Trip Type: Cultural and Festival Tour
Tour Code: NEWS
This cultural tour to the Historic Route of Ethiopia allows you to step back in time and discover thousands of years of history, legend, and lore. You will explore the Historic Route of Ethiopia as well as experience Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas, a colorful and ancient celebration around the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.
This is one of the greatest and most colorful festivals on the Ethiopian calendar. At Lalibela, it is celebrated with greater devotion, chanting, dancing, and singing around the rock-hewn churches that were built more than 800 years ago. The ancient city of Lalibela will be filled with tens of thousands of pilgrims who come from all directions of Ethiopia and from all walks of life.
Most of the pilgrims reach Lalibela from far off hamlets and inaccessible valleys, walking on their bare feet for days, weeks, and even months to share the blessing on Christmas day. Although Ethiopian Christmas is on January 7, there will be different ceremonies held around the rock-hewn churches starting the night of January 4th. This is an ancient Christian tradition that has remained unchanged over the years. Witnessing this event, you feel like you are transported centuries back in time.
Discover the world of the ancient Ethiopians as you visit the unmatched sites of the Historic Route of Ethiopia — Axum, Lalibela, Gondar, the island monasteries of Lake Tana, the Palace of Queen of Sheba, and the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Cruise along Lake Tana, the source of the Great Blue Nile River; trek along the spectacular Simien Mountains, “the chess pieces of gods”; and see the Gelada “Bleeding Heart” Baboon.
- Celebrate Ethiopian Christmas around the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
- Experience Ethiopian Orthodox Christian doctrines and traditions.
- Visit four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Be amazed by the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, one of “the living wonders of the world”.
- Enjoy the magnificent nature and endemic wildlife of the Simien Mountains.
- Travel back in time as you explore the ancient city of Axum, the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
- Discover the fairytale castles of Gondar.
- Take a cruise on Lake Tana to visit the ancient island monasteries.
- See the source of the mighty Blue Nile River and Blue Nile Falls.
- Discover the old walled city and the fourth holiest city of Islam.
- Visit the vibrant city of Addis Ababa.
- Meet your ancestor Lucy at the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
- Try the varied Ethiopian food.
- Attend an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Day 1: Addis Ababa
Arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Welcome to Ethiopia! Upon arrival at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, you will be welcomed and assisted by your tour guide and driven to your hotel. If you arrive in the morning, an optional city tour can be arranged.
Overnight: Hotel, Addis Ababa
Day 2: Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar
In the morning, drive to Bahirdar through the Great Blue Nile Gorge with stops at different small towns like Dejen, Chancho, and Goha Tsion.
Overnight Hotel, Bahir Dar
Day 3: Lake Tana, Blue Nile Falls, Bahir Dar
After breakfast, we will take a boat cruise over Lake Tana to visit the ancient 14th-century island monasteries of Lake Tana.
After lunch at the hotel, we will drive 35 km to visit the majestic Blue Nile Falls.
Overnight: Hotel, Bahir Dar
Day 4: Bahir Dar, Gondar
After breakfast, we drive to Gondar through the beautiful countryside scenery to arrive at Gondar around lunchtime.
After check in to Goha Hotel and lunch there, we will start tour of Gondar that includes the Royal Enclosure, the pool of King Fasilidas, and the famous Debre Berhan Selassie church adorned with brilliant frescos inside.
Overnight: Goha Hotel, Bahir Dar
Day 5: Gondar, Simien Mountains National Park
After an early breakfast, we will drive to Simien Mountains National Park. Enroute we will visit the “Felasha”, or Black Jewish village.
On the drive from Gondar up to Simien Mountains National Park, you will enjoy the spectacular scenery including at the top of the massif. For the rest of the day, we will trek around the park and Sankaber to explore the stunning views and wildlife.
Overnight: Simien Lodge
Day 6: Simien Mountains National Park, Axum
After breakfast, we drive to Axum through the beautiful scenery of the Simien Mountains and the Tekeze River Gorge.
Overnight: Hotel, Axum
Day 7: Axum
After breakfast, we will visit the ancient city of Axum. Your visit in Axum includes the Stele Square, Kaleba Tombs, the 4th-century Christian inscription of King Ezana, Queen of Sheba’s Palace, Archeological Museum, and Tsion Mariam Church, where the original Ark of the Covenant is housed.
Overnight: Hotel, Axum
Day 8: Axum, Hauzien
In the morning, we drive to Hauzien, the center of some of the most ancient rock-hewn churches, through the stunning and historical mountains of Adwa.
Overnight: Lodge, Hauzien
Day 9: Hauzien, Mekele
In the morning, we drive to Mekele enroute visiting some of the most ancient Tigray rock-hewn churches including Wikro Cherkos, Abrha We-atsbeha, and Dugum Selassie.
Overnight: Hotel, Mekelle
Day 10: Mekele, Lalibela, Celebration at Bete Emanuel
After breakfast, we drive north to Lalibela through Sekota. Enroute you will visit Yimrhane Kirstos and different villages of the Agwe tribal people. In the evening, we will drive to Bete Emanuel to attend the special celebration of Emanuel with chanting and dancing by the priests and deacons. The ceremony will be accompanied by a capacity crowd of pilgrims who came to witness this event from far off hamlets and inaccessible valleys on their bare feet walking, for weeks and even months.
Overnight: Hotel, Lalibela
Day 11: Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopian Christmas Eve
In the morning, we will drive to the sites with the highest concentration of rock-hewn churches of Lalibela from 1200 AD. At night, we will attend the Christmas Eve ceremony to be held at Bete Mariam church. This evening, you will attend the Ethiopian Christmas Eve Ceremony with the pilgrims. The dancing by the deacons and the priests continue throughout the night while the pilgrims clap and ululate to the drum beat. At midnight, there will be a candlelight ceremony to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Overnight: Hotel, Lalibela
Day 12: Lalibela, Asheten Mariam, Ethiopian Christmas
In the morning, we will once more drive to Bete Mariam to witness the final ceremony of Ethiopian Christmas. On this day, as it has been for centuries, the priests will be lined up with their drums on the cliff edge of Bete Mariam and others at the bottom, representing the shepherds and the angels announcing the birth of Jesus.
After lunch and a rest at the hotel, we will continue our journey into Ethiopia’s long and marvelous history with a visit to more of Lalibela’s remarkable churches. The rock-hewn churches that we will visit this afternoon include Bete Gabriel, Bete Merkorios Bete Amanuel, Bethlehem, and Bete Aba Libanos. At the end of the tour, there will be a special Ethiopian traditional coffee ceremony for the group prepared at a local house.
Overnight: Hotel, Lalibela
Day 13: Lalibela, Addis Ababa, Departure
After breakfast, transfer to Lalibela airport for the flight to Addis Ababa. Depending on your departure time, we can arrange an optional city tour of Addis Ababa.
In the evening, there will be NEWS complimentary farewell dinner party with traditional special buffet and local drinks (flight schedule permitting). At the end of the farwell dinner, transfer to Addis Ababa airport for the flight back. End of tour.