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Ethiopia Experience 2016 Photo Tour



"..the other thing that people don't expect and that blew my mind is that it's a lush, green country. Addis Ababa gets twice as much rainfall as London or Amsterdam..." - Philip Briggs, Author, Bradt Guide Ethiopia

This is an incredible photo venture which exemplifies some of the the very best of the cultural and physical diversity of Ethiopia. The tour starts in Addis Ababa, the capital and from there we fly East to Dire Dawa and the ancient walled city of Harar. The narrow cobbled streets are a testament to its age and heritage. The city is colourful and so too are the people. We wander at dawn and dusk soaking up the atmosphere and capturing those inimitable moments. Urban and colourful street scenes abound and the opportunity to photograph people is superb. At night we visit one of the gates where there is an age old tradition of feeding hyenas - incredible.

From Harar we drive west to Awash where there is a game park and some opportunity to see oryx, water buck and a few other species which typify the African Savanna. We are now effectively at the edge of the Afar region of Ethiopia which is inhabited by the Afar tribe - a proud and resilient people. We drive north from here to the Danakil desert which has some of the most incredible landscapes and landforms found anywhere on Earth. It is the hottest place on Earth but we are doing it at the coolest time of year! Nonetheless temperatures can reach 40 Celsius during the day. We climb Erte Ale volcano (a gentle 2-3 hour ascent) late in the afternoon and marvel at the glowing cauldron of molten lava. We sleep out in simple huts at the side of the crater. The photography at night and at dawn defies description.

From here we drive north through the Great East African Rift valley across sand and salt desert, visiting the old potash mining sites dating back to the 1930’s (Italian) and going to see bright green and yellow sulphur pools which are kept active by groundwater and geothermal activity beneath the surface. This area is also home to an ancient salt trade where camel caravans work in an eight day cycle taking the freshly hewn salt up to the highlands. Photographing the extraction, cutting and loading of salt and its subsequent transport by camel trains is a real draw. We spend two days camping here to maximise opportunity to capture landscapes and the life which is inextricably connected to it.

Driving out of the rift to the highlands is absorbing. Desert gives way to increased vegetation cover and with the bio-physical change there is cultural change. We move from the Afar to the peoples of Tigrai who are largely farmers cultivating sorghum and tef and who also have livestock. We spend two nights in the wonderful Gheralta lodge which has a wonderful ambience and food. In this area the scenery is reminiscent of the canyonlands of the American west but the main attraction is the rock hewn churches which are prolific in this landscape. There are more than a hundred carved into the sandstone, some over 1600 years old and at all altitudes!

The extension

The drive to Lalibela is a long one on unsurfaced roads but the scenery is spectacular and the villages colourful. Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia that is famous for its 11 monolithic rock hewn churches. It is one of Ethiopia's holiest (orthodox christian) cities and is a centre of pilgrimage for much of the country. The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by the local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem. Our phototour coincides with Timket which means "baptism" and is the Ethiopian celebration of Epiphany. It is celebrated on January 19 and celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. This provides us with a unique insight into Ethiopian culture and a photographic opportunity which is incredible.

An Interview

"..the other thing that people don't expect and that blew my mind is that it's a lush, green country. Addis Ababa gets twice as much rainfall as London or Amsterdam..." - Philip Briggs, Author, Bradt Guide Ethiopia

Listen to Philip Briggs, Trevor Cole (world traveler and photographer extraordinnaire) and Hans van der Haar (Dutch tour operator with a family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) tell about their views of Ethiopia




Day 1 (Wednesday 6 January) Addis Ababa

We meet participants at Bole International Airport for their international flights and take them to the Monarch hotel. The first day is spent in the bustling capital of the country: Addis Ababa. In the afternoon we take you on a city tour visiting some sites of choice like the Ethnographic Museum, National Museum, Trinity Cathedral, Mercato (the largest market of Africa) or the Entoto Hills just outside Addis Ababa. In the evening we visit a cultural restaurant, enjoying the great Ethiopian food together with traditional music and dance from all over this fascinating country. Overnight Monarch Hotel. For participants arriving on Thursday or earlier we can book additional rooms at Monarch Hotel.


Day 2 (Thursday 7 January) Addis Ababa ‐ Harar, by flight

A short flight will take us today to Dire Dawa. We have time here to visit the spice market and immerse ourselves in some photographic moments. It is important to ask when taking photos as not everyone is comfortable being subjected to their photograph being taken. Here a transfer is waiting to take us to Harar, a 55 km journey of about 1.5 hours. Overnight Ras Hotel.


Day 3 (Friday 8 January) Harar

The walled city of Harar is known as 4th holiest town of Islam. We take you around through the maze of ancient streets and alleyways. There are many mosques and shrines to discover and it is lively and colourful. The Harari market is famous. In the evening we are going to see the 'Hyena Man', feeding the hyenas by hand. You dare to give it a try? Overnight Ras Hotel.


Day 4 (Saturday 9 January) Harar ‐ Awash National Park

First we are traveling through a mountainous and fertile area famous for coffee and qat and later we reach the plains of the Rift Valley. On our way to the lodge we make our first game drive in Awash National Park. You may to see oryx, kudu, defassa waterbuck, Soemmering's gazelle, warthog and baboon. The park is also a great place for birdwatchers. From our simple lodge we have a view over Awash falls. Overnight Awash Falls Lodge.


Day 5 (Sunday 10 January) Awash NP ‐ Semera

This morning we explore a little more of Awash National Park before we start our journey to Semera. The drive of today through the Rift Valley leads us into the Afar region. Late afternoon we reach Semera the capital of the Afar region and gateway to the Danakil Depression. Overnight Erta Ale Hotel.


Day 6 (Monday 11 January) Semera ‐ Afrera

Today we are entering the Danakil Depression but before we do so we have to arrange our entry permits and local Afar guide. Our journey takes us through a scenic lava desert and reach an altitude well below sea level. The Danakil is the second lowest place on Earth. The destination for today is the salt lake of Afrera where we see the process of salt extraction from the lake. There is hot spring near our camp which is great to wash in! The opportunity for some astro-photography here is excellent - there is very little light pollution.


Day 7 (Tuesday 12 January) Afrera ‐ Erta Ale

We continue our journey through the Danakil Depression towards Dodom, a small settlement and the base for approaching the Erta Ale volcano. Today we leave the asphalt behind and will travel through sand and over rocky lava in our 4WD's. In the late afternoon we start our ascent to the rim of the caldera of Erta Ale. this is a typical shield volcano with gentle slopes but don't underestimate the hike up in the heat. It is a 3‐4 hours hike to cover the distance of 10 km and 500 m in altitude. Make sure you take plenty of water (provided). A camel caravan accompanies us with only the most necessary luggage and equipment. Once at the top you will be rewarded with a vision of the the night skies above and the fiery cauldron of bubbling lava in the crater. Overnight camping.


Day 8 (Wednesday 13 January) Erta Ale ‐ Ahmed Ela

After observing sunrise over the spectacular lava lake we return to our base camp in Dodom. After a well deserved breakfast we board our 4WD's and follow one of the many rough tracks through the desert landscape to the north. Navigation by a local guide is essential not to get lost. Somewhere in the afternoon we reach the settlement of Ahmed Ela. This is one of the resting places for the camel caravans transporting the precious salt from the nearby Lake Asale to Berhale. There is a lot of activity connected to the arrival and departure of the endless caravans. The photographic opportunities are endless here. We continually seek the best light and moments and expect the unexpected! Overnight camping.


Day 9 (Thursday 14 January) Ahmed Ela (Visit Dallol and Lake Asale)

Early morning we follow the camel caravans to Lake Asale to observe the extraction of the salt by hand. It is a centuries old handcraft of cutting and shaping the salt blocks. Sometimes hundreds s of camels are present to take the load and transport it to Berhale higher on the rim of the rift valley. Late afternoon we visit the place recorded as the hottest inhabited place on our planet. The ghost town of Dallol is an abandoned miners town and mostly constructed out of salt. Some old machinery used for the mining activities is still found here. Nearby lies the fantastic and extraordinarily beautiful hydrothermal field of the Dallol volcano. Some say it is the most colorful place on the planet. Please be careful and stay on well trodden paths. The area is very fragile and the crust might break if you're trying to get too close to the pools. Contact with the boiling acid water will cause serious injuries. To reach the hydrothermal field there is a direct approach of less than 1 km. Overnight camping.


Day 10 (Friday 15 January) Ahmed Ela ‐ Hawzien

Today it is time to leave the heat and dust behind. If possible we may try to visit an Afar village although photographs are hard to take as the people here are quite insular. We travel into the highlands and reach the Tigray region, famous for its rock‐hewn churches. Some of them are nearby the road, others are only accessible on foot, sometimes following challenging tracks and ascents. Overnight Gheralta Lodge.


Day 11 (Saturday 16 January) Hawzien

The beautiful Gheralta Lodge is an excellent base to explore the little visited rock‐hewn churches of Tigray. Today we team up with a local guide and discuss with him which churches we would like to visit. You could try the challenging hike (very steep but spectacular) up to Abuna Yemata or Maryam Korkor. Abreha Atsbeha is also a very beautiful rock‐hewn church and very easy accessible. Overnight Gheralta Lodge.


Day 12 (Sunday 17 January) Hawzien ‐ Mekele

Another day to explore more of the Tigray region. Late afternoon we drive to Mekele, the capital of the region. Overnight Planet Hotel.


Participants not traveling to Lalibela for the extension will fly this evening from Mekele to Addis Ababa (ET109 19:50 ‐ 21:10) with a connecting international flight. When the international flight is the next morning or later we can book additional rooms at the Monarch Hotel in Addis Ababa.

ITINERARY: LALIBELA & TIMKET (optional extension)

Day 13 (Monday 18 January) Mekele ‐ Lalibela

A long but beautiful drive takes us to another highlight of Ethiopia: Lalibela. There are different roads leading there, the shortest one through Sekota is the most scenic but also very rough. There are, however, some great villages, rural scenes and landscapes to see. Your guide/driver has to confirm if the condition of this road is fine to travel. The longest road goes via Woldya and is almost all asphalt, time wise there is not much difference which road you take. Overnight Lal Hotel.


Day 14 (Tuesday 19 January) Lalibela

The 12th century rock‐hewn churches are the legacy of king Lalibela. It is said his visit to Jerusalem inspired him to build the 11 churches. This morning we start exploring these truly amazing places of worship. After lunch the Timket festival starts. This commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. This differs from Epiphany known by the Western Christian Churches where the revelation of Jesus, the son of God, is commemorated on January 6th, symbolized by the visitation of the Three Wise Men. One of these, Balthazar, is believed to be a king from Ethiopia locally know as Bazen. Timket is the biggest celebration of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of the year. The celebration which starts this afternoon is known as Ketera. The Tabot (replica of the Ark of the Covenant) of each church is taken out of the Makdas (holy of holiest) and in a colorful procession taken to the main site of the festival. Different processions carrying the Tabots will join together along the way. Chanting and dancing crowds follow the procession. The Tabots stay overnight in a special tent and ceremonies continue during the night. Overnight Lal Hotel.


Day 15 (Wednesday 20 January) Lalibela

On the day of Timket everybody congregates very early morning, before sunrise, and prayers, songs and dances are performed before the water is blessed. The faithful are now more than ready to renew their baptismal vows by the holy water and a run on the water will emerge. Later in the morning the Tabots begin their journey back to the churches It starts with a huge procession with all Tabots together and at different places the procession halts to perform rituals. As the day before huge crowds, singing and dancing, join the procession. It takes the better part of the day before the procession breaks up to return the Tabots to the churches in the afternoon. Crowds will stay around the churches to celebrate. Overnight Lal Hotel.


Day 16 (Thursday 21 January) Lalibela ‐ Addis Ababa, by flight

A short flight takes us back to Addis Ababa. A transfer is waiting to take us to our hotel where rooms are available for day‐use. In the evening there is a transfer to Bole International Airport for the international flights.

All photos: Trevor Cole & Chris Marquardt


Title: Ethiopia Experience 2016 Photo Tour
Start: Jan 06 2016
Duration: 11 (main tour) + 5 (extension) days
Location: Ethiopia
Language(s): English, German
Host(s): Chris Marquardt, Tim Vollmer, Trevor Cole
This workshop/tour is completed.

Photos from this tour/workshop:

» Photos by Chris on Flickr » Photography by Chris Marquardt

If you have any questions about this tour, please don't hesitate to email me chris@chrismarquardt.com. You can also reach me on Twitter @chrismarquardt or on Facebook.

(receive sporadic emails with workshop updates)

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  • Airport transfers and transport around Addis Ababa and Harar by minibus or coaster
  • Road transport from day 4 until day 12 by 4WD, maximum 3 passengers per vehicle, includes drivers allowance and accommodation.
  • Support vehicle from day 6 until day 10
  • Professional English speaking guide, including his allowance, acommodation and airfare
  • Accommodation based on twin room sharing
  • Meal plan full board, all meals including one non-alcoholic drink.
  • Unlimited mineral water during Danakil desert expedition.
  • Full camping equipment including tent, mattresses and sleeping bags for Danakil expedition.
  • Fees for entrances, local guides, compulsory scouts/security personnel and boats for activities mentioned in the itinerary
  • All government taxes for the services included in the tour price
  • Professional photography instructors Chris Marquardt, Tim Vollmer, Trevor Cole


  • Airport transfers and transport around Addis Ababa and Lalibela by minibus or coaster
  • Road transport from Mekele to Lalibela by 4WD, maximum 3 passengers per vehicle, including drivers allowance and accomodation
  • Professional English speaking guide, including his/her allowance, accommodation and airfare
  • Accommodation based on twin room sharing
  • Meal plan full board, all meals including one non-alcoholic drink
  • Feeds for entrances, local guides, compulsory scouts/security personnel and boats for activities mentoined in the itinerary
  • All government taxes for the services included in the tour price

Not Included


  • International flights and visa fees
  • Domestic flights
  • All alcoholic drinks and additional non-alcoholic drinks
  • Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary
  • Occasional fees for photos and video, depending on location
  • Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities, etc.
  • Anything that's not explicitly mentioned above


  • Internaional flights and vis fees
  • Domestic flights
  • All alcoholic drinks and additional non-alcoholic drinks
  • Activities not mentioned or stated as optional in the itinerary
  • Occasional fees for photos and video, depending on location
  • Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities
  • Anything not explicitly mentioned above


Due to limited flight availability around the time of the Timket festival, we urge you to book this tour prior to October 31st 2015. It is still possible to book after this date but we may not be able to guarantee domestic flights back to Addis Ababa. In this case the only option available would be a longer drive.











Author: Chris Marquardt

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Shoe pictograms 1 and 2 by Alex Podolsky under a CC BY 3.0 US license