Ethiopia. Ethiopia: Land of Legends

Extend Your Stay

Contact our Ethiopia Program Director for extension options to the Bale Mountains, Sanetti Plateau, Harar, the Omo Valley or other destinations in Eastern Africa.

Bale Mountains Explorer - 6 days

Head South into Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, a chain of unique lakes and soaring mountains and home to an impressive variety of bird species as well as Africa’s the rare Ethiopian wolf. The Bale Mountain massif, an impressive National Park that ranges from 4,950 to 14,445 feet above sea level. Over 60 mammal species and 260 bird species have been recorded in the park. Explore the Afro-alpine moorland of the Sanetti Plateau with excellent opportunities to spot the Ethiopian Wolf. Accommodations throughout range from comfortable lake side hotels to mountain eco-lodges. 

2015 Pricing: $3225 per person, sharing double occupancy

Day 1: Addis Ababa to Lake Langano

In the morning we depart Addis Ababa for our journey south through the Rift Valley, making our way to Lake Langano for our stay at the well-situated Sabana Beach Hotel on the shores of the lake, with views of the 4,000m Arsi Mountains in the background. An evening excursion around the hotel may well produce Grayish and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, African Scops-Owl, Northern White-faced Owl and Freckled Nightjar. The Sabana Beach Hotel is a comfortable lodge set on the cliffs overlooking Lake Langano. Bungalows with en suite bathrooms – with hot showers --  feature local materials and art, private verandas overlooking the lake and comfortable beds. Both Ethiopian and international cuisine is served in the unique, thatched restaurant with panoramic views of the lake. A lake-front bar is also available on the beach. Overnight at the Sabana Beach Hotel or upgrade to the more removed and tranquil eco-retreat of Bishangari Hotel*. [BLD]

*Upgrade cost of $185 per person

Day 2: bale Mountains

The three neighboring lakes in the central Ethiopian Rift Valley could not be more different from each other. The medium depth reddish-brown Lake Langano, shallow, brackish Abijatta, and the extremely deep, blue Shalla, once a volcanic crater and now home to several bubbling sulfuric hot springs, are all superb birding localities. Explore the lake shores and surrounding woodlands of all three lakes, and hope to find Somali Ostrich, huge flocks of Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Northern Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Cape Teal, Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Imperial and Long-crested Eagle, Gray Kestrel, the rare Clapperton’s Francolin.

Depart after breakfast to continue your expedition 3-4 hours to the Bale Mountains, passing through the Dragon’s Pass before reaching the park headquarters in Dinsho. At the park headquarters in Dinsho head out with a local guide to stretch your legs and search the trails for the colorful Chestnut-naped Francolin, Ground scraper Thrush (of the distinctive, endemic race simensis), the secretive Abyssinian Ground-Thrush, vocal Abyssinian Catbird, and the endemic White-backed Black-Tit. You may also see a variety of mammals, including Mountain Nyala- now entirely restricted to the Bale Mountain massif, Menelik’s Bushbuck and Warthog, unusual at this high altitude. The day’s travel is not over yet though, from Dinsho you’ll make your way to the town of Goba, over the Sanetti plateau and finally to the lodge which is located 6km south of the village of Rira, the only settlement on the road. Arrive at your home away from home for the next three nights, the newly constructed Bale Mountain Lodge in a private wilderness concession. Overnight at Bale Mountain Lodge. [BLD]

Day 3: Bale Mountain Lodge and Environs

Spend the day with local guides of the Bale Mountain Lodge, exploring this unique area and getting a better understanding of the local flora and fauna as well as the conservation and research efforts currently under way. Supported by the AWF – Bale Mountain Lodge is the first to be granted a private concession within an Ethiopian National Park. Owned and operated by Guy Levene and his wife Yvonne their mission is to assist with the husbandry of this magnificent and genuinely unique National Park through running an ethical, conservation related company with wider aims to provide employment and opportunity for rural Ethiopians. They believe that they can make a difference by raising the standards of service available in Ethiopia, highlighting the numbers of rare endemic species within the park and by reducing man's negative impact upon the environment through reducing illegal grazing, deforestation and cultivation. To that end they've built a research building and already have hosted teams from Utah and Oslo Universities studying Birds and the rare Bale Monkey.  They have close links to Mississippi University through the study of reptiles (a tiny chameleon is only found within 10 km of the lodge) and they have a team from Munich coming to look at the Lepidoptera who, in their first trip, have discovered 22 new species of moth and butterflies in this highland 'island'.  

Their onsite naturalist and guide, James, is a delightful Kenyan who brings nature to life and who has a great manner.  A mountain stream runs through the property and there are a couple of waterfalls nearby (waist deep swim for adults if you can take the bracing cold temperatures). A massive variety of wildlife on show and they routinely have wart hogs, monkeys and baboons around the clearings.  In addition to a tour around the premises, it’s possible to visit the nearby village of Rira to experience the local life ways of this nearby village. Overnight at Bale Mountain Lodge. [BLD]

Day 4: Sanetti Plateau

Today will be a day of great contrasts with amazing scenery and birding. depart early, and ascend the Bale massif onto the Sanetti Plateau, which is between 3800m and 4377m above sea level. As we ascend we will enter a Tid or Juniper forest zone, before arriving the “Afro-alpine moorland”, characterized by Jibrra or Giant Lobelias, which tower like monolithic giants over the rich tussock grasslands and extensive cushions of yellow Everlasting flowers. This site is an Important Bird Area of immense importance, supporting seven globally threatened species and nearly all of Ethiopia’s Highland biome species. This plateau holds the only Afro-tropical breeding populations of Ruddy Shelduck, Golden Eagle and Red-billed Chough.

The grasslands are estimated to support an incredible biomass of 4,000kg of rodents per hectare. This obviously attracts an array of raptors and we should see Steppe and Golden Eagle, Augur Buzzard and elegant Pallid Harriers courting over this green sea. They share this abundant food source with the plateau’s most celebrated resident, the Ethiopian or Simien Wolf, crowned with the unenviable title of “the world’s rarest canid.” Watching these vibrantly colored animals, most closely related to the European Timber Wolf, exhibiting their hunting prowess while pouncing on Giant Mole-rats (another endemic to the Sanetti Plateau), is surely among Africa’s most unique wildlife experiences. Enjoy a day full of excellent photographic opportunities in this pristine montane wonderland.

Day 5: Yirgalem

After breakfast, depart for Yirgalem. Either Ascend back over the Sanetti Plateau with more opportunities to see the Ethiopian wolf or perhaps take the southern route which travels around the Harenna Forest. This remarkable forest is the largest intact forest block in Ethiopia and the largest protected Afro-alpine forest on the continent. Arrive at a quite coffee plantation in Yirgalem and overnight at the Aregash Lodge. [BLD]

Day 6: lake Awassa / Addis Ababa and Departure

This morning explore fish market in Awassa before continuing on to Addis Ababa. End of Services. 

Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Extension: 3 nights / 4 days

Walk in the footsteps of legendary biologist Dian Fossey in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.  Escorted by our team of expert guides and native trackers, you bushwhack through the thick vegetation and up steep slopes in search of a family of wild mountain gorillas. Choose either two full days of gorilla tracking or one day with the gorillas and another day trekking to see Golden Monkeys. 

Pricing: From $1,690-$4,690 

Prices are per person, depending on group size, season and accommodation level. Additional permit costs of  $1,500 per person per day for gorilla trekking and $100 per person per day golden monkey trekking. Must be 15 years or older to participate in trekking to see the Mountain Gorillas. 

Day 1: Kigali / Virunga Mountains

Touch down at the Kigali Airport where our local representative greets you. Transfer to overnight at the Kigali Serena . [D]

Day 2: Kigali and the Virunga Mountains

This morning we have the opportunity to see local life in Kigali. With your local guide, experience the real life of Rwandans as you’re introduced into this bustling multi-cultural commercial suburb with a typical African flair. Visit a local hair salon, a West Africa Tailor, the Muslim quarter, and the local market where you’ll procure supplies to cook and eat a traditional Rwandan meal in a local home.

After your tasty self made lunch depart Kigali for a scenic drive approximately two hours on a paved road to town of Kinigi at the base of the Virunga Mountains.  Stunning vistas greet you as the road winds its way over hills and through valleys. Rwanda is known as ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’ for a reason!  Spend the next few nights at Five Volcanoes Lodge (classic) or Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (luxury), just 15 minutes away from the entrance to the park. [BLD]

Day 3: Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park

The Virunga Mountains in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo are home to the world’s population of mountain gorillas. Some of the gorilla families have been habituated to human presence, and it is possible to visit them in their natural habitat within the forest. 

Take a short drive to Park Headquarters and meet with local guides and trackers who present an orientation about gorilla tracking ethics. It is very important that under no circumstances are the gorillas to be touched by humans or visited by anyone with a cold or illness. This is to protect the animals from communicable diseases to which they are very susceptible. Spend two days in the Volcanoes National Park on full day treks to view two different families of mountain gorillas. The search, with experienced trackers leading the way, can take up to eight hours although the gorillas are usually found after two to four hours. Some hiking areas lie at altitudes above 7,500 feet over rough and muddy terrain. The hike can be physically demanding, but the forest and surrounding scenery are beautiful. 

Once the gorillas are spotted the encounter is a most profound natural history experience. Picnic lunches are provided and it is important to take plenty of water. Cameras set for low light conditions are recommended. It can rain at a few minutes notice, hence water proof clothing is necessary, also zip lock bags for cameras and memory cards. Return to the lodge to share stories and enjoy dinner. Overnight at

Five Volcanoes Lodge (classic) or Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (luxury). [BLD]

Day 4: Gorilla or Golden Monkey Trekking / Return to Kigali and departure

Today you will once again visit the Virunga Mountains either in search of Mountain Gorillas or in search of Golden Monkeys*. There is a fully habituated group of the beautiful primates in the park and this is one of the only places in Africa where this activity is offered. This afternoon return by land approximately 2 hours to the Kigali International Airport for departure. [BL]

Note: Permits for Gorillas or Golden Monkeys will need to be secured prior to arrival. Please discuss these options with the program director. 

Classic Accommodations:

Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel

Well located in Kinigi for gorilla trekking with excellent service, volcano views and a relaxing atmosphere. 

Luxury Accommodations:

Kigali Serena 

Located on one of Kigali's most charming boulevards in Rwanda, the five-star Kigali Serena Hotel offers luxury and elegant Rwandese décor.

Sabinyo Silverback Lodge

The luxury accommodation on our Rwanda Extension, Sabinyo Silverback Lodge is just minutes from Volcanoes National Park and boasts seven large cottages with huge bathtubs for soaking away a day of trekking in the bush.

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""We loved this trip: the singular personal encounters while in Addis; the amazing and unexpected grandeur of the mountains; the fun of our guide; the friendly rural people; the gorgeous rural scenery with its population of hard-working folk; the view of other lives so far removed from our own."" - Alice Byers, WA