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Split by the Great Rift Valley and rippling with endless mountains, Ethiopia’s geography is as dramatic as its
history and culture. Ethiopia is the cradle
of our earliest known ancestors; a hub for
some of the first Christians, Muslims, and
Jews; and a last frontier for some of Africa’s
most intriguing tribal traditions. Encounter
the diverse cultures of the Omo Valley
and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela;
and enjoy the insights of local visionaries,
tribespeople, and researchers.
Meet the peoples of the Omo Valley
and Konso and experience the ancient traditions they still practice today.
Explore the spectacular rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, a UNESCO
World Heritage site, carved belowground out of granite.
Visit Omo Child, cofounded by National Geographic Emerging
Explorer Lale Labuko to rescue “cursed” children.
Examine early human fossils on a behind-the-scenes tour of the
National Museum of Ethiopia.
Itinerary - 14 Days
Days 1 & 2 — U.S./Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Depart for Addis Ababa on an overnight flight. If you wish, head to the Ethnographic Museum for an introduction to Ethiopia’s cultures before we gather for a welcome dinner tonight. Radisson Blu (D)
Day 3 — Addis Ababa/Arba Minch
Go behind the scenes at the National Museum of
Ethiopia, home to some of the most important
early human fossils finds in the world, including
Selam and Lucy. Fly south to Arba Minch, set amid
thick jungle at the junction of Lake Abaya and
Lake Chamo, and check into our cliff-top tukuls
(thatched huts) overlooking Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo. Paradise Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Arba Minch/Jinka
Board local boats for a morning cruise on Lake
Chamo and spot hippos, crocodiles, and a wide
variety of bird species. Then travel by 4x4 through
ever-changing landscapes to Jinka. Gain insights
into the area’s tribes at the wonderful Jinka
Museum. Eco Omo Safari Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Omo Valley/Jinka
For millennia, the Omo Valley has been inhabited
by a wide variety of ethnic groups with rich and
distinctive cultural identities. This is the home of
tribes such as the Kara, the Hamer, and the Mursi,
who decorate themselves with different combinatins
of beads, scars, feathers, and body paint and
undergo unique initiation rites. Today we meet
the Mursi, a pastoralist society known for the lip
plates worn by the women. Visit a Mursi village to
witness daily life and learn about their intriguing
culture. Back in Jinka this afternoon, stop in at
Omo Child, a nonprofit cofounded by National
Geographic Emerging Explorer Lale Labuko, a native of the Omo Valley, to
halt the practice of mingi, a local superstition that
dictates the killing of "cursed" children. Eco Omo Safari Lodge (B,L,D)
Days 6 & 7 — Omo Valley/Turmi
Head south into the heart of the Omo Valley, and
spend three days exploring the diverse communities
around Turmi. Meet the Hamer people,
who fashion their clothing out of goat skins,
cowrie shells, and beads; and visit the farming communities of the Kara along the Omo River. Lale or one of his colleagues will join us here for
a conversation with villagers who have ended the
practice of mingi killing as a result of Omo Child’s
efforts. Learn about tribal customs and conflicts, and wander through a local market, one of the rare settings in which members of various groups interact. With luck, our visit will coincide with a bull-jumping or an evangadi dance—two important rituals of the region. Buska Lodge (B,L,D daily)
Days 8 & 9 — Turmi/Konso/Addis Ababa
Our last Omo Valley encounter is with the Arbore people, who live in tall, rounded huts. After a photo shoot, drive to the terraced hills of the Konso region, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its rich culture. Here, train your lens on a very different kind of village, built within concentric stone walls. Meet the Konso chief, a spiritual leader with an important role in tribal judicial matters, and hear about his people's complex traditions. Drive back to Arba Minch the next day, and fly back to Addis Ababa. Kanta Lodge/Radisson Blu (B, L, D; B, L)
Days 10, 11, & 12 — Lalibela
Fly north to the World Heritage site of Lalibela.
Hewn out of sheer rock below ground level,
Lalibela’s eleven churches date from the 12th century and have welcomed worshippers ever since.
Spend two days exploring the web of tunnels and trenches that link the churches, and discover the significance of the murals and carvings at this spectacular site. Head into the countryside
to visit Yemrehane Kristos, a beautiful stone church
built within a mountainside cave that pre-dates
the churches of Lalibela. Stop at a village for an
up-close look at rural life in northern Ethiopia
and watch the ubiquitous flatbread, injera, being made. After a farewell dinner and a traditional
coffee ceremony, enjoy music and dance at a
popular local joint. Tukul Village (B,L,D daily)
Days 13 & 14 — Addis Ababa/U.S.
Return to Addis Ababa and enjoy time to explore the city as you wish. Pick up freshly roasted beans at a coffee shop, or trace Ethiopia’s tumultuous recent history at the Red Terror Martyrs Museum. This evening, transfer to the airport for your return flight, arriving home the next day. Radisson Blu (B,L)
David Scott Silverberg is an exploration geographer working on conservation projects spanning six continents. His mix of exploration, research, and digital photo-video storytelling has been popular with National Geographic travelers for many years. A National Geographic grantee and a fellow of both the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Africa Society, David was executive science director at Earthwatch Institute, set up and managed Boston University environmental field research programs in British Columbia and East Africa, and was a founding White House staff member for AmeriCorps. David has worked in more than 100 countries, manages the Environmental Learning Institute, and teaches at several international universities. He lives in North Africa.
The December departure coincides with the Genna (Christmas) celebration in Lalibela.
Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single
room, add $1,795.
International airfare to/from Addis
Ababa and airfare within Ethiopia are not included in the
expedition cost. The group flights within Ethiopia (Addis
Ababa/Arba Minch and Addis Ababa/Lalibela) are $695
(subject to change).
What To Expect
While tourism is growing steadily, Ethiopia’s infrastructure
is still developing. Road conditions are often
rugged and dusty, and internal flight schedules can
be unpredictable. Patience, flexibility, and enthusiasm
are essential to the enjoyment of this expedition. In
Addis Ababa we stay in a modern hotel. In Jinka, we
stay in elevated safari tents, and elsewhere we stay in
comfortable private cottages modeled after traditional
thatched huts. All accommodations have ensuite
bathrooms. In Jinka and Turmi, hot water and
electricity are only available in the morning and