Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Somaliland and Eritrea Combo Tour
YPT will take you on the African adventure of a lifetime this spring
Starting in Ethiopia, we will venture to the Danakil Depression, one of the most extreme climates found on Earth. We’ll hang out with the Hamar, Mursi, Karo, Dassench and Ari tribes in the Omo valley, and you’ll have a chance to experience their culture, ceremonies and way of life. We’ll experience Addis, the modern capital of Ethiopia and home to the African Union, and finally and most spectacularly, we’ll head to the small town of Lalibela, home to one of the world’s most magnificent and most sacred sights – the famous churches of Lalibela, eleven rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single block of granite with their roofs at ground level.
After our adventure in Ethiopia end’s we will head to the capital city of Somaliland, Hargeisa; a gateway into the former British protectorate and the self-declared republic of Somaliland. This de-facto state declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991; however, no international organization has recognized its sovereignty.
Still recovering from a brutal civil war, today the area is very safe, and the local people are extremely welcoming and interested in foreign visitors. Somaliland is fundamentally different from the other countries in the region — and almost anywhere else on the planet. We’ll take you to smoke shisha and chew chat with the locals, swim in untouched waters, and visit ancient cave paintings!
To top everything off, we will also be visiting the “North Korea” of Africa, Eritrea. This fascinating country falls well below most travellers’ radars, which makes it a unique and off the beaten track experience. Eritrea boasts a pristine coastline and untouched Red Sea islands as well as some of the best-kept colonial architecture in Africa. On top of all that we’ll take part in the two-day festival to celebrate Eritrea’s independence!
Having been colonized in part by the Turks and Egyptians, Eritrea took on a European flavour with the arrival of the Italians in 1885 during their belated entry in the “scramble for Africa.” The legacies of successive foreign forces, combined with a rich mix of nine local ethnic groups, have created a diverse cultural landscape that offers the best of African, Middle Eastern and European influences.
The Eritrean capital city of Asmara is like a film set from an early Italian movie, with vintage Italian coffee machines and outstanding examples of Art-Deco architecture. Although the country faces numerous hardships, it paradoxically remains one of Africa’s most peaceful, secure, and welcoming destinations.
Contact us now to secure your spot on this once in a lifetime trip!
We use Ethiopian airlines for all our domestic flights. Ethiopian Airlines charges a surcharge for individuals who do not fly into the country with them. As such we have based the tour cost on the basis everyone will be using Ethiopian Airlines to arrive in Addis Ababa for the start of the tour. If you choose another airline, the surcharge of €295 will apply.
Morning arrival and transfer from airport to the hotel.
Full day tour of Addis Ababa, introducing you to the history and culture of Ethiopia.
We’ll include visits to the “Red Terror” Martyrs’ Memorial Museum, Mt. Entoto, the National Museum, Shola Market, Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Tiglachin Monument and more!
We’ll also go on a food tour of Addis, learning about how unique Ethiopian dishes are made, sampling some of the most famous dishes as well as seeing some unique local eateries.
After a full day of sightseeing, we’ll go to dinner, and if you fancy, you can try some of Ethiopia’s famous beers.
Overnight in Addis Ababa.
Tuesday 7th May
Fly from Addis to Mekelle in the morning.
We’ll drive from Mekele to Hamede Ela via Berhale, and you can witness for yourself the Danakil Depression.
We will pass through the small town of Berhale where even now, since there’s no car access, camel caravans stop before they proceed to the northern highlands. En route you’ll see many long camel caravans coming to the salt mine and others going out of the Danakil with their salt loaded camels.
The Danakil Depression is one of the most inhospitable regions of the world, but is nonetheless spectacular, full of eye-catching colours, and sensational sulphur springs. The depression has several points lying more than 100 meters (328 ft) below sea level.
Finally, we’ll head to Dallol to see the sunset before camping overnight in the town of Hamad Rla, a small village of around 500 people.
Overnight in Hamad Ela.
Wednesday 8th May
This morning we’ll drive to Ragad (Asebo), to see the famous salt mines. We’ll see salt being extracted from the ground, before being moulded into large blocks and then loaded onto camels to be transported.
We’ll head back to Dallol and lake Asale and visit the different landscapes formed by volcanic activity. Dallol is one of the lowest places in the world at 116 meters below sea level and is a great way to continue our adventure through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world.
We’ll meet and talk with the local Afar people in the afternoon before driving back to Mekele.
Overnight in Mekele.
Thursday 9th May
Today we’ll drive to Lalibela.
We’ll arrive in the late morning and explore the first group of churches.
After lunch, you’ll have some free time to explore this fascinating town.
Tonight we’ll head to the famous Ben Ababa for dinner, where a spectacular view and sunset await us. Perched on the edge of a ridge, the building itself is indescribable, and the menu boasts an exciting blend of Ethiopian and Scottish food you never thought possible.
Overnight in Lalibela.
Friday 10th May
After an early breakfast, we’ll visit the second cluster of churches with our local guide.
We then fly to Addis before continuing our journey on to Jinka.
In Jinka we’ll drop our bags off at the hotel before visiting the Southern Omo Research Centre, a museum specializing in the differences and history of the traditional tribal groups in the Omo valley.
Our last item for the day is a visit to the Ari Tribe. Known for their amazing jewellery and colour, the Ari people paint themselves as well as scar themselves for appearance.
Overnight in Jinka.
Saturday 11th May
In the morning we’ll drive to Mago National Park to see the untouched and unique Mursi tribe, who live on the southern edge of the park. Mursi women are famous for using lip plates to stretch their lips. The bigger the lip plate she can place in her mouth, the more beautiful she is considered.
After lunch in the afternoon, we will explore the village of the Hamar tribe. The Hamar are known for their unique custom of “bull jumping”, which initiates a boy into manhood. First, female relatives dance and invite whipping from men who have recently been initiated; this shows their support of the initiation, and their scars give them a right to demand his help in time of need. The boy must run back and forth twice across the backs of a row of bulls or castrated steers and is ridiculed if he fails.
Overnight in Turmi.
Sunday 12th May
Drive to Omorate, a town near the Kenyan border and the Omo river.
After exploring Omorate, it’s on to the Dasenech, a tribe that traces its origins in Uganda. Their lives depend on the Omo River, and we need to cross it in tiny, but luckily (hopefully!) safe wooden boats to visit the tribe.
Return to Turmi for lunch.
After lunch we’ll drive to the Karo Tribe, of which there are only roughly 1,000-3,000, making it the smallest tribe in Ethiopia. They are famous for their body painting, covering themselves daily with coloured ochre, white chalk, yellow mineral rock, charcoal, and pulverized iron ore; all natural resources local to the area. The specific designs drawn on their bodies can change daily and vary in content, ranging from simple stars or lines to animal motifs, such as guinea fowl plumage, or to the most popular – a myriad of handprints covering the torso and legs. Both the Karo and the Hamar men use clay to construct elaborate hairstyles and headdresses for themselves, signifying status, beauty, and bravery.
Overnight in Turmi.
Monday 13th May
Today we’ll drive from Turmi to Arbaminch.
On the way we’ll visit Karat Konso, the famous terraced hills, the newest UNESCO world heritage site in Ethiopia, having been inscribed in 2011. Konso, named after the Konso people, is known for its religious traditions, waga sculptures, and nearby fossil beds.
The waga sculptures are carved wooden grave markers, and a row of these are erected on the grave of any important Konso man – one symbolizing the hero himself, the others his wives, his defeated enemies, or the dangerous animals he killed.
We’ll arrive in the mid-afternoon in Arbaminch, where you’ll have free time for the rest of the day.
Overnight in Arbaminch.
Tuesday 14th May
Today we’ll make the long drive back to Addis Ababa. Although not hugely long in distance, travelling through Ethiopia can be slow with many stretches of unmade roads, potholes and other obstacles.
When we arrive in Addis we’ll check into our hotel for the final night, and if we missed anything on the first day, or if there’s anything else you’d like to see, we’ll try to fit it in.
Tonight we’ll have our farewell dinner and a few last lovely Ethiopian Beers (other beverages available for those who don’t like beer).
Overnight in Addis Ababa.
Wednesday 15th May
Transfer to the Airport in the morning for our 9:20 am flight to Somaliland.
Arrival in Hargeisa.
Dinner at a newly opened and popular Syrian restaurant run by refugees from Damascus. We’ll have a chance to chat with them and hear how they find life in Somaliland.
After dinner, you can walk around the bustling city center in Hargeisa, and have some chai with the friendly locals or do some shopping for t-shirts and flags for Independence Day.
Thursday 16th May
Visit the two hills called Naaso Hablood (“Girl’s Breasts”), also known as Hargeisa’s landmark. On the way, we visit the cemetery for British Soldiers who died here battling against the Italians during the Second World War. Hargeisa is the former capital of British Somaliland, while Italy controlled what is now Somalia.
We will have lunch at a Somali-Yemeni restaurant with some Somalilander intellectual icons who will give us the political, social, historical and cultural introduction of the country.
We will then take a walking tour around the city center of Hargeisa to get a sense of the people and the city. Here you will see street money exchangers and their “chunk” of bills, the central market, and the MiG Jet fighter War Memorial which stands for the atrocities committed by the dictator during the Civil War. The War Memorial is in the middle of the buzzing centrum and an excellent place for a coffee and chats with Somalilanders about politics and history.
Visit to the busy market in downtown Hargeisa for some evening shopping and people watching.
Dinner and overnight in Hargeisa.
Friday 17th May
After breakfast, we will take a visit to the livestock market where you can purchase your own camel or goat! For those who can’t fit a camel in their luggage, this market will provide excellent photo opportunity and a chance to see how the locals do business.
Afternoon visit to Laas Geel, the most important rock art site in Africa. These caves contain some of the oldest cave paintings on the horn of Africa; the vibrant colours and well-preserved paintings are estimated to be around ten thousand years old.
Make the 60km drive back to Hargeisa and spend the evening at your leisure.
Saturday 18th May – Independence Day!
We’ll get up nice and early for a quick breakfast before hitting the streets to observe the military and civilian parades. Everyone will be dressed in the national colours on the street, and this is one of the only places on earth to take part in an Independence Day celebration in an unrecognized country!
After lunch and a short break from the heat, we’ll visit the Somaliland national museum and cultural center. A great place to chat with some local young people.
We will have a traditional dinner that evening and toast to this small nation!
Overnight in Hargeisa
Sunday 19th May
We will head to the most important port of Somaliland, Berbera. Upon our arrival, we will visit the historical Ottoman Mosque and Ottoman houses.
Late lunch will be served at the Ottoman houses, and we will relax a bit (it will be sweltering).
We’ll take a short boat trip to go hunt for shipwrecks in the Gulf of Aden.
We will relax and swim at the untouched beach, where local youth and families come and enjoy their down time. (Due to local culture, ladies will need to cover their body while in water.)
Tour the historic town of Berbera in the early evening, where you will find more Ottoman, Persian, and British architecture of historic interest. This will be an excellent chance for some fantastic photographs.
We will have fresh seafood on the waterfront for dinner.
Monday 20th May
After breakfast, we will have short free time in Berbera.
We’ll drive to the small town of Sheikh in the mountains, stop for some afternoon tea, walk around and enjoy the pleasant climate.
We’ll make the drive back to Hargeisa for our last dinner in Somaliland.
Tuesday 21st May
End of Somaliland tour – continue onwards to Eritrea!
Airport transfer to the airport to catch the noon flight to Addis Ababa and transfer to Asmara, arriving at 5:25pm.
Check in our hotel and free time to look around the city.
Our local guide will meet our flight at the airport and we will be transferred to our hotel, the “Ambassador Hotel”.
We will meet our new group members at the hotel before heading out for our first group dinner and drinks in Eritrea
Wednesday 22nd May
Waking up in Asmara
We will meet our new group members at the hotel before heading out in Asmara.
Free day to explore Asmara slowly and do some shopping, according to your interests.
Thursday 23rd May
After breakfast, we will have a walking tour of the center of town. We will see the spectacular art deco of Asmara built by the Italians at the turn of the last century, such as the Post office built 1916, Albergo Italia built in 1899, the presidential palace built in 1907, and the Hotel Hamasien built in 1916. Great photo opportunities!
We check out the Tank graveyard where we can see out-of-use tanks that were demolished during the war with Ethiopia.
Visit the City Hall to see various photo displays in commemoration of the thirty-years bitter struggle and the post-independence progress. The City Hall was established by the Italians in 1890 and is one of the oldest institutions in Africa. There will also be various inventions on display by young people.
Continue our tour of Asmara where we check out the various pre-Independence Day celebrations including modern and folklore dances.
Walk up and down Harnett street where we will watch various cinematographic dramas and performances.
Festival continues into the night culminating in a massive fireworks show at midnight to celebrate independence. Great vantage point from the roof of our hotel!
Friday 24th May – Independence Day!
For those brave enough there will be a 6 am 21-gun salute to mark Independence Day.
Free time to walk around the city after breakfast and mingle with locals.
There will be various art exhibitions along the pedestrianized streets of the Main liberation avenue.
After lunch, we join the celebrations at Asmara Stadium. There will be various displays by the Military music band, and the Eritrean Air force will fly over the stadium in a spectacular color show! Multiple dramas will be shown by many artists during the afternoon.
The Eritrean President will deliver a speech on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee. The show will come to an end at about 7 pm.
Dinner and drinks to close out the Independence celebrations at a traditional restaurant, where you can sample injera and local alcohols… Followed by a dance party!
Overnight at the hotel in Asmara.
Saturday 25th May
After a mini sleep in and some breakfast, we will board a 100-year-old train and ride all the way to Nefasit.
Along the way, we will go through thirty tunnels. This is definitely a trip highlight!
On board the train we will be offered a traditional coffee ceremony.
Arrive back in Asmara
Head to the incredible bowling alley for a step back in time.
Dinner and overnight at our hotel.
Sunday 26th May
Hit the road for the 3 hour drive to Massawa
On arrival, we’ll check in at our seaside hotel
We’ll visit Gurgusum Beach, where we can swim and relax with local people.
Walking tour to take in the unique mixture of Turkish and Italian architectural design.
Dinner at the “Salam Restaurant”. Fresh fish prepared in traditional oven. This is a real local experience.
After dinner, we explore the nightlife of Massawa and find some bars.
Overnight in Massawa.
Monday 27th May
After breakfast, we visit a local school in Massawa to learn about Eritrea’s education system and meet with the children.
Take a boat to Dahlac Marine National Park, the Red Sea’s largest archipelago of which just four islands are inhabited.
We visit ruins from the early Arabic/Islamic settlers of the 8th century, and also some local Tigranyan villages.
Those who have a diving license can experience a dive in the Red Sea! (additional cost for diving). Don’t dive? No problem – snorkelling equipment is also available.
In the late afternoon/early evening, we will make our way back to Massawa.
Dinner, drinks, and overnight in Massawa
Tuesday 28th May
After a late breakfast, we will hit the road back to Asmara.
Arrival in Asmara at around 4 pm – we will have free time in Asmara. We may be lucky enough to watch football in the famous Cinema Roma or, if interested, have a chance to briefly talk about your country or profession to young Eritrean students.
Dinner and group drinks in Asmara.
Wednesday 29th May
After breakfast, we head to Keren city.
We take in the festival of Mariam Dearit. This is the real highlight of the religious festival calendar in Eritrea. Simply watch or join in on the thousands of people dancing and sharing coffee with each other
Lunch in Keren
Free time in this quaint town to check out the local markets and explore the lively streets.
Drive back to Asmara and stop by some destroyed Ethiopian tanks along the way!
Last group dinner and overnight in Asmara!
Thursday 30th May
End of tour.
Airport transfers for those who require, depending on flight times.