Ethiopia is an incredible destination fast becoming one of the worlds must see destinations, sitting high on most people’s bucket list.
The Stone Churches of Lalibela, Simian Highlands, Danakil Depression and the ancient tribes of the Omo region all make for a luxury safari steeped in wildlife, history and culture quite unique from any other experience. Unlike many other African countries Ethiopia’s history dates back millenia. Because it’s wonders are so undiscovered the infrastructure is at best basic, hence achieving true luxury can be very difficult. However, with good contacts, sound local knowledge and assistance from some of Ethiopia’s top academics and guides we were able to achieve this on our recent safari.
When planning your safari you should be prepared for fairly basic accommodations with little or no amenities.
Owing to logistics our choice of travel was by helicopter, and the time we saved by using the helicopters meant we could spend more time seeing the places we wanted to. Without helicopters the time that it takes to travel by road or commercial airlines means that you would need at least two to three weeks to even scratch the surface of this amazing country. Key benefit is the very different perspective one gets on the vastness of each environment which only helped to increase our sense of wonder of what the ancient Ethiopian civilizations and modern societies have achieved.
To give examples, in the Simian Mountains with just one full day to experience it, we were able to travel to the far side of the park where the illusive Walia Ibex and Simian wolf can sometimes be found, we saw both. In the Danakil Depression, again we were able to achieve in one day what would take most people 3 or 4 days. We saw the sulphur ponds at Dallol the salt cave at Asseli, and the beauty of helicopter travel meant that we were able to fly to the Erta Ale volcano where we landed at least two hours’ worth of hiking up the mountain side from where the road ends. After a short 40 minute climb to the crater lip where we enjoyed exploring the fresh lava on the floor of Erta Ala fiery cauldron. This experience would normally have taken a full day’s hike but we made it back to our lodge in time for gin and tonics at sunset.
The most significant benefit came when we flew from our lodge at Gheralta to the mountain top rock hewn church of Maryam Korkor, an activity that would normally involve at least 6 hours of hiking and two hours of viewing, this was all wrapped up in an hour and a half, 6 minutes flying each way. This had not been on the itinerary due to time constraints but because of the flexibility afforded by the helicopters we were able to at it in.
Travel in Ethiopia is not for the faint hearted with many challenging hikes and trails. When climbing Abuna Yemata we had mountaineering guides trained by Italian alpine search and rescue team to assist us. While I am certain everything would have been safe and that my super adventurous guests including the youngest foreign tourist ever to have achieved this feat would have been fine, the knowledge that you had a harness and rope on meant that everyone could enjoy this marvel which is known as the Ethiopian Sistine chapel of Stone Churches.