Festivals of Ethiopia

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Explore Ethiopia's unique cultural and tribal heritage, and witness two of the most important and fascinating festivals (Genna and Timket) in the Ethiopian calendar

Details

Duration: 16 Days
Starts in: Ethiopia
Group Size: 6-16

Operated by:

World Expeditions

World Expeditions is an adventure travel and ecotourism company that offers guided small group trekking and adventure holidays.

Itinerary

5 Jan 2020 - Join Addis Ababa

On arrival in Addis Ababa you will be met at the airport and transferred to the group hotel for overnight. The remainder of the day is at your leisure. Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world. Located at 2,400 metres above sea level in one of the highest parts of the Entoto mountain chain, the altitude may fatigue you, so take it easy today.

6 Jan 2020 - Fly to Lalibela, Ethiopian Christmas Eve celebration (Genna Festival)

Very early this morning we take a flight from Addis Ababa over the Ethiopian plateau to Lalibela (approx 1 hr - flight at own expense), located at an altitude of 2,600 metres above sea level. The city contains 11 monolithic churches that were built in the 12th century and are carved out of the local pink basaltic scoriae rock; they have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each church has a unique architectural style and all are superbly carved. Most of them are decorated with fascinating and well-preserved paintings. Upon arrival, we will spend time admiring and exploring the rock-hewn churches. This evening, we will witness the white-robed devotees celebrating the eve of the Ethiopian Christmas (known as “Genna”) in a church ceremony at the Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary) which runs from 8:00pm until midnight. Imagine having two Christmases in the one year! Overnight hotel. (Please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability).

7 Jan 2020 - In Lalibela, Ethiopian Christmas Day celebration (Genna Festival)

7 January is the main celebration day for the Ethiopian Christmas (known as “Genna”), and also the birthday of King Lalibela, which makes it doubly fascinating. The spectacle of tens of thousands of faithful pilgirms thronging the rock hewn churches such as Bet Giyorgis (Church of St George), passageways, courtyards, cliff edges and surrounding hills, plus the rhythmic chanting of elaborately dressed deacons and priests to the beating of drums, is an unforgettable experience. It is impossible not to be mesmerised by this unique spectacle, which has been celebrated for centuries. After lunch, there is an excursion to the Church of Asheton Maryam, about 7km outside the city, and Nakuto Leab. After driving a short distance, the monastery itself (3150m) is reached on foot by means of a 3-hour return walk (some steep sections) or by riding on a mule (done at own risk and own expense). Overnight hotel.

8 Jan 2020 - Fly to Addis Ababa, drive to Awassa (275km, approx 5hrs)

Early in the morning, you will catch your flight back to Addis Ababa (approx 1 hr - flight at own expense). Upon arrival, we will be transferred to Awassa. En route, we will make a few stops in Debre Zeit and Lake Ziway for birding and to view the beautiful surroundings. If time permits, we may also visit the Fish Market in Awassa. Overnight hotel in Awassa. (Please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability).

9 Jan 2020 - Drive to Arba Minch (275km, approx 5hrs)

This morning we will continue driving to Arba Minch. En route, we will visit the Dorze tribe (approx 30km drive). One of the smaller ethnic groups, the Dorze are known for their textile weaving and bee hive shaped huts. Overnight hotel in Arba Minch.

10 Jan 2020 - Drive to Turmi (445km, approx 7hrs)

This morning, we shall journey to Turmi, one of the largest towns in the region. En route we enjoy a boat trip on Lake Chamo - one of the best in Ethiopia. There is a chance to spot many hippos and large concentrations of giant crocodiles. Water birds abound and the scenery is truly unforgettable. The lake is about 32km long and provides a lush wetland habitat for many species of flora and fauna. Afterwards we will pass through the village of Weyto (market day Saturday), which is home to the Tsemai tribe. Overnight hotel in Turmi.

11 Jan 2020 - Karo and Hamer villages (140km, approx 3-4hrs)

This morning we begin with a memorable excursion to the Karo Tribe (approx 63km drive), who are very famous for their body painting. The Karo people use clays and locally available vegetable pigments to trace fantastic patterns on each other’s faces, chests, arms, and legs. Karo men, as with neighbouring tribes, are also famous for their unique hairstyle. In the afternoon we visit a Hamer village. The Hamer tribe (also called Hammer or Hamar) is one of the largest groups in the Valley. The Hamer cultivate millet, vegetables, tobacco and cotton as well as raising cattle and goats. They are known for the fine pottery they produce as well as their remarkable hairstyling. Most dramatic of all are the clay hair buns with ostrich feathers that the men don when they have killed a fierce animal. These hair buns stay on for 3-6 months at a time. The women wear beaded necklaces and iron coils around their arms and decorate their skin with cowry shells. These decorations indicate the wealth and prestige of a woman’s husband. We return to Turmi in the evening.

12 Jan 2020 - Drive to Jinka (115km, approx 3-4hrs)

This morning we drive to Jinka, which is the nearest town set in the hills above Mago National Park. Our journey begins with an excursion to a Mursi village. The Mursi are one of the original ethnic groups in Ethiopia. They live in very low huts made of straw leaves. The women like to wear terra cotta jewellery on their enormously stretched lower lips and ear lobes. The men are famous for their hairstyle. Overnight hotel in Jinka.

13 Jan 2020 - Visit Konso tribal village (300km, approx 5hrs)

As we have seen already, Ethiopia has a huge diversity of ethnic groups. Today we will witness the distinguishing behaviour of another of these by visiting a Konso tribal village - a World Heritage listed site of cultural significance. Invariably built on hilltops as protection from the lowland tribes, traditional Konso villages are surrounded by high stonewalls and encompass separate compounds, with outlying terraced agricultural fields. You will be fascinated by the unique architectural aspects, largely unchanged cultural heritage and social cohesion of the village, and how it has adapted to its harsh environment. Another highlight is the famous ‘wagas’ - a funerary tradition where magnificent carved wooden sculptures were created in honour of Konso warrior heroes who have killed an enemy or animal, and often grouped to represent the man, his wives and his adversaries. Overnight hotel in Konso.

14 Jan 2020 - Drive to Arba Minch, fly to Addis Ababa

After a relaxed morning, we will drive to Arba Minch to board our flight to Addis Ababa (flight at own expense). Upon arrival we will be met at the airport and transferred to the group hotel for overnight. (Please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability).

15 Jan 2020 - In Addis Ababa, half day city tour

Today you will have a half day city tour of Addis Ababa. We will visit the National Museum (home of the remains of the famous hominid fossil, “Lucy”) and the Ethnological Museum at the Addis Ababa University (housed in the former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie). The remainder of the day is at your leisure. Overnight hotel.

16 Jan 2020 - Fly to Axum, visit churches

Very early this morning we fly to Axum (approx 45 mins - flight at own expense), also spelt ‘Aksum’. Believed to be Ethiopia’s oldest city, Axum is also known for its massive, towering sculptures and huge granite pillars that are more than two thousand years old. This ancient city is revered by all Ethiopians as the place where the Ark of the Covenant is kept and also has a history of merchants, wealth and intrigue from the reign of the Queen of Sheba (10th century BC). This afternoon we absorb some of this history and visit churches hewn out of rock as well as other monuments. The Churches of St Mary of Zion form the holiest Christian sanctuary in the country. There is an old and a new church in the compound as well as a museum but the most significant building is a tiny chapel constantly guarded by monks. Only one specially chosen guardian is allowed access to this chapel as this is where the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets on which Moses wrote the Ten Commandments and carried from Mt Sinai in Egypt, is believed to be stored. Overnight hotel in Axum. (Please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability).

17 Jan 2020 - Drive to small town of Debark (250km, approx 5hrs)

Today we drive to the small town of Debark, in the foothills of the Simien Mountains. The road is dirt, rough and winding and is under construction (one day it will be sealed). The views are spectacular but be prepared for a long, rough, adventurous day! The small town of Debark has extremely limited accommodation options. Our hotel here will be basic and not of the same standard as hotels in other locations.

18 Jan 2020 - Day walk in Simien Mountains, drive to Gondar in the late afternoon (145km, approx 3hrs)

In Amharic, ‘Simien’ means ‘north’. Six hundred million years ago, the mountains were an enormous volcanic mass. Rain and ice have carved deep fissures into them and rivers have continued the erosion, creating one of the greatest sculptures on the planet. The landscape is stunning with peaks, canyons, gorges, clefts and pointed, amethyst- coloured pinnacles like obelisks making dramatic panoramic vistas. We have the opportunity to walk in the area and take in the immense beauty of these mountains. We can try to spot some of the region’s endemic wildlife, which includes various species of monkey. We will drive (about 2 hrs on sealed road) to our hotel in Gondar in the late afternoon.

19 Jan 2020 - Gondar sightseeing, Timket celebrations

Gondar was once the capital city of the Ethiopian empire, which began in 1632 with the reign of Fasiladas. Gondar has now become one of Ethiopia’s largest and most impressive cities. In addition to the impressive walled Royal Enclosure, there are a dozen castles built by various emperors over the course of 236 years. The city seems more European than African and also has Islamic influences. We will visit the palaces, residences and also the church of Debre Berham Selassie (Light of the Trinity) which is located at the summit of a hill and surrounded by fortified walls. The interior is decorated with beautiful frescoes. This afternoon, we will witness the pre-Timket festivities (which are just as exciting as the actual festival day). Tonight is the eve of Timket - the biggest religious festival in Ethiopia marking the Epiphany (or baptism of Christ). Local priests carry tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) from their churches to Fasiladas’ Bath in Gondar where they are guarded overnight. The baths, empty for the rest of the year, have been filled with water for the occasion. The parade of tabots is brilliantly colourful and we will dedicate the afternoon (from about 1.30pm) to watching all the action. Overnight hotel in Gondar.

20 Jan 2020 - Timket Festival, drive to Bahir Dar (175km, approx 4hrs)

Today is the main celebration day for the Timket Festival and is marked by a public holiday. We start very early in the morning (around 5:00am) with a transfer to Fasiladas’ Bath where priests and faithful Christians have spent an all night vigil watching over the tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant). Crowds gather at the Bath in the morning where the water is blessed and splashed over the tabots. We will witness the whole baptism ceremony where religious vows are renewed before the tabots are paraded back to church accompanied by a furor of singing and dancing. The spectacle of thousands of white-robed faithful following a procession of colourful and elaborately dressed priests is truly incredible. It is impossible not to get caught up in the fever of excitement associated with this celebration. This afternoon we will drive from Gondar to Bahir Dar (about 3.5 hours). Bahir Dar is one of the most well-planned cities in Ethiopia. Located at 1,800 metres above sea level it is situated on the shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in the country. Overnight hotel in Bahir Dar.

21 Jan 2020 - Blue Nile Falls and Lake Tana boat trip, fly to Addis Ababa, farewell dinner, transfer to airport

This morning we visit Tissisat to marvel at the Blue Nile Falls - or “Smoke of Fire”. The falls are located about 2hrs drive (on a rough, dusty road) from Bahir Dar but the result is worth it. The Falls are 400 metres wide when in flood and fall over a sheer chasm more than 45 metres in height. Afterwards we take a boat trip on Lake Tana to fully appreciate the sheer size of this waterway. There are a myriad of monastaries and churches on the islands; some are private and not accessible to the public. We will visit Ura Kidane Mihret church on Zeghie peninsula with its rich history and ornate frescoes. In the late afternoon we fly from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa (about 50 mins - flight at own expense; please note: flight schedule is subject to change and availability). Upon arrival, there will be a farewell traditional dinner with live cultural music and dance. Your trip arrangements conclude with a drop-off at the airport (one group drop-off only). We recommend not booking onward flights before 23:00hrs. Accommodation in Addis can also be arranged for additional cost - please ask your consultant for details.

Additional Information

This in-depth journey is an incredible overview of the main cultural, scenic and tribal highlights of Ethiopia; combined with witnessing two of the most important and fascinating festivals in the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian calendar, including the fascinating Timket Festival celebrations in Gondar. At the Genna Festival (Ethiopian Christmas) celebrations in Lalibela, the spectacle of tens of thousands of faithful pilgrims thronging the rock hewn churches, passageways, courtyards, cliff edges and surrounding hills, plus the rhythmic chanting of elaborately dressed deacons and priests to the beating of drums, is an unforgettable experience. It is impossible not to be mesmerised by these unique festivals, which have been celebrated for centuries. From the colourful chaotic sprawl of the capital Addis Ababa, medieval castles of Gondar, ancient obelisks of Axum, tranquil island monasteries of Lake Tana, walking in the spectacular Simien Mountains, to visiting tribal vlllages in the Omo Valley to observe their traditional lifestyles; Ethiopia is a land of contrasts and rich mosaic of cultures and ethnic diversity.

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Starting From

$3,960/person

Add your business today to reach The Outbound's audience of adventurous travelers.