Welcome to Ethiopia! Begin with a welcome meeting at the hotel – please ask the reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time for this, please arrive a day early so you are able to attend. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting. If you arrive early perhaps take a tour of this bustling city, dotted with Italian architecture, interesting churches and friendly inhabitants. Established by the Emperor Menelik II in 1887, Addis Ababa is a relatively young city full of contrasts – the Addis Sheraton, with its ‘singing fountain’, is one of the most luxurious in all of Africa, yet you only need to travel a few streets away to find yourself among busy markets, dirt roads and the odd goat or two wandering the street. The optional city tour will include the National Museum, where you’ll find the remains of “Lucy’, the Ethnographic Museum, set within the beautiful gardens of Haile Selassie’s former palace.
After breakfast, drive south to Arba Minch, a region noted for its enormous variety of peoples and cultures. Many of these populations are nomadic or semi-nomadic and, far from the influence of the modern world, their ancient traditions remain intact. As the drive pushes onwards to Arba Minch, take a short detour to visit the Dorze people. The Dorze are renowned for their cotton-weaving techniques and beehive shaped houses constructed entirely from organic materials. These native speakers of the Omotic tongue are thought to have occupied this small highland enclave for at least 500 years. On a brief stay here, learn about their life and traditions, including the architecture behind their unique homes before proceeding on to Arba Minch. The road continues, climbing 1600 metres (5249 feet) on a series of switchbacks to provide dramatic views of the Great Rift Valley below. Set in dramatic surroundings, Arba Minch lies on a cliff overlooking Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya, set under the stunning backdrop of the mountains to the west. Although there’s not much to do in town, it serves as the gateway to the endless green wildlands of the Omo Valley. Arrive at the lodge in the late afternoon where you’ll stay for the night.
After an early breakfast, climb aboard a boat and travel across Lake Chamo on an excursion to hopefully see the resident hippos, Nile crocodiles, flourishing bird life and local fishermen working their trade on the lake. As today’s adventures continue, travel through the territories of several different tribes while trying to keep an eye out for the lands of the Konso, revered for their famous farming practices. Head onwards to Jinka to visit an ethnographic museum dedicated to the South Omotic tribes. Jinka is known as a local capital to the South Omotic people, and many inhabitants of the surrounding areas come to visit the local markets to trade. There’s a mix of Aari, Banna, Besheda and Basketo people often seen passing through the area, adding a dash of cultural spice to the lively trading hub. After departing from Jinka, continue on to the Mago National Park where you’ll spend the night listening out for the chirp of birds and the howls of the African wild dogs.
Continue on by driving northwest of Mago National Park (1.5 hours) to visit one of the villages sitting on the Mursi planes. Afterwards, return to Jinka and proceed to one of the local Ari villages before continuing to Turmi for an overnight stay. The Mursi, possibly the most well known tribe in the area, is famous for both their women who practice extending their lower lips with clay discs and their men who engage in ruthless stick-fighting rituals called Donga. When a Mursi woman reaches 20 years of age, a slit is made beneath the lower lip where a clay plate is then inserted. Every year, a larger plate is added, stretching the lower lip until it juts out so far that a 5 centimetre (2 inch) plate can be worn and the lip can be stretched by the woman right over her head. This is considered to be the height of attractiveness. Mursi men do not escape unscathed however, as they take part in the Donga stick fights that sometimes end in the death of one of the participants. Decorated with white clay, they whack each other with 2 metre (2.1 yard) long poles. The winner is carried off by a group of eligible girls who then decide which one will marry him. On the other hand, the people of the Ari tribe live in the lush surroundings of Jinka and grow coffee and enset (false banana) for trading and self-consumption. Their villages are some of the most beautiful in the country, surrounded by banana, mango, avocado and enset trees that clasp the colourful traditional huts. A brief stop at these villages offer a glimpse into authentic African life, albeit two very different sides of that coin.
Travel south in the morning towards Omorate along a 75 kilometre (47 mile) stretch of paved road. As you pass through the acacia forests, savour encounters with men and women of the Hamar tribe as they herd their cattle on route before stopping in to meet the Daasanach people further down the road. Omorate lies on the bank of the Omo River, close to the border to Kenya and serves as a popular base for exploring the rugged area. Wildlife roam freely in the nearby landscapes and there’s a good chance of seeing some form of antelope grazing on the ground or raptor birds stalking their prey overhead. The local tribes, Hamar and Daasanach, both cling to their cultures fairly tightly – you may witness evidence of their scarification practices or witness their more obvious and somewhat elaborate hairstyles. This afternoon’s visit to one of the Hamar villages proves rewarding, as the chance to inspect one of the local mud houses and small thatched huts offer a glimpse into another way of life divorced from the influences of the outside world. There’s the chance to witness the annual highlight of the Hamar calendar as the annual Bull Jumping Ceremony takes place – the culmination of a three day ‘rite of passage’ ritual where a young initiate has to jump up and down a line of 15 bulls before returning the same way. The ceremony is usually held around December/January and in August, right after the harvest season. There may be the chance to engage in a vibrant local market, savouring the smells and tastes while bumping shoulders with the Karo, Homer and Benna tribes. There’s plenty of interesting handcrafts on offer too – don’t forget to haggle for a better deal!
The drive today offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding scenery, including a glimpse of the terraced hills of Konso. All roads into South Omo pass through Konso, and this small town serves as a great base for exploring the hillside villages in the surrounding countryside. Visit a mora, a central communal building used by men and boys as a social area – women are unfortunately excluded. Keep an eye out for the carved wooden grave markers in the area, a Konso tradition where the deceased warriors features are enhanced by using teeth made from animal bones. As the evening sets in, spend time relaxing in the Kanta Lodge as you share tales with friends on the last night of your adventure.
Return to Arba Minch in the morning before taking a flight back to Addis Ababa. The trip ends on arrival at Addis Ababa airport.