Local with a gun at Shalla National Park

Itinerary Ethiopia: Five week northern and southern travel routes

Published: 06 September 2019 Modified: 11 September 2019

Prepare for your trip through Ethiopia with these fantastic itinerary for Ethiopia! It’s is an amazing travel destination in East Africa. To see the whole country, you might need months. So, you have to make some decisions while planning your trip. Lot’s of travelers pick either the North or the South. Nowadays, there are airports almost everywhere. Which makes it possible to see a lot in a short time. Although, I love to travel by bus. In this article we share two routes with you. A three-week route through the North and two weeks in the South. Of course, it is possible to combine the two routes with each other. It is possible to explore most of the main hotspots and important destinations of the country in five weeks. 

Route Northern Ethiopia – 3 weeks 

The North of Ethiopia is known as the most historical part of the country. You can find 17th century castles in Gondar, the famous rock churches of Lalibela and the popular destination Bahir Dar. The different landscapes make it a perfect destination for both culture as nature lovers. 

Day 1 & 2 – Start your trip in the capital city Addis Ababa 

The start of your trip is in the capital city Addis Ababa. Since this is the place where your plane will land. Fun to visit are, The National museum and the holy trinity cathedral. Or emerge yourself in the chaos at the Merkato, the biggest market in Africa. 

Merkato in Addis Ababa

Day 3 – Travel to Bahir Dar 

After a full day of fun in Addis, it is time to travel to your next destination on the northern itinerary Ethiopia: Bahir Dar. Most fun way is with the bus, since the landscapes are amazing. You will pass the 1000 meter deep gorge of the Blue Nile. Accommodate around nine hours for this trip. 

Blue Nile Gorge, Ethiopia

Day 4 – Bahir Dar 

Bahir Dar is where the Blue Nile originate. The big waterfall is beautiful to visit. Take a boat trip on the biggest lake in Ethiopia, Lake Tana. Or relax on one of the many terraces at the lake, and with some luck, spot some hippos. 

Day 5 – Traveling to Gondar

Gondar is located just 180 km away from Bahir Dar and is easy to reach by bus. This will take around three hours. And yet again, with amazing views. In the afternoon you can explore the city and see the sunset at Ghoa Hotel

Day 6 – Gondar

Gondar is a very popular destination in Ethiopia, and my hometown! The 17th century castles are amazing to visit. These castles are built by emperor Fasilada and his sons. Each emperor built their own castle. It is also fun to explore Arada, the local market. 

Castle near Gondar

Days 7 to 9 – The majestic Simien mountains 

I went for five days to the Simien, but wanted to stay much longer. The Simien mountains are absolutely amazing. A place to never forget. You can take a day trip from Gondar, or tours up to 14 days. You are obligated to hire a guide. A tour guide is easy to arrange during your stay in Gondar. 

Suzan at the Mimien Mountains
Monkeys in Ethiopia. Simien Mountains

Day 10 – Travel to Axum 

In about eight hours, you drive through the Simien mountains towards Axum. The road is amazing. Slowly the landscapes are changing. From mountains, to deserts with camels; definitely one of the highlights of the northern itinerary Ethiopia

Day 11 – Axum 

Axum is known for its 2000 years old obelisks, ruins and graves. It’s believed that the “Arc of the Covenant” is in Axum, at the St. Mary of Zion church. He is well protected by a priest. It is not allowed to enter the room. But you can visit the church or the museum next door. At the museum it becomes, once again, clear how rich the church is. Most of the museum is completely gold! One full day is enough to visit all the main sites in Axum.

Day 12 – Travel to Mekele, while visiting the Tigre rock churches

On the way to Mekele you will pass the Tigre rock churches. If you have a private driver or tour, you can stop at different sites to visit the churches. One of the churches is the oldest monastery in Ethiopia, called Debre Libanos. 

 Day 13 – Mekele 

Mekele is one of the most developed cities in Ethiopia. Which makes it a good place to relax. Visit the market or enjoy a fresh juice on a terrace. Pretty nice to be in Mekele after the rough nature from the days before. 

Days 14 to 17 – Dallol and the Danakyl depression 

As said before, Ethiopia has many different landscapes. Dallol and the Danakyl depression are amazing to see. An experience to never forget. 

Day 18 – Travel to Lalibela

It will take up to ten hours to reach Lalibela by bus. You can also opt for a plane from Mekele to Lalibela. Ethiopian airlines flies multiple times per day between the two cities. 

Locals in Lalibella

Day 19 & 20 – The rock hew churches of Lalibela 

To visit the rock hewn churches of Lalibela is special. You feel so small standing next to these majestic churches. They are beautiful to see. The people in the surrounding area are so sweet. If you arrange a local tour guide, you will have the time of your life. Some families will invite you for different ceremonies. Without a local guide this won’t be possible, since you don’t speak the language. The entrée pass is valid for two days. 

Day 21 – Back to Addis

Lalibela to Addis is only a one-hour flight. Of course, you can take a bus as well. These will take up to 10 hours. 

Itinerary Ethiopia: South – 2 weeks

The biggest concentration of tribes of Africa are living in Ethiopia. These tribes mainly life in the South of the country. The South is much greener compared to the North and there is much more wildlife. The South of Ethiopia is perfect for nature and adventure lovers. 

Day 1 – Addis Ababa 

Your arrival will be in Addis Ababa. From here, you can easily travel to different places within Ethiopia. Busses leave early morning to different cities like Bahir Dar, Gondar and Hawassa. You can catch a bus at the Meskel square. They are pretty luxurious and you have to buy at ticket at one of the ticket offices around Meskel square. 

Day 2 & 3 – Debre Zeyit 

Debre Zeyit is a city near to Addis. You can easily reach this city with a regular taxi or the public transport. There is a highway which will take you to Debre Zeyit in about 1,5 hour. Debre Zeyit is known for the volcanic crater lakes, which you can visit. Nowadays there are many lodges around the lake. You will have an amazing time here, it is so beautiful out there. Babogaya Lake viewpoint is one of the best lodges. Cheaper than most of the other lodges and has good quality rooms. Your straight at the lake, with amazing views. 

Volcanic lakes near Debre Zeyit
Volcanic lake in Ethiopia
Lake in Ethiopia. Ethiopia route

Days 4 to 6 Abijata – Shalla National park 

There are different tour companies who offer three-day trips to Shalla National Park. You will drive from Debre Zeyit to Hawassa. On the way you visit different lakes and parks where you can see 10.000 flamingos. The ultimate destination for wildlife lovers. 

Local with a gun at Shalla National Park

Day 7 & 8 – Hawassa

Next on the route Ethiopia is Hawassa. Hawassa is a city full of wildlife and nature. It’s a fun city for biking.

Read all about Hawassa!

Day 9 – Yergalem 

In about three hours, you can drive from Hawassa to Yergalem. Suddenly your surrounded by huge coffee and banana plantations. In the evening it is possible to feed hyenas during a special coffee ceremony.

Read more about Yergalem

Day 10 – Traveling to Arba Minch 

Arba Minch is one of the southern cities of Ethiopia. The city itself may not be that great, the surrounding nature is. You can take a boat trip on Lake Chamo to see the biggest crocodiles in the world. Success is guaranteed.

Days 11 to 13 – Visit the tribes 

On the southern route Ethiopia most of the indigenous tribes can be found. You can visit these tribes with a tour guide. These tribes don’t live around the corner of each other, so there is lots of traveling involved. It is wise not to plan too much in one day, so you can really enjoy the experience. 

Huts of an Ethiopian tribe
Ethiopian tribe

Day 14 – Back to Addis Ababa 

The easiest way to get to Addis is by airplane. In about 1,5 hour you fly from Arba Minch to Addis Ababa. 

The destinations in this blog are considered the highlights. Of course, there is so much more to do and see. Like the old Muslim city Harar, where hyenas live on the streets. Or you can take a train from Addis to Djibouti. An amazing trip, which is high on my bucket list. 

Suzan - Hi! I am a Dutchie, who lives in Ethiopia. I love to travel the world and meet new people. It is so much fun to visit exotic places, rough jungles and beautiful old cities. Via Travelaar I have the chance to share all my amazing experiences with you. If you want to follow my own journey, see my Instagram: @gateb91