The Photogenic Wildlife Highlights of Ethiopia – With Oliver Smart
This expert-led small group tour concentrates on the unique, unusual and photogenic wildlife and landscapes that set Ethiopia apart from the rest of Africa. Ethiopia is truly a photographer’s dream destination with many of its highlight mammal and bird species, surprisingly tolerant of people. There will be an emphasis in this group tour on photography and tuition in addition to observing Ethiopia’s magnificent and varied wildlife including its mammals, birds, reptiles and other fauna and flora. The tour is suitable for those interested in observing wildlife at a leisurely pace as well as keen photographers.
It will be jointly led by award-winning wildlife photographer, ornithologist and naturalist Oliver Smart and local wildlife expert Daniel Million who will both help you make the most of the many photographic opportunities. Most of the pictures in this itinerary were taken by Oliver on his 2019 tour, which will give you some idea of his abilities and the sightings that are possible. His humour, knowledge and experience will help you gain maximum enjoyment and results from this exciting adventure.
Highlights on the trip will include sitting among “herds” of gelada baboons (sometimes only a few feet away) as they feed and chatter on the montane grasslands of the Simien Mountains. We should also see the impressive Walia ibex, agile klipspringer, soaring lammergeiers and croaking thick-billed ravens all against a backdrop of jaw-dropping scenery.
Next comes the Bale Mountains, inhabited by the world’s rarest canid and Africa’s most endangered carnivore; the beautiful Ethiopian wolf. Seeing this elegant predator hunting giant mole rats on the moonlike Sanetti Plateau is an experience to savour. The Afro-alpine moorlands and lush lichen-clad cloud forests of the Bale Mountains are also home to many other endemic species including the mountain nyala, Bale monkey, crowned eagle, blue-winged goose and the curious Bale horned chameleon to name just a few.
In the Great Rift Valley, our final destination will be Lake of Awassa where we can enjoy excellent photography with the confiding water birds and grivet and colobus monkeys. Ethiopia’s fascinating ancient and more recent history and unique cultures also combine with its wildlife to make for an unforgettable adventure in one of Africa’s most diverse countries.
With the majority of the key wildlife species that could be encountered there should be good opportunities for photography, although please note that some patience, perseverance and luck will always be a factor with any photography. For most of the wildlife on this trip a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera with a telephoto lens between 300-600 mm or a powerful zoom or bridge camera will produce the best results. Ethiopia has some superb panoramic landscapes so a wide-angle lens is also ideal and there will also be some smaller wildlife for macro lenses. A tripod can also be very useful in some situations. The tour will use transportation in either three or four 4WD Hardtop Toyota Landcruiser’s depending on the numbers.
Arrive Addis Ababa. On arrival we transfer to a nearby hotel for breakfast, lunch and some time to rest after international flights. Later we return to the airport to take our flight to Gondar and transfer north to the Simien Lodge for the night.
Staying at Simien Lodge . Includes All Meals.
Today we can enjoy our first full day to explore the Simien Mountains National Park. In the morning we can perhaps enjoy our first encounters with geladas, highland birds and some magnificent scenery.
One of the highlights of the day will be spending more time with the habituated geladas (or bleeding-heart baboons) as they graze the montane grasslands of the park, offering exceptional photographic opportunities.
The volcanic Simien Mountains date back nearly 20 million years and offer some of the most rugged and dramatic mountain landscapes in all of Africa. The altitude of most areas we will visit will be around 3,300 and 3,500 meters above sea level.
Staying at Simien Lodge . Includes All Meals.
Today we have another full day to explore the Simien Mountains National Park and visit the remote Chennek Valley.
Here we will hopefully find the agile endemic Walia ibex which are surprisingly at home on the craggy ledges of the mountains. We will also be on the lookout for the impressive lammergeier alongside numerous other species of birds of prey, croaking thick-billed ravens and nimble klipspringers.
Staying at Simien Lodge. Includes All Meals.
This morning we will have a last morning of wildlife photography and viewing close to the lodge. Perhaps joining the geladas on the grasslands as they feed in the early morning sun light.
Later we will return to the historic town of Gondar to visit the seven castles of Fasil Ghebbi, built by Emperor Fasilides in the 17th Century and the nearby Fasilides Bath. This is also a good spot for birdlife perhaps revealing a greyish eagle owl.
Staying at Haile Resort Gondar. Includes All Meals.
This morning we will visit the impressive Debre Birhan Selassie Church; one of the most beautiful churches in all of Ethiopia with intricate ceiling and wall paintings dating back to the 17th Century.
Later we transfer to the airport to take our flight back to Addis Ababa. In the afternoon we visit the National Museum to see the Lucy exhibit which houses the remains of one of the oldest humans ever discovered. In the evening we will enjoy a special dinner at a traditional Ethiopian Folk Restaurant with live music and dance performances.
Staying at Getfam Hotel. Includes All Meals.
Today we will transfer to the airport for our flight to Goba on the edge of the Bale Mountain National Park. We will then transfer to our lodge enjoying the wildlife and landscapes as we travel. This may include our first sightings of Ethiopian wolf and giant mole rat on the Sanetti Plateau.
Staying at Bale Mountain Lodge. Includes All Meals.
Today we will explore the magical high-altitude moorlands of the Sanetti Plateau with a packed lunch.
During the day, we will take safari style drives along the highest all-weather road in Africa. This is the best place to see one of Ethiopia’s most iconic and charismatic mammals; the beautiful and rare Ethiopian wolf.
We will hopefully be able to watch and photograph these highly endangered wolves hunting their favourite prey; endemic giant mole rats. Other wildlife we will look for includes the Ethiopian highland hare and birds such as spot-breasted lapwing, Rouget's rail, ruddy shelduck and the abundant birds of prey.
In the late afternoon we can perhaps explore some of the dense cloud forest ecosystem around our lodge.
Staying at Bale Mountain Lodge. Includes All Meals.
Today we could perhaps start with a short walk in the Harenna Forest, looking for wildlife such as the endemic Bale monkey, the impressive crowned eagle and chameleons . We will then return to the plateau for more wolf viewing and photography before visiting the Gaysay grasslands of Dinsho.
Here we can enjoy close encounters with the magnificent mountain nyala along with herds of reedbuck, olive baboons and warthogs happily feeding in the open grasslands. We will also look for rare owls and keep a look out for hunting servals.
Staying at Bale Mountain Lodge. Includes All Meals.
After a last morning walk in the local forest we will transfer back across the Bale Mountains wildlife viewing as we go to reach Lake Awassa in the late aftenoon. This journey will take us most of the day but passes through some stunning scenery.
We will arrive at our next hotel in the late afternoon with some time for lesuirely bird watching and photography in the lodge grounds.
Staying at Haile Resort Awassa. Includes All Meals.
This morning we will visit the local fish market at Lake Awassa for the spectacle of hundreds of marabou storks gathering a few feet away. African fish eagles, jacanas, hamerkops, red-knobbed coots and a variety of other water birds join the storks.
We will then explore the fringes of Lake Awassa and its nearby woodlands for a range of birdlife and colobus and grivet monkeys.
Staying at Haile Resort Awassa. Includes All Meals.
Today we can enjoy a final morning of photography and wildlife viewing on the bird filled shores of Lake Awassa.
Later in the day we take an afternoon flight back to Addis Ababa for our final meal and day use of a hotel room before departure on international flights.
Depart on international flight or overnight in Addis Ababa.
Includes All Meals.
Download the full details of this itinerary and start planning your trip today. Download File
Simien Lodge is the self-proclaimed highest lodge in Africa, sitting at 3,300 meters above sea level. Located on the edge of an escarpment just inside the boundary of the Simien Mountains National Park, the lodge boasts incredible scenic views as well as easy access into the Park. Herds of geladas and thick-billed ravens often frequent the lodge grounds and can be very approachable here.
Rooms are in traditional Ethiopian style Tukels – meaning house.
The round buildings have thatched rooves and each contain two rooms and two ensuite bathrooms. Main rooms can be arranged with double or twin beds and have enough space for an extra bed if required. Being at high altitude, temperatures can be quite cold at times. Therefore, the Tukels have solar powered underfloor heating to take the edge off the cold and hot water bottles can be provided. Extra blankets are also available to ensure guests comfort as there are often power cuts up here.
The restaurant in the main building serves mostly international dishes in buffet format during busy times and as a set menu at quieter times. Traditional Ethiopian cuisine can also be requested and there is a wide selection of wines and other drinks, although the stocks are not always available. Packed lunches can be prepared for guests embarking on a day’s trekking or visits to other parts of the park such as the Chennek Valley as well. The bar is proud to be the highest place to get a drink in Africa and is comfortably furnished for a warm and inviting atmosphere.
They remain open until the last guests have left, and there will often be some sort of evening entertainment occurring, such as a film about the local area or wildlife. Please note that electricity supply can be very hit and miss at this location and torches are very useful to have for the evenings. Please also be aware that the paths between the Tukels can be a little uneven and you will likely feel the effects of the altitude. The lodge has also been long involved with the local community and supports many projects such as school initiatives, monastery restoration, transportation for the local village and mostly recently a community health centre.
Rooms have ensuite bathrooms with showers and required amenities, underfloor solar powered heating and extra blankets and hot water bottles can be provided for cold nights. The main lodge has a spacious restaurant and bar area. There is no Wi-Fi or reliable phone reception at the lodge and power cuts are frequent due to the remote location.
The wonderfully expressive geladas are usually the highlight of a visit to the Simien Mountains. Sitting in amongst a herd of geladas provides a fascinating and intimate wildlife experience as these wonderful, endemic primates graze, groom and chatter around you. The highly endangered Walia ibex is another key species that is most often seen in the remote Chennek Valley of the Park. Other wildlife includes the agile Ethiopian klipspringer, Menelik's bushbuck and a small population of Ethiopian (Simien) wolf, leopard and golden jackal, although these species are rare to see here. The birdlife is very impressive including the aptly named thick-billed raven, lammergeier, tawny and steppe eagles, Ruppell’s, white-backed and Egyptian vultures, Erckel’s francolin, greater blue-eared starling, Abyssinian Longclaw, moorland chat and Abyssinian wheatear.
Exploring the Simien Mountains National Park to see its exciting wildlife and landscapes. There is a wide range of treks to choose from and mountain bikes can also be hired. For those interested in culture visits to local churches and villages can also be arranged.
Haile resort Hawassa is a four star stylish resort, located upon the shores of Lake Awasa with a 1000sqm lake view. With fabulous facilities and comfortable rooms, it is a perfect base from which to enjoy the activities on offer in this area.
All 126 guest rooms are stylishly decorated, and equipped with modern amenities. There are many different rooming categories available, such as: handicap rooms; standard; twin; family; suite; interconnected family; apartments and the presidential suite. Rooms also vary based on whether they have garden or lake views. The hotel offers a wide range of dining options, including a traditional restaurant serving Ethiopian cuisine, a gill restaurant, and outdoor dining restaurant and the ‘VIP’ restaurant designed for business meals. There are also four bar options: the sunset wine bar; beach bar; lobby bar and sports lounge bar.
The hotel’s fantastic lake front location makes it ideal for exploring Lake Awasa. Boat trips are available to go hippo watching, or to visit the local fish market and other lakeside attractions such as the Tikur Wuha park or Amora Gedel park. Additionally, guests can pursue land-based activities such as enjoying the hotel’s on-site sporting facilities, visiting the St. Gabriel church or Millenium park, or trekking on Mount Tabor.
Rooms have safe deposit box, 42 inch flat screen TV, mini bar, telephone remote controlled fan, bath room amenities, along with daily housekeeping, 24 hour room service and high speed WIFI. The resort also has four restaurants and four bars, gym, sauna, steam room, pool, spa, tennis and table tennis, volleyball court, barber, children’s play grounds, mini golf and horseback riding. Additionally, there are four meeting rooms and a ballroom.
Boat trips, hippo watching, mountain trekking, tennis, table tennis, mini golf, volleyball, spa treatments, visiting local attractions.
Haile Resort Gondar is located in central Gondar which is a beautiful northern city and the former capital of Ethiopia during the time of the Ethiopian Empire until 1855 and is steeped in history. The city is built within a low bowl on the Lesser Angereb River Gondar, surrounded by rolling hills and also acts as the gateway to the Simien Mountains further to the north and Lake Tana to the south.
The hotel has 56 spacious and modern rooms with plenty of facilities and is well located for visiting the historic attractions nearby. The hotel features an outdoor pool, a small garden, rooftop terrace and also a 24-hour health club and spa for unwinding after a day exploring the historical centre. The restaurant serves international and some Ethiopian speciality dishes and there is well stocked bar and public lounge to enjoy in the evenings.
Hotel facilities include a restaurant and bar, 24-hour front desk, room service, free Wi-Fi, an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, evening entertainment. Each room is fitted with a desk, a flat-screen TV, a modern private bathroom and fridge.
Gondar is of most interest for its historical sites, but is also an excellent area for birdwatching. Within the Fasilides Bath, a greyish eagle owl can sometimes be found roosting. While the leafy grounds of the Fasilides Royal Enclosure and Bath are home to many endemic and attractive birds including the endemic Abyssinian slaty flycatcher, Ethiopian black-headed oriole, mocking cliff chat, African grey woodpecker, dusky turtle dove, montane white-eye, tacazze sunbird and many beautiful starlings including the glossy, superb, greater blue-eared and the white-billed.
Visit Gondar's famous Royal Castles including those in Fasil Ghebbi (the Royal Enclosure), and the Fasilides Bath, for which Gondar has been called the "Camelot of Africa". The Debre Birhan Selassie Church showcases some of the most beautiful Ethiopian church artwork and is well worth visiting.
Within the Harenna Forest of the Bale Mountains National Park, one of the largest remaining Tropical Cloud Forests in Africa and Ethiopia’s premier National Park, you’ll find the warm and welcoming Bale Mountain Lodge.
The lodge sits at 2,380 meters above sea level, on a small hill within an eight-hectare plot overlooking a mountain stream and forest clearing. The lodge offers views of the 1500-meter-high Harenna escarpment, with its volcanic outcrops rising dramatically above the forest. It is generally cool and damp from late April to September but warm and drier from October to mid-April.
All of the rooms offer comfortable beds, private decks and wood-burning stoves. Each is hidden from view from any other to permit guests to feel totally isolated whilst being safe and warm. Some rooms are tree houses built on stilts with outside showers and wonderful forest settings but are located a short walk from the main building. There are also disabled and limited access rooms located next to the main building. The lodge is a superb location from which to explore the forest and the nearby Sanetti Plateau, both of which offer walking and 4WD safaris in the company of a knowledgeable guide. The plateau is around a 40 minute drive away and there are trails into the Harenna Forest leading out from the lodge itself.
The lodge is a spectacular spot for viewing a variety of wildlife nearby.
An onsite restaurant and bar, firepit, patio deck, free Wi-Fi internet in the main building, laundry service available and guided tours.
Around the lodge itself a variety of mammals occur including guereza black-and-white colobus and the endemic Bale monkeys, warthogs, Menelik's bushbucks, tree hyraxes and African golden jackals, while further afield giant forest hog, bushpig, and lion and leopard are even occasionally spotted. Birdlife is also plentiful with white-cheeked turaco, African emerald cuckoo, Abyssinian catbird, silvery-cheeked hornbill, mountain buzzard and African crowned eagle to name just a few. Travelling on to the Sanetti Plateau (around 40 minutes away) it is possible to see Ethiopian wolf, giant mole rats, Ethiopian Stark’s hares, klipspringers, blue-winged geese, spot-breasted lapwings, Rouget's rail, lammergeier, golden eagle, augur buzzard and much more.
The lodge is most popular for its wildlife viewing and birding but guided hiking, horse riding, fishing and cultural activities such as village and market visits and honey collecting can all be arranged.
Visiting the Rift Valley, with its camel markets and dry, dusty conditions, is a mere 45-minute drive to the south and the Sof Omar caves, Africa’s largest limestone cave system- a return day trip to the North.
The Getfam Hotel provides a comfortable setting and a lovely accommodation option while in Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa Bole International Airport is just a 15-minute drive from the hotel, and a free shuttle service is available for ease of travel. The hotel offers well-furnished modern and comfortable rooms and suites all well equipped with modern facilities for a comfortable stay. There is complimentary Wi-Fi available to guests throughout the hotel and an indoor swimming pool on the second floor, while on the third floor a steam room, sauna and massage room can be found.
Each room has a Samsung LCD satellite TV, tea and coffee facilities, mini-bar and a private bathroom with bathtub and shower head plus complimentary toiletries. On the ground floor guests can enjoy buffet breakfasts and a la carte dining at the restaurant and bar where both tasty Western and Ethiopian cuisine is available.
The Getfam Hotel offers a buffet breakfast, free airport shuttle, free Wi-Fi, a well-equipped gym, an indoor swimming pool, spa, sauna and steam room and an onsite restaurant serving wonderful meals. Inside the rooms you’ll find a complimentary tea & coffee machine, bottled water, safe deposit box, bath robes, slippers and toiletries provided. Each room also features a flat screen TV, a mini-bar, luxurious bedding, an iron with ironing board and a room with roll-away bed is available upon request.
You could explore Shola Market, or do a shop at the Zefmest Grand Mall and Edna Mall which is located within 2 miles. Medhane Alem Church and “Red Terror” Martyrs' Memorial Museum are also 2 miles away.
Are International Flights Included?
No. Please contact us for a quote if required.
There are direct flights from London Heathrow with Ethiopian Airlines. Flights are 7 hours 45 minutes.
November to November
Add a visit to Lalibela’s incredible rock hewn churches at the beginning or end of the tour. There are daily flights from Addis Ababa direct to Lalibela.
With the majority of the key wildlife species that could be encountered there should be good opportunities for photography, although please note that some patience, perseverance and luck will always be a factor with any photography. For most of the wildlife on this trip a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera with a telephoto lens between 300-600 mm or a powerful zoom or bridge camera will produce the best results. Ethiopia has some superb panoramic landscapes so a wide-angle lens is also ideal if you have one and there will also be smaller wildlife that a macro lens will be most useful for too. A tripod can be very useful in some situations but is not essential for most of the wildlife photography on this tour.
If you have any questions regarding this tour, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965