Djibouti/Ethiopia - Journey Through the Horn of Africa

Itinerary: Djibouti/Ethiopia

1 January to 23 January 2020

Our Djibouti and Ethiopia Journey is the most enthralling new comer to our growing portfolio of African Journeys. The tour begins in one of the smallest and least known countries in Africa, a fascinating mélange of cultures, from nomadic herders to Arabian traders and influences from across the Indian Ocean. Djibouti sits on the edge of the Red Sea opposite Arabia with a bleak but strikingly beautiful landscape. This tiny nation isn't the obvious choice for a holiday destination, but for those who like their travel on the extreme side, it may well be the most exciting place in the Horn of Africa; a land where the taste of the wild is in the air, simply begging the intrepid traveller.

Then it’s on to discover the lost world of the Ethiopians, an inexhaustible source of wonder for travellers - a sprawling country of ancient African civilization, colourful festivals, breath taking landscapes, diverse tribal culture and amazingly friendly people. Dating back to the very beginnings of humanoid evolution, Ethiopia is old…old, beyond imagination. It is the land of the Queen of Sheba, a place of legendary rulers, fabulous kingdoms in ancient histories. We visit the beautiful Omo Valley, which, isolated for millennia from the rest of the world, is home to an exciting mix of many small and distinctive tribal groups. Lifestyles are as varied as the tribes themselves. Lacking any material culture and artifacts common to other cultures, these tribes find unique ways in which to express their artistic impulses. In this fascinating country you will be amazed to witness how ancient historical traditions have been preserved in a remarkable manner for thousands of years. And, indeed, the ceremonies and rituals of the Orthodox Coptic Church open a window into the authentic world of the Old Testament. Step back in time and explore thousands of years of history, legend, and lore as you journey across Ethiopia to witness the Coptic Timket Festival, one of the greatest, most colourful and ancient festivals.

Return home from Addis Ababa or fly to Khartoum for our Nile Journey through Sudan & Egypt.


Lonely Planet named Djibouti as one of their best countries to visit in 2018

On this Journey you will:

• Swim with the Whale Sharks in the Bay of Ghoubbet
• Be amazed at the Martian landscape of the lowest place in Africa
• Witness one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in Africa: Lac Assal
• Keep your eyes peeled for flamingo, gazelles and antelope, crocodiles and hippopotamus
• Visit the remote Omo Valley and visit tribal peoples
• Enjoy the magnificent scenic and endemic wild life of the Simien Mountains
• Get close to the colourful Mandrill monkeys
• Participate in the celebration of Timkat, the “Ethiopian Feast of the Epiphany”
• See the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
• Explore the ancient city of Axum, the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant
• Discover the ‘fairy tale’ castles of Gondar
• Take a cruise on Lake Tana to visit the ancient fresco-painted Island monasteries
• See the source of the mighty Blue Nile and the Blue Nile falls
• Meet our ancestor, ‘Lucy’, at Addis Ababa’s National Museum

Our Hotels:

We understand that travel isn't all about a fleeting glimpse of popular mass tourist spots, or staying at luxury hotels, but is also about time, space, privacy and those special destinations and moments that turn your holiday into a truly magical experience. Travel in parts of Djibouti and Ethiopia can be challenging. In some places there are rough - hewn steps to access places such as the World Heritage churches at Lalibela. Some rough roads over long distances, high altitudes, and in the Omo Valley, dusty driving conditions. The passing landscape far outweighs these negatives. Our chosen accommodation ranges from 4 star hotels, absolutely superb lodges that everyone on the previous trip were entranced with, to some very simple and basic ‘tented camps’ as in the Afar region of Djibouti. The hotels mentioned in the itinerary are indicative only at this stage but will give you a good idea of the standard. It’s a trip suitable for all really but what’s needed is medium fitness, patience, a team spirit, a sense of adventure and flexibility to enjoy this ‘stunning’ tour.

Participants should note that the order of visits and activities described may be modified to accommodate changes in flight schedules, special access to museums and crafts and tribal people, the pathways chosen by our experienced and knowledgeable local guides, local road conditions and unexpected contingencies such as festivals, street processions or religious ceremonies and tribal village customs.


Meals included in the tour price are indicated in the itinerary as per B (Breakfast), L (Lunch), D (Dinner).

Itinerary: Journey Through the Horn of Africa

Day 1: 1 January 2020, Depart Australia with Emirates Airways

Depart your home city today and fly with Emirates to Dubai

Day 2: 2 January 2020, Arrive in Djibouti and transfer to the hotel, D

Smiling Ethiopian Children, Ethiopia

Arrive this afternoon in Djibouti at 14:05, complete customs and immigration and transfer to the hotel (3 star to be advised). Rest of the day at leisure.

Day 3: 3 January 2020, Djibouti Whale Shark Watching, B/L/D

Today we’ll head to Arta Beach on the Bay of Ghoubbet for a potential thrilling whale shark encounter. Whale sharks migrate annually from their usual feeding grounds to the warm waters of the Gulf of Tadjoura to mate and give birth. Here is one of the most dependable locations in the world to swim alongside a massive whale shark, the world’s largest fish. January whale shark sightings are common although not guaranteed. Then it’s time to head back to the city where we spend the night.

Whale Shark, Bay of Ghoubbet, Djibouti

Day 4: 4 January 2020, Djibouti - Lac Abhé, B/L/D

Cross the deserts this morning to Lac Abhé, to a landscape which will last in your memories forever. The scenery is sensational: the plain is dotted with hundreds of limestone chimneys, some standing as high as 50m, belching out puffs of steam. Located 140km southwest of Djibouti City, it is often described as ‘a slice of moon on the crust of earth’. Lac Abhé is both desolate and apocalyptic. Seeing this eerie moonscape is a surreal experience like little else on Earth. In the evening, when the sun sets behind the chimneys, the landscape can look almost magical. Wander amid the limestone chimneys and twisted, tortured, cork-screwing pinnacles rising sharply from the dusty plain. As the light begins to fade, you can witness a typically inflamed African sun descending as the moonscape becomes Martian. Many travellers report that it felt indeed like witnessing the apocalypse.

Limestone Chimneys, Lake Abhe, Djibouti

You’ll sleep in a traditional Afar hut at Campement Touristique d’Asboley. The cluster of permanent nomad-style tents is perched on a hill with views of the spectacular and surreal desert landscape. The tents are basic but clean with shared facilities and power between 18:00-22:00 hours only. There are no options here.

Day 5: 5 January 2020, Drive to Lac Abhé and Lac Assal, fly to Addis Ababa, B/L

The best time to visit the lake is in the early morning, when the chimneys appear to emit smoke in the cool morning air. In places, boiling springs bubble and steam up through chasms in the ground. Elsewhere, pockets of groundwater lay stone still, reflecting the eerie scene around. Wild boars trot across the greener parts of the plain. Though desolate, it is not uninhabited. Numerous mineral-rich hot springs feed the farms of local nomads who graze their cam¬els and goats here. Flamingos also gather on the banks of the lake at dawn. Keep your eyes peeled for mirages, antelopes and gazelle

Lac Assal, Djibouti

Walia Ibex, Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

After our morning exploration, return to camp for breakfast before climbing into our 4WD for the journey back towards the coast in pursuit of another unique landscape. Here lies one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in Africa: Lac Assal. Situated 155m below sea level, this crater lake is encircled by dark dormant volcanoes. The vast depression, which represents the lowest point on the continent, is an impressive sight. The aquamarine water is ringed by a huge salt field, 60m in depth. The banks of salt and gypsum surround the lake for more than 10km, and the blinding white contrasts starkly with the black lava fields around it. Drive back to Djibouti and fly to Addis Ababa in the early evening.

Welcome to Ethiopia! You have arrived at the world’s third-highest capital city. We will be welcomed and assisted by our local tour guide and driver for the transfer to the Hotel.

Overnight: Jupiter Hotel, Addis Ababa

Day 6: 6 January 2020, Addis Ababa, B

We begin a tour of this amazing capital which will include the National Museum. The collection here is ranked among the most important in sub-Saharan Africa. The highlight is the palaeontological exhibition, the home of world-famous Lucy. Her 1974 discovery in the north western Ethiopia changed our understanding of human origins forever. Time permitting, we may visit a part of the Merkato Markets; if you’re a market lover, its one place you can’t miss. It’s considered Africa’s biggest market, an open air sprawl of vendors that goes on for kilometres. It’s one of those markets that weaves in all directions and you never know what you’re going to stumble into or what you’re going to find.

Overnight: Jupiter Hotel, Addis Ababa

Day 7: 7 January 2020, Depart for the Omo Valley, fly to Jinka, depart 12:00 arrive 14:20, B/D

Fly today to the low-lying plains of South Omo which feels like a journey not merely through space, but also through time, as one enters the vast and thinly populated Badlands that divide the mountainous centre of Ethiopia from its counterpart in Kenya. Like much of neighbouring northern Kenya, South Omo is as close as one can come to an Africa untouched by outside influences. The culturally diverse, immaculately colourful and defiantly traditionalist agro-pastoralists who inhabit the region seem to occupy a physical and psychic landscape little different from that of their nomadic ancestors. This is Africa as it once was, or as some might still imagine it to be, and its mere existence is at once wonderful and scarcely credible.

Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

“Our experience of visiting the Mursi and Hamer Tribes in the Omo Valley was incredibly rewarding, interesting and something we still contemplate to this day. For the adventurous who are interested in culture in Africa, this is an experience you absolutely should not miss”.

People from the Mursi Tribe, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Day 8: 8 January 2020, Jinka, B/D

After an early breakfast, we will visit the local area encountering different cultural people and their villages which include the Konso and the undulating landscape of Konso area.

The Konso are famous for their old and unique terracing and unusual engraved wooden statues of Konso grave markers. Between Konso and Jinka, we will also have brief stops to visit the different people and their villages like the Tsemay around the Weito River, the Benna at Keyafer and the Ari at Kako Village.

In the afternoon, drive to Mursi Village. The Mursi, undoubtedly the most celebrated residents of South Omo are distinctive group of pastoralists. The Mursi are best known for their unique item of decoration, lip plates. Women of Mursi wear a circular clay plate on their lower lip and the bigger a woman can wear, the greater her ‘value’ when she gets married.

To accomplish such a feat as wearing those large plates, the women of the tribe have their bottom lip sliced at a young age, roughly 15-16, before they are to be married. Small plates are placed in the opening to begin stretching the lip until they are able to wear larger plates. The largest plate on record ever worn by a Mursi woman was almost 24 inches in diameter. For the men, the larger the plate on the woman, the more attractive they seem.

Overnight: Eco-Omo Lodge, Jinka

Mursi Woman, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Day 9: 9 January 2020, Drive Jinka - Turmi, B/D

In the cool morning, drive to Turmi en-route visiting different tribal villages including the Ari and Bena.

In the afternoon, we will visit the Hamer Village. The Hamer, display an elaborate and diverse selection of body decorations. They are also identifiable for their high cheekbones, elaborate custom of beads, cowries and leather, and thick copper necklaces.

Overnight: Buska Lodge, Turmi

Traditional Face Painting, Hamer Tribal People, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Hamer Tribal People, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Bena Tribal Woman, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

>Day 10: 10 January 2020, Drive Turmi - Arba Minch, B/D

In the morning, we will start driving to Arbaminch with brief stops to visit different villages including Erbore and Tsemay.

Erbore Men, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

In the afternoon, we will have a boat cruise over Lake Chamo to see some of the biggest African crocodiles, Hippopotamus and many beautiful aquatic birds including the lovely Kingfisher and African Fish Eagle.

Overnight: Paradise Lodge Hotel, Arbaminch

Crocodile, Lake Chamo, Ethiopia

Hippopotamus, Lake Chamo, Ethiopia

African Fish Eagle, Lake Chamo, Ethiopia

Day 11: 11 January 2020, Arba Minch and drive to Addis Ababa, B/D

In the morning, drive to Addis Ababa visiting the different Rift Valley Lakes including Abaya, Zway and Langano. You will stop at Tiya, where you will see the northernmost example of a peculiar type of engraved, standing stelae which stretch across parts of southern Ethiopia. These stelae are believed to have been erected between the 12th and 14th centuries and are almost certainly grave markers. Recent excavations at Tiya have revealed the remains of young people of both sexes, aged between 18 - 30 and buried in foetal positions. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stelae field at Tiya today comprises more than 45 stones of up to 2m.

Overnight: Jupiter Hotel, Addis Ababa

Day 12: 12 January 2020, Drive Addis Ababa - Bahir Dar, B/D

This morning, it’s a long drive to Bahir Dar through spectacular scenery to the Great Blue Nile Gorge with a stop-over at different small villages like Dejen, Chancho and Goha Tsion. Small Ethiopian villages feature constructions taking you all the way back to old Ethiopia and its way of life. The picturesque villages boast a series of traditional dwellings that existed for years maintaining their historical significance. As you pass the elegant iconic traditional houses you will be flooded with smiles and greetings in over 82 dialects. Everything you see around the villages will just be the beginning of the many ‘wow’ moments on your Journey. Delighting you with its rich culture, history and clean atmosphere, these beautiful Ethiopian villages will stay in your memory forever.

Overnight: Avanti Blue Nile, Bahir Dar

Typycal Tribal Village, Ethiopia

Day 13: 13 January 2020, Lake Tana - Blue Nile Falls - Bahir Dar, B/D

After breakfast, we will enjoy a boat cruise over Lake Tana to visit the ancient 14th century island monasteries of Lake Tana. Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake, covering more than 3500 sq km, and its waters are the source of the Blue Nile, which flows 5223km north to the Mediterranean Sea. Lake Tana’s beauty can only be truly appreciated when you travel across its azure waters, view the lush shoreline and rich birdlife. But even the lake's natural beauty plays second fiddle to its centuries-old monasteries, full of paintings and treasures. Steeped in mystery and legend, the old churches of Lake Tana form peaceful retreats for their monastic residents and visiting tourists alike. Several are beautifully decorated, none more so than Ura Kidane Mihret on the Zege Peninsula, covered from top to bottom with paintings that collectively serve as a visual encyclopaedia of Ethiopian ecclesiastical messages.

Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Reed Boat, Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Southern Red Bishop, Ethiopia

Religious Pictorial, Ura Kidane Mihret, Zege Peninsula, Lake Tana, Ethiopia

The Blue Nile meanders sluggishly out of Lake Tana, but not far out of Bahir Dar we’ll drive to see the Nile in a very different mood. There is a bit of a trek here to where the river pours over the side of a sheer 42m-high chasm and explodes into a haze of mists and rainbows before continuing on its tumultuous path to Khartoum, where it joins the White Nile. The ‘Nile that Smokes’. Though far smaller than its natural 400m-wide flow, the three-pronged waterfall is huge in scale and grandeur-even as its waters are reducing with the construction of an hydro-electric dam upstream.

Overnight: Avanti Blue Nile, Bahir Dar

Blue Nile Falls, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Day 14: 14 January 2020, Bahir Dar - Gondar, B/D

After breakfast, drive to Gondar through the beautiful countryside scenery to arrive at Gondar around lunchtime.

After checking into our hotel and having lunch there (at own expense), we will start our tour of Gondar which will include: the Royal Enclosure, which lies at the heart of Gondar and gives the city much of its character. Surrounded by high stone walls, the enclosure covers an area of 70,000 square meters and contains six castles, a complex of connecting tunnels and raised walkways, and several smaller buildings. It’s a fascinating place to explore. Then it’s on to the pool of King Fasilidas, and the famous Debre Berhan Selassie church adorned with brilliant frescos; one of Ethiopia's most beautiful churches. Appealing as it is on the outside with its stone walls, arched doors and two-tiered thatch roof, it's the inner sanctuary of with its glorious frescos that really impresses.

Overnight: Goha Hotel, Gondar

Gondar Castle, Gondar, Ethiopia

Religious Fresco, Debre Berhan Selassie Church, Ethiopia

Day 15: 15 January 2020, Gondar - Simien Mountains National Park, B/D

After an early breakfast, we will drive to Simien Mountains National Park. Nothing prepares you for the spectacular scenery that awaits at the top of the massif. Massive erosion over the years has created one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1500m. We are now in the heart of Africa's most underrated wildlife destination. The Ethiopian wolf is the ultimate prize, the sighting of a lifetime. There are gelada monkeys across the high northern plateau as well as other primates, while watching the extravagantly horned and sure-footed walia ibex cling to a rocky precipice is one of the great sights in nature. The birdwatching, too, ranks among the best in Africa. The entire range is a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered a rival to Colorado’s Grand Canyon.

For the rest of the day you can trek around the park along well-established walking trails taking in some of the grandest vistas to explore the stunning views and wildlife.

Overnight: Simien Lodge, Sankaber

Ethiopian Wolf, Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Mountain Nyala Antelope, Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Gelada Monkey, Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Day 16: 16 January 2020, Simien Mountains National Park - Axum, B/D

After breakfast start driving to Axum through the beautiful scenery of the Simien Mountains, Limalimo, and the Tekeze River Gorge.

Overnight: Sabean Hotel, Axum

Day 17: 17 January 2020, Axum, B/D

After breakfast our visit in Axum begins in the Stele Square, which consists of some 75 or more stelae of various shapes and sizes, concentrated within an area of less than 1,000 square meters The modern view of the stelae field is dominated by the stele accredited to King Ezana, the third-largest ever erected at Axum. This engraved block of solid granite, which stands some 23m high, was transported from a quarry 4km distant, most probably by elephants. No satisfactory explanation has been postulated for how such a massive block of stone was erected – one Axumite tradition has it that it was the work of the mysterious powers of the Ark of the Covenant. Then we visit the Kaleba Tombs, the 4th century Christian inscription of King Ezana, the Queen of Sheba’s Palace, Archeological Museum, and Tsion Mariam Church where the original Ark of the Covenant is said to be housed.

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

The landscapes of this northern Tigray region seem to spring from some hard-bitten African fairy tale. The luminous light bathes scattered sharp peaks that rise into the sky out of a sandy, rolling semi desert. In the morning, we drive to Hauzien, the centre of some of the most ancient rock-hewn churches, through the stunning and historical mountains of Adwa. The 120 churches are as intriguing as the landscape is beautiful. Very different from the more famous monolithic (carved out of the ground and only left attached to the earth at the base) churches of Lalibela, the Tigrayan churches are carved from cliff faces, built into pre-existing caves or constructed high atop some high plateau.

Overnight: Geralta Lodge, Hauzien

Day 18: 18 January 2020, Hauzien - Mekele, B/D

In the morning, we drive through a landscape now carpeted in lush forests, dense patchworks of cultivation, shady coffee plantations and deep river valleys; the Western Highlands seem like an Ethiopian Arcadia, to Mekele en-route visiting some of the most ancient of the Tigray rock-hewn churches including: Wikro Cherkos, Abrha We-atsbeha, and Dugum Selassie.

Overnight: Planet Hotel, Mekele

Day 19: 19 January 2020, Mekele - Lalibela, B/D

After breakfast, start driving north to Lalibela through Sekota en-route we will visit Yimrhane Kirstos and different villages of the Agwe tribal people.

Overnight: Harbe Hotel, Lalibela

Orthodox Priests, Ethiopia

Rockhewn Church, Lalibea, Ethiopia

Day 20: 20 January 2020, Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, B/D

In the morning, we will drive to the sites where we will find the concentration of some of the remarkable rock-hewn churches of the ancient town of Lalibela. Here we stare down on the churches, hand-carved out of the rock. Each one is seamless, hewn from the red volcanic rock, and each one is different inside and out, some bright and patterned, others unadorned. Bet Giyorgis and the churches in the northwest cluster are mostly excavated from below the ground, and are surrounded by courtyards and trenches, so that they mimic normal buildings. Several of these churches are monoliths or three-quarter monoliths – free from the surrounding rock on three or four sides – a style of excavation that is unique to Ethiopia. This is a living UNESCO World Heritage site.

Lalibea Church, Ethiopia

Prayers, Lalibea Church, Ethiopia

Today is also the start of the Timkat Festival; the Coptic church celebration of the Epiphany in the afternoon, we join the throng of white-veiled worshippers as they dance and sing around the great rock-cut churches. It is a truly remarkable spectacle and the atmosphere is one of great excitement and joy. We are privileged to view this extraordinary festival.

Timkat Festival, Lalibea, Ethiopia

Overnight: Harbe Hotel, Lalibela

Day 21: 21 January 2020, Lalibela - fly to Addis Ababa, B

After a free morning where you may witness more of the Timkat Festival before taking the flight to Addis Ababa at 13:05-15:15. Transfer to hotel.

Overnight: Jupiter Hotel, Addis Ababa

Day 22: 22 January 2020, Addis Ababa, B/D

Time this morning to see the enthralling Ethnological Museum. Set within Haile Selassie’s former palace, and surrounded by the beautiful gardens and fountains of the university’s main campus, this one is easily one of the finest museums in Africa, showing the full sweep of Ethiopia's cultural and social history.

In the evening, there will be a farewell dinner party with traditional special buffet and local drinks to celebrate your Journey.

Day 23: 23 Jan. 2020, Depart Addis Ababa & fly home or to Khartoum, Ethiopia Air 1900-2005


• Accommodation in double/twin share occupancy with breakfast and dinner
• Sightseeing in modern air-conditioned private vehicles
• English speaking licensed guide
• Meals as indicated in the itinerary
• Entrance fees to places mentioned in the program


• Air Fares from your capital city
• Air Fare from Djibouti to Addis Ababa
• Travel Insurance (compulsory)
• Personal expenditure such as drinks with meals
• 2 Domestic flights in Ethiopia

Prices may fluctuate due to changes in charges, taxes and currency. Prices and flights are correct at time of preparing this program and are subject to availability at time of booking. Special conditions and seasonal surcharges to airfares and package prices may apply depending on date of travel. Flight times are subject to change by the airline. Please visit or ring 1300 139 281 for information on current Government traveladvice.


On International Flight tickets

• Please refer to your conditions of ticketing

On Land package cost

• Between 64-31 Days: 65 % of land cost
• Between 30-16 Days: 75 % of land cost
• Between 15-04 Days: 90 % of land cost
• Within 2 day-No show: 100% of land cost

For further information, don’t hesitate to contact Zen Oriental Journeys by emailing Lee Grafton or ring 0401 123 347

Bookings will be processed in order of receipt. Any bookings after this date will be accepted subject to visa processing, flight availability, land content and room availability. Such booking must be paid in full after confirmation of your acceptance in the tour. Special conditions and additional charges to airfares and package prices may apply depending on date of booking.

Costs associated with the Asia In-Country Study Tours can be tax deductible. Educators may be able to claim their study tour expenses under a number of tax deduction categories which include: self-education expenses; excursions, school trips and camps if these trips have an educational benefit and are related to the curriculum or extra-curriculum activities of the school; acquisition of teaching aids used for curriculum development and teaching programs. Participants must contact their tax advisor or visit the Australian Tax Office website to confirm eligibility.
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