The Photogenic Wildlife of Ethiopia – With Oliver Smart

Group Tour
12 Days
From 5671
Primate Watching
Culture and Archaeology
Off The Beaten Track

Tour Introduction

12 Days from 5671 per adult. Prices based on rates applicable at the time of costing which may vary. Please ask for a definitive quote

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, both of whom will seek out and assist you in making the most of the once-in-a-lifetime photographic opportunities. Most of the pictures in this itinerary were taken by Oliver, which will give you some idea of his considerable shooting abilities and the possible sightings on this trip. His humour, knowledge and experience will help you gain maximum enjoyment and results from this exciting adventure.

We begin our photographic adventure in the Great Rift Valley, with Lake Awassa where we can enjoy excellent photography with many water birds and grivet and colobus monkeys as subjects.

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 a wildlife 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.

We then travel north to the ancient city of Gondar and the spectacular Simien Mountain range. Our highlight here will be sitting among the “herds” of geladas (sometimes only a few feet away) as they feed and chatter on the montane grasslands. 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.

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.

The majority of the potential key wildlife species to be observed should provide excellent opportunities for fabulous photography, although please note that patience, perseverance and luck will always be factors in achieving memorable images. 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 Land Cruisers, depending on the final group numbers.

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Full Itinerary

Price from 5671 per adult. Based on sharing double / twin rooms
Day 1
Addis Ababa - Lake Awassa

Arrive Addis Ababa. On arrival we transfer to our nearby hotel for breakfast and some time to freshen up before taking our domestic flight to Lake Awassa. We then have the rest of the day to relax and enjoy the prolific birdlife in the lovely hotel grounds.

Staying at Haile Resort Awassa. Includes All Meals.

Day 2
Lake Awassa

This morning we will visit the local fish market on the shores of Lake Awassa for the spectacle of hundreds of marabou storks gathering a few feet away. African fish eagles, jacanas, hamerkops, waders 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 beautiful and photogenic birdlife plus colobus and grivet monkeys.

Staying at Haile Resort Awassa. Includes All Meals.

Day 3
Bale Mountains

After another visit to the fish market we set off for the dramatic and picturesque drive to the Bale Mountains. We will pass a variety of landscapes and will stop often to spot wildlife and admire the views. We will arrive at our lodge in the heart of the Bale Mountains wilderness in the late afternoon in time for dinner and a short walk.

We may spot and photograph our first Ethiopian wolves on our journey today.

Staying at Bale Mountain Lodge. Includes All Meals.

Day 4
Bale Mountains - Sanetti Plateu

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 predators hunting their favourite prey, the odd-looking giant mole rat, another endemic species.

Other alpine wildlife includes the Ethiopian highland hare and abundant birds of prey including several species of eagle, augur and mountain buzzards and lanner falcons.

Staying at Bale Mountain Lodge. Includes All Meals.

Day 5
Bale Mountains - Gaysay Grasslands

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, a very different habitat.

Here we can enjoy close encounters with the magnificent mountain nyala along with herds of reedbuck, olive baboons and warthogs. We will also look for rare owls and keep an eye out for hunting servals.

Staying at Bale Mountain Lodge. Includes All Meals.

Day 6
Bale Mountains

We have another day to enjoy the magnificent wildlife of the Bale Mountains.

Today we could perhaps walk a forest trail in the morning. The lush Harenna cloud forest that surrounds our lodge is the home of the rare Bale monkey as well as chameleons, frogs, butterflies and rare birds such as African crowned eagle and Abyssinian catbird.

We could then return to the plateau for more wolf encounters or look for secretive giant forest hogs.

Staying at Bale Mountain Lodge. Includes All Meals.

Day 7
Bale Mountains

After a final morning to discover and photograph the wildlife of the Bale Mountains, we say farewell to newfound friends and leave for the nearby Goba airport.

We take the domestic flight to Addis Ababa where we will make a short
visit to the National Museum which houses the famous Lucy exhibit and some of the earliest hominid remains ever discovered.

This evening dinner will be at the wonderful Yod Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant, where energetic traditional dance performances and live music from around the country complement a tasty and memorable dinner.

Staying at Swiss Inn Nexus Hotel. Includes All Meals.

Day 8
Simien Mountains

This morning we take a domestic flight from Addis Ababa to Gondar.

We then transfer north to Debark, the gateway to the stunning Simien Mountains National Park. This journey takes around 3-4 hours and passes interesting upland landscapes including the mountains of Kosoye where Queen Elizabeth camped in 1965 on her journey to Axum.

We will arrive at the lodge in time for a late lunch. In the afternoon we will explore some the Simien Mountains National Park close to our lodge.

Staying at Simien Lodge. Includes All Meals.

Day 9
Simien Mountains

Today we can enjoy a full day exploring the Simien Mountains National Park with a packed lunch enabling us to travel further into the park.

The dramatic mountain landscapes and unique wildlife of the Simien Mountains has also afforded it UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The jagged mountains with their craggy peaks and pinnacles, deep valleys and sheer cliff faces make for some superb landscape photography.

Among our many highlights here will be sitting amongst the vast herds of geladas as they graze around us. Geladas are one of the planet's most expressive primates and against the impressive mountain backdrops, they make for great photography subjects.

Staying at Simien Lodge. Includes All Meals.

Day 10
Simien Mountains

Today we will explore more the Simien Mountains taking in various habitats and wildlife.

We visit the beautiful and remote Chennek Valley, where the locally endemic Walia ibex is regularly found. This is also an excellent area of the park to see and photograph the majestic lammergeier. Other wildlife we will look for includes the agile Ethiopian klipspringer, bushbuck, jackals, and a huge diversity of birds of prey.

This evening we will try a sky at night photography session, aiming to capture the milky way above the mountains.

Staying at Simien Lodge. Includes All Meals.

Day 11

A final morning enjoying the geladas and thick-billed ravens around our lodge in the crisp light of sunrise.

We will then head back Gondar for a tasty lunch at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. In the late afternoon we will visit the historic Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure and its castles, dating back to the 17th Century.

A short drive from these castles is the Fasilides Bath, which is filled with water once a year and celebrated by the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The site is also a good location to spot many endemic birds and is used as a roost site by a greyish eagle owl, which we will hope to find.

Staying at Goha Hotel. Includes All Meals.

Day 12
Gondar and Addis Ababa

This morning we will make a visit to the impressive Debre Birhan Selassie Church. Also built in the 17th Century by King Iyasu, this famous church offers some of the best examples of Ethiopian Orthodox artwork.

We will also have some time for bird photography in the greener areas of the city. Later we transfer back to the Gondar airport to take our domestic flight back to Addis Ababa.

On arrival back in Addis we will transfer to the Swiss Inn Nexus Hotel for day use of a room and a last farewell dinner. Later in the evening we will transfer to the airport to check in for onward international flights. If an overnight at the hotel is required for a flight the next day, please let us know.

Staying at Swiss Inn Nexus Hotel. Includes All Meals.

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Tour Accommodation


Bale Mountain Lodge


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.

Swimming Pool
Air Conditioning

An onsite restaurant and bar, firepit, patio deck, free Wi-Fi internet in the main building, laundry service available and guided tours.

Local Wildlife

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.

Optional Activities

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.

Ethiopia The Great Rift Valley and Lakes

Haile Resort Hawassa


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.

Swimming Pool
Air Conditioning

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.

Optional Activities

Boat trips, hippo watching, mountain trekking, tennis, table tennis, mini golf, volleyball, spa treatments, visiting local attractions.

Ethiopia Northern Ethiopia Amhara and Tigray

Simien Lodge


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.

Swimming Pool
Air Conditioning

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.

Local Wildlife

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.

Optional Activities

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.


Goha Hotel


Built on a hilltop overlooking Gondar town, the Goha Hotel combines stunning views with a comfortable and traditional Ethiopian yet modern design. All the rooms are elegantly and colourfully designed with local art deco influences. Each room features a private bathroom, comfortable beds, TV, telephone and desk.

The charming Hotel restaurant on the terrace has beautiful views and excellent service, serving both traditional and European food. Every Saturday and Sunday live entertainment with traditional music and dance shows is put on. Wi-Fi is a little patchy and most accessible in the restaurant and reception area. Gondar’s historic attractions are all very accessible from the hotel and the Castles and Royal Enclosure is a 10-minute drive away.

Swimming Pool
Air Conditioning

An outdoor swimming pool, restaurant, bar and terrace and free Wi-Fi in the main building. Room facilities include a TV, telephone and private bathroom.

Optional Activities

Take a guided city tour of the royal and ancient history of Gondar. Highlights include the Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure and its castles, dating back to the 17th Century, the Fasilides Bath and the Debre Birhan Selassie Church.

Take one of the hotel bikes to explore the city.

Route Map

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Bale Mountain Lodge: 6.717658, 39.727922
Haile Resort Hawassa: 7.079606, 38.479095
Simien Lodge: 13.211777, 37.977824
Goha Hotel: 12.620579, 37.468306
Swiss Inn Nexus Hotel: 9.007640, 38.805573

Departure Dates

Tour Dates
Adult Price
Single Supp

Travel Information

Are International Flights Included?

No. Please contact us for a quote if required.

Flight Info:

There are direct flights from London Heathrow with Ethiopian Airlines. Flights are 7 hours 45 minutes.

Best Visited:

October to November

Are you ATOL Registered?

Yes. This means we are legally able to book your international flights in conjunction with your ground arrangements so you can book with us with complete confidence. Read more about our ATOL license here.

Ian Loyd

Area Specialist

If you have any questions regarding this Tour, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965