Ethiopia: The Omo Valley and Lalibela

  • 14-day journey to the timeless villages and unique cultures of the Omo Valley and Lalibela

Expedition Details


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.

Trip Highlights

    • Experience an incredible range of ethnic traditions in the Omo Valley and Konso.
    • Explore the incredible rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site, carved below ground out of granite.
    • Visit Omo Child, co-founded 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 the lakes.
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 co-founded by National Geographic Emerging Explorer Lale Labuko to halt the practice of mingi, a local superstition that dictates the killing of children who are believed to be cursed.
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 Kara in their farming communities 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)

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)

Days 13 & 14 — Addis Ababa/U.S.

Return to Addis Ababa and enjoy time to explore the city as you wish. Stroll through the Mercado, the largest open-air market in Africa, 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)

Optional Extension

Related Trips

National Geographic Expert

David Silverberg

David   SilverbergDavid 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.

David will join the following departures:

Dec 27, 2015 - Jan 09, 2016
Mar 07 - 20, 2016
Feb 06 - 19, 2017


  • Dec 27, 2015 - Jan 09, 2016
  • Mar 07 - 20, 2016
  • Feb 06 - 19, 2017

The December departure coincides with the Genna (Christmas) celebration in Lalibela.

Expedition Cost





Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,795 from December 2015 through March 2016.

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 evening.