Most keen walkers will choose Tanzania or Kenya, drawn by the high peaks of Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. Few consider Ethiopia for an adventure African mountain trekking holidays. This is probably as the first image that comes to mind is one of famine and drought.
Yet Ethiopia hides a wealth of cultural and historical heritage together with the most beautiful mountain range in Africa, Simienmountains. The jagged rocks and deep gorges that characterize Simien National Park are known as “chess pieces of the gods”. This is after Homer likened the landscape to a chess playground for the gods.
Simien Mountains Adventure Holiday
The Simien mountains National Park lies in the far North of Ethiopia close to the border with Eritrea, a source of ongoing conflict. At 179 sq km in size, the park is a UNESCO world heritage site and lies at an altitude of between 1,900 and 4,430 m. An african mountain trekking holidays here take the traveler through tiny villages and lowland fields then onto steep gorges and sheer precipices. The upper slopes are dry, cold and barren and the high point of RasDashen lies at 4,543 m.
Trekking in this part of Ethiopia offers a unique and often humbling experience, especially when camping near poor villages. Eager children only a few years old will endeavor to hold hands with foreigners; the realization that their leathery palms are the result of living in such a harsh arid landscape rather than the result of disease puts modern western life into real perspective.
Trekking Route through the Simien Mountains
In just few days, a keen walker can see the most impressive sections of the park. Most responsible travel trekking companies organize tours lasting 8 to 10 days. This allows time to take in the spectacular scenery and observe the endemic wildlife whilst also visiting typical villages to experience the coffee ceremony, a key part of Ethiopian culture. Walkers also need plenty of time to acclimatize if they wish to make the tough but optional ascent of RasDashen.
Tours start at Debark where mules, cooks and guides are obtained together with armed guards, necessary though initially intimidating for protection.
Highlights of the Simien Mountains Trekking Holiday
- 17th century churches at Gondar, before starting the trek proper from Debark.
- Close-up views of endemic wildlife in their natural environment. You can see Gelada Baboons on leaving the first overnight camp and, though from a distance, you can also view Walia Ibex. Among the many birds is the majestic Lammergeyer which you can often see circling camps in search of food.
- Gazing at the famous “chess pieces” from outside Geech camp on a plateau known as ImetGogo.
- Ice cold washing water if there is any at all!
- Ascent of RasDashen. Though the scenery there is not exactly stunning, it is a surreal experience to sit on a high peak alongside tiny Tigrayan children who live there tending goats.
- Participation in the coffee ceremony in a poor mountain village.
- Dancing the iskistaat the post trek party. A dance movement with shoulders juddering up and down in a set rhythm and jerking of the head.
- Sampling fasting food like the pancake calledinjera made from the local cereal tef, plain yet tasty with spicy vegetables.
- The aromas that are remembered more than the sights such as walking down a street in Gondar surrounded by bags of dried chilies literally roasting in the sun.
Responsible Holidays to Ethiopia
Trekking tourists are encouraged to bring pens for school children and to make any donations directly to the tour company. This is in support of active projects like the Gondar Eye Surgery initiative.
This project, supported by the adventure tour company Exodus, aims to combat the high levels of blindness especially in children, easily preventable via simple cataract surgery and eye-drop treatment for diseases like fly-borne conjunctivitis.
African Mountain Trekking holidays
Consider Ethiopia for a trekking holiday and experience breathtaking beauty, wonderful wildlife and life beyond the images of famine. This puts modern western life into stark perspective. You should be humble and give as much back as you take away.
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