If you are looking for an excursion that blends history, nature and culture, look no further than Ethiopia. Travel to this nation allows you to experience sights that are like none other in the world, from the elaborate palaces of Gondar to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. The people of Ethiopia are warm and welcoming to tourists, eager to show off the many unique facets that make the country such a prime luxury tour destination. In addition, you will be able to witness wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else, as well as fertile tombs and ancient tribal cultures.
Experience the palaces of Gondar
For hundreds of years, Ethiopian royalty was without a permanent seat of power. The period between the 13th and 17th centuries was marked by uncertainty and migration, and rulers moved frequently.
This changed in 1636, when King Fasiledes created a permanence which had been lacking. He settled the city of Gondar, and established it as the true capital, one that would not be readily displaced. This gesture allowed the area to flourish, with art, music and literature developed over the decades that followed.
The King built seven churches in addition to his castle, and his successors also constructed their own palaces, transforming Ethiopia from a land without a true centerpiece into one with a strong identity. Visitors can walk around these structures, seeing both what luxury looked like centuries ago and learning from the many cultural artifacts that remain today.
Appreciate the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
The city of Lalibela is one of the most sacred in all of Ethiopia, second only to Aksum. For this reason, it is a common site of pilgrimage, with Christians from all over the world making the trek to learn more about the history of the area and see its ancient churches.
The churches of Lalibela were carved from living rock in the earth, giving them an importance not only in religious lore but also in the history of rock-cut architecture. While the exact date of their construction remains a mystery, it is believed that they date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, making them some of the oldest houses of worship in the world. The structures are a feat of architecture, utilizing an ingenious artesian geological system to provide water all the way up to the mountain ridge on which the city sits.
Trek the Simien mountains
Adventure-seekers, nature-lovers and those that simply love a majestic view are well-advised to make a visit to Simien Mountains National Park a part of their luxury tour to Ethiopia. Massive erosion over the years has granted Ethiopian highlands a fascinating landscape, which reveals itself as a brash interplay of jagged peaks and precipitous valleys. The area is not only home to stunning panoramas, but also animals that cannot be seen anywhere else in the entire world, such as the Walia ibex.
For an even better view, hike up to Ras Dashen, the highest point in all of Ethiopia. From the top, almost 15,000 feet above sea level, visitors can look down and see stunning vistas, the result of a plateau that has eroded over the course of millions of years. The rugged canyons and steep gorges are said to rival those of the Grand Canyon.\
Ride across Lake Tana to see monasteries
Dotted around Ethiopia’s Lake Tana are dozens of islands, whose number rises and falls with the tide itself. Those geographical structures are the home of more than 20 monastic churches, most of which were founded all the way back in the 1300’s, under the rule of Amda Tsion. Despite the centuries of history that passed, many of these religious structures were a complete mystery to the world at large, until the 1930s, when Major Robert Cheesman visited and documented all of the islands on Tana, noting the important religious history to be found.
Today, guests can travel throughout the monasteries, feeling a connection with the worshipers who did the same hundreds of years ago. Luxury tour guides are knowledgeable and eager to share details, providing a historical context that was lost for so many years. The architectural details, designs and paintings are all testaments to the period in which they once stood, serving as an indelible link to the past.
Take part in a traditional coffee ceremony
In Ethiopia, coffee is more than just a beverage used to wake up in the morning. It is an important part of the social and cultural fabric. Ethiopian coffee is praised throughout the world for its flavor, and in the country of its origin, even the presentation itself has been raised to the level of art. An invitation to have coffee with a family is considered a sign of respect and friendship, and accepting this offer is one of the very best ways to experience the nation’s fabled hospitality firsthand.
First, the beans are roasted over hot coals in a special container. When this is done, all of the assembled take the opportunity to enjoy the aromatic smoke, building the anticipation and ritualization. Then the beans are ground, traditionally in a mortar. The grounds are boiled in a special pot, and then poured into a separate container to cool. This process is then repeated, creating a brew that is both complex and comforting. The host serves this delicious beverage to all of the guests, accompanied by a small snack, such as peanuts or himbasha. It is both a showcase of Ethiopian warmth and a reminder that even simple tasks can be beautiful and worth paying attention to.
American and Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended return date in order to enter and depart the country. Each traveler is responsible for ensuring that his/her passport is up to date. Citizens of other nationalities should check with respective authorities before departure. Please ensure that the name on your passport matches all travel documents we have issued. If this is not the case, please contact us immediately.
Your passport must have at least one blank page for the entry stamp. This cannot include the ‘endorsement’ page at the back.
Please make a photocopy of your passport’s identification page and keep it separate from your original. It’s also a good idea to leave a digital copy with someone at home. This may speed up the replacement process should you lose your passport.
Visas for Ethiopia are required by Canadian and US citizens - except transit passengers continuing to a third country within 12 hours - providing they do not leave the airport, and hold valid travel documents for onward destination. As of June 2017, it is now possible to apply for a visa online at: https://www.evisa.gov.et/#/home. Once your application has been approved, you will be sent an email authorising you to travel to Ethiopia and your passport will be stamped upon arrival. Currently, this e-Visa is only accepted for entry via Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Some tourist visas for Canadian and US citizens can be issued on arrival at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. If applying for a tourist visa on arrival, visitors will require two passport photographs and US$50; application can take up to two hours. Visas are valid from the date of issue, not the date of entry into Ethiopia. The following visas are available: single entry visas for up to 30 days stay, multiple entry visas for three months and multiple entry visas for six months. Tourist visa costs: $50 (single-entry, one month); $34 (multiple-entry, three months); $36 (multiple-entry, six months).
Cancelation and Medical Insurance is highly recommended as it can safeguard against the expenses associated with in-country medical emergencies, lost or delayed baggage and emergency cancelation or interruption of your trip. Please ensure your policy will provide you with upfront medical coverage so that you are not responsible for a hefty doctor’s bill while away. Insurance can be purchased through us.
Some vaccines require more than one dose or a major length of time to be effective. For that reason, it is recommended to see your doctor or health provider at least 6 to 8 weeks before your trip. For all vaccinations and health requirements, you can also refer to the recommendations from:
World Health Organization (WHO): http://www.who.int and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) http://wwwnc.cdc.gov.
Currently Required Vaccinations: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over one year of age arriving from areas considered to be at risk of transmission. It must be given at least 10 days before your trip in order to be effective. A yellow fever shot is NOT required for visitors from U.S. and Canada direct, however if you are travelling through surrounding African countries it is required.
Other vaccines to discuss with your doctor or travel health professional:
Remember that the best precaution is the preventative kind. Wearing long sleeves is a good idea. To reduce the risk of contracting yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria, liberally apply mosquito repellent that contains DEET to your skin and clothes, and wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers/slacks especially in the evenings.
If there are any medical items essential to your health, such as prescription drugs or corrective eye wear, bring duplicates and divide them between your checked bags and hand luggage. While non-prescription drugs such as aspirin are generally available, it is difficult to replace prescription items.
Other recommended Items:
The weather in Ethiopia is generally temperate with a brief rainy season in the summer and fall; however it can vary dramatically depending on elevation. Sunshine is almost all year-round, the best time to travel is November – February when days are long and warm and the nights are cool.
It is important to pack clothes for warm days and cool evenings, as well as a warm jacket for early mornings. Light, quick-drying, practical clothes are advisable. Non-synthetic, comfortably fitting, cotton clothing breathes more easily and will keep you cooler under the hot African sun. Shorts and T-shirts are normally the order of the day, and are replaced with long-sleeved shirts and trousers at night for warmth and protection from insect bites.
Preferred colors on safari are khaki, beige, olive green and brown. You are less visible in the African bush and therefore less threatening to the animals. These colors also help to deflect harsh sun and are less likely to attract mosquitoes.
Other essential items:
Bandannas, handkerchiefs and hat with a brim
FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS: Video camera, camera with zoom lens in a dust-resistant case, sufficient memory cards, a spare camera battery and charger, binoculars, bird and animal check lists
Electricity: Electricity in Ethiopia is 220 volts and 50HZ. Ethiopian sockets are designed to accept round prongs.
Phone: Your cell phone will work in most areas if your phone provider offers international roaming. Roaming phone charges vary, but tend to be quite costly. Consult your phone provider prior to departure to discuss their overseas rates and international package options.
Internet access is exceptionally slow and can be costly (as much as $5-10 per half hour) all across Ethiopia, and unfortunately has one of the lowest penetration rates in the entire continent of Africa “Smart” phones such as BlackBerrys and iPhones will actually download data much faster than computers. Again, roaming and data charges can be exceptionally high – so please talk to your phone provider to pre-purchase a data plan
The currency in Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Birr, banknotes come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 ETB. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 santim. NOTE: $1.00 USD is equivalent to 20.00 ETB.
Capital: Addis Ababa
Language: The national language is Amharic
Currency: Ethiopian Birr
Religion: Orthodox Christian
Time Zone: GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) + 3 East Africa Time
Electricity: 220 Volt, 50 Hz
Telephone: Country code for calling is 251
Calling North America: Dial 011 plus area code and your 7-digit number
Emergency numbers in Ethiopia: For police, fire brigade or ambulance service, dial 939.