Ethiopia – Simien Mountains

Ethiopia – Simien Mountains

I love mountains.  I grew up in a mountainous country.  I now live in a country which although it has mountains, they are not what I consider mountains.  Mere hills.  Not unimpressive, but not mountains.

My visit to Ethiopia had to include a few days in the mountains.

The Simien Mountains are in northern Ethiopia.  My friends and I and our guide set out from Gondar, in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia to drive to the Simien Mountains.  The drive to the eco-lodge where we were staying was about 3 hours. To say that the scenery between Gondar and our lodge was spectacular is an understatement.  Little villages with lots of men sitting around, children leading laden donkeys and women with babies slung on their backs gave way to plateau’s with fairly lush looking paddocks, then outcrops of rocks, pinnacles and wildflowers. We visited the park headquarters at Debark to arrange for Scouts, who are armed park rangers, to accompany us, and to pay the entry fees.

The eco lodge had lovely views over fields and rolling hills, but nothing prepared me for the view that awaited when I walked over the road.  I was standing on the edge of a ridge, with a sheer drop down into a valley, far far below.  Further up the ridge, the drop into the valley was 1500m.

p1030909The Simien mountains National Park is a world heritage site.

The Simien mountains are home to hundreds of gelada monkeys.  We set out early on the first morning to see the monkeys, and to walk along some of the trekking paths.  The monkeys were very active in the morning.  They were playing, chasing each other, checking each other out for parisites and generally were having a lot of fun.

After a magical hour or so observing the monkeys grooming and being groomed ready for their new day, we set out on a trek along the escarpment. We were accompanied by a guide, and 2 scouts. My friends were a lot fitter than me. One of the scouts very quickly realised that I was the weakest link so he hovered in my vicinity, offering to carry my water bottle, or help me up steep rocky parts of the track.  I didn’t actually need any help, but I appreciated his offers.

Our walk was short – about 4 hours.  The track led us along the edge of the escarpment at times, then in among trees, and through grasslands and heathlands.  Walking along the ridge I watched the lammergeyers swooping and sailing and then rising above the escarpment on the thermals, wishing that I too could swoop, circle and glide over the edge, and then soar back up above the ridge.

We saw and heard a lot of birds, and were joined for lunch by a couple of thick billed raven, who glared at us from the safety of their tree.

Thick billed raven.

There were wildflowers along all parts of the track – apparently the national park is a biodiversity hotspot, and contains around 1200 species of plants.

We caught sight of a Menelik bushbuck, and were thrilled to come across a klipspringer, which is a small antelope.  The animal was very still, so we had the opportunity to observe it for quite some time, and to photograph it.


We had this entire track to ourselves, not seeing another person along the way.  Each corner we turned provided yet another spectacular view, until we reached the end of our walk at the Geech Abyss, where the Jinbar River plunges over a cliff into the valley below.

We then drove a little south, away from edge of the escarpment, to another part of the mountains, where families were making hay, while their horses stood around grazing, and watching the activity.  When we stopped to look at different, but equally spectacular scenery, a little boy approached, with hand woven hats, which he was trying to sell.

Driving back to the lodge in the late afternoon, we came across troops of gelada monkeys, now grazing on the grasslands and heathlands away from the escarpment.  They were moving about slowly, pulling out tufts of grass, and stopping to eat. It was very quiet, and all that could be heard was the munching of several hundred monkeys.  It was a strangely serene sight, and so different to the troops of manic monkeys we had observed in the morning.

There was so much more to do and see in the Simien mountains than we had time to spend there.  Lalibela, Aksum and Southern Ethiopia beckoned, so we had to move on.