In an entirely different take on African wildlife photography, join award winning photographer Ben Cherry on our small group tour to discover three of Ethiopia’s most unique locations.
Africa is home to some truly special natural and cultural wonders, but none offer the unique diversity of Ethiopia. Dominated by the vast central highlands and bisected by the Rift Valley, Ethiopia’s spectacular environments range from the hottest place on earth to Afro-alpine moorlands, home to endemics such as the gelada and Ethiopian wolf.
Our tour through Ethiopia is led by award winning environmental photojournalist and wildlife cameraman, Ben Cherry. Ben’s passion is ‘putting a face to conversation’, and this tour involves partnering conservation organisations, with contact ranging from evening talks to shadowing conservation work in the field. These insights will inform and allow unique insights into various conservation projects.
With Ben’s expert photographic tuition, this tour explores three of Ethiopia's unique environments on the cusp of mainstream tourism. The Simien Mountains with its spectacular landscape of serrated mountain peaks, deep valleys, grassy plateaux and sheer 1,500-metre high cliff faces is home to some of Ethiopia’s most iconic endemic mammals and is best known for its population of geladas. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lalibela brings a historic and cultural aspect to our tour, consisting of 11 subterranean rock-hewn churches with connecting passageways carved from the underlying pink granite bedrock. Our third location is in Bale Mountains National Park which offers our best opportunity for observing and photographing Ethiopian wolves, the world’s rarest canid.
Day1: Depart the UK
We depart London on an overnight flight to Addis Ababa.
Day2: Arrive Addis Ababa
Arriving into Addis Ababa this morning, we meet with out local naturalist guide and transfer to our city hotel to freshen up and enjoy an early lunch. This afternoon we embark on a tour of this historic city, taking in Emperor Haile Selassie’s former palace (now the Ethnological Museum). Next we visit the National Museum, one of Africa’s best, where cultural and archaeological relics are displayed, including ‘Lucy’ a replica of a 3.2 million-year-old hominid.
Accommodation: Jupiter Hotel (or similar), 1-night
Days3-5: Simien Mountains
This morning we fly north to the historic city of Gondar, a route that takes us over Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake and the source of the Blue Nile. On arrival into Gondar, we continue our journey by road to the Simien Mountains, one of Africa’s most spectacular mountain ranges.
From a wildlife perspective, the park is best known for its population of geladas, with an estimated 7,000 individuals and is regarded as something of stronghold for the species. Other species of note we are likely to encounter during our time in the park may include lammergeiers, thick-billed ravens, tawny eagle, augur buzzard, lanner falcon, white-winged black tit and Abyssinian catbird.
During our days spent in the park we enjoy a mux of short drives and gentle walks, with one of the days venturing out to the picturesque area Chenek, one of the best places to observe the local endemic walia ibex.
Retracing our steps to Debark we then continue to Gondar, where we overnight.
Our visit to this historic city helps sets the scene ahead of our visit to Lalibela. The church of Debre Berhan Selassie provides us with a fascinating introduction to the history of Ethiopian Christianity and allows us to switch our focus from wildlife to human-focused photography.
Accommodation: Goha Hotel, 1-night
Days7-8: Fly to Lalibela; explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site
Taking a short flight from Gondar, today we make our way to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lalibela, set in a stunning location to the south-east of the Simien Mountains. Consisting of 11 subterranean rock-hewn churches with connecting passageways superbly carved from the underlying pink granite bedrock, the city forms a magnificent spectacle often described as the unofficial eighth wonder of the world.
The churches stand in two groups, separated by the Jordan River, and over the course of our stay here we have plenty of time to explore both clusters, marvel at the architecture, and enjoy the fabulous scenery. Prior to our arrival in Lalibela, Ben will deliver a series of presentations on photographing people, building a photo story, and taking in ‘the moment’ while enjoying photography, that we can use to document our visit.
The surrounding area is excellent for a variety of raptors including lammergeier, augur buzzard and lanner falcon.
This morning we fly via Addis Ababa to Awassa, where we overnight before travelling to the Bale Mountains. Lake Awassa is a beautiful freshwater lake set amongst hills and surrounded by luxuriant vegetation, quite unlike the alkaline lakes elsewhere in the Rift Valley. Here, we return to our natural history focus and find ourselves presented with a wealth of photographic opportunities thanks to the large numbers of waterbirds found in this area.
Along the lakeshore we hope to encounter black, goliath and other herons, marabou stork, hamerkop, hadeda ibis, a variety of egrets, African pygmy geese, fulvous and white-faced whistling ducks, knob-billed duck, black crake, African jacana, whiskered and white-winged black terns, and both pied and malachite kingfishers. The latter can be particularly tame, allowing us to get frame-filling photos of this delightful bird.
Accommodation: Haile Resort, 1-night
Day10: Drive to the Bale Mountains
Before we depart for the Bale Mountains, we have the opportunity to visit the fish market, where we find a wealth of birds eagerly awaiting the arrival of the local Sidamo fishermen. Here, the air is alive with birds whose totally harmonious relationship with the fishermen spans generations.
Driving to the Bale Mountains we pass through areas such as the rich cultivated land of the Oromo, the national park headquarters in Dinsho and the town of Goba, we then begin our ascent to the Senetti Plateau. A vast landscape of Afro-alpine moorland, it is in this fabulous landscape that we have our best chance of encountering and photographing the beautiful Ethiopian wolf.
With three full days to explore the national park, we focus much of our time on the Sanetti Plateau which offers our best opportunity for observing and photographing Ethiopian wolves. We typically take the approach of driving slowly across the plateau until we encounter a wolf and then, depending on its locality and behaviour, seek to photograph it either from the vehicle or on foot. Despite being the rarest of the world’s 37 canids, the wolves can usually be seen with relative ease in the Bale Mountains, and this area is home to the largest remaining population in the world, believed to be around 200 individuals.
Although our main focus is on the Ethiopian wolf, during our time in the Bale Mountains we should be rewarded with some other truly unique wildlife sightings. The Bale Mountains are now to no fewer than 20 endemic mammals, with five of these endemic to the specific area. In addition to its mammals, the Bale Mountains are home to 12 endemic amphibians and four endemic reptiles; in ornithological terms, at least 16 of Ethiopia’s endemic and near endemic bird species have been recorded including Rouget’s rail, spot-breasted lapwing and blue-winged goose.
We also spend time with an NGO partner, the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, and gain a valuable insight into the life of the wolves as well as the threats they face and the conservation efforts being put in place to conserve them.
Day14: Drive to Addis Ababa & depart
The majority of our day will be spent driving to Addis Ababa, stopping for any wildlife of interest en route and having lunch at the Rift Valley lakes. On arrival into Addis Ababa, we have an opportunity to freshen up at a hotel, before enjoying a traditional farewell dinner with live music. From the restaurant we transfer to the airport for our overnight flight back to the UK.
Day15: Arrive UK
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 15 daysfrom £4,995 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 13 daysfrom £4,695 pp
Single supplement: From £450
Group size: 10
Included in the price/package:
Flights between Addis Ababa-Gondar, Gondar-Lalibela & Lalibela-Awassa
An environmental photojournalist and natural history cameraman, Ben works with international conservation groups as well as filming documentaries with the likes of the BBC.
From working in tropical rainforests with pygmy elephants, to tracking satellite tagged Bewick's swans in arctic Russia, Ben has a vast range of experience in some of the world's most extreme environments. Passionate about covering human - wildlife interaction both good and bad, he wants to 'put a face to conservation' by documenting and celebrating the work of conservationists, from volunteers to scientists.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Simien Mountains are a place of dramatic scenery. Their rugged landscape was formed over a 3,000 year erosion period of basalt lava, and despite their altitude they sustain a fascinating range of mammals and birdlife, alongside isolated nomadic and rural communities.
The Bale Mountains form a high altitude plateau, broken by spectacular volcanic peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and mountain streams descending through deep rocky gorges into the lowlands. The area is home to an incredibly high number of endemics, including the world’s rarest canid, the Ethiopian wolf.
Once the capital of Ethiopia, Gondar is one of the country’s richest historical and cultural areas. The city’s architecture is both Islamic and Christian influenced, especially the Castles of Gondar and palaces of the Royal Enclosure, which were built over 236 years by various rulers.
Where: Gondar Province
Excellent for: History & culture
Considered by many to be one of the unofficial wonders of the world, Lalibela is one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia and renowned for its 13th century rock hewn churches. Many of the city’s buildings are decorated with well-preserved paintings, creating a unique architectural style.
Where: Amhara Region
Excellent for: History & culture
This innovative and attractive lodge brings new levels of comfort and service to the unmissable Bale Mountains. Set in a forest clearing which teems with wildlife, this thatched ecolodge offers a secure and comfortable base with first-class facilities, excellent food and exceptional views.
Located on the edge of the Lasta Mountains, this 30-room hotel has magnificent panoramas and is the ideal spot from which to enjoy the surrounding countryside – the sunsets are particularly stunning. The hotel’s curious architecture consists of a series of boxes, with acres of windows.
Situated at an altitude of over 3,260 metres in the Simien Mountains, this is the highest lodge in Africa. Accommodation consists of 26 rooms in thatched tukel roundhouses, sympathetically constructed in traditional style using local materials. Gelada baboons are regular visitors to the grounds.