Axum & Tigrai

Rock-hewn churches, hikes up to hilltop monasteries, the beautiful Gheralta mountains and the ancient Stelae obelisks and ruins in Axum, one of Ethiopia's former capitals... there's lots to see in the northern highlands of Tigrai.


Not recommended during the rainy season


Axum was one of the first capitals of Ethiopia, the centre of the Axumite dynasty. Its heyday was from 150BC to 850AD. The Axumite empire shows the strong influence of the Greeks and Persians, their main trading partners. This city of ruined palaces and mysterious obelisks is also home to the somewhat dubious stories of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Ethiopians still believe that the Arc of the Covenant is in Axum guarded by a holy priest. This priest is the only person who is allowed to see the Arc. And he guards it until his death.

Axum is not as overtly impressive as the other Ethiopian cultural icons such as Lalibela and Gondar. But those with a keen interest in history will appreciate its sites and legends. The main sites are the obelisks and the churches of Maryam Tsion. But what’s more fascinating was the wholly unexpected little church museum. Inside is a vast wealth of treasure including the coronation crowns of ancient kings, ornate robes lined with jewels and Axum crosses.

Gheralta Mountains & Tigray

The nearby Gheralta mountains are also a drawcard. En route is the ancient and remarkably well-preserved Yeha temple from the 4th century BC.

Axum palace

The main attractions of this beautiful area are the ancient rock-hewn churches in the Tigray mountains. These churches have been built into the sandstone rock, some as old as the 4th century, when Christianity first came to Ethiopia. (This area makes a great introduction to Ethiopia as it is home to its earliest churches.)

If you’re looking for some adventure, you can hike up to one of the monasteries perched on the mountain tops of Tigray. Depending on the monastery, this could be a just a steep walk, or a tricky section of rock scrambling. Or even been hauled up a rope by some strong-armed monks. A knowledgeable local guide is essential. (Note that this final monastery is not open to women!)

Note: Currently we are not operating tours to this part of Ethiopia.

Ancient bible in Tigray monastery


Why you may love it

  • 4th century rock-hewn churches such as Abreha we Atsbeha
  • Stunning mountain scenery
  • Hiking up to the mountain-top monasteries
  • Ancient temple at Yeha
  • Stelae obelisks in Axum – 75 of the tallest stelae ever erected
  • Maryam Tsion Church museum at Axum
  • Unexpected little Church Museum full of priceless artefacts
  • Engraved trilingual tablets from the time of Christ

When to visit Axum & Tigrai

January to May

Summer in Axum & Tigrai

This is a good time to visit Axum and Tigray as it is dry and sunny. Given the high altitude, it is a little cooler than Addis Ababa at around 20C during the day. Nights can be cold. It is busy around January because of the Ethiopian Epiphany celebrations in mid-January. As the season progress, so does the chance of having afternoon showers. But it doesn’t really affect your visit as there are plenty of sunny hours in the day.
MAX TEMP 25 ℃ / 77 ℉
MIN TEMP 17 ℃ / 63 ℉

June to September

Rainy season

This is the start of the rainy season proper. The heaviest rain is in July and August and this brings down daytime temperatures. We don’t recommend this time as many roads become difficult to navigate and the rain is fairly continuous. The high altitude of Axum means that it can also be cloaked in fog! Rain decreases in September but it remains overcast.
MAX TEMP 25 ℃ / 77 ℉
MIN TEMP 17 ℃ / 63 ℉

October to December

Best time to visit

The rain departs in October and this is the start of the dry season which lasts to somewhere in February. This is possibly the best time to visit as it is still green after the rainy season and also less dusty. Plus it’s a quiet time for visitors so you’ll have the churches and monasteries to yourselves.
MAX TEMP 25 ℃ / 77 ℉
MIN TEMP 17 ℃ / 63 ℉

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Stunning Location

"Bale Mountain Lodge has a lovely location. Our room, whilst in a good location, needed a little bit of maintenance. The bathroom and the room was very cold in the evening until the fire was lit and again in the morning. So come with warm clothes! " Mr Tim Flesher, UK

We loved Ethiopia!

"We loved Ethiopia – great people, scenery, culture, food & wildlife. Immanuel, our guide, was excellent in every way – very friendly, informative, knowledgeable, helpful and went out of his way to try to get us “under the surface” in experiencing Ethiopia, visiting his family for a meal, buying us gifts and introducing us to many Ethiopians. Henok our driver was the best driver we have ever had – safe but quick, very friendly and helpful. The two of them created a great atmosphere over the 23 day trip. We can’t recommend Ethiopia enough, however, as we expected, travel was not always easy and the accommodation was not always of the same standard of other parts of Africa. " Mr Tim Flesher, UK
Did you know
  • HistoryAxum was an important part of the Silk Route.
  • HistoryAxum is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Africa.