Ethiopia: Genna Cultural Tour
A cultural tour in Ethiopia - explore the UNESCO heritage rock-hewn churches with us!
January 4th-16th, 2021
January 4th-16th, 2022
Registration: OPEN (Max 14 participants)
Arrive-Depart Addis (airport designation ADD)
This cultural tour in Ethiopia features a 12-day overland itinerary (12 nights inclusive), together with 4 domestic flights
Visas: obtained online ($52 for US passport holders)
Group Size: maximum 14 guests (only a deposit secures a place in this small-group tour)
Contact us for the invitational tour brochure and registration form. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Submit registration form
Send deposit of $1000 to secure your place (details in registration form)
Accommodation will be in the best available hotels. Ethiopia is not renowned for its accommodation, but we will stay in comfortable 3-star hotels and lodges with ensuite facilities. The locations include Addis, Lalibela, Gondar, Simien, Bahir-Dar, Aksum, Gheralta. Request brochure for details and pictures.
Travel will be overland only locally around cities. Otherwise we travel by short domestic flights between regional centers.
See brochure for details including domestic flights, single supplements, and extension tours
Gold: 5% discount
Silver: 5% discount
Add a 3-day extension trip to the medieval Islamic city of Harar! Details in the brochure.
Add a 5-day extension trip to the federation of indigenous people's region in southern Ethiopia! Details in the brochure.
Accommodation in high quality best-available boutique hotels specially vetted for comfort and location
All ground transportation including airport transfers
All meals with wine/beer as noted in itinerary
Entertainment (traditional singers)
Water on the bus, snacks (we pamper our guests!)
Tips for primary guides and driver
Personal services (laundry)
Standard: 5/10 on the mobility scale (10 being the most demanding).
General fitness required. There are stairs to the churches. We will have some walks, but nothing strenuous. Walks are on uneven rocky terrain, sturdy footwear required. If walks are too demanding there is always an option to skip the walk.
Flagship itinerary, most popular destinations
This will be dry season, expect lots of sunshine
Best available hotels
Lots of arts and music on this itinerary
Plenty of walks. Optional vigorous walks.
We will expect dry season weather. Lots of sunshine! Prepare for temperatures between 65-85F.
Tour Videos (Ethiopia)
This newly developed tour program focuses on the most important Christian sites in the highlands of Northern Ethiopia. Our tour begins and ends in Addis, the thriving cultural and business capital city of Ethiopia and home to the Assembly of the African Union. During our brief time in Addis, we will tour two worthwhile museums and visit one of the sprawling marketplaces where the commerce of the city is conducted. The tour really begins after a short flight to Lalibela, the small city in the hills where a medieval king decided to carve a ‘new Jerusalem’ into the surrounding sandstone rock. The product of this industrious and ambitious undertaking comprises the 11 UNESCO-recognized world heritage churches carved in two open-air rock-hewn complexes.
As our visit coincides with Genna (Nativity), one of the largest Ethiopian Christian festivals, we will immerse ourselves in the pilgrim experience of ritualizing the miracle of Christ’s birth. We may choose to don the traditional ‘netela’ - a white ritual garment worn by pilgrims when they enter religious spaces. Our meals will be simple but delicious affairs: pieces of pancake-like bread called ‘injera’ are used to scoop up various savory stews.
After two full days in Lalibela, we will take a short flight to Gondar, the capital city of a large kingdom in the 15th-17th centuries. The heart of the city is dotted with historic castles, bath houses, and churches related to the activities of this kingdom, whose artists pioneered new fresco styles in all of the churches of the region.
In Gondar, we will find a local performance of Ethiopian traditional dance by one of the University student groups, and partake in a traditional coffee ceremony that involves roasting the beans, heating the coffee in sand, and serving it piping hot in small cups. We will visit the nearby Simien National Park (Roof of Africa), on a day trip to observe the herbivorous Gelada monkeys and marvel at the spectacular vistas to the north.
In Bahir Dar, a city on the coast of serene Lake Tana where the Blue Nile begins its long voyoge north to the Meditterranean, we will spend a day boating to some of the 40 islands to observe unique wildlife including hippos, and visit a pilgrimage site in the middle of a coffee plant forest.
A third flight brings us to Aksum, the capital of a pre-Christian kingdom that grew wealthy by controlling the ivory export from Africa to Arabia, Egypt, and Rome. These kings built elaborate tombs, and erected the largest stone stelae in the world, some of which still stand in the central square. Kings here were influenced by Jewish tradition, and claimed descendency from King Solomon; later, in the 4th century, they converted to Christianity. We will visit the National Museum and stelae field, as well as the massive church where oral tradition maintains that the original Ark of the Covenant is safe-guarded, before driving into the picturesque Gheralta region where we spend three nights.
Gheralta is a volcanic region with massive buttes rising out of the agricultural plains, each a refuge for medieval monks fleeing Muslim incursions from the Red Sea area. Indeed, there are some 300 rock-hewn medieval churches in the region, many of them unexplored by Western observers until the 1970s. These churches range from the simple hollowed-out spaces, to highly complex structures, but their aura is augmented by the austere landscape and the impossibility of accessing their eagle-nest locations (we will visit only those that can be approached by walking!).
We plan to do some walking in the region, as the terrain is relatively flat and suited for leisurely walks through the fields and villages where we will get to interact with local people. Our tour concludes with a visit to the impressive Wukro National Museum before our flight back to Addis and final banquet. Guests may choose to extend their exploration of Ethiopia through short trip offers to the medieval Islamic city of Harar in the East, or to the indigenous region in the Omo Valley (see final page).
+ Addis, the capital city of Ethiopia, is a 20th century city situated in the center of the country at an altitude of 7,700 feet. In addition to being home to some four million Ethiopians, it is the headquarters for the African National Assembly and many international organizations working in the African continent. Our visit here will focus on two of the more important museums, as well as one of the large marketplaces.
+ One of the Christian kings declared Lalibela a "new Jerusalem" in the 10th century, and proceeded to sponsor increasingly ambitious construction projects building a series of magnificent churches that are now UNESCO heritage sights. Only, these churches are not built above ground, but dug straight down into the sandstone bedrock. Our visit will coincide with the largest celebration of the year, Nativity ("Genna"), which is celebrated on January 7th. There we will intermingle with thousands of white-clad pilgrims who have traveled from far and wide to witness the important dawn celebration at the iconic Church of St. George.
+ Gondar is an ancient city with both a Jewish and Christian heritage. It became an important capital city in the early 1600s, when Christian kings forced out of their northeastern provinces by Ottoman-backed Muslim invaders established their residency in Gondar. To this day, the center of the city is dominated by an impressive array of medieval-looking fortresses.
Simien National Park
+ We will take a day trip to the Simien National Park, dubbed the "Roof of Africa" because of its peaks that rise to almost 15,000 feet. Here we will marvel at the spectacular views as the land drops away to the north several thousand feet over the 'escarpment.' On our walk in the region, we will look to find the "red-hearted" Gelada monkeys, ibex, and the Ethiopian wolf which can sometimes be spotted with binoculars.
Bahir Dar - Lake Tana
+ While in Bahir Dar, the main attraction will be a day spent boating on Lake Tana, the headwaters for the Blue Nile River. An abundance of wildlife lives here, especially raptors and water birds. We will hike through a coffee forest at one docking to visit a medieval round church with incredible frescoes, and later go to the marshlands where hippos live to see if we can spot them (from a distance).
+ King Ezana of the Aksumite Empire converted to Christianity in the fourth century, and left behind several carved stones to prove it. This historic town is full of important archeological finds, not least the massive stelae that are still standing in the center of town. Nearby is the massive Aksum cathedral, where Ethiopians believe that the original Ark of the Covenant is housed.
Gheralta - Tigrai
+ As Muslims encroached on this northeastern territory of Tigrai, Christians began carving their churches high up in secluded cliffs. Some 300 churches are hidden throughout the region, many of them with ornate architectural features such as columns, capitals, and ornamental symbology carved directly into the rock. Others are covered in medieval paintings. The dramatic topography of the region is dominated by sheer-cliffed buttes, which rise vertically out of the agricultural land and turn bright oranges and purples at sunrise and sunset.