Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse regions in all of Africa, a land where tribal traditions still take precedent over anything else and where modernity is still kept largely at bay. On this trip we use comfortable 4WD vehicles and head into the villages of the various tribes that make up this kaleidoscope of ethnicity, including the Mursi, Karo, Hamer and Konso, learning about their complex customs and experiencing a way of life very far removed from the rest of Ethiopia. Where possible we try to visit local markets, one of the best ways to experience life in the Omo Valley. This is a cultural discovery that can rarely be equalled, visiting some of the most remote people in the world, and to spend time among them is an amazing privilege.
Day 1 – Arrive Addis Ababa
Arrive in Addis Ababa and transfer to hotel. This afternoon visit some of the capital’s key sights including the Entoto Mountains, with great views over the city, the National Museum, St George’s Cathedral and the Merkato, reputedly the biggest open air market in Africa. Overnight Jupiter Hotel or similar.
Addis Ababa was founded in 1887 by Emperor Menelik II, and its name means ‘new flower’ in Amharic. A large city, it is the third highest capital in the world sitting at an altitude of 2400m. It hosts East Africa’s largest market, the Mercato, a sprawling mass of stalls where one can find just about anything for sale, including the much favoured national drug qat, and is well endowed with other sights. Churches such as St George’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity give a great insight into Ethiopia’s particular brand of Christianity. The Cathedral of St George, named after Ethiopia’s patron saint (the famed dragon slayer that also serves as patron saint for England) was built by Emperor Menelik to commemorate his victory over Italian forces at Adwa, and houses a small museum with a collection of important religious paintings, books and artefacts. A good National Museum holds an interesting selection of artefacts from Ethiopia’s wide and varied history. Ethiopia was the only African nation never to be fully colonised, although the Italians occupied parts of it for a while in the first half of the twentieth century, and it is still possible to see remnants of their legacy in Addis, particularly in the Piazza area which is a great place to walk around and soak up the atmosphere.
Day 2 – Addis - Bale Mountains National Park
(400km, approx. 8-9 hrs driving)
In the morning we will drive to the Bale Mt. National Park, travelling thorough the southeast part of the capital, where fertile land is cultivated by the Oromo people. We arrive at Dinsho (Park HQ) in the afternoon. We will take a trek to see three of the endemic mammals and bird species. Later on we continue our drive to Goba. Overnight at Goba Wabe Shebele Hotel (BLD)
Bale Mountains National Park
Located 400km southeast of Addis Ababa, Bale Mountains National Park contains a spectacularly diverse landscape. The high altitude, afro-montane Sanetti Plateau rises to over 4,000m and includes the highest peak in the southern Ethiopia highlands. This undulating plateau is marked by numerous glacial lakes and swamps and surrounded by higher volcanic ridges and peaks. The southern slopes are covered by the lush and largely unexplored Harenna Forest. The forest is also a home for different pig species, lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, African hunting dogs and many others. More over the Bale Mountains are home for 16 endemic bird species. It is also one of the best sites to spot the rare and endangered Ethiopian Wolf, especially on the spectacular Sanetti Plateau as the sun rises.
Day 3 – Bale Mountains National Park
(240km, approx. 4-5 hrs driving)
After an early breakfast we drive to Senate Plateau through Harenna forest and Tulu Dimtu, the second highest mountain in the country (4377m). We will explore the area, and if we are very lucky, will get to spot the Ethiopian Wolf. Overnight at Goba Wabe Shebele Hotel (BLD)
Day 4 – Bale to Yirgalem
(270km, approx. 6 hrs driving)
After breakfast we continue on with a drive to Yirgalem. We will pass through a number of coffee plantations and various fruit cultivating towns with splendid greenery everywhere. Our destination is the Aregash Lodge. A natural retreat of astounding beauty and tranquillity, the Bamboo thatched Tukuls contemplate the traditional Sidama villages nearby. The surrounding forest is home for a diverse range of mammals and birds. A coffee plantation and the nightly visit of hyenas are further attractions to be found in the surrounding area.Overnight Aregash lodge. (BLD)
Day 5 – Konso
(340km, approx. 8hrs driving)
Today we will drive to Konso. On the way you will get to enjoy the beautiful scenery of coffee plantations and we stop to visit the Tutu Fella Stelae, prehistoric carved stone monuments that have mystified people for many centuries. Overnight stay Kanta Lodge or similar. (BLD)
The Konso are known for their custom of erecting wooden grave markers, which mark the resting place of important leaders and warriors. These markers are carved with the exaggerated features of the dead person. In a similar fashion, the Konso also erect poles to signify the coming of an age of a generation, and these poles can be found in their village squares.
Day 6 – Konso to Jinka
(170km, approx. 4hrs driving)
This morning we travel through the lands of the Derase, Tsemay and Benna people. We stop along the way to meet Ari people and learn about their customs. Overnight Jinka Resort or similar. (BLD)
The Tsemay are one of the lesser known of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups, with numbers not exceeding 10,000 people. Their neighbours include the Konso to the east, the Banna - Bashada group to the west, the Male to the north, and the Arbore to the south. Tsemay society is polygamous and is unusual in that there is no taboo on women having sexual relations before marriage, however having children before marriage is an entirely different thing and is very much socially unacceptable.
A small mountain town set apart from the country, Jinka feels both remote and rustic, accentuated by the grass airstrip in the middle of town. People come from across South Omo to visit the Saturday market, particularly Ari, Bana, Besheda and Besketo people.
Days 7 - Mago National Park
(160km, approx. 4 hrs driving)
This morning we will travel to Mago National Park and visit the Mursi people, renowned for their practice of extending their lips with plates. In the afternoon we visit the Jinka Museum. Overnight Jinka Resort or similar. (BLD)
The Mursi are perhaps the best known of the Omo Valley tribes, due to the distinctive custom among women of wearing plates through their lips. When a woman reaches the age of about 20, a small cut is made in the lower lip and a clay plate inserted, which is then extended each year. The Mursi people live in one of the least accessible areas of Ethiopia - when a British anthropologist visited them for the first time in the early 1970s, they had never heard of the country of Ethiopia where they lived. They are a relatively small ethnic group, comprising of about 7-10,000 people.
Day 8 - Turmi
(120km, approx. 3hrs driving)
Our journey today takes us to Turmi. We travel through the lands of the very colourful Hamer people, renowned for their unusual hairstyles. We also spend time with the Karo people, known for their body decoration and scarification. Overnight Buska Lodge or Turmi lodge. (BLD)
The Karo people are renowned for their painted body and face decorations. This is an elaborate process, which ranges from fine and elaborate details to rough, but striking paintings traced with the palms or fingers. The most beautiful expression is in the facial and chest paintings that combine white (chalk), black (charcoal), yellow, ochre, and red earth, often imitating the spotted plumage of a guinea fowl. Karo woman scarify their chests to as a sign of beauty, while the scarification of a man's chest indicates that he has killed an enemy or a dangerous animal. The scars are cut with a knife or razor blade and ash is rubbed in to produce a raised effect. The wearing of a grey and ochre clay hair bun also indicates has the same significance.
The 15,000 to 20,000 members of the Hamar make their living as successful cattle herders and farmers. Once they hunted, but the wild pigs and small antelope have almost disappeared from the lands in which they live; and until 20 years ago, all ploughing was done by hand with digging sticks. Hamar men come of age by leaping over a line of cattle in a ceremony which qualifies him to marry, own cattle and have children. They must leap over the cattle four times – only then are they considered to be men. At this time, the relatives of the men leaping will line up to be whipped by the maza, a group of men who have performed the leap themselves and live separately to the rest of the tribe. This whipping is said to create a strong bond between the jumper and his female relations, as he now owes them a debt and they can call upon him during times of hardship.
Day 9 – Turmi
(140km, approx. 3-4 hrs driving)
This morning we will drive to Koricho, a settlement for the Karo ethnic groups, perhaps the most beautiful, with its lofty views over the Omo River and traditional Karo dwelling. Overnight Buska Lodge or Turmi lodge. (BLD)
Day 10 – Turmi to Arbaminch
(270km, approx. 7 hrs driving)
En route to Arbaminch we will stop off and visit one of the Konso villages and the Konso museum. Overnight Swaynes Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 11 – Lake Chamo and Dorze
This morning we take a boat trip to view the crocodiles at thelLake. In the afternoon we drive to Chencha, to visit the Dorze people, with their unique culture, houses and traditions. Overnight Swaynes Hotel or similar. (BLD)
This region is known for the Dorze people, who in turn are known for their unusual beehive shaped houses, constructed from wood and bamboo. These towering, re-locatable, structures can reach as high as 12 metres and last from 60-80 years and so will generally be used by one family for their lifetimes. Traditionally the bamboos that are used as frames for the huts are cut during moonlight. The Dorze are farmers and are also known for weaving fine quality shamas, the shawl type cloths that are worn throughout Ethiopia.
Day 12 – Rift Valley Lakes
(320km, approx. 7-8 hrs driving)
Drive to the Rift Valley lakes of Shala, Abyata and Langano, admiring wonderful views and many birds, including pelicans, flamingoes and more. Then relax at the Sabanna Beach Resort, secluded in a natural paradise on the shore of Lake Langano and near to Munessa Forest. There is the options of trekking, bird-watching, horse-riding, boat excursions, cycling and more. Overnight Sabanna Beach Resort or similar.
Rift Valley Lakes
The cluster of lakes – Shala, Abyata and Langano – that are found in this area are a great spot for birdwatching, with many of Ethiopia’s numerous species of birds found here. Langano in particular is also popular with local tourists, as it is the only lake in Ethiopia without bilharzia, making it safe to swim in. The nearby Abyata-Shala National Park incorporates the two Rift Valley lakes it is named after, and borders Lake Langano. The two lakes could not be more different - Shala lies in a crater 265m deep, studded with volcanic islands. Lake Abyata, in contrast, is large and shallow, nowhere deeper than 14m. These lakes are part of the Rift Valley, an enormous fissure that stretches from Syria all the way down to Mozambique, culminating in Lake Malawi and nearly 4000 miles in length. The Rift Valley has been an excellent source of well preserved fossils, exemplified in Ethiopia by the skeletons of human ancestors that have been unearthed within the last fifty years.
Day 13 – Addis Ababa
Morning will be at your leisure to relax and swim on the beach. This afternoon, we continue our drive back to Addis for the night. En route we will have a stop at Lake Ziway for some bird watching. In the evening, there is a traditional dinner where you will experience live cultural music and dance. Overnight in a 4* Hotel (BLD)
Day 14 – City Tour and Departure
After breakfast, depending on your departure flight, there may be time for some last minute exploration . A visit is arranged to St George church, the National Museum and to Merkato, reputedly the biggest open air market in Africa. The tour concludes with a transfer to Bole International Airport (B, L)
Tour style: Traveller
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation on twin share basis
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes