Ethiopia

From its ancient historical sights to the immaculately preserved traditions of its most isolated tribes, Ethiopia is one of East Africa’s most popular cultural destinations. Throughout the year, fascinating religious festivals add an extra touch of vibrancy to the country’s towns and cities; while Ethiopia’s scenery is both diverse and beautiful. Towering mountain ranges, remote riverine valleys and one of the hottest, lowest places on Earth teeming with volcanic activity, can all be found within its borders.

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What to Expect

Ethiopia is distinguished from the rest of Africa as the only nation to avoid European colonialism and distilling of its cultural heritage.

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This conglomeration of ancient kingdoms is full of abundant traditions and customs. In the southern Omo Valley, you’ll witness some of the last unique tribes on earth; where men and women adorn their bodies with bright beads, lip discs and headwear made of fresh flowers and bird feathers or paint their bodies each morning in intricate tribal patterns. In the northern reaches lies Lalibela, where the famous rock-hewn churches dating back almost a thousand years stand majestically. According to local beliefs, the famous Ark of the Covenant is said to rest in this region, too. The Simien Mountains provide a lush region begging for hiking amongst Gelada monkeys, Ethiopian foxes and incredible birdlife. Ethiopia reached archaeological fame when a 3.2-million-year-old hominid (and possibly our oldest ancestor), named ‘Lucy’ was discovered. You can visit her remains in the National Museum in Addis Ababa. There are many wonders waiting for you in this incredible country with some of the warmest and welcoming people in all of Africa.

Don't Miss Out

The Essence of Ethiopia — The remarkable tribal body painting and adornment in the Lower Omo Valley of southwest Ethiopia is attention grabbing

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Large clay plates inserted in the lower lips of women, leather skirts decorated with shells, hair dyed with red ochre or headpieces crafted with flowers, bird feathers and twigs invoke awe. This cultural melting pot is home to over a dozen traditional tribes and is one of the most fascinating crossroads on the African continent. For anyone wishing to witness authentic traditions as they were hundreds of years before, this is the place to do so. You’ll witness the bull jumping ceremony of the Hamer, peruse markets for traditional wears, and if you are lucky you may observe a local dance performance. While a very remote area with no bells and whistles, you’ll be immersed amongst the hundreds of small tribal villages peppering the landscape, each with their unique customs and language, coexisting in varying degrees of peace.

Ancient Rock-Hewn Churches, a Place of Pilgrims— A UNESCO heritage site, the 11 medieval monolithic cave churches of Lalibela date back to the 13th century and are truly wonderous. Located in the Ethiopian highlands these breathtaking churches carved out of the earth make Lalibela one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities and the destination of thousands of pilgrims each year. Discover the area with specialist guides who are well versed in the history and religious importance of each church. Most visitors choose to split the churches into two groups, spending at least half a day at each. We highly recommend attending either a dawn service or experiencing a night vigil here surrounded by hundreds of white-robed pilgrims during one of the major religious festivals.

Home of the Gelada Monkey – The first national park in Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains National Park sits largely at an altitude above 1,000 feet (3,000 meters) and delivers stunning mountainous views. Days spent surrounded by craggy peaks, tumbling waterfalls and deep valleys provide visitors with spectacular hiking experiences. There are several animals that call the Simiens home including the endangered Walia Ibex, endemic Gelada Monkey (until recently thought of as baboons), the elusive Ethiopian Wolf and for the birdwatchers among us, the Lammergeier Falcon. While the days are mild with beautiful clear blue skies, the evening temperatures can plummet, so we advise packing several layers and enough warm clothing, particularly if you are doing a multi-day trek.

Hidden Gem- Located in northern Ethiopia approximately 2.5 hours away from the Simien Mountains the small city of Gondar is often referred to as the ‘Camelot of Africa’. An incredible collection of crumbling castles, fortifications and palaces stand within its boundaries. This regal and ancient historical city of Ethiopia is absolutely worth a visit, as it was the home of many royals who led the country from the 12th to 20th century. For those visiting in January, there are many celebrations and Gondar throngs with people wanting to witness the colorful and vibrant processions. Our piece of advice… book far in advance!

Need to know

There are direct flights into Addis Ababa from North America on Ethiopian Airlines as well as connections via most European and Middle Eastern hubs.

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  • We recommend at least 7 days each for the historical circuit of the north and the cultural circuit of the southern Omo Valley. If you want to combine the two, we recommend at least 12 – 14 days.
  • Ethiopia is an excellent destination for all travelers who are seeking history, culture and adventure. It is also recommended for those who have been to Africa several times for wildlife focused trips and are looking for something different.
  • Visas are required for most international visitors and can be obtained upon arrival in Addis Ababa. We advise visiting a travel health clinic to ensure your inoculations are up to date.
  • There are regional flights allowing for convenient connections between Addis Ababa and the cities in the north. By contrast the south relies predominantly on road or river transfers unless you are willing to private charter a helicopter from place to place.
  • Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia however English is widely spoken throughout the tourism industry and amongst the youth.
  • Guides are very knowledgeable and are often required to access various destinations such as the Simien Mountains or Omo Valley. Most speak excellent English.
  • Ethiopian food is very flavorsome and mostly consists of injera (local flat sour bread) combined with a variety of curries and sauces. Many dishes are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Ethiopia also has excellent coffee which is served the country over.

When to go

Due to its extreme landscapes, Ethiopia has a varied climate very different from what is expected from a country so close to the equator.

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The highlands rarely rise above 68°F (20°C) and have been known to see snow whereas the Danakil Depression is one of the hottest, driest places on the planet. This said, the country enjoys a mild climate with two distinct seasons defined by the rains. October through June coincides with the dry season and is generally considered the best time to visit the country. For those interested in attending a festival, Ethiopia hosts a variety of jubilant celebrations – from the Timkat festival in January, celebrated by orthodox Christians to the Hidar Tsion; a pilgrimage to Axum by Ethiopians from all over the country.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Ethiopia is not as high end and refined as its neighboring countries. Accommodations are clean, comfortable, yet a little rustic.

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However, once this is understood, you will find that the friendly and polite locals are enchanting, and their history fascinating. Ethiopia will provide a truly “off the beaten path” experience we guarantee you’ll never forget that is well worth the journey.

What our travelers say

Amy Lundberg

Wow, wow, wow!! We are back in LA now, recovering from jet lag and still in shock and awe regarding our experience. From the moment we landed in South Africa to the moment we touched down in LA, our experience was seamless and amazing. 

Betsy Robertson

We were thrilled with the trip. It was as good as or better than described at every turn. The prep, attention to detail, willingness to make changes and ensure we were ready and prepared was outstanding. Our Travel Designer was awesome! 

Dawn Jacobs

Choosing a safari expert is never easy given the choice and lists upon lists of "top suppliers"....but we made the BEST choice for us....why....because above all, Rothschild listened ....really listened to what we wanted to experience.

George Kowalski

It was a well organized trip. It was easy to get around since we were guided through all of our itinerary. Everyone was pleasant and very helpful. This is an excellent way to travel. Rothschild Safari did very well and brought a fantastic African experience to us.

Jackie Smith

My trip was beyond AMAZING! I truly enjoyed every moment. The itinerary allowed me to experience a variety of different activities all of which I enjoyed! When I originally thought of going to Africa I was just thinking of safaris. This trip opened my eyes (and my family/friend's) to so much more Africa has to offer.

Jamie Scarlett

Trip was PERFECT!! Every single detail was planned out and the accommodations and people were wonderful. This trip exceeded all of our wildest expectations. Every place we stayed was just lovely and each each camp had a different vibe, which was really neat. Everyone we worked with was outstanding. 

Joe Moravec

On behalf of the Moravec’s and the Stone’s……thank you for arranging a trip of a lifetime. Every detail was accounted for and all the recommendations were perfect. It honestly could not have gone any better.

Kim Mather

Meggan Woody and Kim Killick were extraordinary at crafting THE PERFECT safari for our family of 8. They both listened (actually 'read' my email) to EXACTLY what we wanted, within the budget that we needed, and miraculously pulled off miracles in obtaining the properties that we wanted! 

Lisa Anderson

Every aspect of my trip went according to plan and the plan Rothschild's help me to orchestrate was magnificent! I loved every lodge that I was blessed to be in! They were all very different yet all high end and very accommodating.

Mary & Rob Johannigman (and family)

It was the most exciting, scenic, inspiring trip we've ever taken. To say it was a trip of a lifetime doesn't begin to capture our experience. Pam Langhoff and the Rothschild team did an outstanding job of helping us plan this trip.