It has been a month since I came back from an exciting trip to the north of Ethiopia around Gonder and the Simien Mountains National Park. Of course I have been to these places several times, but I always find them new and amazing. I believe many travelers who have been there more than once, share the same experience.

I think this is the reason why we see people coming back to explore Ethiopia. I don’t have data of visitor returns, but I can guess that three quarters of visitors hope to be able to come back again.

My main reason to go there was to help four of our guests and to make especially sure the trekking arrangements and facilities were in place – like tents, cooking gears, mules, lodges, meals and of course the support team, nine people including myself.

Our guests were experienced trekkers who had trekked at the Andes, Alps, and Nepal, but had never been to Africa. The whole trip was a 13 day package including Meket, Lalibela, Gonder, and the Simien Mountains.

First Day in Addis
Though it was not included in the package, I wanted my guests to experience Addis Ababa on their first day of arrival. Thus we had a city tour including the Menelik mausoleum, museum, and the Entoto mountains.

From the Entoto Mountains any one can enjoy a bird’s eye view of Addis Ababa at a glance. One can appreciate Emperor Menelik and his wife unlike past Emperors, for their great vision in choosing such a suitable and large place for a capital.

My guests enjoyed the treasures of Menelik and the city he and his wife founded. After the city tour we made our way to Kaldis, a place where we found excellent fruit juices.

Kaldis is an excellent café and perhaps even a prototype of Starbucks. It is a bit expensive for the average person to have a casual visit. But they provide an excellent and wide selection of fast foods, juices, and coffee with a very good service.

Anyone can find mango, avocado, banana, orange, or sprice juice almost any thing at Kaldis. After our juices, I invited them to dine at the Crown Hotel, situated at the east of Addis and a thirty minutes drive from Bole International Airport.

Their coffee house is built in the shape of an Ethiopian coffee pot – “Jebena.” We savored an excellent coffee served in typical Ethiopian style, with burning incense, freshly cut grass, pop corn and roasted coffee, all made and served in a traditional manner.

The dinner at the traditional restaurant was accompanied by beautiful cultural dances. I can honestly say that words fail me to describe my admiration for these colorful dances performed by highly skilled dancers wearing different Ethiopian cultural costumes.

My guests, to their surprise said “What a wonderful introduction!” as it was their first time to Ethiopia or even to Africa.

I recommend the Crown Hotel for any one who wants to see Ethiopian cultural dances and listen to Ethiopian music. We enjoyed four or five shows which represented the major cultural diversities of the country.

My guests left for Lalibela on the third day, after spending one more day in Addis.

Leaving Addis for Gonder
I left Addis on the fourth day to meet my tour party at Gonder, after they had concluded their trips to Meket and Lalibela.

View of Gonder CityAs “African Petra” is for Lalibela, “African Chameleon” is the nick name of Gonder. It is a name given for her beautiful castles and royal enclosure.

I had guest reservations at the Goha Hotel situated on top of a mountain.

From there one can see the whole city below, just as one can see Addis downtown from the Entoto Mountains.

In the morning the group visited the royal enclosure and the bath of King Fasiledas which has become a center for an Epiphany ceremony. After lunch in a beautiful garden of the newly built Lammergeyer hotel, we visited the Kusquam complex and the famous Debre-Birhan Silassie church.

That night we dined at one of the best traditional restaurants in Gonder. My guests enjoyed a local brewed beverage named Tej, made with honey and served using a special flask named a “Birille.”

They enjoyed the taste and wanted to stay and have more, but time didn’t allow as we had to rest for the next day’s trip to the most exciting part of this tour; five days trekking at the dramatic Simien mountain range.

Viewing point at KossoyeJust a few kilometers from Gonder, on the way to Debark there is a beautiful viewing point named Kossoye.

It has spectacular scenery especially for tourists who don’t have the time to fully experience the Simien Mountains can have a glimpse of it from Kossoye.

We also stopped for a short time at Wolleka, a little village of Ethiopian Jews where the villagers display their souvenirs for tourists.

Around noon we arrived at Debark, the largest town in north Gonder and where the park headquarters are to be found. One can feel the cold chill of the Simien Mountains starting from Debark.

Luckily my guests arrived refreshed after staying at a newly completed, very clean and beautiful hotel, named Imet Gogo. They were also lucky enough to be invited for coffee at the house of the parents of our guide Semma.

We arranged four mules and an eight supporting team for the five days trekking. On the first day we trekked for almost a full day having some breaks and stopovers at various viewing points.

Gelada Baboons on the way to SankaberIn addition to the beautiful scenery, we enjoyed watching a large troop of Gelada baboons on our way to Sankaber.

After a picnic lunch, we had coffee at the Simien Lodge, an excellent place and said to be the highest in Africa.

It is situated at 3,260m above sea level and located 22km from Debark.

We continued our trek up to Sankaber, 38km from Debark at an elevation of 3,300m above sea level. The weather was good until about 3pm and then came some stormy rain that lasted for more than half hour. We continued our trekking and had the chance to see another troop of Gelada baboons, which could be numbered in hundreds.

It is so exciting to watch these animals whatever they do; like helping one another in picking out the ticks from their thick furs; males dominating and disturbing the group; little ones playing and wrestling with each other. We also had a chance to watch some Klipspringers standing alertly on higher cliffs, where predators can’t easily catch them.

We reached Sankaber around 5pm whilst our support team had arrived ahead of us. After changing out of our wet clothes we enjoyed taking hot tea, coffee, and milk.

Camp at SankaberThat night by the camp fire our excellent cook had prepared us delicious soup, a main course dinner and dessert.

We went to our tents for a good night’s sleep to wake up early for the next days trekking.

Our next day we were to trek to Geech 3,600m above sea level, but that will have to wait for my next report at Exciting trip to North Ethiopia Part II

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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