When I stepped off the plane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I had no idea what to expect.

While I’ve been to southern and western Africa before, there’s something special about experiencing a country so unfamiliar first hand.

I breezed through customs and immigration and was immediately met by Ashu in the arrivals hall. He would be my guide for the next 11 days.

Addis Ababa

Addis is a bustling city of cars, tuk-tuks, sheep, cows, and people all attempting to make their way on the narrow streets. We spent about two days exploring the city and visiting famous sites such as The National Museum of Ethiopia where Lucy, the world’s most well-known fossil aged roughly 3 million years, is housed.

We were lucky enough to be in Addis during the Meskel Festival as well. Experiencing something so deeply important to the people of Ethiopia was a huge highlight for me. Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country and every year on September 26th they have an enormous festival where clergy, lay people and even their Patriarch come together to celebrate what they believe was the finding of the True Cross of Jesus Christ.

Ethiopia Victoria

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the stands while other groups of school children presented songs to the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The festival lasted about 4 hours and ended with the burning of the Demera. The Demera is burned based on the belief that Queen Eleni was told to make a bonfire and the smoke would show her the way of where the true cross was buried.

Ethiopia Festivals Victoria

We had the opportunity to walk around, speak with the locals, and take as many photos as our hearts desired. We were even interviewed by the local TV station, as the concept of Meskel was so foreign to us they wanted to hear our perspective as tourists. It was one of the most memorable and unique travel experiences I’ve ever had.

Up into the Simien Mountains.

We flew into Gondar and drove 3 hours high up into the mountains. As someone familiar with the savannahs of Africa it was unreal to see such dramatic, green scenery filled with fields of wildflowers.

Victoria in Ethiopia

We stayed at Limalimo Lodge, my absolute favorite property in Ethiopia. It’s perched almost 10,000ft above sea level and overlooks the Simien Mountains from a jutting cliff. Lammergeyers were a common sight and flew only about 20 feet overhead. As far as scenery goes it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

The Simien Mountains are home to many endemic species such as the Gelada Baboon (not actually a real baboon but in fact an old world monkey), Walia Ibex, and the extremely endangered Ethiopian Wolf. During our trip, we knew we wouldn’t have time to seek out the ibex and wolf, but we certainly saw the baboons.

Ethiopia Victoria

After a chilly night, we ate a gourmet breakfast and departed for our Gelada trek. Our group split into two, so as to accommodate different fitness levels. Half of the people chose to drive and the group I stuck with opted to hike. When we approached where the Geladas were (after about an hour and a half hike) I was astounded by the sheer number of them. Roughly 200 Geladas surrounded us!

We separated from one another and went to different places to sit with them. It’s amazing how rambunctious and active they were. Some were picking bugs off one another, others were playfully jumping and hanging from trees, and many of the dominant males had bouts of fighting. We stayed with them for almost two hours just completely enraptured by their behavior. I don’t think I’ll ever forget when two males came tumbling by my feet in a quick squabble for dominance and one’s fur just barely missed my ankles. They’re truly amazing creatures.

Lalibela : Must see!

While I could go on and on about most of where we traveled in Ethiopia, Lalibela, the city known for its Rock-hewn churches is a definite must-see destination. The Church of Saint George (Amharic: Bete Giyorgis) is the most well preserved and famous of the Rock-hewn churches, but in actuality, there are many different ones worth visiting.