January 10 - 22, 2019
This very unique and exciting photo tour consists of three parts. First, we will visit the Omo River Valley for an extraordinary cultural experience and outstanding photography. It is truly like going back in time 20,000 years. We will visit the Mursi, Surma, Karo, and Hamar tribes to name a few, and you will have up close and intimate portrait opportunities that you’ll treasure forever.
The second part of the trip consists of visiting the Christian north of the country. We visit Gondar, home to some of the most unusual and beautiful Christian art. The African motifs of the church interiors are stunning. We will also get to photograph the wonderful Ethiopian Epiphany Celebration (also called Timkat) where priests and serious devotees by the hundreds dress in colorful and exotic attire and are happy to be photographed. They celebrate and memorialize the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
The third part of this Ethiopian adventure is visiting an otherworldly landscape, the Dallol Vocano. Dallol is a cinder cone volcano in the Danakil Depression. Numerous hot springs discharge acidic liquid, and the extremely high salt content has formed to make wildly beautiful formations of brilliant yellow, blue, green, and red. You will think you’ve landed on another planet.
As an extension, which is not part of the main tour, you will be able to visit (after a 3 or 4 hour night hike) the active volcano Erta Ale. This is a very hot part of the country, but the exertion is worth it if you can physically make the trip because you’ll be able to look down into the molten earth and see the most incredible churning of lava and occasional fireworks of liquid rock.
We arrive in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where you can rest and overnight. If you have enough energy after the long flight, you can visit the National Museum of Ethiopia and photograph the skeleton of Lucy, a hominid that dates from 3.2 million years. The next morning we will take our first charter flight south to the tribal area. The photography on this tour is second to none. You won't believe the incredible pictures you'll be taking, and your friends back home will be incredulous. This is an experience of a lifetime.
In addition to people photography, Ethiopia has over 840 species of birds, and you will see many of them. It is a birder's paradise, so bring your longest lens to capture some of the stunning species like the magnificent crimson bee eater, red cheeked cordon bleu, sacred ibis, goliath heron, black kite, and the malachite kingfisher. In addition, you will undoubtedly have opportunities to photograph other wildlife such as baboons, colobus monkeys, and crocodiles.
Please note: This trip is not for everyone. If you need and expect creature comforts when you travel, do not sign up for this photo tour. Four nights on this itinerary are camping simply because there are no hotels in the tribal areas. This is the real African bush, and you are far from civilization. That's what makes this experience so compelling. You are provided a tent that can be zippered shut, a mattress, a sleeping bag, and the meals are simple but tasty and well prepared. A bush shower is set up in camp in the evening (this consists of a 5 gallon container of warm water that flows through a shower head in a private enclosed area), and hygiene is a top priority. We will have electricity to charge camera batteries, laptop computers, etc. via the generators provided by the local tour operator. Our drivers set up and break down the camp when we move to another location.
The dirt and gravel roads in Ethiopia are not good, the dust is ever present, and in this kind of rugged environment you have to have a sense of humor as well as patience and understanding. If you are a complainer, if you have a low tolerance for things that don't go your way, if you don't like unexpected challenges when you travel, please do not sign up for this tour.
If this is the kind of tour that appeals to you, however, and you are ready to take the most incredible travel pictures of your life and to experience cultures that few outsiders have the privilege of seeing and photographing, then you'll be thrilled with this photo tour. You will be required to have medical evacuation insurance (just in case) plus the required vaccinations recommended by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. If you need to stay in touch with business associates, friends, or family back home, you will need a satellite phone. Cell service is available in the cities, but in the bush a Sat phone is required.
There should be no rain during January. The temperature will vary from very pleasant to hot, depending on where in the country we'll be and at what elevation.
About the charter flights: Charter flights in Ethiopia are expensive, but they save several days of driving on roads that can only be described as brutal. The roads that extend from Addis Ababa down to the tribal areas of the Omo River Valley are to be avoided if possible because it takes two full days of driving on bad roads each way to get to the areas we need to go. Your experience in Ethiopia will be much more pleasant with the least amount of wear and tear on you with the addition of charter flights in the itinerary. This makes the trip more expensive, and I'm sorry about that because I try to keep my prices as reasonable as possible, but I feel most people would agree that it's the better option.
Day 1, Thursday; Jan. 10 Depart from your home city so you arrive in Addis Ababa on January 10 at any time. You will be met by a local representative and transferred to our hotel. Overnight Elilly/Capital Hotel and Spa (4 star).
Day 2, Friday; Jan. 11 After breakfast we take a morning charter flight to Jinka in the Omo River Valley and immediately transfer to a Mursi village. The Mursi women are famous for wearing lip plates and painting their faces. The women first started using the lip plates as a way to disfigure themselves so black slave traders would be appalled by the way they look and not take them into slavery. Later it became a sign of beauty and a way to get a husband. After a visit to a market, we will get our first chance to see and photograph a bull jumping ceremony. Overnight at the Eco-Omo Safari Lodge.
Day 3, Saturday; Jan. 12 We have another photo shoot this morning of a Mursi tribe, and then we head toward Turmi. Depending on our time, we will proceed to a Hamar village for an evening shoot of these proud people. They have high cheek bones and make for striking portraits. Jim will bring a large piece of black velvet for those who want to take dramatic portraits using this technique.
The incredible photography in this part of Ethiopia captures a moment in time in the ancient world of people who live peacefully and close to nature in one of the most far-flung, yet beautiful parts of the world. It is a special opportunity to photographically document their daily lives, capture enthralling portraits, and photograph timeless ceremonies. Overnight Buska Lodge.
Day 4, Sunday; Jan. 13 After breakfast we have an early morning shoot at a Hamar village. The Hamar women wear beautiful, colored beaded skins, ornate necklaces and metal bangles around their wrists and ankles. They are famous for their unique hair style which is made up of a crown of long dread-lock braids covered in reddish ochre. Next, we drive to a Karo village on the bank of the Omo River. The Karo tribe excel in face and body painting that is practiced daily in preparation for their dances and ceremonies. They pulverize locally found white chalk, yellow mineral rock, red iron ore and black charcoal to decorate their bodies, often mimicking the spotted plumage of guinea fowl. The men create highly decorated clay hair buns which can take up to three days to complete. Their ornate body scaring, where a cut is made with a knife and ash is rubbed into the wound to produce a raised welt, is also a known characteristic of the Karo. Overnight Murielle Omo Explorers Lodge.
Day 5, Monday; Jan. 14 We have another full day to photograph the amazing Karo. We will be able to photograph them in their villages, along the river, set up individual and group portraits, as they herd goats and cattle, and as they dance. The Karo are one of the friendliest tribes along the Omo River. Overnight Murulle Omo Explorers Lodge.
Day 6, Tuesday; Jan. 15 Today we take a charter flight to Mizan Teferi. Another crew will be waiting for us in the airport and transfer us to Kibish, which is Surma territory. In the afternoon we will arrive at our camp in the town Kibish. Our camp is a short walk to the river's edge where we will spend a lot of time photographing these remarkable people. Our first afternoon session with the Surma will be in beautiful afternoon light. Overnight mobile camp by the river side.
Day 7, Wednesday; Jan. 16 One full day is devoted to photographing the Surma because they are so amazing. We visit one or more traditional cattle camps in the afternoon light. We will have a variety of locations -- villages, streams, tall grass, etc. -- where you'll find a kaleidoscope of photographic opportunities. While our base is Kibish, we drive in a radius of 25 to 35 miles to photograph various tribes that are part of the Surma-speaking culture. Like the Mursi, Surma women also wear lips plates. The culture demands that the men are trained as warriors as well as cattle herders, and stick fighting events take place to train boys and young men in the art of fighting. Overnight mobile camp by the river side.
Day 8, Thursday; Jan. 17 If time allows, we will have one last early morning shoot before driving to Mizan to catch a private charter (there are no commercial flights to this area) back to Addis Ababa. This avoids two very long days of driving over extremely rough dirt roads. We return to the same hotel where we started, heading north the following morning. Overnight Elilly/Capital Hotel and Spa (4 star).
Day 9, Friday; Jan. 18 We will take a scheduled flight to Gondar this morning. Our first stop is one of the impressive ruins of a medieval castle from the 16th century. We will then take in the remarkable Debre Birhan Sillasie Church which houses beautiful examples of Ethiopian religious art and is among the most important churches of Ethiopia. It was built by Emperor Eyasu II in the 17th century, and when the Mahdist Dervishes of the Sudan sacked the city of Gondar in 1888, they burned down every church in the city except Debre Birhan Selassie. The roof, with its rows and rows of winged cherubs, draw most eyes and lenses (flash photography not allowed).
We will celebrate and photograph the eve ceremony of the the Ethiopian Epiphany. Overnight Goha Hotel.
Day 10, Saturday; Jan. 19. Celebrated every January 19th, Timkat is the greatest colorful festival of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and one of the most photogenic festivals in Africa. It is a three-day affair and all ceremonies are conducted with great pomp, color and energy. On the eve of Timkat, Tabots (models of the Ark of the Covenant) are carried in procession to a river or other water where the celebration takes place. Church choirs chant hymns accompanying a special dance by priests with prayer sticks, the beating of drums, ringing of bells, and blowing of trumpets. The priests pray throughout the night and near dawn thousands of people journey to the river or water. Many of the more fervent worshipers leap fully dressed into the water (to renew their vows). Some very compelling images to be captured at this event. Overnight Goha Hotel.
Day 11, Sunday; Jan 20 After breakfast we catch a morning flight to Axum and drive to Hamed Ella via Berhale. In Berhale we pick up our police scouts, road guides and permits for the Afar region. Then we drive about 35 miles to Hamedella, and along the way we will see camel caravans carrying salt from the salt lake to Mekele for sale. Overnight camping.
Day 12, Monday; Jan. 21 Dallol is 350 feet below sea level and is the lowest point on the African continent. You'll be amazed at the stunning landscape. The ground has myriad shades of red, yellow and orange from the hot water, acids and minerals spurting up from the ground where lakes of acid form. You'll love to photograph the colorful sulfur formations in the hottest and deepest parts of the Danakil depression, and you will also witness the cutting of salt bricks and salt being loading on to camels for the long caravans (approximately 1500-2000 camels weekly). This is really like photographing on another planet, and you will never forget this experience. There are numerous active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes, together with secondary manifestations such as the stupendous colors of the salt surfaces caused by the geysers with their various different chlorides. This inhospitable territory is home to nomadic sheep-herding Afar people.Overnight camping.
Day 13, Tuesday; Jan. 22 Early in the morning you have an optional caravan shoot, and then we drive to Mekele to take the scheduled flight back to Addis Ababa. We have time to shop in Addis and enjoy an evening farewell dinner in the best restaurant with traditional live music and a traditional dish. Then we'll transfer to the airport to catch a night flight home, knowing that we saw and photographed an incredible variety of outstanding subject matter. (see below for the extension)
Tour price: $6950. Includes all nights lodging, all meals throughout the tour, all ground transportation, all camping equipment, all tips to local tribes people, and photo instruction.
Charter and domestic flights within Ethiopia: $2349. Includes flight to Jinka; flight to Mizan Teferi; flight to Addis Ababa; flight to Gondar; flight to Axum; flight to Addis Ababa.
Single supplement: $550
Not included: Visa on arrival fee, international airfare, alcoholic beverages, medical evacuation insurance, items of a personal nature.
OPTIONAL EXTENSION to Erta Ale volcano: The Era Ale volcano is a continuously active basaltic shield volcano in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia. It is famous for its persistent lava lake which has been active during most of the past decades since it was first discovered in the 1960's. The summit, which is only 2000 feet (613 meters) in elevation, is truncated by a wide caldera which contains vast lava flows and several pit craters. Standing on the rim looking down into the crater is like getting a glimpse of the earth's molten core. Check out the Ethiopia gallery using the link at the top of this page to see some photos of this volcano.
Day 1, Tuesday; Jan. 22 Following the conclusion of the main tour, we drive to Mekele and then meet up with our guides for the extension. We continue driving to the so called 'Dodum', which is the base camp for Erte Ale. The road thus far has been covered by sand and is very flat, but the rest of the road is covered by rock. This next portion is a very rough road. There will be a lunch stop in Kusrawit, the place where supplementary scouts and camels for the luggage are arranged here by the chief of the village. Upon reaching our destination, we wait until the sun goes down to start the 3-hour hike up to the crater rim of the Erta Ale volcano. The hike may be done by camel or on foot. At the top you will descend into the caldera and proceed to the crater's edge. Here you will see the permanent lava lake inside the volcano. This is the only permanent lava lake in the world, and it is an extraordinary sight -- one you will never forget. You will camp overnight on the rim of the volcano caldera, taking the most awesome night photography ever.
Day 2, Wednesday; Jan 23 Early in the morning visit the crater rim of the volcano a second time to photograph the volcano's lake of lava before descending. We walk down to get our vehicles at Dodom and return to Mekele, visiting some Afar villages on the way. Overnight Planet International Hotel Mekele.
Day 3, Thursday; Jan 24 After breakfast, we are transferred to the Mekele airport for the return flight to Addis Ababa.
Extension cost: $1175. One night hotel accommodation in Mekele, the camping setup and equipment (camping includes mattress, sleeping bag, tent, etc.), all meals, all ground transportation in 4-wheel drive vehicles with AC and additional cars for scout, cook, and local police, airport transfer, two experienced drivers, professional cook, all entrance fees and permit letter fee, 3 liters of water per day, and English speaking guide.
Not included: Alcoholic drinks, domestic flight cost, meal out of camping in the hotel, items of a personal nature.