Historic Ethiopia Tour

Historic Ethiopia Tour – a 12 day Small Group Tour.

Delve into a largely unknown side of African history on an incredible holiday in Ethiopia. We visit the amazing rock cut churches of Lalibela – one of the continent’s highlights – the medieval monasteries of Lake Tana and the little visited churches of Tigray.

As well as this our group will explore royal heritage at Gondar, ancient history at Axum and spend two nights amidst stunning scenery in the Simien Mountains.

There is an optional pre-tour extension to the Danakil Depression and a post tour extension to the Harar region. Contact us for full details.



This tour explores Ethiopia’s historic northern region, a land of ancient monasteries and castles where tradition rules. Starting off in Addis Ababa, we explore its many sites before flying to one of the jewels of the country – enchanting Lalibela with its amazing 11th century rock cut churches.

We spend time exploring both the main churches and lesser known ones before driving to the region of Tigray – similar to Petra with churches hewn out of the surrounding landscape, but many feel far more spectacular, with many churches built halfway up almost inaccessible cliff faces. We spend time learning about the history of the ancient Axumite Empire at Axum then travel to ‘Africa’s Camelot’ – the wonderful castles and palaces of Gondar.

Ethiopia’s natural beauty reveals itself in the Simien Mountains, where we walk amidst some of Africa’s most captivating scenery, looking for endemic gelada baboons. And to round off our exploration we visit the isolated island monasteries on Lake Tana, home to treasured religious artefacts and strong monastic traditions. This twelve day tour gives a fantastic insight into the cultural heritage of this spectacular nation.

Tour ratings.

  • Fitness
  • Off the beaten track 
  • Culture 
  • History 
  • Wildlife 

Tour pace


Tour style


Relaxed Pace

Relaxed tours are easy paced with plenty of leisure time built in. The tour will in all probability still be off the beaten track, with the occasional early start and there may still be occasional long drives. In general on a relaxed pace tour you can enjoy easy-going activities and experiences with opportunities to absorb the sights and immerse yourself in the local surroundings.

Moderate Pace

Moderate pace tours are ideal if you want a tour experience that combines activities and experiences with some time to relax. Typically you will be active and busy for part of the day but then also have time to rest and recharge your batteries. In general on a moderate paced tour there may be some long journeys involved but the tour is not an expedition or a road trip. On a moderate paced tour it will be necessary to have some early starts.

Busy Pace

A busy paced tour means that you can expect to be doing, seeing or experiencing something new almost every day, and moving on from place to place to pack in as much as possible. There may be early starts, long journeys and tiring days along the way, but you’ll return home feeling you’ve really experienced as much as you possibly could.

Pioneer Class Tours

On our Pioneer tours, you will be amongst an elite group of intrepid travellers and some of the first to explore a country that few have been privileged enough to discover. Of course, exploring such areas of the world will come with its challenges; it may mean several nights camping, long journeys by 4WD and the need to maintain a degree of flexibility for when carefully laid plans change. These are challenging tours in countries and areas that may have poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and illiteracy. This can translate in to low standards in hotels, bad roads and poor driving standards among other issues. We try and smooth out as much of these issues as we can but you should be prepared to experience the bad with the good.

Traveller Class Tours

Our Traveller itineraries are at the core of our programme. These journeys are designed for travellers who still want to discover a land away from the tourist crowds but expect minimum standards. Accommodation will be primarily hotel based, although you could still find yourself camping, or the guest of a local family. Depending on the destination and itinerary, you’ll likely be travelling in a private vehicle, with occasional use of public transport. This is adventure travel with some of the rough edges smoothed out.


Arrive in Addis Ababa and transfer to hotel accommodation. The rest of the day is free to relax. Overnight at Jupiter International Hotel or similar.

(260 kms, approximate driving time: seven hours)

A morning flight takes us to Mekele and on by road to Adigrat. We explore the sites of Tigray, visiting some of the region’s 130 rock churches including Medhane Alem Adikusho, Wukro Cherkos and Abraha Atsbeha. The architecture is notably different here. Churches are in part or wholly excavated within the living rock, rather than carved from it. Overnight at Agoro Lodge or similar. (BD)

(130 kms, Approximate driving time: three hours)

The road to Axum passes through spectacular landscapes. Axum is Ethiopia’s holiest town and since 1980 a World Heritage Site. Highlights include a remarkable collection of ancient stelae, the bath and palace of the Queen of Sheba, and St Mary of Tsion Church, claimed by some to hold the Ark of the Covenant containing the original stone tablets handed down to Moses. Overnight at Yared Zema Hotel or similar. (BD)

(290km, Approximate driving time: five- six hours)

The journey to the Simien Mountains is long, but as we ascend towards the mountains the scenery is rewarding. Along the way it’s worth keeping an eye out for endemic Ethiopian wildlife, including Gelada Baboons and many species of birds. Depending on our arrival time there may be an opportunity for a short walk in the park to glimpse the breath-taking beauty of Simien mountainscapes. Overnight at Ras Dejen Hotel  or similar. (BD)

Today we walk in the mountains, taking in awe-inspiring viewpoints and spotting some of the endemic wildlife. The effects of altitude, though mild, will be apparent. We’ll make frequent stops, stay well hydrated and travel at the pace of the slowest. Shorter hikes are possible for those preferring not to walk for the whole day. Overnight at Simien Lodge or similar. (BL)

Please Note: it can be very cold at night so you should take warm clothes to wear.

(145km, Approximate driving time: three hours)

Drive to Gondar, once Ethiopia’s imperial capital, and famous for its beautiful castles and palaces. We visit some of the town’s main sites, which include the Bath of King Fasiladas and the ornately decorated Debre Birhan Selassie Church (Light of Trinity) known for its colourful murals. Overnight at Goha Hotel or similar. (BD)

(175km, Approximate driving time: three hours)

After breakfast we continue to explore Gondar before the drive to Bahir Dar, close to Lake Tana, stopping at points of interest en route. On arrival check into our hotel which overlooks Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. Overnight at Avanti Blue Nile Hotel or similar. (BD)

From the town we drive to the Blue Nile Falls, taking a short walk to view the falls themselves, before returning. We take boats out onto Lake Tana to explore its collection of ancient monasteries, dramatically situated on the lake’s islands and peninsulas. Overnight at Avanti Blue Nile Hotel or similar. (BD)

(380 km, Approximate driving time: seven hours)

Drive to Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and second holiest town in Ethiopia after Axum, known worldwide for its remarkable 7th to 13th century rock-hewn churches. On the way we will stop at the Awra Amba Community village, and observe the daily tasks of making Enjera, local beer and coffee. Overnight at Mountain View Hotel or similar. (BD)

Today visit the rock hewn churches and discover their origins. Overnight at Mountain View Hotel or similar. (BD)

A flight to Addis arrives with time to make an afternoon tour of the capital. We visit the Entoto Mountains for wide ranging views over the city, the National Museum, St George’s Cathedral and the Merkato, reputedly Africa largest open-air market. Overnight at Nexus Hotel or similar. (BD)

After breakfast the tour ends with transfers to the airport for onward flights. (B)

Travel to the Afar region of Ethiopia and visit the imposing desert plains known as the Danakil Depression.

Arrive in Addis Ababa where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax. Overnight at Nexus Hotel or similar. No meals are included.

Transfer to the airport for a flight to the remote Tigray region, and on arrival you will be met and driven to the village of Hamed Ela via Berhale. The Danakil Depression can be said to ‘begin’ here, one of the most amazing regions in the world, with its spectacular scenery, full of eye-catching colours, as seen in the sulphur springs. The desert has several points lying more than 100 meters (328 ft.) below sea level. On the way you will see many long caravans heading for the salt mines and others coming out of the Danakil with their camels loaded with salt. Overnight camping at Hamed Ela. (BLD)

Break camp at Hamed Ela and cross the Danakil desert, past herds of camels and traditional Afar homes, to Kursawad to make the final arrangements for our evening hike to the Ertale Volcano. After lunch with the village elder, begin a slow, but spectacular drive through fields of hardened magma, which will bring us to the base of Mount Ertale where we pause to rest and wait for it to cool before our trek. As the sun sets, we leave behind the jeeps and set out for a three-hour hike, accompanied by a camel caravan carrying gear and water, to the edge of Mount Erta Ale. We camp here for the night by the light of the stars, and the glow of the nearby volcano. (BLD)

This is Day 2 of the Historic Ethiopia group tour.

After breakfast, drive back to Mekele and continue to Adigrat to join the rest of your group for the main tour. We will visit the marvellous churches of Medhane Alem Adikusho, Wukro Cherkos and Abraha Atsbeha. Overnight at Agoro Lodge or similar. (BD)

Extend your stay in Ethiopia with a trip to the Harar region.

 (Approximate driving time: six hours)

A morning drive takes us from Addis Ababa to Awash National Park, one of the most beautiful in Ethiopia. The River Awash runs through a spectacular gorge and the park itself is home to oryx, gazelles, hamadryas baboons, and over 453 bird species, including ostrich. On arrival we will take a game drive in the park. Overnight stay at Genet Hotel or similar. (LD)

(Approximate driving time: eight hours)

Early morning is often the best time to see wildlife. We return to the park to search out birdlife close to hot springs and the Awash Waterfalls. Afterwards, we continue to the walled city of Harar. Here, 368 alleyways are squeezed into one square kilometre – its old-world atmosphere more reminiscent of Fez in Morocco than any other Ethiopian city. Within crumbling walls, countless mosques, shrines, coffee–scented streets, and busy markets stalls combine to make Harar Ethiopia’s most colourful city. Overnight stay at Heritage Plaza Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Today we further explore the Old City on foot and visit the house where French poet Arthur Rimbaud lived between 1880 and 1891. In Harar, Rimbaud found an escape from European sophistication and it became his favourite city. Unusually for a poet, Rimbaud set himself up as an arms dealer and sold weapons to Emperor Menelik. In the evening, we visit Harar’s renowned ‘hyena men’ who have made it their habit hand feed wild, spotted hyenas each night on the city’s outskirts. Overnight stay at Heritage Plaza Hotel or similar. (BLD)

(Approximate driving time: one-and-a-half-hours)

From Harar, the road climbs to 3,000m among the Cercer Mountains, offering magnificent panoramas of the surrounding countryside. Along the route we begin to see crops of ‘chat’, a bush whose leaves are chewed in vast wads as a stimulant. We have lunch on arrival in Dire Dawa and in the afternoon explore the city. Overnight stay at Samrate Hotel or similar. (BLD)

(Approximate driving time: eight hours)

After breakfast we drive to Addis Ababa and transfer to the international airport for onwards flights. (B)

Dates & Price.

Tour Notes

This group tour operates subject to a minimum group size of 2 travellers.

Return flights from London to Addis Ababa start at £590. Contact us for a quotation.

Single Supplement from £335.

Extra night accommodation pre and/or post tour in Addis Ababa costs from £60 per person, per night sharing a twin/double room and £96 per person in a solo occupancy room.

Please note that the prices quoted above are for the category of accommodation and hotel used for this particular tour. Depending on the hotel eventually confirmed there may be some difference in the rate advertised by the hotel, and the prices available through Undiscovered Destinations. It should be noted we will not apply a surcharge should more expensive accommodation be used. At the same time in the event that a lower rate is available for the confirmed hotel we are unable to offer a refund.

Airport transfers are included if you are booking pre and/or post tour accommodation at the hotel mentioned in our tour dossier.

Please contact us for details of the additional extension to visit Harar or download the Tour Dossier.

If you do not wish to be part of a group tour then you can do the same tour on a private basis. Please contact us for prices.

Kindly note that we can also tailor a similar or totally different itinerary to meet your requirements. Please get in touch with us so that we can tailor your perfect tour of Ethiopia’s historic north.

Mapped itinerary.

Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?

Download PDF.

Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

Historic Ethiopia Tour Map

For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
well-travelled team.

+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA

Tour inclusions.

  • Arrival and departure transfers
  • Domestic flights
  • All accommodation
  • Services of English speaking guide / tour leader (please note that groups of 1-3 people will have a driver and different guides in each place visited, rather than one guide accompanying the trip throughout)
  • Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Tour exclusions.

  • International flights
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visas
  • Drinks

The trip was long-anticipated and well worth the money and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The tour group of 9 people was just the right size.


Jean Foulds, UK