Ethiopia Photo Tour
March 11 - 22, 2021
Tour Policies (please read)
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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, 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 first fly into Gondar and then drive to the beautiful Simien Mountains. Here we will photograph wonderful landscapes for sure, and in addition we will have close encounters with wild and exotic gelada monkeys where you can take stunning portraits and even wide angle shots. The third part of the trip is visiting Lalibela, the location of the amazine rock-hewn churches that date from the 11th century. These churches are what's left after the surrounding rocks were cut away. It's brilliant architecture, and along with the Ethiopian priests as models, the photography here is fabulous.
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.
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. Two nights on this itinerary are camping simply because there are no hotels in the tribal areas. It will be very hot and dry. 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 on a frame, bedding, and the meals are simple but tasty and well prepared. A bush shower is set up in camp (this consists of a 5-gallon container of warm water that flows through a shower valve in a private enclosed area), and hygiene is a top priority. We will have electricity to charge camera batteries, laptop computers, and a light in the tent thanks to 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. In the last several years, Chinese companies have built many miles of paved roads and this is a big relief. Still, many of the roads we travel are pretty brutal. If you are a complainer, if you have a low tolerance for things that don't go your way, or if you can't handle 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 to make and receive calls in many of the areas we will visit.
There should be no rain during March. The temperature will vary from very pleasant to hot, depending on where in the country we'll be and at what elevation. In the tribal areas, high temps could reach 104 degrees F or 40 degrees Celsius.
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; March 11
Depart from your home city so you arrive in Addis Ababa on March 11 at any time. You will be met by a local representative and transferred to our hotel. Overnight Elilly/Capital Hotel and Spa (4 stars).
Day 2, Friday; March 12
After breakfast, we take a morning charter flight to Jinka in the Omo River Valley and then 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. Overnight at the Eco-Omo Safari Lodge.
Day 3, Saturday; March 13
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 cheekbones 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 Paradise Lodge Turmi or similar.
Day 4, Sunday; March 14
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 hairstyle 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 Paradise Lodge Turmi or similar.
Day 5, Monday; March 15
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 Paradise Lodge Turmi or similar.
Day 6, Tuesday; Jan. 16
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 the beautiful afternoon light. Overnight in a mobile camp by the riverside.
Day 7, Wednesday; Jan. 17
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 riverside.
Day 8, Thursday; Jan. 18
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 stars).
Day 9, Friday; Jan. 19
We will take a scheduled flight to Gondar this morning. Upon arrival, our private vehicles will take us to the Simien Mountains National Park. After settling in to the lodge -- the highest lodge in Africa at 10,700 feet [3260 meters] -- we will spend the next two days photographing the stunning landscapes of the park and the Gelada monkeys. Depending on the locations of the monkey troops, we will fit in as many photo sessions of them as we can.
The Simien Mountains National Park is a World Heritage Site. The highest peak is 14,850 feet [4533 meters]. It is the home of the Ethiopian wolf (Africa's most endangered carnivore), the walia ibex, caracals, and more than 50 species of birds including the impressive bearded vulture with its 10 foot wing span. Overnight Simien Lodge.
Day 10, Saturday; March 20
We will have our last morning shoot in the national park and then we drive back to Gondor. Overnight Goha Hotel.
Day 11, Sunday; March 21
Today we take a commerical flight to the ancient city of Lalibela. Here we photograph the remarkable rock-hewn churches built in the 11th century. This place has been a pilgramage for the Coptic Christians for 800 years. We will be able to go inside the churches as well as photograph priests in their colorful garb. Wide angle lenses are perfect for capturing the amazing human effort and dedication it took built these impressive structures. Overnight Mezena Lodge or similar.
Day 12, Monday; March 22
We have another wonderful day photographing Lalibela. We will also drive out of town to visit the famed cave church of Yemrehana Cristos. These are active churches, there is always the opportunity to participate in a service in one of these marvels. A highlight will be photographing the St. George's Day festivities at St. George's Church. Overnight Mezena Lodge or similar.
Day 13, Tuesday; Jan. 23
After breakfast, we transfer to the Lalibela airport to take the scheduled flight back to Addis Ababa. We have lunch and there is time for shopping in Addis, and then in the evening, we attend a farewell dinner in the best restaurant with traditional live music and traditional cuisine. Then we depart for the international airport to connect with an evening flight home.
Tour price: $7295.
Charter and domestic flights within Ethiopia: $2349.
Single supplement: $965
Additional fee only if you do not fly Ethiopian Airlines from the U.S. or Europe to Ethiopia
This is a fee required by Ethiopian Airlines: $280 (this is subject to change)
Tour price Includes all nights lodging, all meals throughout the tour, all ground transportation in comfortable 4-wheel drive vehicles, all camping equipment, all tips to local tribespeople, and photo instruction.
Charter and domestic flights include: Addis to Jinka; flight to Mizan Teferi; flight to Addis Ababa; flight to Gondar; flight to Lalibela; flight to Addis Ababa.
Not included: Visa on arrival fee, international airfare, alcoholic beverages, travel cancellation insurance, medical evacuation insurance, items of a personal nature, and tips to our local guide and drivers.