Malachite Kingfisher (Dani Free)
Ethiopia is a magical land of myth and legend. It was perhaps the earliest home to man, and later to Prester John and a dynasty originating from the Queen of Sheba and concluding with the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. It is a land of mixed race and mixed religion, of countless tribes and even more languages, mingled and matured by time and history. It is filled with donkeys, cattle, and an elegant people ... plus the finest of Africa’s mountain scenery. Ethiopia has been a melting pot, since Christ, for ideas from the East, West and from Africa; today nothing seems straightforward. Amharic, the national language, has an alphabet of over 200 characters; the year, following the Julian calendar, has 13 months! Its wildlife — particularly its avifauna — is outstanding. Over 830 birds have been recorded — 29 of them endemic — and we will hope to see nearly half of them, whilst 80 species of larger mammals survive with mixed fortunes, seven of which are also endemic.
We begin in Bahar Dar, at the edge of Lake Tana, the country’s largest lake. Here we have two days to enjoy the excellent lakeside birding, as well as visits to the source of the Blue Nile and the spectacular Blue Nile Falls. It may also be possible to visit one of the wonderful Coptic monasteries on one of the lake’s islands before we set off on the drive around the lake to Gondar. Founded by King Fasilidas in 1635, this town served as the imperial capital for 250 years and is full of historical sites, notably its group of 17th century castles and the fantastically decorated church of Debre Birhan Selassie.
From Gondar we head up into the dramatic Simien Mountains National Park, one of Africa’s most extensive and rugged mountain ranges, reaching its highest point of 4,620 metres at Mount Ras Dashen. Staying in the Simien Lodge for three nights, we have ample time to explore the stunning scenery and search for three of Ethiopia’s most iconic endemic mammals. The Gelada Baboon has its stronghold in these mountains, where a population of around 20,000 individuals lives in troops that can number up to 400. In much smaller numbers, the endangered Walia Ibex may also be seen, whilst the elegant Ethiopian Wolf, now sadly declining in these mountains, will be much harder to see.
After three fabulous days in the Simien Mountains, we return to Gondar where we overnight prior to flying to Addis the following morning. From Addis we drive east to Awash National Park where we will stay for three nights in a comfortable lodge. Awash, spanning 905 square kilometres, became Ethiopia’s first sanctuary in 1966 and, with its rolling grasslands, acacia scrub and the volcano Mount Fantalle, resembles a classical east African game reserve. Beisa Oryx, both Greater and Lesser Kudu, Waterbuck, Soemmering’s Gazelle, Warthog, Swayne’s Hartebeest and Salt’s Dik-dik graze the acacia-dotted grasslands alongside Ostriches, Kori and the rarer Arabian Bustards. Lion, Leopard, Caracal and Serval have all been seen on our tours but they are both infrequent and hard to see. Amongst the larger acacias along the Awash River, hornbills, parrots, finches and doves feed. We will explore the park on foot and also drive into the nearby hills.
Leaving Awash, we follow the Great Rift Valley southwards to the luxuriant shores of Lake Awassa where an abundance of waterbirds awaits. Amongst the lilies and great reedbeds that encompass the lake we should find Black, Goliath and other herons, Marabou Stork, Hamerkops, Hadada Ibis, a variety of egrets, dainty African Pygmy Geese, Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks, Knob-billed Duck, Black Crakes, African Jacanas, Three-banded Plovers, Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns and both Pied and Malachite Kingfishers.
A patchwork landscape unfolds before us as we drive east to the beautiful Bale Mountains National Park, a huge and remote area of grassy uplands, towering outcrops, hanging forests, rocky peaks, and exposed moorlands dotted with giant lobelias, redhot pokers, and with peaty pools and lakes. This is the last refuge of the endemic Mountain Nyala, and of three other endemic mammals — Menelik’s Bushbuck, the peculiar Giant Molerat, and the magnificent Ethiopian Wolf. It is the latter species that we are particularly hoping to find and watch here, for it is a critically endangered species that occurs only in a handful of isolated pockets of the Ethiopian highlands. Threatened by disease and persecution, and the loss of its high-altitude habitat, its numbers are now down to about 500, making it one of the most endangered of the world’s larger mammals. During two full days in the field, we will look for it in its strongholds, the Bale Mountains’ Web Valley and Sanetti Plateau. We will also hope to see some of the commoner mammal species of the area, which include Klippspringer, Grey Duiker, Bohor Reedbuck, Warthog, Rock Hyrax and Olive Baboon, as well as a rich flora and variety of special birds which includes a staggering 14 endemics!
Finally, we transfer our focus back to the beautiful Rift Valley Lakes. These lie amongst acacia woods and farmland between the distant valley walls, each one with a different depth, salinity and character. At Lake Shalla the views are tremendous and the bushland birds and mammals often noteworthy; whilst Lake Abiata, a vast and shallow soda lake, is Ethiopia’s Nakuru — its margins thick with flamingoes, pelicans, cormorants, storks, herons and waders. Our last stop is Lake Langano, where we will spend two nights in a lakeside lodge. Here we have plenty of time to enjoy the tranquil surroundings and, with a very realistic chance of finding the elusive Aardvark by night, this lovely lodge makes a fitting finale to our holiday.
The local guide was excellent. Took control of every aspect to make the clients relaxed. I cannot fault him in any way. Varied itinerary - saw a lot of different habitats. Gave a good feel to the country in general.
Our local guide, Melkamu Alemu, was outstanding and he made everything go well. His knowledge of his country and wildlife was excellent but he also saw to all the admin and minor issues efficiently and with a smile. Very personable and engaging. We were left just to enjoy the itinerary and all the tour had to offer. The list of things I enjoyed particularly is a long one - many special moments and places. Not necessarily the rare species but the beauty of the wildlife in many habitats, the walks in the mountains especially.
The entire tour was well thought out and to give us the best of a large country but minimise travelling, without Lalibela we would have missed out on the cultural side. The local guide was exceptional and the group particularly like minded and congenial.
This was a huge trip which packed in a vast amount of sights and experiences. Hard to believe we did so much in less than three weeks. It seemed like we were there for three months!
The guides worked really hard and delivered an itinerary that worked like clockwork even with our extra demands as we went. It was good not to be confined to the vehicle all day.
Highlights were many, but seeing two male Wallia Ibex fighting and sitting near the edge of a cliff surrounding by hundreds of Gelada in the fading light were particularly special.
The organisation overall was really good. Everything worked smoothly. Abiy, the local guide tried everything to give us all the best service, book tables and food in advance, take care of all the little problems that might have occurred. Super in knowing when to go where to see the animals!!!
Eric was amazing in identifying birds!!! Both together were super helpful to everybody, a great team. Never had to care about drinking water, tipping...made the trip very relaxed.
I feel like I saw everything I was hoping for and more. Our two trip leaders were so knowledgeable and their ability to recognise wildlife (particularly birds) almost instantly was phenomenal. Our Ethiopian trip leader always knew where and when to find things.
An excellent mix. Scenery, birds, mammals and a bit of culture.
I think the itinerary is a good as it can be given that there is so much to fit in and the distances to to be travelled.
Can't fault Marcus and Abiy. The leaders can make or break a holiday and this was certainly a case of making it.
My favourite moment of the whole trip was on the 23rd October in the Simiens, I think by Sankaber Camp although I need to check that, when Abiy spotted a Serval on the hillside, which was completely unexpected! He said it was the first time he had seen one there. I can't describe how exciting the moment was, especially as for a brief few seconds, before he got the scope on it, Abiy thought it could have been a Leopard!
Mr & Mrs W.
Brilliant! Can't praise Marcus and Abiy more highly. Personable, friendly, good communicators, excellent knowledge of the wildlife & country. A pleasure to be with.
We enjoyed our time in Ethiopia immensely, a fascinating country, excellent wildlife sightings and the Lalibela extension added a fascinating insight into Ethiopian history.
The itinerary seemed well balanced with highlights all the way through. Habitats and scenery were varied and hence the wildlife was varied and we felt we had experienced a good cross-section of Ethiopia including cultural aspects (churches, Gondar Palaces, Lalibela churches).
Significantly, the birdlife was very prolific and easy to watch.
There were many highlights but the spectacular scenery in the mountains coupled with amazing wildlife viewing (watching a wolf catch a Molerat, Walia Ibex and Gelada Baboons in such relaxed state, so many excellent views of spectacular birds) made this a very special holiday.
I enjoyed the mixture of wildlife, culture and scenery. I wish I had known about the extension to Lalibela.
This was the best Naturetrek trip I have been on. I am not a birder and sometimes the participants are over obsessive and less tolerant of those who have a more general interest. I think this worked because Marcus was a very good leader who made you feel included. He also had a good synergy with a local guide who was exceptional.
The sheer diversity of wildlife and scenery and the insights I got into a very different culture and spending time with the Gelada's was a memorable experience.
Abiy and Marcus made an excellent team.
I enjoyed the freedom to get out of the vehicle and walk to see birds and mammals - something one can't do on most African safaris. It also allowed me to look in detail at the flora, again not usually possible on African safaris. The freedom to choose whether to search for a particular bird or to study flora or whatever was good.
Mr & Mrs A.
Thanks for one of the finest wildlife holidays ever!
Itinerary - route outstanding (coverage/variety/balance/pace), leader - Eric's enthusiasm, preparation and selflessness outstanding and Ethiopia - landscape, people, culture.
Overall a very enjoyable trip with a flexible leader and good company. The hotel was well positioned and offered comfortable room offering fine views.
The drivers were excellent and very safe, the trek was superb, the chefs provided excellent meals, the staff were very efficient, and the Bishangari Lodge was memorable and an outstanding way to finish the holiday…
Dan was an excellent leader and we greatly appreciated his constant helpfulness and organisational abilities as well as his passionate interest in the wildlife. The hotels were well chosen especially the Bishangari Lodge which was a wonderful experience.