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Tour In Focus: Ethiopia Northern Explorer

27th April 2016


In our Tour In Focus blogs, we'll pick apart our most successful trips, highlighting the elements which make them unique and what is, in our opinion, the trip's most epic stop. To kick us off, we are looking at Ethiopia: Northern Explorer. Ethiopia was Wild Frontier's second ever destination, so we have almost two decades of experience taking travellers around its wonderous sites, stunning natural scenery and most importantly, meeting its graceful and smiling people.

What route does it take? Addis – Gondor – Simien Mountains – Axum – Tigray – Mekele – Lalibela – Bahir Dar – Addis.

What's the number one highlight? The World Heritage town of Lalibela, famous for its monolithic rock-cut churches. For many Lalibela is the eighth wonder of the world.

What does this tour do differently to anyone else's?

The Tefsa village walk, spending two nights in a homestay with local communities. TESFA (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives) is a wonderful way to escape the tourist circuit and scratch below the surface of Ethiopian life, all the while knowing your money goes directly into the local community. The accommodation is simple, made out of two or three tukuls (cone shaped mud huts) with an eco loo (with a view). The camps are set up on the edge of amazing highlands offering spectacular views. Our Africa specialist Peter took this trek recently, read about his experience here.

Who is the tour for? This trip is for anyone with a fascination into history, culture and incredible landscapes – it’s an amazing trip and you’ll come back from Ethiopia wanting more!

Is there much walking involved? There is some walking, we have afternoon walking along the escarpment in the Simien Mountains, which is relatively easy, although at altitude it’s pretty flat and then towards the end of the trip we spend two nights staying with the TESFA communities and walking between the villages. This is a real highlight of the trip and although the walking is not fast or through hilly terrain, the ground can be uneven with loose rocks at times so a pair of walking boots and poles are advisable – there is always an opportunity to take a slightly shorter route and hire a pony if anyone finds the walking too hard.

How fit do I need to be? For the duration of the trip (apart from in Bahir Dar) you will be above 2000m and therefore the fitter you are the easier you will find it. For the TESFA walk, you will be walking at altitudes of about 3000m, walking up to 15-20km on one day, some of which is on uneven rocky paths. However, the walking is mostly flat and we can take our time. The walking should be within the capabilities of anyone of a reasonable level of fitness but it is advisable to ensure that you are in good shape before departing for your trip in order to get the most out of it. If you are unsure about your fitness levels it’s always worth calling the office and speaking to someone who has done the trip as they will more than likely put your mind at ease.

What's the food like? Ethiopian cuisine is one of the world's best kept secrets. It's an exotically spicy mix of vegetables, slow-simmered meat and grain stews. Eating in Ethiopia is characterised by sharing food from a common plate, signifying the bonds of loyalty, family, and friendship. The traditional Ethiopian meal is served on a large platter that is draped with the crepe-like injera bread, with the selection of foods decoratively arranged around the centre dish. To eat, you simply tear off a piece of injera, use it to scoop up some of the various dishes and pop it into you mouth. Extra injera is usually served on the side. A word of warning for those left-handed people amongst us, injera should only be eaten with the right hand.

Any hygiene issues? This is Africa, so you have to be careful! We advise our clients to drink bottled water, which is provided as part of the all-inclusive group package and to regularly wash your hands. Dario, our tour leader, will be with the group throughout the trip and will only take the group to eat in places that he knows and trusts.

Do I need a visa? Yes, we recommend that you get your visa before you leave the UK, but you can get it on arrival if need be.

Are there many long journeys involved? There are some long days in the vehicles – Ethiopia is a big country – and it’s definitely worth driving rather than flying between the main towns as you get to see so much more and experience the countryside. We use 4WD for the long journeys as this gives the flexibility to the group and it means that on the gravel roads we can cover the ground quicker and in more comfort.

What do the tour's leaders make of it?

“I think it's a fantastic trip as it includes the best parts of the historic and religious sites of Ethiopia while including stunning walks in the Simiens and on the Tesfa Community project. All in all it’s a perfect introduction to Ethiopia”

says Dario, our popular Ethiopia guide who has won Bronze prize in Wanderlust’s World Guide of the Year Awards. You can find out more about Dario here.

What do travellers that have been on it think?

“Breathtaking scenery, historic churches and paintings and warm friendly people living a truly basic subsistence life. Thought-provoking and humbling, as well as beautiful. No one will be disappointed.” Andrew Simmonds, who has travelled to Ethiopia three times on group tours with us.

“This was a most amazing trip, giving an insight into a country which retains so much history, with much more to be discovered. The ancient traditions have survived, and are to be seen around every corner, the people were welcoming, and our group leader was so full of information – he even survived all our many questions!” Susan and Peter Hilton

This is an outstanding itinerary led by an outstanding guide. If you truly enjoy interacting with local people, travelling overland to see the 'real' Ethiopia, a fast moving, ever changing daily WOW factor and a willingness to see and get to places other tour companies don't, then this is the trip for you. Book now!” Sue Eland

“The country is, quite simply, stunning; the sites are like nothing I have seen elsewhere and the people are warm, friendly and welcoming.” Katie Coates

I'd like to see more.

Former WF team member Dave Watts took some stunning imagery when taking this tour back in 2009, here are some of our favourites.

Just this year, Sarah Wong travelled on this tour. She has kindly shared her captivating photographs here.

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