Travelling overland in northern Ethiopia is a beautiful experience, equally full with fascinating history as adrenaline-filled adventure and gorgeous dramatic landscapes. The northern part of Ethiopia hides intriguing historical mysteries and numerous UNESCO World heritage. Travelling through northern Ethiopia is a chance to immerse in magnificent mountain landscapes and soak in daily life and culture. Yared Tour & Travel Ethiopia combines different highlights of the majestic highlands along a perfectly organised journey for individual travellers or small groups.
Highlights in North Ethiopia
The north of Ethiopia has many highlights, of which Lalibela is the best known. Most of these places have a UNESCO world heritage recognition. If you have time, be sure to visit Bahir Dar and Tana Lake, Gondar, the Simien Mountains, Axum, Tigray and Lalibela. What makes northern Ethiopia so utterly fascinating, is the fact that many of its treasures are still unknown, hidden underneath the ground waiting to be discovered. Who made the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and how did they cut a perfectly shaped church from one single piece of rock? How were the huge Axumite obelisks erected… was it the power of the Ark of the Covenant, as legend tells? Who built the Temple of the Moon in Yeha more than 2500 years ago and who were their ancestors?
Bahir Dar & Lake Tana
Bahir Dar is the charming, busy capital of the Amhara region and one of Ethiopia’s spectacular highland cities. Set on the shores of a huge inland lake, with palm-lined streets and a warmer climate compared to other places in the north, Bahir Dar has a wonderful holiday vibe and is great fun to explore by foot, bicycle or car with Yared Tour & Travel. Bahir Dar’s two main attractions are Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls. Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, is Ethiopia’s largest lake covering 3,500 sq/km and is an absolute delight to visit by water. You can take a boat trip and monastery tour around the lake’s islands and then head to the Blue Nile Falls, one of Africa’s most impressive waterfalls. The Fall’s immense power and beauty is known locally as tis abay meaning ‘great’ ‘smoke’.
Awra Amba Community
Around 75km from Bahir Dar on the road from Bahir Dar to Gondar, you can visit a village like no other in Ethiopia. The special community of Awra Amba is a thriving egalitarian society where residents believe in gender-equality, shared responsibility, hard work and education. The village was founded in 1972 on the vision of a young farmer named Zumra and a small group of like-minded friends. Today, Awra Amba has successfully evolved into a self-sustaining community, independent of food aid and religious funding. Residents run a weaving social enterprise and profits are invested into community services such as a local library and retirement home. The ‘model’ community has attracted respect from other parts of Ethiopia. You’ll have the chance to visit the village during your Yared Tour of the north and see some of their beautiful textile products.
Gondar is a legendary city bursting with medieval mystery, history and charm. Located at 2133m above sea level, the city was favoured by Emperor Fasilides and became the capital of the Ethiopian Empire in 1636, later growing into a strong Christian kingdom for centuries to come. Today, Gondar’s main attraction is the 16th century UNESCO Royal Enclosure; a compound of crumbling castle ruins where you can learn about the kings and emperors of this historical time. In addition to the Royal Enclosure you can also see Fasiladas bath, and Debre Berhan Selassie – a well-preserved church with colourful wall paintings of biblical scenes. It's very special to visit Gondar during Timket Festival (Ethiopian Epiphany) in January. Most of Gondar can be navigated on foot.
The Axumite Kingdom
Axum, once the capital of the Axumite Empire (0 - 700 A.D.) located at the base of the Adwa mountains in Tigray region, is a fascinating historical city. Some of Axum’s historical sites date back from as long ago as the 1st century including the supposed tomb of Balthazar and the possible ruins of Queen Sheba’s Palace. Visiting the Northern Stelae Field is like stepping into a living museum. The active UNESCO archaeological site contains several huge, symbolic obelisks (the largest stands at 24m high) sculpted from granite, some 1,700 years old. Axum’s other attractions include a must-see visit to the old St. Mary of Zion Church. It is said that the original Ark of the Covenant resides there, taken by Menelik I from Jerusalem in 900 BC. It is not possible for anybody to see it, but the church remains an important site of pilgrimage for believers, and a vibrant place to visit during Ethiopian Orthodox festivals.
Rockhewn churches in Lalibela
The world wonder of Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's most famous northern destinations. Lying in rugged mountain landscapes, Lalibela is still relatively isolated, and despite being a tourism hot-spot, this magical cobblestone town has little changed over the years. During your visit to Lalibela, you can view no less than thirteen beautiful medieval churches carved out of rocks. Legend tells that the churches were built with the help of angels for King Lalibela whose vision was to create a ‘new Jerusalem’ for Christian Ethiopians during the 13th century. Unlike Tigray’s rock-hewn churches, Lalibela’s churches sit below ground level. When your walk around them using the labyrinth of narrow underground tunnels, listening to the distant chanting of priests, you feel as if a time-machine has brought you back to a mysterious middle age world.
Community trekking outside Lalibela
After visiting some of the wonderful churches, you can trek through the valleys surrounding Lalibela and get an authentic insight into the life of rural Ethiopian highlanders. It is possible to trek for 1 up to 10 days. Or you can simply soak up the jovial atmosphere in Lalibela town, enjoying delicious Ethiopian honey wine and good local food. Yared Tour can organise trips for you to visit Lalibela rock-hewn churches or visit top hiking spots outside of Lalibela.