On the first part of my trip we discovered the wonders of Bahirdar, the Blue Nile falls, Lake Tana, and the Island Monasteries. In this 2nd part we continue our journey north to Axum, Lalibela and Harar.

Simien MountainsAfter spending a day and night in Gonder, we headed to the spectacular Simien Mountain massifs, most more than 4,000+ metres high.

These ranges of mountains are believed to have been created as a result of massive seismic activity about 40 million years ago.

The Simien Mountains are also recorded by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

It was late afternoon when we were driving to Debark (the park’s head quarter) and I remember we were so scared because of the thick fog which in places meant we were unable to see even three meters ahead.

The next day we organized our trip to the mountains and had our guide and scout at Debark. Early morning we drove to Sankaber and a camping site at the mountains.

On our way to Sankaber we had a chance to view quite large numbers of Gelada baboons endemic to Ethiopia. We also saw a newly established and very beautiful high quality lodge at a place called Buit-ras situated at 3,260 metres. It is said to be the highest hotel and lodge in Africa.

Parking our car at Michibiny we trekked for hours. Most of the group members were exhausted due to a lack of experience, but it was so exciting.

We had mixed feelings about what to do, some wanted to go forward up to Chenek an excellent place to view the endemic Red Fox. Others in the group wanted at least to see Jinbar Falls a spectacular water fall, while others got exhausted and wanted to get back to where we parked our car.

But those of us who wanted to trek forward won the others over for one good reason a heavy rain. However, it didn’t rain quite as much as we had expected. In addition to trekking and spectacular mountain scenery, we were also rewarded seeing the other endemic Menelik’s bushbuck, klipspringer and others.

Axum and Debre Damo
After staying two days in the Simien Mountains we crossed and drove through another great landscape and mountain escarpment the Limalimu Mountains heading to the ancient Axum where much of Ethiopia’s history begins.

Obelisks at AxumAt Axum we started our tour with the 2000+ year old and still standing obelisks, royal tombs, Stele Park, queen of Sheba’s palace, her bathing pool and also the church of St. Mary of Zion the so called site of the Ark of the Covenant.

Axum you could imagine what the BC times (2000+ years ago) might have been like.

You could just sit and stare at the wonder of the art and the sophistication of the civilization that once existed here on earth let alone in Ethiopia.

Surprisingly what is excavated in Axum is estimated to be only about 5% of the remains. The other 95% is still hidden and waiting to be unearthed.

The next day we went to Debre-Damo Ethiopia’s first church and monastery built in the Axumite times. It is situated on top of a mountain 2,800m high and surrounded on all sides by a vertical cliff.

We were so amazed and wondered why and how those early monks had built a monastery in this table-top land. It can only be reached by climbing up using rope and it is still how pilgrims and the monks climb up and down even today.

Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela
Concluding our trip were the 12th -13th century Lalibela rock hewn churches. Lalibela is an extension of Ethiopia’s northern history and civilization succeeding Yeha (Ethiopia’s first capital 500 BC), Axum and the rock hewn churches of Tigray.

Most of the churches at Lalibela are carved in and out of a single rock. Others are semi-monolithic whilst others are cave churches. The churches perfect design, the 12th century still fresh paintings, those old crosses, the feel of the atmosphere and everything we saw there left us with unutterable feelings.

We were not able to see the churches outside the town due to lack of time however we did see all the churches within the town.

The Lalibela rock hewn churches are ranked among the greatest historical sites in the world and I can not honestly find the right words to describe or explain them.

We also had excellent food and stay in Lalibela. It is the other good thing you find there. There are various ranges of hotels and accommodation, all with a good quality service and at a reasonable price.

Harar
We were also lucky to see the other extreme of Ethiopia – Harar a city at the east of Addis. Harar is celebrating its millennium and 1000th year anniversary. It was recently awarded the status of a world heritage site by UNESCO.

Harar is so beautiful and exotic to Ethiopia, entirely different from the northern Christian influenced civilization. Here you find a Moslem civilization that has existed for centuries.

Harar was an important center of trade and a religious center for Islamic scholarship and had a government ruled under Islamic leadership.

We visited the five gates of the city, the city inside and the famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s house (born in 1854 in the Ardennes, north-eastern France). The house possesses an important collection of his photographic works.

We concluded our entire trip to Ethiopia’s historic sites, mountain sceneries, and beautiful landscapes after 16 days. The whole trip and experience was beyond words. We felt great happiness and refreshment. I will always miss what I believe to be one of life’s great all time experiences.

Comments from some of the Group Members:
My whole trip was so exciting and memorable. I guess the feeling will remain within me as I always think about it. The Blue Nile falls, the ancient and unique church treasures found on the island monasteries of Lake Tana, the beautiful medieval castles of Gonder, the Simien Mountains, and all others have left me with an impression that I can hardly find enough words for – Genet.

I work for construction companies and have had the chance to travel to most parts of Ethiopia. But this trip to the historic spots gave me an incredible experience that I never have before. Among many others, the Blue Nile falls, the Simien mountain massif and rock hewn 13th century churches of Lalibela are spectacular. It was a great vacation and hope I will get back to those beautiful places in the near future – Tsegaye.

It is my second time when I come from Holland to see my family and visit Ethiopia’s
amazing sites. I had such a wonderful opportunity to visit the northern historic sites, the thousand year old walled city Harar, the Blue Nile falls, the spectacular world heritage Simien Mountain massif and many others. What I saw and experienced will always makes me want to go back for more. An amazing vacation! – Dawit

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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