Once in a while we get to experience something so magnificent that no photo could ever do it justice. I think that’s why we travel — the pursuit of something too beautiful to put into words. At least thats why I travel and exactly what I found on a recent hiking trip through the Simien Mountains National Park in Northern Ethiopia.
The size of the area is difficult to comprehend and the views explode into the horizon. The Simien Mountains need to explored on foot to have any real understanding of what they offer. I saw people day tripping for one specific viewpoint but in my opinion they failed to see the point. In three days we saw monkeys, hundreds of baboons, bird life, freezing freshwater pools, beautiful sunsets, awesome views and comfortable grass to pitch our tents.
What I wasn’t expecting was the altitude and hiking up to 4000 meters was pretty hard going for a guy who isn’t used to it but then again, the best things in life never come easy and even though putting one foot in front of the other wasn’t always easy, I would recommend hiking to anyone. There are no showers or toilets so prepared to get dirty when you’re exploring the Ethiopian backcountry.
Hiking in the Simien Mountains National Park
We booked through Ethio Travel and Tours (ETT) who on the whole we were pleased with. Services included permits, a local guide, armed scout for protection, cook and mules to carry the camping equipment (also included) and our bags. We departed from the city of Gondar and obtained permissions and armed guard on the two hour journey to our launching site.
The one thing I would say about ETT is I booked with the head office, who then filter down to the local agents on the ground. They then source guides, porters and donkey transfer boys from here so any criteria I agreed at the time of the booking was easily lost, whether that because the message didn’t get through or the importance was lost. You’ll need to reconfirm your personal arrangements every step of the way so you know exactly what you’re getting. Having said this I am well travelled and a realist, things will work differently in Africa and its important to roll with the punches.
ETT provide sleeping bags which are not good quality and with temperatures dropping below zero degrees in January, its better to be prepared and bring your own. This is a massive oversight by ETT and could easily spoil a good trip. Luckily I bought my own three season bag and although I was cold the first night, was able to rent blankets the following night.
The food provided was excellent, guide (Meliss) was top notch and campfire kept the chill off our bones. You can walk for as many days as you like and the price will fluctuate accordingly but three days was enough for us. Also, should you struggle with the altitude or just fancy taking a load off, you can rent camels en route. I am sure-footed and trekked in trainers and without poles but if I did the trek again, would probably wear my hiking boots as the ground was fairly uneven.
Hiking at altitude is tough on the breathing and even though on day two we only hiked for 11 km, it took us seven hours and left us feeling very tired afterwards. One of our travelling party had mild altitude sickness and vomiting so my advice is to take your time and enjoy the scenery.
I didn’t see any cabins to upgrade to at the campsites we used, but there is a fancy lodge called Simien Lodge if the lure of a bed and shower becomes too much.
Simien Mountains National Park Packing List
The thing with packing for a trip in Ethiopia is you actually need clothes to suit all environments. We were traveling from the altitude of the mountains, to the raw heat of the Danakil Depression below sea level. In the cities we experienced warm days and cold nights so it wasn’t just a case of throwing a bunch of summer clothes into a bag and heading off.
During the months of November to February, the weather is warm during the day in the Simien Mountains however, as the sun sets this warm and dry weather was replaced by temperatures which drop below zero, and it is cold. I mean the type of cold that gets into your bones and can spoil your trip, so being prepared is essential. Below is a list of essential items which I was happy to have had on the trails.
– Four season sleeping bag (down to -5 is preferable)
– Gloves (warm gloves)
– Warm hat to cover the head and ears
– Ski jacket with a hood and zip up over the mouth
– Thick socks
– Thermals (top and bottom)
– Head torch and spare batteries
– Toilet paper (bring your own and you can enjoy the comfort of 2-ply)
– Wet wipes (as there are no showers)
– Light long sleeve shirt to protect from the sun
– Lip sun with SPF
– Layers for evening to stay warm
If you are planning to throw any of your equipment away, why not offer it to locals you meet in the Simien Mountains before you leave. They will probably be grateful and you can repurpose your stuff.
If you’re planning a trip to Ethiopia, without a doubt a few days hiking in the Simien Mountains should be something you are crossing off your bucket list. There are too many descriptive words I could list to sum up the views and my experience, but you’re just going to need to take my word for it and book yourself on. I hadn’t done nearly enough research on this and was working off a recommendation from a friend but the experience surpassed all my expectations.
Finally here is a video I made of my time in Ethiopia, hopefully you’ll enjoy yourself as much as I did.
If you want to read any other Africa blogs, check these out:
A guide to travelling Sudan
Everything you need to know about travelling in Cameroon
How to spot gorillas in Lobeke National Park
The ultimate guide to travelling in Ethiopia
The Danakil Depression – one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on earth
Tanzania – Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater
Botswana and the Okavango Delta
Any questions let me know otherwise happy trekking folks!