Date: TBC Autumn 2019
An exploration into some of the wilder parts of Ethiopia plus Somaliland.
We begin in Ethiopia on a road trip through the otherworldly Danakil Depression. Passing through the hottest inhabited place on earth, visiting the lava lake at Erta Ale and witnessing the life of the salt mining Afar nomads that live in this otherwise inhospitable climate. Whilst in Tigray in the north of Ethiopia we’ll visit some of the most spectacularly located rock churches you’ll ever see. For classical history buffs, Axum is a gem. Relics from this ancient empire are still being discovered.
Then we’ll fly to the east of Ethiopia to the ancient walled city of Harar, exploring the narrow alleyways where wild Hyenas still wander. Finally, we will cross into the de-facto independent state of Somaliland to see the stunning cave paintings at Las Geel and enjoy the atmosphere in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa.
Then, for the truly intrepid, add on an extra 48 hours in Mogadishu with our experienced guide and security team.
- Experience the Danakil Depression – the hottest inhabited place on earth
- Feed wild Hyenas at dusk in ancient Harar
- Visit Axum. Home of the Queen of Sheba and believed to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant
- Explore one of the world’s least visited countries – Somaliland
Start point: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
End point: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Maximum number of people: 8
Day 1 – Arrive in Addis Ababa
Arrive in Addis.
You will have an optional tour of the city depending on arrival time. This could include a trip to the Archeological Museum (where you can meet 3.25 million-year-old Lucy), the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Ethnological Museum (the former residence of His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie) and Mercato – the largest open-air market in Africa.
Guests planning on collecting their Somaliland visa in Addis will be required to do so as a priority.
Overnight in Addis.
Day 2 – Addis – Mekele – Khiwa – Kesrawat – Erta Ale
A morning flight from Addis to Mekele. From here you will begin your journey by 4×4 to Khiwa where the Danakil Depression really begins. One of the lowest places in the world it is an inhospitable landscape of sulphur springs, acid pools and colourful rock formations. We will collect our police escorts in Khiwa and then our Afar militia escort in Kesrawat. In the late afternoon, we will reach the base of the volcano. We will wait until nightfall before beginning the 3-hour trek to the volcano’s rim (Camels can be hired for those that need them). On the rim, you will be able to gaze into the boiling lava of one of the world’s only permanent lava lake. An experience you will never forget.
Overnight camping or sleeping on a rope bed at Erta Ale.
Day 3 – Erta Ale – Hamedele – Dallol
Rise with the sun and spend the early hours of the day walking around the pits and craters of Erta Ale. Then return by foot to the base of Erta Ale. From there we will drive on to Hamedele where we will have time to see how people live in such inhospitable conditions. There will be time for photos and perhaps to purchase some items from the Afar people. We will then continue on to Dallol (at 116 metres below sea level – the lowest place in the Danakil Depression and generally considered the hottest inhabited place on earth).
Overnight in Dallol in very basic conditions.
Day 4 – Dallol – Mekele
A day visiting the otherworldly landscape around Dallol. Including colourful sulphur and salt lakes as well as thermo-active springs. The route passes many camel caravans laden with salt crossing the bleak landscape. You’ll also get time to meet some of the Afar people that live near Lake Assal.
Return and overnight in Mekele.
Day 5 – Mekele – Hawsein
Drive to the Tigrayan mountains to visit the most remarkable rock churches cut into the mountains near Hawsein. These will include Mikael Imba (requires a 20-minute walk and a short ladder) and the easily-accessible churches of Wukro Chirkos and Abreha we Atsbeha.
Overnight in a lodge at Hawsein.
Day 6 – Hawsein to Axum
A morning drive to Axum. En route stopping at the Debro Demo monastery where the men of the group (women are not allowed) may enter by means of a 15-metre rope climb.
Ethiopia is a place where history and myth blur together and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the capital of the great classical Axumite Empire. Believed to be founded by the Queen of Sheba and the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, Axum is a UNESCO world heritage site that is still being explored and excavated. Each year throwing up new treasures.
Overnight in Axum.
Day 7 – Axum
A full day in Axum to visit the Axum Stelae Fields, where 120 stelae (giant granite pillars) are found, dating back to around 300-500 AD. Like the Pyramids of Egypt, they were built by ancient rulers to mark their achievement so they would be remembered after death. In the surrounding area, we will visit Kaleb and Gabra’s tombs and the Queen of Sheba’s Palace and baths.
Whilst we will not be permitted to visit inside the Mary of Zion Church where the Ark of the Covenant is said to be, seeing the lines of white-clothed pilgrims visiting is a moving sight.
Overnight in Axum.
Day 8 – Axum – Addis Ababa – Dire Dawa – Harar
A day of travelling as the group makes its way from the north of Ethiopia to the east of the country. The group will catch the 0955 flight from Axum to Addis Ababa and then connect to a flight to Dire Dawa. From here you will drive to Harar.
Overnight in Harar.
Day 9 – Harar
A full day to explore the walled city of Harar – considered by some to be the 4th holiest city in Islam. The old city is famed for its medieval townhouses and has 82 mosques, including three built in the 10th century. The walls surrounding the sacred city of Harar were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. African and Islamic traditions combine, creating a particularly unique character. One of Harar’s more unusual traditions is the nightly feeding of wild hyenas that wander the streets.
Overnight in Harar.
Day 10 – Harar – Hargeisa
A full day to drive from Harar to Hargeisa crossing the border between Ethiopia and Somaliland on the way. As you progress you will pass out of the green Ethiopian lands into the brown scrub desert of Somalia, spotting camel trains as you drive.
Overnight in Hargeisa.
Day 11 – Hargeisa – Las Geel – Hargeisa
After a visit to the Hargeisa Camel Market, we will take you (with your security escort) to the wonderful cave paintings at Las Geel, one of the most intriguing sights in the Horn of Africa. On the overhangs of a rock in the desert are some of the world’s best preserved ancient cave paintings. Dating from 5000-9000 years old they depict cows, people, dogs and even giraffes. Return to Hargeisa.
Overnight in Hargeisa.
Day 12 – Hargeisa – Addis – Home
Transfer to airport for morning flight to Addis.
Connect with evening flights home.
Those travelling to Mogadishu will depart on the same day from Hargeisa to Mogadishu.
You will be accompanied by experienced English speaking Ethiopian guides for the length of the trip in Ethiopia plus a Somali guide in Somaliland.
- Ground transport
- Three internal flights (Addis to Mekele / Axum to Addis Ababa / Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa)
- International flight from Hargeisa to Addis Ababa (or Hargeisa to Mogadishu if the guest is joining the Mogadishu add-on)
- All meals and camping equipment when in the Danakil Depression
The trip does not include:
- Ethiopia visas ($50 each. You will need to get two if you return to Addis Ababa at the end of the trip)
- Somaliland Visa ($50 in Addis Ababa)
- Hargeisa airport departure tax ($41)
- Other Meals
- Entrance fees
To reserve a place on this trip we need a deposit of US$400 per person.
If you have any questions about this trip or about Ethiopia in general, please contact us. Or if you are ready to book this trip, please go to the booking form.
We do not directly arrange international flights to Ethiopia. We strongly suggest flying with Ethiopian Airlines as we can secure much cheaper internal flights if you have used Ethiopian Airlines to fly into or out of Ethiopia at the beginning or end of the trip. See cost differences above.
You can also contact the Untamed Borders dedicated team at Flight Centre for suggested routes.
Phone: +44(0) 844 560 9966
Ethiopian visas are available on arrival at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa. They cost US$50 or equivalent in euros. You will not be able to use pounds sterling or other currencies. Note that you will need to get an Ethiopian visa on your entry back to Addis from Hargeisa.
There are very few countries in the world where you can obtain a Somaliland visa. Contact us for details. They can also be obtained on day 1 in Addis. Cost is US$50.
There is also a $41 departure tax at Hargeisa airport.
Breakfast is included on this trip. Other meals will be paid for by yourself. Whilst out on the Danakil Depression you will be provided with all meals.
Difficulty – In the Danakil, there is a three-hour hike up the volcano on rough ground. Some of the Tigrayan rock churches are in difficult places where a walk or a scramble are required to reach it.
Comfort – Good mid-range accommodation except for the Danakil Depression where we either camp or stay in a crude hut.
We do not and cannot offer a uniform accommodation standard on our itineraries. We consider comfort, location, design, character, historical interest and whether the money we spend will go into the pockets of the local community when we make our choices of where to stay.
The accommodation will be based on you sharing a twin room.
There will be camping in the Danakil Depression.
When we choose our vehicles and drivers we take into consideration the road conditions, the length of journey and the competence of the man behind the wheel. Whilst on the Danakil Depression you will be in a 4×4. If anyone else leaves for the Danakil at the same time you will join up and travel in a convoy.
On this trip, you will be accompanied by experienced English speaking Ethiopian guides for the length of the trip in Ethiopia and a Somali guide for the time in Somaliland. We will also work with local guides in each region to help ensure you get the most out of each trip.
Security and Risks:
The Danakil Depression is an area that comes with a measure of risk. The region has seen occasional violence in the past. Guests will be accompanied by Ethiopian security for their entire length of stay in the Danakil Depression. We feel we have the contacts and experience to guide in this region safely. We do monitor the situation closely and we listen very carefully to advice from the foreign office and from our friends in the areas we visit. Our client’s safety is our primary concern. We must state that the tour leader has the final word with regards to changes in the itinerary for safety reasons. Whilst the route we have chosen passes through areas that we consider stable things can change and we may have to alter the route or cancel sections of the trip at short notice.
Somaliland is not an internationally recognised country. Currently, Somaliland is secure and has, by and large, escaped the trouble that has blighted Somalia to the south. However, the government takes security there seriously and you will have a soldier with you when outside of any town.
Also, please be aware that the Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places on earth. Heat stroke is a real risk and those with heart conditions are advised not to travel.