Holidays in Ethiopia - Omo Valley Explorer

Ethiopia - Omo Valley Explorer

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 14 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse regions in all of Africa, a land where tribal traditions still take precedent over anything else and where modernity is still kept largely at bay. On this trip use comfortable mini-vans and occasional 4WD vehicles to head into the villages of the various tribes that make up this kaleidoscope of ethnicity, including the Mursi, Karo, Hamer and Konso, learning about their complex customs and experiencing a way of life very far removed from the rest of Ethiopia. Where possible we try to visit local markets, one of the best ways to experience life in the Omo Valley. This is a cultural discovery that can rarely be equalled, visiting some of the most remote people in the world, and to spend time among them is an amazing privilege.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●○○○ | Wildlife ●●●○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • The national parks with their many species of birds and endemic mammals
  • The lively markets which act as a meeting place for people from miles around
  • The chance to observe the many tribes with their enduring traditions and ways of life
  • The beautiful settlement of the Karo people at Koricho above the Omo River

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of comfortable hotels and lodges
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Addis Ababa
End Point: Addis Ababa
Transport: Mini-vans or 4WD or private buses
Countries: Ethiopia

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.

Day 1 – Arrive Addis Ababa

Arrive in Addis Ababa and transfer to your hotel. This afternoon visit some of the capital’s key sights including the Entoto Mountains, with great views over the city, the Ethnological Museum and Holy Trinity Cathedral. Overnight stay at Jupiter Hotel or similar.

Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa was founded in 1887 by Emperor Menelik II, and its name means ‘new flower’ in Amharic. A large city, it is the third highest capital in the world sitting at an altitude of 2400m. It hosts East Africa’s largest market, the Mercato, a sprawling mass of stalls where one can find just about anything for sale, including the much favoured national drug qat, and is well endowed with other sights. Churches such as St George’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity give a great insight into Ethiopia’s particular brand of Christianity. The Cathedral of St George, named after Ethiopia’s patron saint (the famed dragon slayer who also serves as patron saint for England) was built by Emperor Menelik to commemorate his victory over Italian forces at Adwa, and houses a small museum with a collection of important religious paintings, books and artefacts. A good National Museum holds an interesting selection of artefacts from Ethiopia’s wide and varied history. Ethiopia was the only African nation never to be fully colonised, although the Italians occupied parts of it for a while in the first half of the twentieth century, and it is still possible to see remnants of their legacy in Addis, particularly in the Piazza area which is a great place to walk around and soak up the atmosphere.

Day 2 – Addis - Bale Mountains National Park (400km, approx. 8-9 hrs driving)

This morning we will drive to the Bale Mt. National Park, travelling thorough the southeast part of the country, where fertile land is cultivated by the Oromo people. We arrive at Dinsho Park Headquarters in the afternoon and will take a trek to search for endemic mammals and bird species. Later on we continue our drive to Goba. Overnight stay at Goba Wabe Shebele Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Bale Mountains National Park

Located 400km southeast of Addis Ababa, Bale Mountains National Park contains a spectacularly diverse landscape. The high altitude, afro-montane Sanetti Plateau rises to over 4,000m and includes the highest peak in the southern Ethiopia highlands. This undulating plateau is marked by numerous glacial lakes and swamps and surrounded by higher volcanic ridges and peaks. The southern slopes are covered by the lush and largely unexplored Harenna Forest. The forest is also a home for different pig species, lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and African hunting dogs among others. Moreover the Bale Mountains are home to 16 endemic bird species. It is one of the best sites to spot the endangered Ethiopian Wolf, especially on the spectacular Sanetti Plateau, as the sun rises.

Day 3 – Bale Mountains National Park (240km, approx. 4-5 hrs driving)

After an early breakfast we drive to the Sanetti Plateau through Harenna forest, where we will see Tulu Dimtu, the second highest mountain in the country (4377m). We will explore the area, and if we are lucky we may spot the Ethiopian Wolf. Overnight stay at Goba Wabe Shebele Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 4 – Bale to Yirgalem (270km, approx. 6 hrs driving)

After breakfast we continue with a drive to Yirgalem. We will pass through a number of coffee plantations and various fruit cultivating towns set in verdant countryside. Our destination is the Aregash Lodge. A natural retreat of astounding beauty and tranquillity, the Bamboo thatched Tukuls complement the traditional Sidama villages nearby. The surrounding forest is home for a diverse range of mammals and birds. A coffee plantation and the nightly visit of hyenas are further attractions to be found in the surrounding area. Overnight stay at Aregash lodge or similar. (BLD)

Day 5 – Konso (340km, approx. 8hrs driving)

Today we will drive to Konso. On the way you will have the opportunity to stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery of coffee plantations and we will stop to visit the Tutu Fella Stelae, prehistoric carved stone monuments that have mystified people for many centuries. Overnight stay at Kanta Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Konso people

The Konso are known for their custom of erecting wooden grave markers, which mark the resting place of important leaders and warriors. These markers are carved with the exaggerated features of the dead person. In a similar fashion, the Konso also erect poles to signify the coming of age of a generation, and these poles can be found in their village squares.

Day 6 – Konso to Jinka (170km, approx. 4hrs driving)

This morning we will visit one of the Konso villages and the Konso museum before continuing our drive to Jinka, travelling through the lands of the Derase, Tsemay and Banna people. On arrival in Jinka we will visit one of the Ari villages in the area. Overnight stay at Jinka Resort or similar. (BLD)

Ari people
The Ari people are the largest group in the Omo region numbering over 100,000. The villages are built in have neat compounds on fertile land which support coffee plantations. The people have large herds of livestock and in addition produce large quantities of honey. The women are known for the pottery they make and sell.

Tsemay people

The Tsemay are one of the lesser known of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups, with numbers not exceeding 10,000 people. Their neighbours include the Konso to the east, the Banna - Bashada group to the west, the Male to the north, and the Arbore to the south.


A small mountain town set apart from the rest of the country, Jinka feels both remote and rustic, which is accentuated by the grass airstrip in the middle of town. People come from across South Omo to visit the Saturday market, particularly Ari, Bana, Besheda and Besketo people.

Day 7 - Mago National Park (160km, approx. 4 hrs driving)

This morning we will travel to Mago National Park to visit the Mursi people, renowned for their practice of extending their lips with clay plates. After lunch we will attend the Saturday weekly market and finish the day with a visit to the Jinka Museum. Overnight stay at Jinka Resort or similar. (BLD)

Mursi people

The Mursi are perhaps the best known of the Omo Valley tribes, due to the distinctive custom among women of wearing clay plates through their lips. When a woman reaches the age of about 20, a small cut is made in the lower lip and a clay plate inserted, which is then extended each year. The Mursi people live in one of the least accessible areas of Ethiopia - when a British anthropologist visited them for the first time in the early 1970s, they had never heard of the country of Ethiopia where they live. They are a relatively small ethnic group, comprising of about 7-10,000 people.

Day 8 - Turmi (120km, approx. 3hrs driving)

Today our journey today takes us to Turmi. We travel through the lands of the very colourful Hamer people, renowned for their unusual hairstyles. In the afternoon we will visit one of the Turmi villages where local people are known for their colourful hair styles and bull jumping traditions during wedding festivities. The ladies are normally adorned in beautifully decorated leather skirts. Overnight stay Turmi Lodge or similar (BLD)

Hamer people

The 15,000 to 20,000 members of the Hamar make their living as successful cattle herders and farmers. Once they hunted, but the wild pigs and small antelope have almost disappeared from the lands in which they live; and until 20 years ago, all ploughing was done by hand with digging sticks. Hamar men come of age by leaping over a line of cattle in a ceremony which qualifies them to marry, own cattle and have children. They must leap over the cattle four times – only then are they considered to be men. At this time, the female relatives of the men leaping will line up to be whipped by the maza, a group of men who have performed the leap themselves and live separately to the rest of the tribe. This whipping is said to create a strong bond between the jumper and his female relations, as he now owes them a debt and they can call upon him during times of hardship.

Day 9 – Turmi (140km, approx. 3-4 hrs driving)

After breakfast we will spend time at the fascinating spectacle that is the Monday Turmi market, principally attended by the Hamer people. We also spend time with the Karo people, known for their body decoration and scarification. We will drive to Koricho, a settlement for the Karo ethnic groups, perhaps the most beautiful, with its lofty views over the Omo River and traditional Karo dwellings. We will also visit another authentic village, Dus, home to the Karo people. Overnight stay at Turmi Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Karo people

The Karo people are renowned for their painted body and face decorations. This is an elaborate process, which ranges from fine and elaborate details to rough, but striking paintings traced with the palms or fingers. The most beautiful expression is in the facial and chest paintings that combine white (chalk), black (charcoal), yellow, ochre, and red earth, often imitating the spotted plumage of a guinea fowl. Karo women scarify their chests as a sign of beauty, while the scarification of a man's chest indicates that he has killed an enemy or a dangerous animal. The scars are cut with a knife or razor blade and ash is rubbed in to produce a raised effect. The wearing of a grey and ochre clay hair bun also has the same significance.

Day 10 – Turmi to Arbaminch (270km, approx. 7 hrs driving)

After a relaxing breakfast we will begin the drive to Arbaminch stopping on the way to visit a Banna village. Overnight stay at Paradise Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Day 11 – Lake Chamo and Dorze

This morning we take a boat trip to view the crocodiles in Lake Chamo. This afternoon we drive to Chencha, to visit the Dorze people, with their unique culture, houses and traditions. Overnight stay at Paradise Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Dorze people

This region is known for the Dorze people, who in turn are known for their unusual beehive shaped houses, constructed from wood and bamboo. These towering, re-locatable structures can reach as high as 12 metres, and last from 60-80 years, so will generally be used by one family for their lifetimes. Traditionally the bamboo that is used as frames for the huts is cut during moonlight. The Dorze are farmers and are also known for weaving fine quality shamas, the shawl type cloths that are worn throughout Ethiopia.

Day 12 – Rift Valley Lakes (320km, approx. 7-8 hrs driving)

Drive to the Rift Valley lakes of Shala, Abyata and Langano, admiring wonderful views and the many birds, including pelicans and flamingos. Then relax by the shores of Lake Langano and near to Munessa Forest or choose one of the options of trekking, bird-watching, horse-riding, boat excursions, cycling and more. Overnight stay at Sabanna Beach Resort or similar. (BLD)

Rift Valley Lakes

The cluster of lakes – Shala, Abyata and Langano – that are found in this area are a great spot for birdwatching, with many of Ethiopia’s numerous species of birds found here. Langano in particular is also popular with local tourists, as it is the only lake in Ethiopia without bilharzia, making it safe to swim in. The nearby Abyata-Shala National Park incorporates the two Rift Valley lakes it is named after, and borders Lake Langano. The two lakes could not be more different - Shala lies in a crater 265m deep, studded with volcanic islands. Lake Abyata, in contrast, is large and shallow, no deeper than 14m. These lakes are part of the Rift Valley, an enormous fissure that stretches from Syria all the way down to Mozambique, culminating in Lake Malawi and nearly 4000 miles in length. The Rift Valley has been an excellent source of well-preserved fossils, exemplified in Ethiopia by the skeletons of human ancestors that have been unearthed within the last fifty years.

Day 13 – Addis Ababa

The morning will be at leisure to relax and swim by the beach. This afternoon, we continue our drive back to Addis for the night. En route we will have a stop at Lake Ziway for some bird watching. In the evening, there is a traditional dinner where you will experience live cultural music and dance. Overnight stay at Jupiter Hotel or similar.  (BLD)

Day 14 – City Tour and Departure- final day of main tour / Day 1 of Harar extension.

If you wish to take the Harar extension you will not have the opportunity to take the city tour of Addis Ababa.

After breakfast, depending on the time of your flight, there may be time for some last minute exploration. Visits will include St George's Cathedral, the National Museum and the Merkato, reputedly the biggest open air market in Africa. The tour concludes with a transfer to Bole International Airport (BL)

Harar Extension - 5 days/4 nights

Day 1 – Awash (218 kms, approx 5.5 hours)
A morning drive takes you from Addis Ababa to Awash National Park. This park is one of the most beautiful in Ethiopia. The River Awash runs through a spectacular gorge; the park itself is home to 392 species of birds and many mammals live there including onyx, gazelles and antelopes. Upon arrival take a game drive in the park. Overnight at Genet Hotel or similar. (LD)

Day 2 – Harar (330 kms,approx 7.5 hours)
Early in the morning we will return to the park, to enjoy wonderful birdlife, hot springs, and the Awash Waterfalls. Afterwards continue to Harar, which is unique within Ethiopia. With its 368 alleyways squeezed in to just 1sq km, it is more reminiscent of Fez in Morocco than it is of any other Ethiopian city. Its countless mosques and shrines, coffee –scented streets, busy market place - probably the most colourful in Ethiopia- crumbling walls and charming people are reminiscent of a bygone era. Overnight stay at Heritage Plaza Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 3 - Harar
Explore the old city on foot with its many sites including the house where Rimbaud lived; Harar was the poet's favourite city and he based himself there in order to trade in arms, eventually destined for the emperor Menelik. In the evening, see the renowned ‘hyena men’. Overnight stay at Heritage Plaza Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 4 - Dire Dawa (55 kms, approx 1.5 hours)
The road climbs into the Cercer Mountains (3,000 metres above sea level), offering magnificent panoramas of the surrounding countryside. Alongside the road we begin to see crops of 'chat', a bush whose leaves are chewed by the local people to provide light stimulation. The women of this region dress in very brightly coloured clothes. We will have lunch on arrival in Dire Dawa and in the afternoon we will explore the city. Overnight stay at Samrate Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 5 – Addis Ababa (452 kms, approx 7.5 hours)
Drive back to Addis Ababa to connect with your departure flight. (B)

Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
Transport in private vehicles
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader (please note that small groups will have different guides in each place visited, rather than one guide accompanying the trip throughout)
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Video/camera charges
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Drinks (although water is provided with each meal)

Please note that the itineraries are slightly different for the tours beginning on 28th April, 27th October 2019, and 25th April and 24th October 2020. Please contact us for a Tour Dossier.

Our Historic Ethiopia tour taking in the historic sights of the north of the country runs directly before the Omo Valley Explorer tour so you can experience these amazing trips back to back!

Other tours in Ethiopia

Ethiopia - Historic Ethiopia including Timkat »