Ethiopia: Treasures of Abyssinia

Travel with the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) from October 21 to November 5, 2018, on a historic journey to Ethiopia.

LalibelaTravel with the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) from October 21 to November 5, 2018, on a historic journey to Ethiopia. Home to a mosaic of peoples and cultures, Ethiopia is a land of legends and monuments, formed by the great hand of nature and erected by the genius and devotion of man.

From the moment you land in Addis Ababa, you will be immersed in the wonder of the city’s mighty cathedral and brought face to face with a plaster of Lucy – our oldest ancestor and a cornerstone of modern evolutionary science. Our itinerary will take you through the many vibrant landscapes of Ethiopia, from the Simien Mountains to the Blue Nile Falls, and to see the man-made wonders of the sparkling pink churches in Lalibela and the European-style castle fortress of Emperor Fasilides. Exotic plant and animal life blends into remarkable works of art and religious iconography, coming together to create an adventure unlike any other.

Space is limited, so please contact the Alumni Travel Study Program at 866-325-8664 or for more details and to reserve your place today!

Dates & Prices

Trip Dates: October 21 - November 5, 2018

Price: from $5,795 per person based upon double occupancy

Single space is  limited. If available, the single supplement is an additional $1,995. Please contact us to check single availability prior to sending your reservation, or to inquire about possible roommate options.

Optional group airfare:  $2,350 international air from New York, economy, including internal flights in Ethiopia, and estimated departure taxes (subject to change until time of booking.)

Internal flights: please add $990 per person for the cost of the internal flights if you arrange your own international airfare to/from Ethiopia.


Your journey begins as you board your plane this evening for your flight to Addis Ababa on either our group flight from Newark, or on your own independently arranged flights. (Meals Aloft)

This evening you arrive in Addis Ababa where you are met and escorted to your home for the evening, The Sheraton Hotel. Check-in and enjoy some relaxing time before embarking on an afternoon city tour. First stop is at the magnificent Trinity Cathedral. Continue to the National Museum, close to the University of Addis Ababa Graduate School, which houses numerous antiquarian relics and archaeological artifacts showing the history of Ethiopia from prehistoric times to the modern day. Its most famous exhibit is a replica of the 3.5-million-year-old skeleton of Lucy'.
Overnight at the SHERATON HOTEL.
(Meals Aloft)

Have a leisurely breakfast and start your city tour with a visit to St. George’s Cathedral, dedicated to the national saint of Ethiopia, built in 1896 by then Emperor Menelik II to commemorate his victory at Adwa. The museum houses a wide collection of important religious paintings, crosses of many designs, historic books and parchments, and beautiful handicrafts. There are also fine examples of modern paintings by the famous Ethiopian artist Afewerke Tekle. Last stop of the day is at the Zoological National History Museum at Addis Ababa University (AAU) which houses the wildlife attractions of Ethiopia. The specimens are preserved in the form of full or head mounts, horns, skulls, skins and within liquid chemicals. Enjoy a welcome dinner tonight and get your first taste of Ethiopian cuisine. Set in a Colonial-style building, your upscale hotel is a short distance from the National Museum of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian National Theatre. Modestly furnished rooms come with flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, minibars and desks. Be sure to take a moment to enjoy the outdoor heated pool or spa with sauna and whirlpool tub.
Overnight at the SHERATON HOTEL. (B,D)

Today’s flight brings you north to the third largest city in Ethiopia, Bahir Dar, located on the shores of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source from where the Blue Nile starts its long journey to Khartoum where it joins with the White Nile and continues as one to the Mediterranean. The 37 mysterious islands that are scattered about the surface of the lake give shelter to well-hidden churches and monasteries of immense historical and cultural interest, decorated with beautiful paintings and housing innumerable treasures. Upon arrival, you’ll drive to the Blue Nile Falls, known locally as Tiss Falls. For centuries people wondered where the source of water for the great Nile River was. Today you will have the opportunity to visit this once mysterious source. The mighty Blue Nile flows out of Lake Tana with tremendous force and volume over the basalt shoulder of a giant cataract and onwards from there, ever downwards towards the deserts of Sudan, on its way to enrich Egypt's fertile delta. The power of the Blue Nile may best be appreciated just twenty miles downstream from the point where the river first leaves Lake Tana. There, a rumble of sound fills the air and the green fields and low hills on either bank tremble to the Blue Nile Falls. 1,300 feet wide in flood, the Blue Nile plunges 150 fifty feet down a sheer gorge throwing up a continuous mist that drenches the countryside up to a kilometer away. In turn, this gentle deluge produces rainbows that shimmer across the gorge under the changing arc of the sun – and a perennial rainforest. The pillar of cloud in the sky above, seen from afar, explains the local name for the falls – water that smokes, Tissisat. (It take about 1 hr. walk to reach the Falls and another 1hr to return to the point of departure via the Portuguese bridge).

With the use of dark wood, stone and vibrant African artwork, Kuriftu Resort has the ethnic feel you’d hope to experience in such an exotic country. Accessed by a flight of beautiful stone steps, the bedrooms are spacious and charmingly decorated, including interesting mosaic-tiled shower rooms.
Overnight at the KURIFTU RESORT & SPA. (B,L,D)

To avoid the strong waves, you will cross the Lake Tana this morning when the lake is placid. You will visit the monastery of Ura Kidane Miheret, and Azwa Mariam located on the peninsula of Zegue; the churches at this peninsula are a pleasant surprise, not only because of the paintings but also because of the age of the building and the u nique style of decorations. The round Ura Kidane Mihret Church has a straw-thatched roof that follows the classic structure of the churches of the region. The building itself is surrounded by an outside path, which is covered with bamboo mats providing a translucent screen to the outside. Huge wooden doors lead inside the church, which lies in semi-darkness, illuminated only by the doorways. The entrance leads around a shrine several feet long and with a drum, which lies in the center of the room. Azwa Mariam Monastery serves as a small monastery known for its paintings that share biblical stories. This wonderfully preserved monastery dates back several centuries, and is still in use today. The colorful murals that cover every surface are beautifully made in Byzantine style and tell stories from 88 books of the Bible in contrast to the western world’s 66 biblical books. In the afternoon, you will have time to explore some parts of the city; the city is distinctly known for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of colorful flowers. The city was awarded UNESCO Cities for Peace Prize for managing to address the challenges of rapid urbanization.
Overnight at the KURIFTU RESORT & SPA. (B,L,D)

Continue your exploration with a drive to Gondar, an important town for over two centuries, a thriving center of religion, art and culture. Arrive in Gondar just in time for lunch. Afterwards, journey to the Simien Mountains, a stunning mountain range, alive with exotic plant and animal life. The highest mountain here is Ras Dashen at 14,905 feet above sea level, and proudly carries the local moniker ‘The Roof of Africa.’ These spectacular segments of the Simien Mountains are considered the wildest and most beautiful sites of all  Ethiopian landscapes and serve as home to many endemic animals like the highly end angered Ethiopian wolf, Waliya ibex, and Gelada baboons, and plants like the Giant Lobelia. The massive 13,000-foot-high table of rock offers easy but immensely rewarding trekking along the edge of a plateau that falls sheer to the plains far below. The scenery and the variety of wildlife will leave you speechless. Your second day here is dedicated to exploring in the mountains.

Sitting atop the escarpment with wonderful views of the mountain range, the thatched huts at Simien Lodge provide a comfortable rest after a long day of trekking. The remote lodge is surrounded by gelada baboons, spectacular scenery and wildflowers. Enjoy roaring fires in the bar and restaurant while getting to know your fellow travelers. The rooms have solar underfloor heating and are en suite.
Overnights at the SIMIEN LODGE. (B,L,D Daily)

After an early camp breakfast, drive to Geech (one hour drive) and continue on foot towards Chenek (2-3 hours trekking). This is the only place in the park, if you are extremely lucky, to see the rock hyrax. On the way, catch sight of the strange and beautiful Giant Lobelia plant and stand a good chance of spotting some Gelada baboons. There are many places at Chenek to see the endemic Walya Ibex, as well. Return to Gondar for the night.

Ideally situated on the hills of Gondar city, Gondar Hills resort is an especially impressive, newly opened $20-million mountaintop property. The environmentally friendly hotel features 110 rooms hewn from local stone and tucked beneath energy-saving sod roofs.
Overnight at the GONDAR HILLS RESORT. (B,L,D)

A full day of Gondar culture and history await you! Founded around 1635 by Emperor Fasilides, he originally used the city for a residence but about a year later he moved his capital here. No one knows exactly why he chose to establish his headquarters here, but some believe it was God who told him to do so. By the late 1640’s he had built a great castle, the recently restored Fasilides Palace. With its large towers and looming battle walls it looks as if a piece of medieval Europe has been transported to Ethiopia. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the palace stands in a compound filled with juniper and wild olive trees, amid Enqulal Gemb, or Egg Castle, named after its domed roof, the royal archive, many impressive churches and monasteries and a stable. These exemplify architecture that is marked by both Hindu and Arab influences, subsequently transformed by the Baroque style that the Jesuit missionaries brought to Go ndar, and have earned the city the nickname “The African Camelot”.

Enjoy a full day of touring this wonderful city. Some of the sites you may visit include the Fasilides Castle, Iyasu’s Palace, Dawit’s Hall, Mentewab’s Castle and the Debra Berhan Selassie Church, which represents a masterpiece of the Gondarene School of Art.
Overnight at the GONDAR HILLS RESORT. (B,L,D)

Today’s flight brings you to the mountain village of Lalibela, one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities. Once the thriving and populous capital city of a medieval dynasty, the passing centuries have reduced Lalibela to a mere village. From the road below, it remains little more than invisible against a horizon dominated by the 4,200-meter peak of Mount Abuna Joseph. It is this camouflaged, chameleon quality, however, that gives the remote settlement its special and lasting place in the life of the highlands – for there, some 800 years ago, safe from the prying eyes and plundering hands of hostile intruders, a noble king fashioned a secret marvel. Lalibela, previously known as Roha, is named after the 12th century king. The word itself, which translates to mean the bees, recognizes his sovereignty and the people of the region still recount the legend that explains why. Lalibela was born in Roha and was the youngest son of the royal line of the Zagwe dynasty, which then ruled over much of northern Ethiopia. Despite several elder brothers he was  destined for greatness from his earliest days. Not long after his birth, his mother found a swarm of bees around his crib and recalled an old belief that the animal world prophesized important futures. She cried out: the bees know that this child will become king. But trials and tribulations followed. The ruling king feared for his throne and tried to have Lalibela murdered and persecutions continued for several years, culminating in a deadly potion that left the young prince in mortal sleep. During the three-day slumber, Lalibela was transported by angels to heaven where God told him not to worry but to return to Roha and build churches, the like of which the world had never seen before. God also told Lalibela how to design the churches, where to build them and how to decorate them. Once he was crowned, he gathered masons, carpenters, and tools, set down a scale of wages and purchased the land needed for the building.

The churches are said to have been built with great speed because angels continued the work at night. Whether you believe in the folklore or not, one thing remains true, the churches are awe-inspiring. These towering edifices were hewn out of the solid, red volcanic rock on which they stand. They seem to be of superhuman creation – in scale, in workmanship and in concept. Close examination is required to appreciate the full extent of the achievement because, like medieval mysteries, much effort has been made to cloak their nature. Some lie almost completely hidden in deep trenches, while others stand in open quarried caves. A complex and bewildering labyrinth of tunnels and narrow passageways with offset crypts, grottoes and galleries connects them all – a cool, lichen- enshrouded, subterranean world, shaded and damp, silent but for the faint echoes of distant footfalls as priests and deacons go about their timeless business. You’ll spend the next two days exploring these architectural marvels.  At the edge of the Lasta Mountain chain, over 1.5 miles up, sits Mountain View Hotel. The sandstone and glass construction is a beautiful mix of old and new, providing stunning views while evoking the Lalibela churches. Each room has a balcony overlooking the valley inhabited by monkeys, vultures, and tropical birds. There is high-speed wi-fi throughout, but no television, as guests are encouraged to interact.

Overnights at MOUNTAIN VIEW HOTEL. (B,L,D Daily)

Today you take a morning flight to Axum, a town of legends offering a glimpse to a truly remarkable past. It is littered with the ruins of palaces, underground tombs, mysterious monolithic stelae carved from single piece of granite and many historical relics. The founding of the Empire of Axu m in the 5th century BC is often taken as the starting point of the Ethiopian civilization. This is also the site where one of the most important churches and pilgrimage place in all of Ethiopia is located, where the Ark of the Covenant is reputed to be located – the Church of Our Lady, Mary of Zion. Only men are allowed in that church, but no one, other than the guardian monk who is appointed for life, is allowed to view the Ark of the Covenant. A new modern church in the premises has also been built where both men and women can worship. After lunch, a four hours’ drive (118 miles ) through spectacular countryside takes you to Gheralta, home to a quarter of the rock churches, some famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts, and others known for their magnificent view and difficult ascent.  Traditional stone, wood, and thatch are interwoven with the mountainous landscape to create a beautiful relaxing environment. The rooms are comfortable, with wi-fi in the main area, and the surrounding ficus trees provide nice spots for birding. Enjoy wonderful dinners nightly prepared by the Italian owners using local ingredients.
Overnight at the GHERALTA LODGE. (B,L,D Daily)

You will have two full days in the Gheralta area, with its unique chain of mountains, to explore the Gheralta Cluster churches, visiting the marvelous houses of worship that dot this remote and inspiring landscape. A visit will be organized to the churches of Dugem Selassie, Mariam Korkor, and Daniel Korkor**, some requiring stamina and physical ability to reach them. Your guide will explain the difficulty and make provisions for visits based on ability. These churches are the greatest of the historical, cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people. The scenery of Gheralta is spectacular, especially the view of the graceful Mount Gheralta. Mariam Korkor and Daniel Korkor, the two churches on the program, are very different in style but stunningly beautiful in their own way. Of the two, Mariam Korkor is the most impressive architecturally. A huge, high ceiling is supported by 12 freestanding pillars. Looking at it you could not help but wonder how the architect managed to carve so high from the ground. The church is completely carved of solid rock, dating back to the 4th century in local records, though historians have dated it around 11th century. Daniel Korkor is a smaller church with only two rooms. The ceiling of the domed anteroom is decorated with primitive paintings. From the passage that takes to Daniel Korkor one enjoys the magnificent view of the mountains of Gheralta as well as that of the Hawzien plain.
Overnights at the GHERALTA LODGE. (B,L,D Daily)

** A visit to Mariam Korkor & Daniel Korkor require minimum of 1.5 hr. walk one way to the church in a very steep road. If you are not physically fit for the challenge, these visits can be substituted with easily accessible ones.

Today you drive to Mekele where you’ll catch a short flight back to Addis. You have the rest of the day to explore the capital and do some last minute shopping. In the evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with traditional Ethiopian food, music, and dance.
Overnights at the SHERATON HOTEL. (B,L,D, Meals Aloft)

This morning your journey comes to an end as you are transferred to the airport for your return flights home. You have just experienced a unique world, one that combines the thrill of ancient civilizations, warm hospitality and amazing natural beauty. (Meals Aloft)

Optional Post-Extension To Danakil Depression

Day 15~Sunday~November 4 - Gheralta/Mekele
Today you drive to Mekele where you bid farewell to the rest of the group returning to the USA tonight and enjoy an afternoon at leisure. Get ready for your next adventure.

Located just a half mile from the Hawetti Marter Memorial Monument, Planet Hotel offers such luxury amenities such as a spa center, hot tub and fitness center. The guest rooms are equipped with flat screen TV and free Wi-Fi. Certain accommodations include a sitting area where you can relax. Enjoy a cup of coffee from your terrace or balcony.
Overnight at the PLANET HOTEL. (B,L,D)

Day 16~Monday~November 5 - Gheralta/Mekele/Erta Ale
Get an early start this morning as you drive to Erta Ale (170 miles, approximately 9 hours). Erta Ale, the name means smoking mountain, is a volcano whose caldera contains a permanent lava lake, a sea of liquid fire. Located in the Danakil Depression (or Afar Depression) in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia, Erta Ale is one of the driest, lowest and hottest places on earth. It’s been called “the gateway to Hell” because it is one of the hottest and harshest places on Earth, with recorded temperatures of 125 degrees. Rain almost never falls here. Erta Ale was discovered in 1906, making it the longest known lava lake, one of only four in the world.  The name means smoking mountain.  It is a volcano whose caldera contains a permanent lava lake, a sea of liquid fire.

During the overnight, you will camp on the crater rim above the active lava lake.  Here, you can capture the most breathtaking night shots of the volcano.

Day 17~Tuesday~November 6 - Erta Ale/Hamed Ela
Your morning will be spent crossing salt flats by car and by foot, visiting the rust red, turquois, and sulphurous yellow acid ponds of Dallol just 15 miles from the village of Hamed Ela. It is one of the most inhospitable regions of the world, but is nonetheless spectacular, full of eye-catching colors, as in the sulphur springs. The village and its 4,000 inhabitants or so live at the edge of Lake Asale, which for most of its expanse is dry. In the afternoon, you can visit a salt excavating area to observe how the salt is excavated from the ground the traditional way, cut into rectangular pieces and loaded onto the caravans.

Day 18~Wednesday~November 7 - Hamed Ela/Dallol/Mekele
You will rise early and enjoy breakfast before your drive to the salty Lake Asale. There you’ll observe salt workers cutting, shaping and loading the salt onto the endless camel caravans. Later, you will drive onto Dallol and enjoy the spectacular view of the small hills and colorful hot springs. These hot springs are composed of different minerals along with sulfurs and potash to create spectacular colors. You will drive back to Mekele for the night.
Overnight at the PLANET HOTEL. (B,L,D)

Day 19~Thursday~November 8 - Mekele/Addis Ababa
Fly back to Addis Ababa this morning. Upon arrival you can enjoy the rest of the day relaxing or exploring the capital city. In the evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with traditional Ethiopian food, music, and dance.

Overnight at the SHERATON HOTEL. (B,L,D)
Day 20~Friday~November 9 - Addis Ababa/En Route/USA
This morning your journey comes to an end as you are transferred to the airport for your return flights home. You have just experienced a unique world, one that combines the thrill of ancient civilizations, warm hospitality and amazing natural beauty. (Meals Aloft)

B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner

What's included:

  • Superior or best available accommodations throughout as indicated or similar. Accommodations during the Danakil
    extension are very rustic.
  • All meals, starting with dinner on day 2 and ending with dinner on day 13.
  • All wildlife viewing by private 4WD, minibus or coaster bus.
  • Complimentary bottled water in vehicles and with meals.
  • Specialist guide throughout.
  • All applicable hotel/lodge taxes and gratuities for baggage handling.
  • All entry fees.
  • Complimentary baggage tags and passport wallets
  • Complimentary Emergency Evacuation Insurance.

What’s not included:
Airfare; taxes; passport, visas and associated fees if required; personal expenses such as laundry (except as noted), internet access, and telephone calls; accident/sickness, trip cancellation, and baggage insurance; excess baggage charges on aircraft; transfers and baggage handling to/from hotel on day of arrival and/or departure if you  if you are arriving earlier or later than and/or departing earlier or later than the scheduled group transfer(s); any overnight on land due to flight schedule(s); meals, alcoholic or other beverages and all other services not specifically mentioned in the “Included Features” section of the program brochure.

Please call us toll-free at (866) 325-8664 or email us at for more details.