church stands today as a symbol of resilience and faith, showcasing the artistry and spiritual devotion of centuries past. B/-/-

Day 4. Gondar/Timket Festival (January departure)
Today, we will continue exploring Gondar and the surrounding area. If you join our January departure, you will experience the celebration of Timket, or Epiphany – the biggest and most anticipated religious event in the Ethiopian calendar. Timket, celebrated on January 19th (or 20th during a leap year), commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. The festivities begin on the evening before Timket, known as Ketera. As the sun sets, the city of Gondar comes alive with anticipation and joy. Crowds of people dressed in traditional white clothing gather at various churches around the city. The centerpiece of Ketera is the procession of the Tabots, replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, from the churches to the Fasilides Bath. Each Tabot, symbolizing the Tablets of Law that Moses received on Mount Sinai, is wrapped in opulent cloth and carried on the heads of priests. The procession is accompanied by chanting, singing, and the rhythmic beating of drums. The air is thick with incense, and the atmosphere is charged with spiritual fervor. The night is dedicated to prayer and reflection, with many people staying up all night to partake in the vigil. As dawn breaks on Timket day, the sacred baptismal ceremony at the bath commences. The priests, adorned in their finest liturgical robes, perform a series of prayers and rituals, blessing the water in the bath. The atmosphere resonates with sacred chants and the sounds of traditional instruments. The blessed water is sprinkled on the crowd, symbolizing the renewal of baptismal vows. Many devotees fully immerse themselves in the water, experiencing a profound spiritual cleansing and renewal. After the festivities, we will return to the hotel and spend the night. You can read more about the history and significance of the festival in our article here. B/-/-

Day 5. Gondar - Lalibela
Today, we have a long but scenic drive from Gondar to Lalibela, winding through Ethiopia's majestic landscapes. The journey unfolds amidst mountain vistas, rugged cliffs, and vast valleys. Quaint local villages in the valleys will offer us a glimpse of rural Ethiopian life. We will arrive in Lalibela in the evening, where we will spend the next two nights. Lalibela is a town located in the northern part of Ethiopia, renowned for its UNESCO World Heritage site consisting of eleven medieval rock-hewn churches. It is considered one of Ethiopia's holiest cities and a significant pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. B/-/-

Day 6. Lalibela
Today, we will spend the whole day exploring the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. These churches are carved entirely out of solid volcanic rock, inside and out, a testament to their creators' architectural and engineering prowess. Our day begins with a visit to the largest one - Bet Medhanealem, also known as "The Saviour of the World.", where we'll marvel at the towering columns and intricate carvings. Next, we'll discover the sacred sanctuary of Bet Mariam, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and admire its cross-shaped design and vibrant frescoes. Moving on, we'll explore Bet Meskel, known for its elaborately carved windows and hidden passages, before venturing to the intimate surroundings of Bet Denagil, where we'll find exquisite carvings and ancient relics. As the day progresses, we'll ascend to the twin churches of Bet Mikael and Bet Golgotha, perched atop a hill with panoramic views of Lalibela, and pay homage to its revered history and significance. Finally, our journey culminates with a visit to the iconic Bet Ghiorgis, Lalibela's most breathtaking church, carved in the shape of a cross and surrounded by an aura of spiritual reverence. Every step of today's tour will showcase Lalibela's rock-hewn churches' timeless beauty and deep spirituality, leaving a lasting impression. B/-/-

Day 7. Lalibela - Semera
Today, we are embarking on a long and picturesque drive from Lalibela to Semera, the capital of the Afar region of Ethiopia. As we approach the Afar region, the temperature rises, and the air becomes drier. Here, the landscape becomes rugged and surreal, with striking cliffs, deep canyons, and ancient lava flows as far as the eye can see. We will see traditional Afar huts, known as "dikas," scattered across the desert landscape. Semera is a lively town, with bustling markets featuring traders from across the region and the delightful aroma of traditional Afar cuisine filling the air. It serves as a gateway to some of Ethiopia's most breathtaking natural wonders, which we will have the opportunity to explore in the coming days. B/-/-

Day 8. Semera - Erta Ale (Danakil Depression)
We will spend the next few days exploring the Danakil Depression -  one of the planet's most extreme and otherworldly landscapes. Often referred to as the "hottest place on Earth," this geological wonder lies at the junction of three tectonic plates and boasts a terrain like no other. The landscape is a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, with vast salt flats stretching as far as the eye can see, dotted with striking formations of sulfur and mineral deposits. The ground beneath your feet is a mosaic of bright yellows, oranges, and greens created by the geothermal activity that bubbles below the surface. Our destination for today is  Erta Ale Volcano - one of the region's highlights.  Known as the "Smoking Mountain" or the "Gateway to Hell," Erta Ale is famous for its active lava lake, one of only a few on the planet. Our day will start with a challenging drive to the volcano's base. Although it's only about 80 km from the city, the drive can take 5-6 hours since we will be traveling on one of the roughest roads in the world. After a short break and dinner at the base, we will hike to the top of the volcano. It's a quite challenging 3- hour hike, but the efforts will be worth it. Reaching the summit at night, we will be greeted by the lava lake's eerie glow, a mesmerizing and humbling sight. The lava churns and bubbles, illuminating the surrounding landscape with fiery red and orange light. Standing at the crater's edge, you can feel the heat from the molten rock and hear the hiss and crackle of the Earth's raw energy. Prepare for an unforgettable adventure as you spend the night atop the mountain at the volcano's edge. B/L/D 
*Camels will transport the camping materials (light mattresses, water, food, etc.) to the volcano's rim. 

Day 9. Erta Ale - Lake Giulietti (Lake Afrera) - Hamed Ela Camp
After an early morning on the volcano's rim, we are heading to our next location in the Danakil Depression - Lake Giulietti, also known as Lake Afrera. Named after the Italian explorer Giuseppe Maria Giulietti, who perished in the region during an expedition in the late 19th century, this remote and unique lake is a significant feature of one of the hottest and most inhospitable places on Earth. Lake Giulietti is a hypersaline lake, meaning its waters are significantly saltier than typical seawater.  One of the most exciting aspects of Lake Giulietti is its role in local salt production. The Afar people have long harvested salt from the lake’s shores, a practice that has shaped their culture and way of life for centuries. You can observe traditional salt extraction methods, where large salt crystals are cut and collected by hand, often with the help of camels that transport the heavy loads across the desert. We will then continue to our next stop - the Hamed Ela Camp, where we will spend the night. The camp is a collection of simple huts and shelters providing basic accommodation and essential supplies for adventurers. The rustic setting adds to the sense of being on the edge of the world, far removed from the comforts of modern life. The camp is inhabited by the Afar people, known for their resilience and ability to thrive in such harsh conditions. The Afar are traditionally nomadic, and their presence in Hamed Ela is tied to the salt mining industry. B/L/D

Day 10. Hamed Ela - Dallol Depression - Semera. Fly to Addis Ababa
Today, we will start our day by visiting Ragad (Asebo) to observe the salt mining process. After that, we will head to the Dallol region, which is one of the lowest points here at 116 meters below sea level. The area's volcanic features create a dramatic and unforgettable scenery, with volcanic cones and craters scattered throughout the area. We will then drive back to Semera and take a flight back to Addis Ababa, where we will spend the night. B/L/-

Day 11. Addis Ababa City Tour. End of services. 
After having breakfast at the hotel, we will head out to explore the lively capital of Ethiopia. The tour begins with a visit to the Ethnographic Museum, housed within the former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie on the beautiful grounds of Addis Ababa University. As we explore the museum, we'll travel through Ethiopia's diverse cultural history, from ancient artifacts and traditional art to exhibits showcasing the daily lives of various ethnic groups. Next, we will visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the official seat of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Addis Ababa. It is also the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen Asfaw. Haile Selassie was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, known for modernizing the country and advocating for African unity. Revered as a defining figure in Ethiopian history, he is also considered a messianic figure by the Rastafarian movement. Your tour continues with a visit to the Mercato, one of Africa's largest outdoor markets. The Mercato is a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells, bustling with activity as traders and shoppers haggle over goods. After the tour ends, you can continue exploring the town on you own. A private transfer will take you from the hotel to the airport according to your departure flight. B/-/-

Practical information:

  • This tour is not suitable for individuals with mobility issues. Some parts of this tour require good level of fitness and mobility (e.g the 3-hour hike to Erta Ale Volcano).
  • During the expedition to the Danakil Depression, you will spend two nights camping under the stars, sleeping on mattresses or simple wooden beds provided by us. The facilities are quite basic because of the harsh conditions and remote location.
  • Most nationalities can apply for e-visa to Ethiopia here:
  • Please note that during your trip, there may be differences compared to the description above. While we strive to adhere to the planned schedule, we might need to make adjustments before or during the trip due to unexpected circumstances and other factors to ensure your safety and the best possible experience.
  • You can read more helpful pre-departure information in the file below:


Price Includes:
all ground transportation during the program (including 4x4 vehicles where necessary)
airport transfers on day one and day eleven
domestic flight tickets Addis Ababa- Bahir Dar and Semera-Addis Ababa
accommodation according to the itinerary (8 nights in midrange local hotels in ensuite rooms,2 nights camping)
camping equipment during the Danakil expedition (mattresses,cooking equipment,etc)
local English-speaking guides
a tour leader from Penguin Travel (at min.8 people)
all meals according to the itinerary (B-breakfast,L-lunch,D-dinner)
entry fees for the sites mentioned in the itinerary
boat trip on Lake Tana on day 2

Not Included:
international flight ticket
visa fee
personal camping equipment
drinks and meals not mentioned in the itinerary
video camera fee
fees associated with additional and optional trips
tips and personal expenses


Ethiopia - Historic North and Danakil (Rated 4.87 / 5 Based on 377 Reviews.)
1690 EUR
11 Days
Single Supplement
280 EUR
Guaranteed departure
1750 EUR
11 Days
Single Supplement
280 EUR
Guaranteed departure

Currency fluctuations might cause correction of price at any time.

No special experience is needed; everyone who is in condition to cope with long Saturday walks in the forest can also cope with these tours. As a rule, the trips are short and at a low altitude. Often, it is your choice to join or skip a day-tour. The routes follow a hilly terrain without steep ascents and descents. Normally we walk 3/5h a day.

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