Expert-Led Group Tour

Ethiopia Group Tour - Christian Kingdoms

Explore the Northern circuit of Ethiopia with William Taylor

13 days

from £3,995pp
  • Discover the unique magnificence of Lalibela's incredible rock-hewn churches
  • Marvel at the soaring stelae of Axum, standing upon forgotten tombs.
  • Wander the vast royal palaces of Gondar, once the seat of an empire
  • Explore the lonely island monasteries that dot the serene Lake Tana

Journey to the northern highlands of Ethiopia, where the rich architectural heritage of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church illuminates a history packed with religious fervour, powerful empires and charismatic characters.

Begin with the remarkable collections of the museums of Addis Ababa, before venturing on towards Axum, seat of the mighty Axumite Empire and famed for its towering stelae. Continue to the rock-cut churches of Lalibela, alive with pilgrims and capable of inspiring awe among the faithful and faithless alike. Travel to the castles of the Empire of Gondar, before finally exploring the isolated treasure-rich monasteries of the vast Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. Experience first-hand the unsurpassed scenery, undiluted culture and unspoilt treasures that make up this fascinating region.

Why should I travel to Ethiopia?

Visiting the magnificent rock churches of Lalibela, the people of Ethiopia are incredibly welcoming, the 1,700-year-old monolithic stelae in Axum, boat trip on Lake Tana visiting more remote churches,

Why should I join this group tour?

Our group tour to Ethiopia is accompanied by William Taylor, an Anglican priest and writer/broadcaster on the Islamic world and orthodox churches. He will be joined by local guide Assefa who will give an insight from an Ethiopian side. Small group with a maximum of 15 people.

Is this group tour suitable for solo travellers?

Our group tours are perfect for solo travellers, as travelling as part of an organised group in faraway places does provide security and peace of mind. We handle all of the arrangements for you and there will be a local tour guide on hand throughout to provide advice and help if needed, as well as the expertise of a Tour Lecturer.

If you are willing to share, we will always do our best to match you up with another solo traveller of the same sex so that you do not have to pay for a single room.

If you would prefer the privacy of your own room and would like this guaranteed, then the single room price supplement will apply.

What is the accommodation like?

Most of the hotel accommodation in Ethiopia falls into the two or three star category. Some hotels are better and some are a bit worse, but all offer en-suite western facilities and reasonable food. Wherever possible, we try to ensure that you will be accommodated in the highest available standard of hotel and room in a particular area on your trip.

How fit should I be to enjoy this tour?

General overall fitness is required. There is a lot of walking however at a leisurely pace with some stairs. We would suggest that you make sure you bring a comfortable pair if walking shoes, that are easy to take on and off as you will be required to remove your shoes when going into churches.

What is the food like in Ethiopia?

Injera, which is a sour tasting bread, looking a bit like a pancake is the staple diet in Ethiopia. This is eaten together with meat or a vegetarian based stew by hand. Ethiopian food tends to be hot and spicy however milder dishes can of course be made. Meals in hotels can lack variety.

What will the weather be like?

Warm sunny days with cooler nights. As it will be before the rains the landscapes will be dusty and dry.

Departing on:
  • 15th October 2017

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

DEPART UKARRIVE UKPrice Excluding Flights (£)Flight cost fromSingle SupplementTour LecturerStatus 
15th Oct 2017 27th Oct 2017 £ 3,995 £ 725 £ 425 William Taylor Available
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • 10 Breakfasts, 10 Lunches and 11 dinners
  • 2 liters of water every day per person
  • Accompanied by an English speaking guide throughout
  • Accompanied by tour Expert William Taylor in Ethiopia
  • All transportation by comfortable vehicle throughout
  • Boat crossing on Lake Tana
  • Entrance to all sites mentioned
  • Government Tax and service charge
  • Gratuities for the local guide, driver and porters only
  • Hotel accommodation as stated
  • Internal flights
  • Non alcoholic drinks during meals

what is excluded

  • Additional meals
  • Alcholic drinks
  • Insurance
  • International Flights
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Lunch on day 2
  • Visas


Itinerary at a glance

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Day 2

William Taylor will meet the group at the hotel prior to the afternoon visit to Mount Entoto

Half Day Visit to Mount Entoto
After settling in, join your guide to explore Mount Entoto, the highest peak overlooking Addis Ababa. This eucalyptus-covered mountainside is the site that King Menelik chose to build his palace when he founded Addis Ababa.

Parts of the King's mud palace have been restored, whilst a small museum next to the Church of Bet Maryam exhibits a variety of artefacts - including traditional and religious costumes - from the time of King Menelik.

Afterwards, visit the church of Archangel Raguel, which is notable for its colourful Christian murals. Have the chance to get a glimpse of the iconography and practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

Meaning 'New Flower' in Amharic, the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa contrasts strongly with preconceptions of this supposedly drought-ridden and barren country. Sitting on the temperate Abyssinian Plateau, the city's balmy climate makes it more tropical than desert-like.
A booming centre of commerce, Addis Ababa - often known merely as 'Addis' - is a city that seems to be constantly on the move.
Whilst it is full of culture, history and fine gastronomy, the city is also teeming with people which can at times seem overwhelming, but the more time spent exploring, the more the city will win you over.

You will be staying at Capital Hotel, Full board

Day 3

Full day City Tour of Addis Ababa
Spend the day exploring Addis Ababa, beginning with the city's impressive National Archaeological Museum. Housing a large collection of prehistoric finds, this fascinating museum is best known for its world famous 1.2 million-year-old skeleton, nicknamed 'Lucy'.
Afterwards, head to the Institute of Ethiopian Studies to examine the variety of ethnographic collections housed here. Exhibiting artefacts from ethnic groups all over Ethiopia, this institute displays religious icons dating back 700 years.
There is also the chance to visit the Holy Trinity Church and Menelik's Mausoleum, which are the respective resting places for the families of Emperors Haile Selassie and Menelik. The church showcases an array of beautiful stained glass windows depicting biblical stories, whilst its graveyard is dotted with graves of fallen patriots. You will also have the chance to drive to Entoto Mountain, with panoramic views across the city, before taking time to explore the Merkato - the largest open air market in Africa.

You will be staying at Capital Hotel, Full board

Day 4

Fly Addis Ababa to Axum

Walking tour of Axum
After check-in, join your guide on a walk through Axum's fascinating Stelae Park, beginning at the earliest sites and moving forward through time. Examine the park's towering 'stelae' - ornately carved stone obelisks that were erected in the third and fourth centuries. The largest of these is the 24-metre-high 'Obelisk of Axum'.

En route, visit the trilingual stela of King Ezana and Mai Shum, the reputed bathing place of the Queen of Sheba.

Beneath the ground, explore the fascinating tombs that date from the same period. Despite being looted centuries ago, these tombs remain packed with secrets. The unique Tomb of Remhai is the undoubted highlight and contains an intriguing false stone door. Finish with a visit to the site's museum, with exhibits finds from within the stone tombs.

Axum is Ethiopia's most ancient capital and the holiest city of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Huge stone stelae, thought to be grave markers, tower over small, stone churches and ancient king's tombs, while biblical legends of Queen Sheba, King Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant are very much part of this town's fascinating story.

The Royal Tombs and Mary of Zion Church
In the afternoon, explore the elaborate royal tombs of King Kaleb and his son, King Gebre Meskel. Built in the sixth century, these sophisticated underground chambers are walled by massive, exact-fitting granite blocks.

Drive on to the modern Mary of Zion Church, built on the site of Axum's first Christian church. An incredibly holy place for Ethiopian Christians, it is said the location was chosen by God. Nearby, stands the chapel in which the Ark of the Covenant is allegedly housed.

Men can also visit the site's 17th century church, which is the holiest church in Ethiopia and is decorated with beautiful frescoes. (Unfortunately, women are not permitted to enter.)

You will be staying at Yeha Hotel, Full board

Day 5

Visit Adwa and Yeha
Depart Axum through impressive mountain landscape to the site of Yeha, famous as the birthplace of the country's earliest known civilisation. Yeha contains a stunning array of ancient ruins, the most striking building is a 2,500-year-old Sabaean temple, whose architecture has strong Yemeni influences. Built from huge inscribed sandstone blocks, the temple's 12-metre-high walls are still standing. Nearby, a small museum houses Judaic relics and other artefacts that have been discovered.
Return to Adwa, famous for the Ethiopians' defeat of the Italians here in 1896.
Visit the command post used by Italian forces during World War II and explore the 17th century 'Forto', built by Portuguese Jesuits during their conflict with Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.

Visit to Salt Inscription and Sheba's Palace
After lunch, continue to the nearby Salt Inscription which is a large slab of sculpted rock covered in trilingual inscriptions. Created in the fourth century, the stone documents events in the life of King Ezana, using the ancient languages of Sabaean, Ge'ez and Greek.

Continue on to the crude pit-tomb of King Bazen, before visiting the impressive Dungur ruins. Fabled to be the Palace of Queen Sheba, historians prefer the theory that this excavated complex was a nobleman's mansion. Thought to have been built around the sixth century AD, the building's layout and flagstone floors are still visible.

You will be staying at Yeha Hotel, Full board

Day 6

Fly Axum to Lalibela

Afternoon Visit to Northern Group Churches and Bet Giyorgis
Spend the afternoon exploring the five rock-hewn churches that make up Lalibela's northern group.

Located to the north of River Jordan, the churches within this cluster are connected by a network of trenches and tunnels. The highlight is undoubtedly the gigantic Bet Medhane Alem, which resembles a Hellenic temple and is said to be the largest church of its type in the world.

Finish with a visit the outlying Bet Giyorgis, arguably Lalibela's most beautiful church. Carved into the shape of Greek cross and perfectly preserved, this masterpiece is best appreciated in the late afternoon sunlight.

Ethiopia's second holiest town, after Axum, Lalibela contains the most stunning Christian architecture in Africa. Often referred to as 'New Jerusalem' and 'The Eighth Wonder of the World', the town's eleven beautiful rock-cut churches draw pilgrims from all over the country.

Built during the 12th and 13th century, these religious monoliths are carved from the red volcanic rock. Unique for having been cut into living stone, their construction required the removal of vast quantities of rock.

A small rural town, Lalibela sits in the hills of the Amhara region and affords views over vast mountain landscapes. Cobblestone streets and a lack of cars make Lalibela a relaxingly peaceful place.

You will be staying at Mountain View Hotel, Full board

Day 7

Spend Half a Day at Yemrehanna Kristos
Travel to the remote church of Yemrehanna Kristos, sitting within a vast cavern in the side of Mount Abuna Yosef. Constructed in Axumite style, this medieval church uses a combination of alternating layers of granite and wood, covered with distinctive white gypsum.

Built by its namesake, King Yemrehanna Kristos, the church is exquisitely preserved and incorporates a number of distinctive architectural features, such as its cruciform carved windows and coffer ceiling.

A memorable and eerie place, the cave behind the church is reputed to contain the remains of as many as 10,000 pilgrims who travelled here to die. A visible jumble of assorted skeletons provides macabre proof to back-up this unlikely tale. There maybe some walking involved as close access to the church is not always guaranteed.

Half Day Visit to the Southern Churches
After lunch at the hotel, set out again exploring the five rock-hewn churches that make up Lalibela's southern group. Cut deep into the rock on the other side of the River Jordan, tunnels join this group of churches to both the northern group and Bet Giyorgis.

Unlike the northern group, a number of these buildings are thought to originally have been built for another purpose. Experts believe that they include a former royal chapel, prison and royal palace.

You will be staying at Mountain View Hotel, Full board

Day 8

Fly Lalibela to Gondar

You will be staying at Goha Hotel, Full board

Day 9

Gondar sights
Spend the day visiting Gondar's sites. Containing six castles, this fascinating complex is littered with tunnels and raised walkways. The most impressive of the buildings is undoubtedly the 17th century Fasilidas' Castle, which exhibits Portuguese, Axumite and Indian influences.

Afterwards, visit the peaceful Bathing Pool of Fasilidas, before exploring the elaborately decorated Debre Birhan Selassie Church. Built in the 17th century, this beautiful building owes its survival to an angry swarm of bees, which chased off Sudanese invaders in the 19th century. One of the most beautiful churches in the country, its cherub-covered ceiling murals are a highlight.

Prepare for an early departure tomorrow.

Founded by Emperor Fasilides around 1635, Gondar was once the imperial capital of Ethiopia and a proud city of medieval castles, palaces and churches. Historical religious quarters, the emperor's Royal Enclosure and reminders of the Italian occupation are also highlights of this city.

A trip to Gondar is essential to understanding Ethiopia's fascinating history.

You will be staying at Goha Hotel, Full board

Day 10

Travel by Boat to Bahir Dar

Depart Gondar early and drive to the nearby town of Gorgora, which lies on the northern banks of Lake Tana.

The source of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana is Ethiopia's largest body of water. Fringed with riverine woodland, the lake hosts a diverse range of bird life.

Continue by boat and set off across the lake towards Bahir Dar, which lies on the southern banks of the lake. En route, visit five of the monasteries located on individual islands and the Zenge Peninsula.

Remote island monasteries dot the lake and contain remains of Ethiopian emperors, as well as religious treasures. The grandest monastery is the cathedral-like Ura Kidane Mihret, which houses a wonderful treasury.

Sitting on Lake Tana's southern shore, the balmy tropical city of Bahir Dar has earned the unusual moniker 'The Ethiopian Riviera'. Super yachts and celebrities are conspicuous only in their absence, but palm trees and sparkling blue waters mean that the city is not short on seaside - or lakeside charm.

A peaceful city, particularly by Africa's hectic standards, Bahir Dar is ringed by sites of national importance. The source of the Blue Nile lies nearby and treasured religious sites dot the islands of Lake Tana, whilst various temporary Ethiopian capitals were established within the vicinity of the city.

You will be staying at Avanti Blue Nile Resort, Full board

Day 11

Visit to Blue Nile Falls
A morning excursion to see the Blue Nile Falls via the Portuguese bridge (Agamm Dildi) built in 1620. The nearby hydroelectric plant has diverted much of the water from the falls, so the strength and volume of the waterfall varies considerably depending on the time of year.

Continuing on after the viewpoint, walk along the banks of the Nile and then cross the river by "tankwa" or ferry before arriving at the Tis Abbay Monastery. Return to your hotel. The afternoon at leisure.

You will be staying at Avanti Blue Nile Resort, Full board

Day 12

Fly Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa

Day at Leisure with Room
Spend the remainder of the day at leisure at the Gion Hotel. Have a day room at your disposal, in order to relax and freshen up.

In the evening, meet up for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant before your flight home.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Ethiopia

Bridget Cohen, Travel Expert

"Bridget had a great knowledge of the areas being looked at and given I have spent time in both countries, it required someone who completely understood the type of camps preferred."

"Bridget's service was very personal and friendly whilst maintaining a professional manner. All my questions were dealt with promptly and efficiently."

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Illona Cross, Travel Expert

"Illona was quite simply brilliant. She listened and carefully noted what we thought we wanted, made suggestions and came up with an itinerary which suited us down to the ground."

"Excellent personal service; well-informed local knowledge; dependable outcome; quality of experience."

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For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Tour Lecturer

William Taylor

William Taylor
William is Chairman of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, an Anglican priest, and writer and broadcaster on the Islamic World and Orthodox Churches. An inveterate traveller, William has lectured and travelled extensively throughout the Caucasus region, Balkans, Middle East and Central Asia. He speaks Syriac, Arabic and Turkish. He has been leading very successful Steppes Travel tours for many years. William’s PhD was on Orthodox Churches in the late Ottoman period, which drew on archival material from the monasteries of the Tur Abdin. His publications include Light from the East, Christians in the Holy Land, Antioch and Canterbury and Narratives of Identity.

Other tours by this lecturer:

Enquire about this Expert Led tour:

Group Size:

Min 6 / Max 15

Tour Expert:

William Taylor

Departure Date (S):

  • 15th October 2017

Moderate Activity - The tour may occasionally involve slightly longer walks, but nothing over 4 hours. The tour will involve visits to a variety of sites throughout the duration of the itinerary and be at a moderate pace.

"William was erudite, amusing and gave us fascinating lectures on the early Church. "


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