TOP TOUR: DESERT AND SALT LAKES

This Tour brings you to one of the most extraordinary places on earth, the Danakil Desert with Erta Ale volcano which has the only active lava lake in the world and the Dallol with its bizarre salt formations.....

TOURCODE: YT03

DURATION: 13 days

Travel day: Arrival in the evening or night in Addis Abeba.

At Bole Airport you are welcomed by a reprensentative of Yared Tour&travel and transferred to your hotel.

Day 1:Addis Ababa excursions

Addis Ababa is the third highest capital of the world on an altitude of 2300-2500m. with on its background the green with eucalyptus trees covered mountains and a pleasant climate. The city is founded in 1886 by king Menelik and Queen Taitu.

First you make a tour through the most interesting parts of the city and drive to Entoto Mountains for a short walk in the fresh air of the with eucalyptus trees covered slopes, enjoying the panoramic view on Addis Ababa. The Octagonal Entoto Maryam Church was founded by emperor Menelik at the end of the 19thcentury and of historical value because is the oldest church of Addis Abeba. The museum in the compound contains a large collection of religious garb, crowns and crosses dating from the Emperor Menelik. At the backside of the church you can see the “palace” where emperor Menelik and his family was living before they went down to Filwoha hot springs to built a new palace

Hereafter visit the National Museum, to see Lucy, the fossilized hominid discovered in 1974, artefacts of the Axumite, Solomonic and Gondarian period of the country, and also a good display of Ethiopian art ranging from parchment to 20th –century canvas oil paintings by leading modern artists Afework Tekele. Or you might choose the beautiful ethnological museum which contains superb artifacts and handicrafts from the peoples of Ethiopia, displayed in a very original way, showing the lyfecycle from birth to grave with the different cultural customs of many ethnic groups. On the second floor there is an interesting exhibition of all traditional musical instruments of Ethiopia and religious art from middle ages up to the 20th century. (visit to 1 museum included)

The Holy Trinity cathedral (founded by emperor Haile Selassie in 1933) is the biggest Orthodox Church in the country. With its large dome and spindly pinnacles, it’s one of the landmarks of the city and is a strange mishmash of international styles. IN this church emperor Haile Selassie is reburied and you can visit the tombs of Haile Selassie and his wife. The nearby Kiddist Maryam Church is older (founded by empress Zawditu in 1911) and has the Menelik II Mausoleum which contains the tombs of emperor Menelik II, his wife empress Taitu and daughter empress Zawditu. To the left of Kiddist Maryam Church is the circularKidane Mihret Church with beautiful interior paintings and a spring which produce holy water used for baptism ceremonies.

If you like markets, a visit to Merkato –the biggest open-air market of Africa- is a must! It is a quarter with many bazaars with small shops where you can buy literally everything….very crowded, colourful and dirty….(and beware for pickpockets!).

A happy and of the day is a traditional engerra dinner in a cultural restaurant where you can enjoy life cultural

O/n in Adot Tina hotel

Day 2: Drive to the ancient, walled City of Harar (550 km. asphalt)

Via Debre Zeit with its 5 crater lakes and Nazreth (or Adama) the capital of the Oromo regional state, we pass a typical volcanic landscape with black rocks of dried lava. In the distance we discern already the still slightly active Fentale volcano which is situated in the Awash National Park.

En route look out for the children on the roadside selling ‘local Colgate’ or the local version of a toothbrush which are wooden sticks to clean your teeth. Around the beautiful Chercher- and Arba Gugu Mountains, the very first signs of chat cultivations appear. This is a mild drug which is chewed frequently in east-Africa. Look for the little bushes with shiny, dark green leaves planted in neat rows. Late afternoon we arrive in Harar where we visit the Hyena Feeding (7pm -7:30 pm) Harar’s greatest attraction and certainly its most famous one. It is said that his habit dates from ages ago when there was a great famine in Harar. Even the hyena’s where hungry and came from the mountains to the city to eat the children. To avoid this, the inhabitants decided to give the hyena’s porridge. O/n in Ras hotel

Day 3: Harar Excursions

The walled city of Harar covers an area of a little over 1sq km.There are over 87 mosques in the old town alone, and these are said to form the largest concentration of mosques in any city in the world. Harar is known as the 4th Moslem sacred city of the world next to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. The town is also regarded as the walled city because of the wall that was built in 15th c by Harari (Adare people) to protect themselves from the repeated invasion of surrounding tribes.

Up to 1887 Harar was an independent city-state and a political, commercial and cultural centre of the region between the Ethiopian highlands and the Red Sea.. After emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia conquered the city and surrounding area, it became part of Ethiopia. The city has always been a melting pot of many different peoples and tribes such as Somali, Oromo, Arabs and Turks. Still the city breathes a special atmosphere with its winding alleys with white plastered houses. Recently UNESCO has declared the city “world heritage of humanity”.

In the morning our city-tour starts from the old town through the main gate, which is known as Harar gate. There are seven gates; two were added by the Emperor Menelik in 1889 to the five original ones, which dates from the 16th century. Inside the wall we visit the museum of the Harari National Cultural Centrewhich is designed like a typical Adare houses and contains examples of traditional arts and crafts, typical household objects and ornaments, traditional clothing, writing implements etc. Other interesting places are the 17th century Jami mosque, different tombs and shrines of important Islam leaders, Harar , Rimbaud house, birth place of emperor Haile Selassie Ras Tafari house) and the colourful market. O/n again in Ras hotel

Day 4: Visit Awash NP.

From Harar we drive back via the same route to Awash National Park (370 km. asphalt), the oldest National Park of Ethiopia, founded in 1974 by Emperor Haile Selassie. In the park we see the elegant Beisa Oryx grazing on the savannah plains. Also Soemmering’s gazelle, Dikdiks, greater and lesser Kudu and Waterbuck can be observed. The park is well known for its 460 bird species from which 6 are endemic. Also the –especially after rain time – impressive waterfalls and gorge of the Awash river in the park are worth a visit. In Awash NP you sleep in the Awash falls lodge which is built in local style and situated in the middle of the Park, near to the waterfall

Day 5: To Semera (350 km. asphalt)

Today we have to make an early start to reach Semera in time to get the necessary permission for a visit to Erta Ale and Dallol.

Today we turn to north into the area of the Afar semi nomads. For 2000 years they have been the salt traders of Ethiopia who trek with their camel caravans to the salt lakes of the hot Danakil Desert. The salt blocks have for ages been used as legal tender and also nowadays the blocks are sold on the market of Mekele (northern Ethiopia). The Afar live in flimsy houses which can easily by taken on a camel back. We pass the rather austere Alleghedi plain and Meteka Wetlands, a marshy part of the Awash floodplain where many waterbirds can be observed. Mount Azela volcano is a remarkable peak in the plains which surround the town of Gewane. In the Yangudi Rassa National Park the rare wild ass is still found. North of Mille we drive through a haunty bleak landscape of bare volcanic boulders piled high between valleys of gravel and stunted grass and near Logiya you can see the Awash river near to the road. O/n camping or basic hotel in Semera

Day 6: To Afrera salt Lake (appr. 165 km. tracks)

Early in the morning we drive on a track through the desolate landscape with only some coned shaped volcano’s here and there to Afedera saltlake, a highly saline body of water and lies at an altitude of 103 meters below sea level and listed as the lowest lying in the world. It has emerald green water overshadowed by the black basalt of mount Borale (812 m.) and Afrera (1295 m.) which are both dormant volcano’s. Here you will visit the salt extraction of the Afar people from the lake.. O/N camping at Afdera.

Day7: To Dodom (80 km. track) and trekking to Erta Ale volcano

Drive from Afdera to Dodom to arrange camels for the trekking to the Erta’ale volcanic eruptions. En route we enjoy the desert landscape of the area. We will start trekking around 18:30 PM which takes an average of appr. 4 hours, depending on our pace. It’s a rather steep climb to reach the crater edge and from a distance you can hear already the thunderous sounds and see the lightning coming from the crater. From midnight until dawn we enjoy the terrific view of the eruptions inside the lava lake (which is the sole crater lake in the world) causing a firework of burning hot lava. After this unique and impressive night experience, we walk back to arrive early in the morning again in Dodom.

Day 8: Drive to Hamed Ela (80 km. track, min . 5 h.)

Through a Landscape of sand, rocks, scrubland, sometimes a palm lined oasis you pass the peaks of Erta Ale range ((Ale Bugu-1031 m., Erta Ale 613 m., Borale Ale 668 m., Dala Filla 613 m. and Allu-429 m.),

O/n on campsite in the small village of Hamed Ela

Day 9: Visit the Asale Salt lake and Dalol Depression & drive to Mekele

Start very early in the morning when temperature is bearable and the light is fantastic for making photo’s/video. Along a 20 km. rough but flat track, passing an abandoned American phosphate mining camp Dallol you enjoy the astonishing and impressive surrealistic landscape of bubbling sulphuric hot springs, capricious shaped salt formations- and streams of white, green and orange colour.

Continue 13 km. to lake Asale where you can see hundreds of Afar cameleers extracting rectangular tablets of salt which weight appr. 6 kg. One camel can carry 30 bars of salt. Since the salt miners seasonally move to different places, your guide has to find out where they are. The Afar people believe that the saltpans are haunted at night by an evil spirit called Abo Lalu.

After this extraordinairy experiences we drive via a rough and rocky track following a seasonal river gorge and passing some impressive rock formations to Berhaile, a town which has an interesting combination of Tigraian stone houses and Afar huts and is situated on the edge of highland and desert. It is the base camp for the coming and going camel caravans with their salt blocks from salt lake Asale.

We continue to Mekele, the neat and cosy capital of Tigray where we enjoy the cooler atmosphere and Planet- or Axum hotel

Day 10: A day at leisure in Mekelle

After the exhausting journey in the desert, it is good to have a day rest in Mekele. The town is situated on a plateau, surrounded by a rather barren landscape. Its an agreeable place to take a day rest, simply walking around and enjoying the cosy atmosphere on one of the many terraces. You can visit the impressivemonument of the TPLF battle for freedom with its museum or the 17th century palace-museum of emperor Johannes IV and also the local market which includes a spice market is worth a visit. Here the salt-traders with their camels bring the salt from Danakil depression (mostly on Saturday). 8 Km. outside town, near the little typical Tigrayan village of Debir, you can visit the tall, narrow waterfall of Chele Anka river which tumbles 60m. into a gorge. (All excursions are Optional).

O/n in Planet- or Axum hotel

Day 11: Drive to Lalibela via Sekota and Bilbila (325 km. asphalt / gravel)

En route you visit the Yemrehane Kristos Church which is built in a cave. It is older than the churches in Lalibela and built in the old Axumite wood- and stone layers style. The interior is finely cut with beautiful painted pillars and ceilings. In the backside of the cave you can see a kind of open grave with the skeletons and remains of many of the thousands of pilgrims which even came from Egypt, Syria and Jerusalem to spend their last days on earth at the Yemrehane Kristos Church.

Via a beautiful mountainous landscape we drive to the famous village Lalibela. Also known as “Africa’s Petra”, Lalibela and its rock hewn church are thought to date the 12th and 13th century during King Lalibela’s reign. The churches are remarkable since they are entirely freed from the rock, so refined and so numerous within a small area. A Portuguese writer Alvares described them as “edifices, the like of which can not be found any where else in the world”. O/n Top Twelve or similar hotel in Lalibela

Day 12: Excursions in Lalibela

The churches are divided into two main groups –one to the north and the other to the south of a stream known as the Jordan River. So our tour starts early in the morning to the first group of churches. It consists of six churches including Bet Medhane Alem, the largest of all the Lalibela churches, Bet Maryam dedicated to Mary, the mother of the Christ, Bet Meskal, Bet Danaghel, and the inter-connected churches of Bet Golgotha and Bet Mika’el with the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam. They form the most mysterious complex in Lalibela.

Then in afternoon after Lunch, we visit the southern group of churches. There are four churches including-Bet Amanuel the finest of the group, Bet Merkorios, Bet Abba Libanos, and Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el.

Finally we visit the isolated but most remarkable church of Bet Giyorgis, possibly the most elegant of all the Lalibela structures. . Wandering from one church to another through the narrow underground trenches, hearing the distant chanting of Bible reciting monks and priests or early in the morning during the mass listening to the hymns accompanied by the heavy sound of the “Kebero” (big drum) and jingling of the “Sistra”, you enter into a middle age mystical atmosphere which will make an impression on every visitor. And you nearly believe that it is true what the story tells: these churches must have been built with the help of angels! O/n in Top Twelve or similar hotel in Lalibela

Day 13: Flight back to Addis Ababa and back home

With a domestic flight you arrive in Addis Abeba early afternoon where the car already waits for you at the airport. After a late lunch, some hours are left to buy your last souvenirs or to relax and take a shower in a dayroom.

After a last dinner it is time to check-in for your flight back home.

PROGRAM ADAPTIONS:

To drive back to Addis instead of domestic flight:

Day 13: Drive to Kombolcha (300 km. rough road/ asphalt, appr. 7 h.)

Also today you enjoy the mountainous landscape and splendid views on your way to Kombolcha. En route between Dessie and Kombolcha you can visit lovely lake Hayk and its 13th Istafanos monastry, which is only accessible for men. The monks might show you some very old treasures such as a handwritten, illustrated biography of Abba Iyasus Moa, the founder of the monastry. O/n stay in Kombolcha Sunny Side hotel

Day 14: Drive to Ankober (290 km, most asphalt, appr. 6 h.)

Early in the morning after breakfast drive to Emperor Menlik II first capital town of Ankober which has name and fame as the seat of the Shoan rulers and became most important political center and until the founding of Addis Ababa as the capital of the Ethiopian Emperor in 1886. The top of Ankober palace hill has spectacular overlooking the Great Rift Valley that stretches from the Red Sea West wards and affords an admirable view of the Afar plains to the East. On the surrounding mountains, such as Imemihret or Fiqre Gimb, where Aba Massaya, the great 19th century catholic missionary started mission activities, If enough time is left, you can make a walk in the very beautiful countryside and eventually visit a farm house. Local guide can be arranged by the reception of Ankober Palace lodge. O/n stay in Ankober Palace lodge.

Day 15: Drive back to Addis Ababa (170 km. asphalt/road under construction, appr. 5 h.) and night flight back home.

On this day you will drive back to Addis over the green and fertile highlands, passing the old town of Debre Birhan which is famous for its wool production. In afternoon you can do your last shopping in the city and eventually make use of a dayroom

After a last dinner it is time to check-in for your flight back home.

Any other adaption is possible according to your wish:

-You can extend the Danakil tour with daytrip from Semera to Eli Dar depression, further eastward on the way to Assab and Djibouti, via a spectaculair route passing old, dried lava streams with bizarre shapes. Passing the village Dichioto you have a fantastic view on the white glistering salt lake in the depth and you may also see the camel caravans transporting the salt blocks. O/n camping in Serdo village.

-2 days extension from Semera to Hadar(130 km. southwest of Semera), the site where the famous “Lucy” was discovered in 1974 by a team of American archeologists. There is not so much to see so it is only the idea that you’ve been there! In Semera you have to get permission document to visit the site. You will camp 1 night at the Hadar site.

-The Danakil and Erta Ale Tour can easily be combined with a visit to the whole historical route (Lalibela-Axum-Gondar-Bahir Dar). The total Tour will be appr. 17 days (when Harar will be cancelled).

-You can also make the trip shorter by cancelling the trip to Harar or Lalibela.