Walking in Ethiopia travel guide

Most people head to Ethiopia for its ancient treasures: the medieval city of Gondor, for example or the rock hewn churches of Lalibela. But travelling on foot brings a whole new perspective. You’ll make your way through landscapes where things have changed little over the centuries, with local guides for company and nights spent under canvas, in hillside lodges or in remote community-run guest houses.
A walking holiday is the best way to immerse yourself in Ethiopia’s rich culture and Biblical landscapes, from remote highland paths to ancient cliffside churches.
Treks range from gentle strolls to uphill hikes and along the way you’ll see gelada baboons lounging on the hillsides, endemic birds soaring above mountain peaks and, if you’re lucky, the elusive Ethiopian wolf. What’s more the highland landscapes reward those who reach the top with stunning panoramas across a stunning and little-visited land.

Walking in Ethiopia is...

a fantastic way to delve into the country’s rich culture and wild landscapes.

Walking in Ethiopia isn’t...

just for experienced hikers. You can take it easy with gentle walks through farming communities.

What does walking in Ethiopia entail?

Small group or tailor made tours

Our Ethiopia walking holidays are either small group or tailor made. Tailor made walking holidays can be tweaked to suit your needs, allowing you to upgrade to a bit more luxurious accommodation in places, go at your own pace on the trails and choose the number of days you want to spend on your feet - from a short four day break exploring the countryside near Lalibela, for example, to a full-blown two week trek mixing the rugged highlands of the Simien Mountains with the country’s top cultural highlights.
Joining a band of around four to 12 like minded hikers on a small group walking holiday meanwhile, is a great choice for solo travellers or those who just want some extra company en route. Tours last between nine and 15 days and vary in both breadth and intensity.
In both cases you’ll be accompanied by experienced group leaders and/or local guides who are well trained in remote trekking, passionate about sharing Ethiopia’s natural beauty and a dab hand at ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

How fit do I need to be?

For walking in Ethiopia, you should be pretty fit, as you’ll often be at altitudes of over 3000m. Treks can range from four to 18 days so there’s plenty of choice when it comes to how active you want to be. You could be spending five days walking around remote forests and farming communities, with three to six hours a day on well-defined paths, or you could opt to trek in the Simien Mountains with daily distances of up to 21km and some steep ascents and descents in places, including the option to ascend the summit of Ras Dashen, Ethiopia’s highest peak (4,333m).

You’ll probably have mules alongside you to carry your kit, as well as any camping gear, food and water needed for the hike, perhaps including water that’s boiled daily to reduce the use of plastic bottles, so you can hike with just a daypack. Experienced muleteers lead the pack animals, while your guide brings the landscape to life with expert knowledge and helps you interact with local people. You might also be accompanied by porters, cooks, and depending on where you’re walking, a scout (armed guard or park ranger).

In terms of your own equipment, sturdy, broken-in walking boots are a must, as are a sun hat, rain gear and layers to remove or put on as the weather changes. Poles can also be an advantage - check with your operator for a final list.

Where will I sleep?

Our Ethiopia walking holidays are usually point to point - meaning that you’ll be walking from one accommodation to another, with your baggage carried for you by porters and/or mules. You could be camping, staying in comfortable lodges and hotels or in more simple community run guesthouses, with shared composting toilet and washing facilities as well as a terrace or outdoor space for relaxing and getting to know your hosts. If you go for the latter, tasty meals will be cooked and prepared by the villagers, and you’ll likely be treated to a traditional coffee ceremony, or a shot of the local grog.

Wildlife encounters

Not only will you get to explore some of the best walking trails this part of the world has to offer, you’ll also get to see some of the wildlife that inhabits rural Ethiopia. The Simien Mountains are home to baboons, ibex and Ethiopian wolves, to name a few, as well as birdlife such as ground scrapers, siskins, falcons and kestrels. Head to the Bale Mountains and you could see mountain nyalas, the Ethiopian red wolf, impalas, warthogs and colobus monkeys.

Community & culture

Walking holidays aren’t just about bagging a mountain or racing from one valley to the next – they’re about going far off-radar and getting in touch with the real country and its culture - and Ethiopia walking holidays cater well for this craving for cultural exchange. As you enjoy hillside walking trails you can stop and learn about traditional farming methods, or hear about the landscape, wildlife and folklore from your guide as you pause for lunch. Staying in community run guesthouses offers the chance to immerse yourself in the local way of life and return with memories of much more than simply summits and ancient relics.

If you’re lucky your trip will coincide with one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year, or, you could choose to book a trip that focuses on one of the country’s most important religious festivals - Ethiopian Christmas or Genna.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Ethiopia walking or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to go walking in Ethiopia

The driest time of year for hiking is from December to March, but the best time is October and November, at the end of the rainy season when the landscape is a riot of green. From November onwards, the agricultural season gets underway and you’ll encounter many people at work in the fields, while January sees Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) as well as the Timkat Festival, celebrating the baptism of Jesus by John, which is a major event in the Gondar calendar. The rainy season ends slightly earlier in the Simien Mountains than it does in other parts of the country, so you can trek from September onwards.

Most walking holidays take place at high altitude, where days can be mild (with highs peaking at around 19°C in the dry season) and nights cold – so make sure to bring plenty of layers.

The Simien Mountains Weather Chart

RAIN (mm)
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tesfa Tours] [Is/isn't: Gerald Schombs] [Small group or tailor made: Hulivili] [Wildlife encounters: Chuck Moravec]