Ethiopia: The Omo Valley and Lalibela

  • 14-day journey to the timeless villages and unique cultures of the Omo Valley and Lalibela
  • Attend an annual festival and gain insights from humanitarians and a paleoanthropologist

Expedition Details


Split by the Great Rift Valley and rippling with endless mountains and high basalt plateaus, 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 captivating cultures of the Omo Valley; venture through tunnels to 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 little changed over the centuries on visits to villages in the Omo Valley and Konso.
    • Get immersed in the music and joy of one of Ethiopia’s colorful festivals in Addis Ababa or Lalibela.
    • Visit Omo Child, an organization co-founded by National Geographic Emerging Explorer Lale Labuko to rescue “cursed” mingi children.
    • Examine important early human fossil finds on a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Museum of Ethiopia, home of “Lucy.”

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

Begin the day with a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Museum of Ethiopia, home to historical treasures as well as some of the most important early human fossils finds in the world. Fly south to Arba Minch, set amid thick jungle at the junction of Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo. Settle into our cliff-top tukuls (thatched huts) overlooking the “Bridge of God” that separates 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 drive south and west by 4x4 through ever-changing landscapes of banana plantations, terraced hills, and high mountains. A stop in a market village gives us a first glimpse of the unique tribes of the south. Upon arrival in Jinka, gain insights into the area’s tribes at the wonderful Jinka Museum.
Eco Omo Safari Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 5 — 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 combinations of beads, scars, feathers, and elaborate body paint and undergo unique initiation rites. Today we meet the Mursi, a pastoralist society that inhabit Mago National Park and are especially known for the lip plates worn by the women. Stroll through a Mursi village to witness daily life and learn about their intriguing culture. Back in Jinka this afternoon, visit Omo Child, a nonprofit co-founded by National Geographic Emerging Explorer Lale Labuko to stop the practice of mingi. This superstition dictates the killing of children who are believed to be cursed, and is still followed by some tribes. Omo Child rescues these children and gives them a home and an education to help them become contributors to society in the future.
Eco Omo Safari Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Jinka/Turmi

Head south into the heart of the Omo Valley, stopping at villages and market towns along the way. Get acquainted with Hamer people, who fashion their clothing out of goat skins, cowrie shells, and beads, and cover their hair and skin with a mix of butter and red minerals.
Buska Lodge (B,L,D)

Days 7 & 8 — Turmi

Spend two days exploring the diverse communities around Turmi. Meet 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. Cross the river by canoe at Omorate to visit the Daasanach people, and sip a traditional drink brewed from coffee husks in a Hamer family’s home. 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 evangari dance—two of the important rituals of the region.
Buska Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Turmi/Konso

Stop at an Arbore village and enter one of their typical tall, rounded huts before heading north to region of the Konso people, whose cultural landscape has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, hillsides are carved into terraces for farming and villages are built within concentric stone walls. Meet the Konso chief, a spiritual leader with an important role in tribal judicial matters, and wander through a village to learn about the vibrant traditions of the Konso.
Kanta Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Arba Minch/Addis Ababa

After a morning drive to Arba Minch, fly to Addis Ababa. Join an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist or another local expert for a talk before a lively dinner and dance performance.
Radisson Blu (B,L,D)

Days 11 & 12 — Lalibela

Fly north to the World Heritage site of Lalibela. Hewn out of sheer rock below ground level, Lalibela’s eleven freestanding churches date from the 12th century and have welcomed worshippers ever since. Venture into the web of tunnels and trenches that link the churches and learn about the significance of the murals and carvings at this spectacular site. Rise early to witness the celebration of Fasika, or Easter, at the churches.* Then 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 women make injera, the flatbread that accompanies most meals. After a farewell dinner and a traditional coffee ceremony, sample tej, or honey mead, while enjoying 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. Wander amid the stalls of the Mercado, the largest open-air market in Africa, where metalworkers recycle scrap metal and merchants sell all manner of local products. Trace Ethiopia’s tumultuous recent history at the Red Terror Martyrs Museum, or stop by a local coffee producer to pick up freshly roasted beans. This evening, transfer to the airport for your return flight, arriving home the next day.
Radisson Blu (B,L,D)

Optional Extension

Related Trips

National Geographic Expert

Zeray Alemseged

Zeray AlemsegedPaleoanthropologist, geologist, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Zeray Alemseged leads exploration at Busidima-Dikika, which is yielding important clues about the history of human evolution and the divergence of hominids from other primates. In 2000 at this site in the Ethiopian desert, Zeray discovered the bones of a 3.3-million-year-old girl, Selam, of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis—a find supported in part by research grants from National Geographic. A native of Ethiopia, Zeray looks forward to sharing his knowledge and his country with National Geographic Expeditions travelers.

Zeray will join the following departure:

Apr 01 - 14, 2015



  • Dec 29, 2014 - Jan 11, 2015
  • Apr 01 - 14, 2015

*The itinerary shown describes the April departure, which includes Fasika (Easter) on Day 12. On the December departure, we will join in the celebrations of Genna (Christmas).

Expedition Cost

2014 - 2015


Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,430.

International airfare to Addis Ababa and airfare within Ethiopia is not included in the expedition cost. The group flight within Ethiopia is $650 (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. In Jinka and Turmi, hot water and electricity are available in the morning and evening.