Where to go walking in Ethiopia

There’s a wide choice of trails in Ethiopia and walking them helps you get to know this beautiful part of the world one step at a time. Most holidays focus on the north of the country, where you’ll find the Gheralta Mountains of the Tigray region, the Simien Mountains National Park, the rock hewn churches of Lalibela and the otherworldly landscapes of the Danakil Depression. Alternatively, you could head for the country's southeast, where the Bale Mountains offer a heady mix of wildlife and scenic drama. You can walk independently, but it’s far easier to travel either on a small group adventure or on an individual tailor made trip, where all the logistics are taken care of for you. These are all point-to-point treks, with nights spent wild camping or staying in simple lodges, plus mules to carry bags and support staff to cook.

Read on for further detail on where to go walking in Ethiopia.
Bale Mountains

1. Bale Mountains

Bale Mountains National Park is a dream for walkers, nature lovers and birders, thanks to its jagged rock formations, alpine lakes and wildlife including mountain nyalas and the Ethiopian red wolf. Landscapes range from the barren Sanetti Plateau (the highest on the continent) to the thick vegetation of the Harenna Forest; and all of this can be explored in the company of fantastic local guides.
Danakil Volcano

2. Danakil Volcano

One of the hottest places on Earth, with temperatures reaching over 45°C in summer, the Danakil also includes Africa’s lowest point, at 155m below sea level. Its landscapes are often described as otherworldly and rightly so: geysers, rainbow coloured mineral deposits and vast salt flats are all here and you can hike up an active volcano and camp on the crater rim.
Mount Abuna Yosef

3. Mount Abuna Yosef

With the third highest peak in Ethiopia, the Abuna Yosef massif offers visitors wide-ranging views and fabulous wildlife viewing. Hardy hikes bring in their wake giant lobelia plants, troops of gelada baboons, and the rare Ethiopia wolf. It’s just north of Lalibela, so you can easily combine mountain magic with a visit to the famous rock hewn churches.
Simien Mountains

4. Simien Mountains

Millions of years of erosion have created a jaw-dropping landscape of jagged peaks and deep gorges in this mist-shrouded national park, whose steep slopes rise over 3600m high. Multi-day treks with local guides offer an insight into life on the “roof of Africa” as well as opportunities to spot Ethiopia's most iconic wildlife, including gelada baboons, Walia ibex and lammergeyer vultures.
Tigray Region

5. Tigray Region

The northernmost of Ethiopia’s nine regions, and bordered by Eritrea and Sudan, Tigray’s rugged landscape holds the ancient settlement of Axum, as well as numerous rock-hewn churches, found in caves and carved into hillsides. You can hike up to these or focus your walks on rural communities, with local guides offering insight into a way of life that’s changed little over the years.
Wof Washa Forest

6. Wof Washa Forest

Set high in the mountains of Amhara is Ethiopia’s oldest state forest, Wof Washa (meaning Bird Cave Forest). Rich in biodiversity, it’s home to plant and animal species that are endemic to Ethiopia. Walking holidays take you to local communities and offer the opportunity to spot wildlife including wolves, baboons and hyenas.

Ethiopia travel advice

Community based tours

Mark Chapman, from our supplier Tesfa Tours:
“A community trek puts income into the hands of the local community. Local people have jobs. But it is not just income - they own and manage the guesthouses. This gives them a real stake in tourism and helps to build their confidence. The landscapes are stunning - the villagers are wonderful dignified people for whom life is tough, but their hospitality and the ease with which they laugh and enjoy is something we all need to learn from. This is a world that reflects how western societies were hundreds of years ago - you feel this link with the old times in the way agriculture and society and even the links with the church are all woven together.”

Local hospitality

Sam McManus, from our supplier YellowWood Adventures:
“The hospitality of Ethiopians is legendary, and it is one of the great joys of walking in the country that you are able to come into contact with local people whom will always welcome you into their homes for some injera and talla (homemade beer).

The Simien Mountains has become one of the country’s main tourist attractions, and so unfortunately it is now a victim of its own success as the local people there are so used to tourists they will most likely just try and sell you a hat or something. The Gheralta and Bale Mountains ranges receive much fewer tourists however, and so the interaction with locals there is much more genuine. On the last tour I led in the Gheralta Mountains our group arrived into a small mountain village only accessible by foot and we were immediately invited to the wedding taking place with much eating, drinking and dancing! It really was tremendous fun.”

Cultural Highlights

Sam McManus:
“In the Gheralta Mountains there are ancient churches and hermitages carved into the very mountainsides with beautiful stone pillars covered in brightly coloured frescoes which hikers can explore to their hearts content. In the Bale Mountains hikers can see the elusive Ethiopian Wolf - a beautiful golden/rust coloured creature even rarer than the panda. Ethiopia truly is a unique and amazing destination - not just in Africa, but in the world as a whole.”

When to go

Mark Chapman, from Tesfa Tours:
“As November moves toward December the harvest gets into full swing. Harvest time is lovely - golden crops, farmers harvesting the old way with sickles, crops being carried to farmers compounds, threshing and winnowing. Then there are festivals. There are many throughout the year, but the most famous is Timkat in January, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus. The main tourist sights are inundated, but on a community walk in the mountains you get a unique experience, experiencing the festival with the local villagers”.
Sam McManus, from YellowWood Adventures:
“Being so close to the equator, Ethiopia enjoys sunshine all year round. The only time it’s not advisable to visit the country is the rainy season encompassing June, July and August when the rainfall not only can detract from the enjoyment of hiking but can make the roads very difficult and time-consuming to traverse.”

Physical fitness

Mark Chapman from Tesfa Tours:
“You need to be moderately fit if you are planning to do some walking in Ethiopia. It would be good to fit in some visits to the gym or do some good cardio exercise in the weeks before your trip. However, we can tailor the walking to suit your fitness level. If you are moderately fit and happy doing a few hours walk at home, we can set it up with less walking and even a few double nights at one guesthouse.”

Sam McManus, from YellowWood Adventures:
“Of course the level of fitness required depends on the length of the hikes per day, but it is safe to say that with just a basic level of fitness, even a person with no previous hiking experience can enjoy the beautiful views and sense of adventure that the mountains of Ethiopia have to offer.

Research where you want to go first. There are three main mountains ranges - the Simien Mountains, the Gheralta Mountains and the Bale Mountains. All three are completely different both geographically and in the type of hiking routes that they offer. See what takes your fancy then speak to your operator about your level of fitness and what they think will be suitable for you. Always go with a guide - these ranges are too large to tackle alone”.
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.

Tips from our travellers on Ethiopia walking holidays

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Ethiopia walking holidays travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday – and the space inside your suitcase.
Take some alternative nibbles for when you tire of injera. Wear high factor sunscreen - it's high up so it might not feel hot but you burn quicker. Drink lots of water.
- Joe Downey, Trekking in Ethiopia near Lalibela
“Be prepared for long drives on dangerous roads, awesome scenery but nail biting at times. Although the sights were amazing some of them were also busy, take a few extra days and try to get a bit more off the tourist trail, there are places to stop on the way between the major sights, would have been good to stop rather than motoring between major places.” – Lisa Rose, Simien Mountain Trekking Tour

“The trek in the Simien Mountains was truly memorable. It felt like we had the whole Mountain range, a world heritage site, to ourselves. Ethiopia is a beautiful mountainous country with historical sites to rival some of the best in the world, but with a tourist industry just getting off the ground the sense of exploration and privilege of seeing it now is palpable.” – Matthew Thomas in a review of his Ethiopia holiday
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tesfa Tours] [Bale Mountains: Laika ac] [Danakil Volcano: Gusjer] [Mount Abuna Yosef: Eliza Richman] [Simien Mountains: Petr Meissner] [Tigray Region: A.Savin] [Wof Washa Forest: Bernard Gagnon] [When to go (Timkat): Jean Rebiffe] [Joe Downey review: Jenn]