The Northern part of Ethiopia is gorgeous and green. After exploring the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and marvelling at the beautiful countryside, we took a very affordable flight with Ethiopian Airlines to the city of Gonder, the third largest city in Ethiopia. You can find some fantastic sites to see here and it is where most people will start their day trip or trek into the World Heritage-listed Simien Mountains National Park.
The City of Gonder
Our flight into Gonder arrived around 1.30pm, we took a taxi from the airport (250 birr) to our budget accommodation for the next few days – The L Shape Hotel. This hotel is in a good location, easy to walk into the centre of town.
Another good option for budget accommodation is Yohannes GuestHouse. You can make a reservation online with the best price available here.
For visitors to Gonder who have a bigger budget to spend on accommodation, I’d recommend booking a room in the best hotel in the city, Ghoa Hotel. Hotel rates are around $74 per night and the hotel is located on a hill, which offers great views of the city below.
Get in touch with a Local
Our local friend, Gino, an incredible tour guide with This is African Tours put us in contact with his colleague Melaku, a local guide in Gonder. We wanted to take a full day trip to explore and trek a small part of the Simien Mountains, he was the guy that would take us there. The price for a private tour for two of us was 3500 birr. ($125)
Melaku picked us up at 08:00 from our accommodation. He speaks perfect English and is a really good guy. The transport is very new, clean and comfortable van. We set off out of the city, picking up a few bottles of water on the way at a small shop.
Driving past villages and countryside on the way to Simien Mountains National Park
The National Park begins at a city called ‘Debark’, which is around 90km or 1.5 hours drive. The drive to reach Debark was great, there is so much happening along the way. We passed by lots of small villages and lots of locals dressed in white, as it was Sunday and they had just been to church.
You’ll notice that everything in Ethiopia happens just by the road, there was so much to look at passing by. Endless fields of crops with farmers working hard, kids herding groups of goat and sheep along the road and people hanging out chatting over coffee in tin shacks roadside.
Pay entrance Fee for National Park in the city of Debark before you enter.
We reached Debark and parked at the front of the National Parks office. Anyone entering the park must give your details and pay some fees etc.
We filled in our details and paid the following fees:
-550 birr Local Guide (compulsory)
-400 birr Scout fee/ranger to accompany us in the park (compulsory)
-90 birr each for Entrance Fee
-20 birr for the vehicle to enter
As we exited the building, we were introduced to Alex, an experienced guide and he also looked like the Ethiopian ‘Barrack Obama’. Alex jumped in our van as we drove towards the entrance to the park. Another 10-15 minutes later, we reached the entrance.
A man checked our receipts and tickets before letting us drive in.
We drove into the park and immediately the views started to look amazing! Sheer mountain drops, interesting trees and fauna and beautiful landscapes of the most vivid green colours.
We drove for another 15 minutes or so into the park, Alex giving us information about the park as we drove.
We pulled over and jumped out with Alex, he said we’d be walking for the next 1.5-2 hours. The next two hours was fantastic! We walked along the trails, learning about the trees, the landscape, the food and herbs growing in the ground and my favourite part, meeting a troop of gelada monkeys.
These monkeys are so funny
They’re vegetarians and they spend their days picking grass and eating. We were able to get very near to them to take some great photos and just watch them.
Marty and I are loving this experience, being so close to these monkeys
The mist started to blanket the trails and thunder could be heard in the distance as the temperature dropped. We’d been outside walking for around two hours and it was time to be picked up. Miraculously, Melaku turns up with the van and we jump inside.
We slowly made our way towards the entrance of the National Park, stopping a few times to capture some more beautiful panoramic photos of the scenery. Before we exited, we made one other stop – a place that is up there with one of the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen.
We jumped out of the van and walked five minutes through some wildflowers until suddenly we heard it before we saw it.
The gorgeous view of this waterfall and the gorge
A beautiful waterfall
A massive waterfall in the distance could be seen, and an extraordinary canyon could be seen stretching far into the distance. How beautiful. We walked a little further around to another viewpoint and stood to see this epic panorama from another perspective.
It was absolutely silent, apart from the mighty sound from the waterfall. The best part about it, we were the only people there to witness such beauty. We stood for a while and just appreciated the moment. Bliss.
We drove back to Debark and dropped Alex in town. We also stopped at a local hotel restaurant for some lunch. After enjoying some local food and a traditional coffee with Melaku, we drove towards Gonder. He dropped us at our hotel around 5.30pm and wished us well on the rest of our adventures around the world.
We enjoy passing on the contact details for fantastic local guides to our readers, and Melaku was certainly one of them.
Local Guide Details for a Simien Mountains Trip.
If you’d like to contact Melaku for a similar day trip the to Simien Mountains or to guide you around Gonder and the surrounding area, please find his details below.
Travelling around Ethiopia? Check out our posts below:
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