Ultimate Road Trip Through Ethiopia Northern Highlands

The Ethiopian Northern Highlands is a range of mountains located in Ethiopia in the African continent’s northeast part. This mass of peaks makes up the most extensive continuous elevation in Africa as summits can reach almost 15,000 feet. As a result of the incredible heights and vast size, the Ethiopian Northern Highlands are also referred to as the Roof of Africa.

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A bulk of the mass of mountains is found in Ethiopia’s northern and central portions, but it stretches northward as far as into Eritrea. The Ethiopian Highlands have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it has the Ras Dashen of the Semien Mountains as its highest point measuring 4,550 meters. 

Here is a guide to the ultimate road trip across this majestic landscape.  

Itinerary and Stops

The entire trip is going to last two weeks (15 days), and that is because of the sheer size of the area and the countless sites to be seen along the way. This guide is going to follow the same clockwise route that has been followed for centuries. 

It starts from the capital city of Addis Ababa, and you get to see spectacular sites like Lake Tana, Tekeze Valley, Blue Nile Gorge, Simien Mountains, and of course, the Limalimo Mountain Range. Along the way, you will get to see and appreciate the ancient history of Ethiopia.

You will enjoy relics of its civilizations, the exotic wildlife, the vibrant culture of the different tribes, energetic religious sites, and of course, the unbeatable cuisine of the natives. If you are ready for this trip of a lifetime, then let us roll!

DAY 1: Start from Capital City of Addis Ababa

This is one of the most famous cities in Africa, and while you are there, visit the National Museum and set your eyes on Lucy, our hominid ancestor who was believed to have roamed the earth 3.2 million years ago. 

From the museum, drive to Mercato, the famed business centre of the city. At Mercato, you can buy practically anything. From the finest coffee (Ethiopia is the home of coffee) to tasty fruit juices and beautiful dishes, you get everything. 

DAY 2: Onward to the Bahirdar Debre Libanos Monastery and the Blue Nile Gorge

Ethiopia is a land of religion, and the Debre Libanos Monastery is a revered one. Pilgrims come from near and far, and from here, you can see the vegetation full of the iconic Gelada baboons. As you move on, you will see the Blue Nile Gorge, one of the biggest gorges in Africa, and it plunges to a kilometer below – a genuinely dizzying sight. 

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DAY 3: Lake Tana Island Religious Sites and the Blue Nile Falls

Lake Tana is a significant feature, and it has serene villages, bird flocks, and you get to see fishers hauling massive Nile perch. The islands of the lake are communities of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith. Some of the churches here are over 500 years old. 

DAY 4: Drive to Gondar

Hit the road to Gondar and enjoy this city full of beautiful medieval-era stone castles. The Debrebirhan Selassie is one of the most attractive sites you have to visit whenever you are in Gondar before you ride out to the Simien Mountains.

DAY 5 and 6: Ride Out to the Simien Mountains

With a range that can get up to 4450 meters, the Simien Mountain National Park is stunningly beautiful. It is here that you are going to find the most beloved animals in Ethiopia. These are the Simien wolf, the Gelada baboon, and the Walia ibex. About 50 species of birds are also all over the mountains, so this is ideal for bird watchers. 

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As there is a lot for you to explore in the Simien Mountains, you will spend two days there on your trip. It is nice if you can do your excursion with one of the park guides. 

DAY 7: Storm the Tekeze Valley and Limalimo Mountains

Once again, hit the road and drive across the majestic ranges, some of the highest in Africa, with peaks towering over 4,000 meters. You are going to be left speechless with the mind-blowing valleys, gigantic summits that pierce the clouds, cliffs that seem to defy gravity, and countless escarpments. Driving through these ranges will make anyone privy to the full splendor of nature. 

DAY 8: Step Into the Ancient Kingdom of Axum

In the time antiquity, Axum was one of the most powerful kingdoms on the planet. Prominent figures from Axum include the biblical Queen of Sheba, Saint Mary Zion, Ark of the Covenant, and Emperor Menelik I. You can explore the ancient city of Axum itself and tour Adwa, the legendary battlefield where the Ethiopians battled foreign forces to the last. 

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DAY 9 and 10: Explore the Churches of Tigray

As you drive into Tigray, you will instantly notice the abundance of old churches covered with splendid paintings and attractive murals alongside columns with very intricate designs. Abune Yemata is one of the most prominent churches in this region, and it belongs to the set of buildings known as the ‘Rock Churches, ‘ which date back to over 1,000 years old and were carved out of the solid rock. 

DAY 11: Reach Lalibela driving through Sekota

Step on the gas and head in the direction of Lalibela, where you will come across several local communities and, once again, towering mountain ranges. You can stop at any local communities and dance with them – Ethiopians love their music.

DAY 12 and 13: Explore the Churches of Lalibela

Many tourists are pleasantly shocked when they realize that Ethiopia has the largest UNESCO World Heritage sites on the continent. You get to explore the eleven churches in the city, and you will be amazed by the complexity of their design, size, and even the architecture. There is a massive maze of tunnels and underground passages that link the churches together, and you genuinely need to appreciate it. There are so many churches for you to visit, so 48 hours will be required. 

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DAY 14: Hit the Road and Onward to Dessie

Here, you will be taken aback by the grandeur of Lake Hayk. The entire area is teeming with flora and fauna, and you can take time to relax and have some local Ethiopian dishes. 

DAY 15: Return to Addis Ababa

This is the last day of your itinerary, and you will follow the same route on your way back to the capital city of Addis Ababa. On the road, take moments to enjoy the unbeatable sceneries. 

What to Eat

Here are dishes you must try out on your road trip: 

  • Injera: It is a type of flatbread served with all kinds of stews. 
  • Wat: Made with onions, chicken, fish, or beef and taken with potatoes
  • Kitfo: Made with shredded beef and lots of spices. 
  • Ayibe: It is a blend of cheese and countless spices. 

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