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Duration: 17 Days
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Overview

There is no other place in sub-Saharan Africa where one can enjoy great wildlife and landscape photography and combine it with extraordinary cultural experiences. Ethiopia has all of this and more: the awesome landscapes and wildlife of the Bale and Simien Mountains, the spectacular cranes and other waterbirds of the Rift Valley Lakes and the palaces of Gondar, home of many of Ethiopia’s kings and emperors. Our special Ethiopia wildlife photography tours combine all of these wonders. See them for yourself!

Ethiopia’s highlands embrace the central part of the country like a necklace. The extraordinary Bale and Simien Mountains are home to some of Africa’s rarest wildlife, including the Walia Ibex, the Ethiopian Wolf and the gentle, vegetarian Gelada Baboon. It is a high altitude wonderland filled with wonderful wildlife, soaring cliffs, tussock grasses and stands of iconic Giant Lobelias. While we explore the dramatic scenery of these mountains, we will also be looking for Mountain Nyala, Menelik’s Bushbuck, Ethiopian Klipspringer, a variety of birds of prey (including the huge Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier), the iconic Thick-billed Raven, the lovely Spot-breasted Plover and the strange-looking Wattled Ibis, to mention just a few of our targets. The wildlife highlight of the Simien is undoubtedly the encounters we are going to have with huge troupes of Gelada Baboons. These large but gentle monkeys are vegetarian and here in Simien they are usually quite accustomed to, and tolerant of, close approach by humans. Even the big males will feed right next to you, provided you keep low and still. When we find a troupe, we will simply sit or lie among the feeding animals or walk with them as they move across a mountain meadow to graze on grasses and shrubs, while baby baboons play near our feet. As the sun goes lower in the sky we will search for them on the cliff edges as they return to their cliff nests to sleep after a day of grazing on the Simien plateau. During the optional extension we continue our Ethiopian adventure by heading east to the arid bushlands of Awash National Park

Day 1: Arrival to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Meet our team on arrival at Bole International Airport and transferred to your hotel. Located in the center of the country, Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s geographic, political and cultural hub. Addis is distinct from many other African capitals because it was not developed under colonial rule. One of its best-known sites is the National Museum of Ethiopia, which houses the remains of “Lucy,” a bipedal hominid who lived 3.2 million years ago and was discovered in 1974. We gather for a welcome dinner with our fellow travelers this evening.

Overnight Daamat Hotel. (www.daamathotel.com)

Day 2: Flight to Gondar – Simien Mountains

Will take the morning flight to Gondar, a 17th century royal city of Ethiopia, Afterwards, we will head for the World Heritage Site of Simien Mountains National Park. The drive between Gondar and Debark is very scenic. Afternoon from our dramatically-situated lodge (simien lodge) we will start our photographic exploration of the extraordinary Simien Mountains.

Overnight Simien Lodge. (www.simienlodge.com)

Days 3&4 Explore Simien Mountains National Park

Created by massive erosion, the Simien Mountains is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world: jagged mountain peaks with many summits over 4,000m (roughly 13,000ft), deep valleys and 1,500m sheer precipices. The park is home to the highest peak in the country, Ras Dashen, which is 4543 metres (14,906ft) above sea level. The Simien Mountains is also the refuge of the endangered endemic Ethiopian (or Simien) Wolf, the extraordinary Gelada Baboon and the endangered Walia Ibex, a wild goat unique to Ethiopia. It is also home to endemic birds such as the Thick-billed Raven and Wattled Ibis.

In addition to its wonderful scenery and wildlife, the park is also famous for its Afromontane forest, Hypericum woodland, Afromontane grassland and Afro-alpine moorland dominated by Giant Lobelias, Red Hot Pokers, tree heaths, giant St. John’s Wort and African Roses. As you can see, no Ethiopia wildlife photography tour can afford to miss out the extraordinary Simien! We will explore the scenic Simien escarpment in order to find the endemic Gelada Baboons. Nicknamed ‘bleeding heart baboon’ and ‘lion-monkey’ for reasons that will soon be obvious to all, Gelada Baboons are peculiar to Ethiopia and Eritrea, still being numerous in the Simien Mountains. Geladas are mainly vegetarian, living on herbs, grasses and roots, but they also eat insects including and locusts. Geladas live along the rim and steep slopes of the escarpment, which is their refuge when danger threatens.

On one or more days, after an early breakfast, we will leave the lodge for Chenek guard post, taking a picnic lunch. The scenery around Chenek is even more awesome than further west near our lodge, with huge peaks, crags and cliffs in the foreground and distant granite domes below the Simien escarpment. Here we can look for the endemic Walia Ibex. As well as photographic opportunities with the ibex, we will also be hoping for an encounter with the handsome Ethiopian (or Simien) Wolf, a declining species that still occurs regularly around Chenek.

We also have a high chance of spotting wildlife such as Ethiopian Klipspringer, Menelik’s Bushbuck, Bush Duiker and raptors including the huge Steppe Eagle, Tawny Eagle and the magnificent Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier.

Overnight Simien Lodge. (www.simienlodge.com)

Day 5: Drive to Gondar

Morning after breakfast we drive back to Gondar. This city in northern Ethiopia is famed for its 17th-century stone castles and fortresses that evoke the feel of an African Camelot. Founded in 1636 by the great Emperor Fassiladas, this UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the royal capital of Ethiopia enjoys a striking setting atop tree-studded hills. We visit various castles and churches built by Fassiladas and his descendants, including the emperor’s own palace. The most impressive is Debre Birhan Selassie church, whose walls and ceilings are intricately decorated with scenes of biblical lore and medieval history.

Overnight Gondar Haile Hotel (www.hailehotelandresorts.com)

Day 6: Flight to Addis then Fly to Dire Dawa

We take a morning flight to Addis, from Addis Ababa we will take a flight eastwards to the city of Dire Dawa and from there drive up into the Chercher Mountains to the city of Harar, where we will spend two nights. We will arrive in time to enjoy a first exploration of the city and then have our first session this evening with the ‘Hyena Men’.

Harar is an ancient city also called “The City Of Peace” This city was already important by the 13th century and later became the capital of the Adal Sultanate and its successor state, the Emirate of Harar, in the 16th century. Quite how the Hararis started feeding Spotted Hyenas is lost in legend, but it does seem they were tolerated and indeed encouraged in the city as nocturnal scavengers as far back as the 16th century, as low doorways were built at that time in the city walls to accommodate them! The various legends about feeding include stories that they were publicly fed porridge so that they could act as impromptu soothsayers through their style of eating it, or that they were fed to discourage them from eating livestock or even people during droughts, or even that Muslim saints communicated with their clan leaders and persuaded them not to do harm in return for handouts. Spotted Hyenas have a fearsome reputation, only partly because of their manner and appearance, but also because of their ruthless hunting style in the wild, so seeing them come close to humans and take meat from small sticks held in what seems a tiny hand, next to their huge muzzles, or even a human mouth, seems pretty awesome to the rest of us! Not only do the hyenas take food but they ‘lovingly’ rest their huge paws on the Hyena Man’s back or head and generally behave like large friendly dogs!

As well as being able to take photographs, at close range, of the Hyena Men and their nightly ‘guests’ from the surrounding forests (where the hyenas live a perfectly normal life for 23 hours a day), we will also be able to get great shots of them lurking in the background, resting before they feed or prowling in sinister fashion. If you are so inclined you can get down low for better angles (so far they have never eaten anyone!) and if you are really brave you will get the chance to feed them yourself. Needless to say, the whole experience is utterly unforgettable and a wildlife photography encounter that is completely unique.

Overnight Wonderland Hotel

Day 7: Harar City

This morning there will be time to explore the ancient medina of Harar and its surrounding fortifications, known as the Jugal (or Jugol). The walled old city dates back to around the 16th century and is a fascinating warren of small alleyways, markets, mosques and ancient buildings. Harar is widely considered to be the 4th holiest city in Islam, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, but today it is famed for its tolerance of other faiths and Harar beer, brewed naturally enough by Christians, is widely available. Harar is a wonderful place for photography, especially if you get out early while the light is at its best. We will also enjoy a photographic session with one of the ‘Kite Men’ of Harar. Feeding the Yellow-billed Kites is a recent development, not some ancient tradition, but it is fun to watch and photograph the kites swooping down and often squabbling in mid-air over small pieces of meat from a ‘Kite Man’s’ hands.

At dusk, we will of course return for a second session outside the town walls with our ‘Hyena Man’, something none of us will ever forget!

Overnight Wonderland Hotel

Day 8: Drive to Alideghe Wildlife Reserve

Morning after breakfast we will drive down from the Chercher Mountains and into the arid Awash Valley region. The dry plains of this part of the Awash River region hold the near-endemic Sacred (or Hamadryas) Baboon, as well as Soemmering’s Gazelle, Beisa Oryx, the long-necked Northern Gerenuk and the delightful little Salt’s Dikdik. Interestingly, the Golden Jackals of Africa have recently been split off as a distinct species, African Golden Wolf, on the basis that their genetics place them closer to the wolves and coyotes. There is a good chance of photographing this newly ‘promoted’ wolf in this area. With a bit of luck, we will also encounter Northern Lesser Kudu.

The open grasslands and acacia bushlands here are a stronghold of the stately, but declining Arabian Bustard. With persistence and just a bit of luck we will come across an Arabian Bustard with one or more Northern Carmine Bee-eaters riding on its back! This truly extraordinary photographic highlight is dependent on how many bee-eaters are around. They use the bustards as convenient ‘lookout posts’ from which to hawk large flying insects. Somewhat surprisingly, the bustards seem to tolerate these colourful ‘hitch-hikers’, perhaps because they provide warning of approaching predators.

Birdlife is varied and among the most appealing photographic targets are the huge Somali Ostrich, Lappet-faced Vulture, Tawny Eagle, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Pygmy and Lanner Falcons, Buff-crested, Hartlaub’s and White-bellied Bustards, Black-headed Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Blue-naped Mousebird, the superb Abyssinian Roller, Northern Red-billed and Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Somali Fiscal and the lovely Rosy-patched Bushshrike (pairs often duet together). Then we drive to Doho Lodge where we stay overnight. Here you can enjoy swimming in hot springs of Doho lodge.

Overnight Doho Lodge

Day 9: Drive to Awash National Park

Morning after breakfast We will spend the early morning in the area if need be and then head drive to the nearby Awash National Park and we go for game drive in the thorny bushes and grassland of Awash National park including the hike in the riverbank forest by the Awash River Falls. We have a chance to spot mammals such as the Salt’s Dik-dik,Lesser Kudu, Warthog, Hamadryas Baboon, Olive Baboon, Black-backed Jackal, Spotted Hyena, Abyssinian Hare, Aardwolf, Aardvark ,Grivet Monkey, Nile Crocodiles in the shores of the river and more wildlife and numerous birds.

O/night Awash Falls Lodge.

Day 10: Drive to Lake Ziway

Morning after breakfast we drive towards the Great Rift Valley (a vast and dramatic geological feature that runs all the way from southeastern Turkey to southern Africa!).

After a time we will arrive at Lake Ziway, where we will overnight at a comfortable hotel right at the lakeside. Lake Ziway is a great place for photography, and of course of a kind we will not enjoy while in the Bale or Simien. We can walk out directly onto either of two promontories that start at our hotel and enjoy the spectacle of numerous water birds, most of which are highly approachable. (An important aspect of Ethiopia, and one which makes it so good for wildlife photography, is that birds and indeed most creatures are not harmed by local people.)

Large flocks of Great White Pelicans are a feature here and we are likely to get surprisingly close to these huge and impressive birds. Among the many other stars are the jewel-like Malachite Kingfisher, the long-toed African Jacana, the huge Goliath Heron, the strange Hamerkop, the noisy African Fish Eagle and the superb Saddle-billed Stork. Additional species we are likely to shoot include White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese, Hottentot Teal, Pink-backed Pelican, Reed Cormorant, African Darter, African Sacred and Glossy Ibises, Yellow-billed Stork, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Gull-billed, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Red-eyed Dove and Pied Kingfisher (try and take them hovering). Rather macabre Marabou Storks nest in the trees around the hotel.

Overnight Haile Hotel (www.hailehotelandresorts.com)

Day 11: Drive to Sankalle Wildlife Reserve

We will set off early and drive the short distance to the northern end of Lake Langano. The grounds of a rather run-down hotel usually hold impressive Greyish Eagle-Owls and many cryptically-coloured Slender-tailed Nightjars, and while looking for these nightbirds we are likely to find and photograph the endemic Black-winged Lovebird and Red-throated Wryneck, as well as Namaqua Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, the weird-looking Speckled Mousebird, Little Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, and colourful Greater Blue-eared, Rüppell’s and Superb Starlings.

From Langano we continue south to the town of Shashamane for lunch and then, during the late afternoon, we will explore the rarely-visited Senkelle Wildlife Sanctuary, last stronghold of the endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest. These impressive chestnut-coloured antelopes are still common here and the grasslands also feature White-bellied Bustard and the gorgeous Northern Carmine Bee-eater. Eventually we will arrive at Awassa, a town situated beside the lake of the same name, where we will stay overnight.

Overnight Haile Hotel (www.hailehotelandresorts.com)

Day 12: Drive to Bale Mountains

Our hotel is situated right at the lakeshore and the grounds and surroundings are a great place for early morning photography. Along the adjacent lakeshore, the more photogenic birds include the delightful little African Pygmy Goose, African Fish Eagle, Squacco Heron, the perky little Black Crake and Woodland Kingfisher. African Spotted Creeper, a very uncommon and patchily-distributed bird, also occurs here, but we cannot honestly claim it will be at the top of most folk’s targets!

After the day starts to heat up, our thoughts will turn to cool, high mountains, so we will head up into the Bale Mountains for a four nights stay at Goba. This afternoon we will enjoy our first photography session in these beautiful mountains.

Overnight Goba Wabe Shabale Hotel.

Days 13-15: Explore Bale Mountains National Park

We will be spending much of our time exploring the wild and spectacular Afro-alpine moorlands of the high Sanetti Plateau, one of the best places in the Bale Mountains for finding Ethiopian Wolf. The handsome Ethiopian (or Simien) Wolf has had a difficult time in recent decades, suffering from distemper epidemics introduced by domestic dogs (incursions of which have become more common as the region’s human population has increased). This is now the world’s rarest canid, although, happily, a recent campaign to vaccinate local dogs, organized by the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme has brought about a welcome rebound in the population.

The wolves tend to go around singly or in small groups and during the course of our visit we should have repeated encounters with them, watching them patrol their territories, greet each other, relax or hunt rodents and other prey. While we should be able to see them catch rodents, you can consider yourself lucky if you witness a close-up ‘kill’ and likewise, although most packs will have pups at this season, getting great photo opportunities with cubs must be considered a real bonus.

The number of rodents here is quite extraordinary, and of course they provide a bonanza for predators. It is estimated that their density is such that combined weight of rodents per square kilometre (or about 0.4 square mile) is no less than 4 tons! The great majority on the moorlands (and the main prey species of the Ethiopian Wolf) consist of three Ethiopian endemics: Blick’s Grass Rat, Black-clawed Brush-furred Rat and the extraordinary, endangered Giant Mole Rat. The latter, a huge blind rodent with very goofy teeth, is constantly enlarging its burrows to reach new food supplies and we will have some fun trying to sneak up on them to take some photos. They have good hearing and also detect vibrations, so in spite of their blindness, a close approach is not easy!

While the handsome Mountain Nyala is regularly seen on the moorlands, the landscape is open and approaching them closely on foot is often unsuccessful. For far better opportunities we will head for the Bale Mountains National Park headquarters at Dinsho. Here, some of the Nyalas have become unafraid of humans and will allow a close approach, as will Menelik’s Bushbucks and especially the ultra-tame Common Warthogs, which one can get to within a couple of metres!

Dinsho is also a good place for bird photography, often including African Wood Owl, the huge Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and the uncommon endemic Abyssinian Owl. (Cape Eagle-Owls also occur here, but are usually too distant for good images.)

Not far away is a good area for photographing Bohor Reedbucks and Olive Baboons.

Overnight Goba Wabe Shabale Hotel.

Day 16: Drive to Awassa

After a final photography session in the Bale Mountains, we will return to Awassa for an overnight stay. On the late afternoon we go to the forest near the lake Beautiful, black and white Guereza Colobus monkeys with long bushy tails frequent the area and, since the hotel staff give them a few tidbits, are very confiding, allowing for great shots. Mothers with tiny infants are especially appreciated. Playful Grivet Monkeys also occur here including numerous birdlife.

Overnight Haile Hotel (www.hailehotelandresorts.com)

Day 17: Flight to Addis

In the evening we enjoy a farewell dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant featuring dancers and musicians representing some of the country’s many ethnic groups. Then Transfer to airport for your international departure.