The ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba, in Axum
Ethiopia may well be the destination at the end of the road less traveled. But it’s all changing, thanks to a new Signature Series program by one of my favorite tour operators, Abercrombie & Kent.
First, I should say that Ethiopia is one of the most culturally rich and diverse places on Earth. Its history as one of the first strongholds of the Coptic Christian religion permeates every corner of this land. There is Lalibela, with its rock-hewn churches carved of single hunks of stone deep into the earth. And St. Mary of Zion, the little church in Axum, the former mountain kingdom, where the Ark of the Covenant is said to be kept. And the religious ceremonies, rich in texture and ritual, held in the monasteries and churches erected in medieval times, or even earlier.
A&K’s tour covers all that, and more. The tour starts in Addis, the capital, and continues through to Bahir Dar and the wildly spectacular Blue Nile Falls. From there it’s on to Gondar, once Ethiopia’s royal capital, and its medieval castles. The Axum leg of the tour includes St. Mary of Zion, but don’t expect a glimpse at the alleged Ark, as it is closely guarded and no one is allowed to set eyes upon it. From there the journey continues to Lalibela, where one can marvel at the amazing rock churches on this mountaintop city known as “the new Jerusalem.”
I did this circuit independently a couple of years before A&K started offering tours. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m certain it would have been even more so in the company of A&K guides. Next time, perhaps.
From $5,495 pp, double occupancy, land only. Offered starting January 2011.
The rock church of Bete Giorgis in Lalibela.
A religious ceremony in Lalibela
The church of St. Mary of Zion, in Axum, where the Ark of the Covenant is said to be kept
All photos courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent