The Simien Mountains were made a national park in 1969 and a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978. For Hikers the park includes the highest mountain in Ethiopia, Ras Dashen (4,543 m) and for animal lovers you will see Ethiopian wolves, Walia ibex and the famous grass grazing Gelda baboons. For bird watchers there are numerous birds of prey and the low lands (only around 2000m) have a plethora of brightly colored winged creatures to marvel at.
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Its tricky to put into words just how fabulous a trek in Simien Mountains National Park really is. Though the Simien plateau doesn't soar as high as Kilimanjaro, it surely more than makes up for this in every other department. For those who have been, inevitable comparisons will be made to the Grand Canyon as vertical cliff scenery with 1000m drops are found everywhere. Despite only being found in these highlands, you will soon lose count of the Gelada Baboons many of whom wander or perch within touching distance of you (remember to look with your eyes not your fingers...). Images from National Geographic spring to mind.
I will get on to talking about my guide & experience shortly. Several key points I want to bring up beforehand...
1) Park HQ & Scout. Regardless of the trekking outfit or guide you choose to follow, all trips at the beginning lead to the park headquarters in Debark (about 1.5 hours drive north from Gondar) where you'll register yourself and collect a ranger/scout. Park regulation seems to be the scout will follow you from start to finish.
2) Be prepared. Once in the park, there are no shops, no clinics & no modern facilities. Toilets at campsites are basic & 'drops'. Be sure to visit a pharmacy & grocery store beforehand. Stock up on medicine, sunscreen, toilet paper & trail snacks.
3) Trekking Route Options. There is a road that connects the main campsites along the trail. This offers some variation in how you want to do the trek. You do 4 days by starting lower down or, for those short on time, you could do 3 days & start higher up.
4) Beware of altitude sickness. In a day, most trips go from Gondar to the trail start - a change of nearly 1000m. The trail starts above 3000m. I treated two other guys suffering from altitude sickness and, at one point, I too was feeling a little crook. One of them did not acclimatize properly & ascended too fast - traveling from his Dutch home to 4,000m in two days was never going to end well. If you can put in a few nights in Gondar (~2100m) and aim to start the trek lower down the trail. You could save yourself a restless night.
5) It gets cold. By night, temperatures plummeted below freezing. In the morning, ice is on the ground. Pack and dress appropriately.
I trekked with the seemingly well-known trekking guide, Dave Yohannes. It has to be said, for what he does at his age he is exceptional. Having grown up in the Simien valleys, the depth of his knowledge surrounding the wildlife, flora, local people & the route was second to none. Under his supervision, the trip logistics went off without a problem. His team were always in place when they needed to be. Tents were pitched when we arrived at a campsite after a hike. The driver was waiting when we were ready to return to Gondar. He even threw in free transfers to & from the airport.
Though chefs alternate between guides, his choice of chef was spot on. Excellent food across all daily meals & we never went hungry. Breakfast was continental with pancakes and honey. Lunch was sandwiches. Dinner was several courses - soup, pasta, vegetables, meat & fruits. While resting at camp before dinner, biscuits & popcorn were available & water was always being boiled for tea.
As a solo traveler, I opted to trek alongside Dave's other clients to save individual costs and have some company. He didn't see any issue with this & I found myself trekking with 3 globetrotting Russians. Overall, fantastic value & Dave comes highly recommended.
Regarding the trek itinerary, I went for 4 days / 3 nights in the Simiens which we estimate covered over 50 kilometers. The route was Sankaber, Geech & Chenek.
The route to Sankaber straddles a dramatic cliff edge for much of the way and had numerous in your face moments with dozens (possibly hundreds) of Gelada Monkeys. A great deal of time could be spent watching them. Unforgettable.
We found the Geech campsite to be the best area to scope out Ethiopian Wolves - we saw at least 5. While sipping tea at sunset three dashed past our campsite hunting jackals. At night, wolves venture close to camp drawn by the smell of our dinner. With a strong lamp, you can see the reflection from their eyes.
En route to Chenek, the trail forks. One leads down the valley toward Chenek and the other up to Imet Gogo. The return trip to Imet Gogo from the fork is an hour to hour and a half but you'd be crazy to miss it. The dramatic cliffs and landscapes that await are outrageous. Surely the crescendo for viewing Simien landscapes.
Most folks I met did 3 days / 2 nights trekking. Although that covers all the above highlights, this often means missing out on Bwahit peak. If time allows and you have the strength, go for the Bwahit summit. It tops off at 4,400m with clear days offering fantastic panoramic views across the Simien Highlands in all directions. Furthermore, your chances of seeing Walia Ibex are highest on Bwahit's slopes. We spotted at least 22 - one herd of 17.
In summary, I can't recommend seeing the Simien Highlands enough. I've been lucky enough to have done some of the finest treks out there. For me, this was one of the most diverse & enjoyable. Pack your bags & go!
if you are in Ethiopia, this is an unmissable destination. The park is simply stunning a the landscape is very diverse. I enjoyed the 3-days-long trekking a lot, it was one of the highlight of my trip. I could rely on the perfect organization of Ras Dashen Tours and on my kind and very knowledgeable guide Dave (firstname.lastname@example.org)
My husband and I recently spent 4 days, 3 nights with Dave Yohannes and team camping and hiking in Simien Mountains. While not the cheapest tour it was good value and we had an amazing time, much more than some of our friends who got last minute cheap tours from Gonder. We did so much hiking, saw lots of wildlife (including a leopard), camping gear he provided was excellent quality, as was his English and his cook was A1. For those wanting to hike I would recommend him 100% and also try the 4 days, you get so much more hiking...
My family and I (wife and 2 kids, ages 4 and 2 years) went on a 4 day, 3 night Simien Mountain trek with Dave Yohannes and could not have had a more spectacular experience. We contacted him because of his many positive reviews on TripAdvisor. He exceeded our high expectations.
A quick aside – I don’t necessarily recommend doing this with young kids unless you have done a lot of hiking with them (we had done some trekking with them in Nepal) and are willing to carry them (my wife carried our 2year old in a harness the whole way… champ!) and/or pay for an extra riding mule (our 4 year old rode a mule for at least half of the trek). The hike is strenuous even for relatively in-shape adults, so don’t plan on your young kids hiking this one. Also, consider the risk of altitude sickness. We were coming from Salt Lake City and had been at some elevation in Addis for a few weeks before our trek – probably would not have taken the kids if we were coming directly from sea level.
Now… about the trek. Simply put, the trekking is world class - stunning views around every corner, amazing wildlife all around, and many charming encounters with local villagers. See the photos. We went in March when everything was pretty dry and it was still very beautiful. Apparently in September, just after the rainy season, the mountains are blanketed in green and its even more incredible.
Dave was absolutely wonderful. We have already recommended him to multiple family members - my Aunt and Uncle, who just returned from a trek with him. My sister and sister-in-law are leaving for a trek with him next week. His English is excellent. His knowledge of the Simien Mountain wildlife, best views, cool hidden spots, etc was extensive. He himself grew up as a shepherd in the Simiens (we hiked past his childhood village on the last day of our trek). As a photographer, I was very interested in getting the best scenery and sunset shots, as well as seeing as much wildlife as possible. We saw hundreds of Gelada monkeys (can’t miss’em☺), a Simien fox, a walla ibex (from a distance), many incredible birds such as the bearded vulture (aka the “bone breaker”). Dave made sure we got great photos from the best vantage points and was very patient, letting us take as much time as we wanted.
The food was outstanding. Dave brings his preferred, trained chefs whom he pays extra to make large quantities of really high quality food. We learned this the hard way on the first night - after filling up on delicious vegetable soup and freshly made bread we realized that that was only the appetizer and there was a mountain of cooked vegetables, chicken, and other great food on the way. We don’t drink coffee or alcohol, but I know that usually Dave provides these things for his guests. We let him know our preferences ahead of time and he substituted a variety of great herbal teas which we really enjoyed.
He also provided very high quality camping gear: Coleman tent, Northface sleeping bags, thick mattress pads, warm blankets, etc kept us very comfortable at night despite 32-35 (F) degree temps.
Dave was very patient and mindful with the children. Dave held our 4 year old’s hand nearly the entire trek – or if our son was on the mule, Dave had his hand on his back, keeping him steady. He was very aware of this kids at all times and very safety conscious (though not annoying about it). Our 2 year old also warmed up to him quickly (which is really saying something- she rarely lets anyone but her mom hold her) and was sitting on his shoulders by the end of the first day. Dave was always helpful with carrying gear – always taking our water or bags for us so we could better help the kids.
If you’re considering a trek in the Simiens, look no further than Dave Yohannes (email@example.com, +251 91 303 4822).
Dave Yohannnes led my daughter and me on a 4-day trek as an official guide in the Simien Mountains World Heritage Site. He was outstanding in terms of making us comfortable, for instance conjuring up a mule for me when the going got too tough for me at the high altitude, and in answering every question on the birds and plants of this amazing habitat. He referred to the bird book as his 'bible.' Perhaps the most important plus is that he grew up in a village in this area, and could illuminate the human aspect of life in the villages we were walking through. We shared in a coffee ceremony in a tukul, and my daughter, a cellist, got to play the instruments of one of the local players. He loves this terrain deeply, and has a great sense of humor. He himself grew up as a shepherd from age 6-12. The tourist guide training program of which he is a part only allows 69 official guides, and he is one of them. Many delights are in store on this tour--such as observing hundreds of gelada monkeys at very close range, ie sitting among them!