Not only will you have about awe-inspiring views, the Simien mountains is also home to vast groups of endemic gelada primates as well as elusive leopard, hyena and the endemic Walia ibex.
The Simien Mountain National Park lies an easy three hour drive north of Gondar. This park protects some of the most stunning mountain countryside in Africa. If you love mountain scenery, then the jagged Simien mountains should definitely be on your bucket list. Their beauty is brought into particularly sharp relief by the vertiginous river gorges.
But the Simien Mountain National Park is not only about glorious countryside. It is also home to vast groups of the endemic gelada primates which are fascinating to watch. Other wildlife include the elusive leopard as well as hyena, ibex and Ethiopian wolf. Furthermore the jagged cliffs are perhaps the best place in the world to see the spectacular lammergeyer.
These mountains offer fantastic walking and hiking. Choose between easy hikes along the edge of the plateau, to full day excursions, to multi-day trekking and camping trips to explore deeper into the park.
On even a short walk, you are guaranteed to see the gelada, usually in vast numbers. They are charmingly unfazed by your presence. So you can watch their elaborate grooming and mating rituals from close range – fantastic for keen photographers.
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The second largest city in Ethiopia, Gondar is a fast growing, dusty and not hugely attractive city. However it’s well worth an overnight stay to visit Gondar for its slightly surreal collection of 17th century castles - with a distinct Portuguese and Moorish stylish – which would not look out of place in Europe.
You can spend a happy afternoon visiting the castles, which have a serene ambience, the 18th century church of Debre Birhan Selassie which has one of the most impressive interiors of any of Ethiopian churches we visited and the mesmerising Fasil’s Pool, which was my favourite.
Fasil’s Pool which is the centrepiece of celebrations on Ascension Day when the moat is filled – taking a week – and then after a lengthy service, thousands of young men jump simultaneously into the pool. At this time of year (mid January) Gondar throngs with people and if you want to visit Gondar to witness the colourful and vibrant processions, you need to book far in advance.
For the rest of the year, the palaces of Gondar offer an oasis of tranquillity in this bustling city.
We immediately headed north from Gondar for an easy three hour drive to the Simien Mountain National Park. (We would be returning to Gondar afterwards.) The National Park protects both some of the most stunning mountainous country in Africa but also vast groups of gelada primates, only found in the Simien Mountains.
As I love mountain walking, I was in my element here. The Simien Mountains made for a great contrast with the culture and history experienced in much of the rest of the northern Ethiopian highlands and a chance to stretch your legs. The walking is not strenuous as you stay on the ridge of the plateau and enjoy plunging views down into the valleys far below and across to the jagged peaks of other mountains. We saw loads of the charming gelada primates (Not ‘baboons’ as our guide would constantly remind us). They were charmingly unfazed by your presence and you can watch their elaborate grooming rituals - which often seemed to lead into mating rituals – from only a few metres away.
Note: The establishment of the Simien Mountain National Park has meant the removal of many village communities from within the park. Partially to compensate for that, everybody visiting the area must take in both a Simien guide and an armed scout from the nearby town of Debark. This means that it could be relatively expensive to visit as a couple as you’ll have your driver-guide plus a Simian guide and a scout.
The Simien Lodge is currently the only lodge in the Simien National Park but not for long… The plus points are spacious rooms, pleasant bar where they show a fascinating documentary on the gelado each evening. But having a monopoly has somewhat bred complacency. TThe hot water is solar-heated and serves two rooms which means it’s often non-existent at certain times of the year, or if your next door neighbour gets to the shower first. The food is average, though the soups were delicious, but the drinks are way over-priced compared to other Ethiopian lodges.