Tribes of the Omo Valley and Spectacular Festivals

Overview

From its Orthodox Christian heritage, revealed in the stunning rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, to the array of animistic tribes in the Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia holds a fascinating mix of cultures and traditions. In the mountain highlands, we explore intriguing Axum, Ethiopia’s holy city and legendary birthplace of the Queen of Sheba, and World Heritage-listed Lalibela, with its 12th century subterranean churches. A different side of Ethiopia thrives in the far south, where we visit the tribal cultures of the remote Omo Valley. Each trip is timed for a festival—January trips attend Timkat, the exuberant Epiphany celebration; in September, you’ll witness Meskel, with its flickering bonfires and carpets of meskel daisies.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-7
Addis Ababa / Axum / Lalibela / Gondar / Semien Mountains / Lake Tana

In Ethiopia’s highlands, Christianity arrived in the 4th century. We visit the ancient city of Axum where, according to Ethiopian legend, the original Ark of the Covenant resides in the ornate Church of St. Mary of Zion. In the highland town of Lalibela, we’ll explore an awe-inspiring complex of medieval rock-hewn churches that have remained in continuous use ever since they were hand-carved into the town’s pink volcanic rock. After visiting Gondar (7,50'), Ethiopia’s royal capital until 1868, with its castles and battlements, we explore the dramatic Semien Mountains to see troops of endemic gelada baboons and boat out to an island-monastery on beautiful Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile.

Days 8-12
Tribes of the Omo River Valley

We drive southwest through the Rift Valley, with a visit to Lake Abijata-Shalla National Park en route. In the Omo region live a fascinating mix of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, from the Bume and Karo to the Bena and Hamar. Their body adornments, such as scarification, face painting, and lip plates, hold rich cultural symbolism. Our schedule is flexible and subject to local conditions, but we usually visit Korcho, a small Karo village, to watch a traditional dance by Karo men, women, and children.

Days 13-16
Addis Ababa / Timkat or Meskel Festival

Our private charter flight (avoiding a two-day drive!) whisks us to Addis, where we witness Timkat’s processions of Orthodox priests and parishioners in traditional dress (January), or the dancing and celebratory bonfires of Meskel (September). Depart on Day 16 via Addis Ababa.

Highlights

Highlights

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the medieval city of Gondar
Tribal villages of the Karo, known for their body painting, and the Bume and Mursi tribes
Spectacular festival on each trip: Timkat (January) or Meskel (September)
Small group size—maximum 8—for greater flexibility and more intimate cultural encounters

Details

Length: 16 days
Cost From: $8495  
Arrive: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Depart: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Lodging: 3 nights at the 5-star Sheraton in Addis, 12 nights hotels and lodges
Meals: All meals included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures
Trip Level:

Rugged road travel by 4WD vehicle, easy walks, cultural explorations