HIKING THE SIMIEN MOUNTAINS – ETHIOPIA

Imet Gogo views

Hiking the Simien Mountains is an unforgettable experience. Here’s all you need to know about this amazing hike, the stunning scenery, and its rare wildlife.

After a few lovely days in Bahir Dar hiking to the Blue Nile Falls and searching for wildlife on and around Lake Tana, we travelled north to Gondar. After checking into what was our cheapest and nicest hotel of the trip (the L-Shape Hotel) we went out in search of a restaurant. And boy, did we find a good one, the awesome Four Sisters restaurant. Although a little more expensive than most, the service, food, and experience were amazing. So, we found ourselves eating there at every meal and trying as many traditional dishes as we could. The Ethiopian coffee was delicious!

Organising our trek in the Simien Mountains

There really wasn’t much to see or do in Gondar. But it was the best place to arrange our hiking trip to the UNESCO listed Simien Mountains. Ordinarily, we would have considered doing this independently (with the compulsory gunmen/ranger). However, our Ethiopian adventure was a last-minute decision, meaning we had none of our own camping gear with us. After weighing up our time frame and the complexities of arranging a DIY trek, we decided to book a tour with a local company. There were a lot of agents to choose from and after comparing several packages, we booked with a local agent called Simien Image. We were initially quoted US$280 p/p, but after some lengthy negotiations, we settled on $230 p/p for our 4d/3n trek. The price was inclusive of transport, guide, porters, tents, sleeping bags, all meals, water and cooking equipment.

We were in a group of 7 people, 4 of whom were only doing 3 days 2 nights. We chose the standard route from Debark to Chenek with the extra day to summit Mount Bwahit. The scenery and views were spectacular and exactly what we were hoping for!

Day 1: Debark (2850m) – Buyit Ras – Sankaber (3200m) – 11km

We were picked up early and driven 2.5 hrs to Debark. Debark is the starting point for everyone hiking into the Simien Mountains and the first port of call for us was the National Park office. We collected our guide, permits and last minute supplies, before heading a little further into the park.

Driving to Debark

We stopped close to the Simien Lodge, where our hiking into the Simien Mountains began. From there we walked along the road for a while before cutting down to the main trail. On this first stretch of the hike, we came across the first of our Simien Mountain Gelada Baboons.

Male Gelada in the Simien Mountains

The scenery on the 10km hike from Buyit Ras to the Sankaber was stunning, with endless photo opportunities over to our left-hand side. Needless to say, there were plenty of stops and the camera got a good workout!

Trekking the Simien Mountains Day 1

It was a relatively easy hike along the northern escarpment, with favourable weather conditions. So we were happy to arrive at the Sankaber camp, just before the rain arrived in the evening, when the stunning scenery disappeared behind the cloud and mist.

All in all, day one of hiking the Simien Mountains was amazing.

Sankaber Camp in the Simien Mountains

Day 2: Sankaber (3,200m) – Gich/Geech (3,600m) – 13km

Our group was up and hiking by 7am to make the most of the better conditions and much clearer morning visibility. The first section of this hike took us through patches of heather forest. We spotted some Common Duiker (Bush Duiker) and Bushbuck along the way.

Bushbuck in the Simien Mountains

The views continued to impress on day two. With similar vistas to the previous day as we hiked along the escarpment with constantly breathtaking scenery. The trek also took us past Genbar Falls (Jinbar Wenz Waterfall), which drops 500m into the Geech Abyss. To be honest, we felt the falls were a little underwhelming and were covered in shade when we reached them. There were plenty of Gelada too. We saw lots wandering through the terraced farmland, being chased off by the locals whose crops they were pilfering!

Trekking the Simien Mountains Day 2

On day 2, we hiked for about 6 hours. In the evening, we were treated to a beautiful sunset over our grassland plateau camp before it started to rain. We had some particularly loud neighbours at this camp too. It turns out Thick-Billed Ravens make very noisy campsite companions.

It’s safe to say, day 2 hiking the Simien Mountains was also amazing.

Thick-Billed Raven in the Simien Mountains

Day 3: Gich (3,600m) – Chenek (3,620m) via Imet Gogo (3,926m) – 15km

It was a bright and early start for day 3, the longest day of hiking on our trip – 15km. It was also the one we were most excited about. Having seen pictures of the Imet Gogo viewpoint, we could not wait to get there and witness what is arguably the most spectacular view in the Simien Mountains.

Gich campsite morning day 3

The walk took us along a ridge on a gentle incline to the Imet Gogo viewpoint. And, it was everything we hoped for. The views were spectacular. Having made it before the clouds and mist, we stayed a while just absorbing the panoramic vistas as the clouds started to roll in. It truly was stunning.

Imet Gogo

When we were finally able to tear ourselves away, we pushed on further to a second viewpoint. By this stage the cloud was really moving in fast. We were glad to have set off early, as by mid-morning, the views had literally completely disappeared.

Imet Gogo panormaic Views

Everyone except for us and one other, left at Imet Gogo and were taken back to Gondar. We trekked on further for several hours along the escarpment, crossing a valley and walking through Giant Lobelias en-route to Inatye for our lunch stop. Ordinarily, the 4,070m peak offers great views below. Or so we’re told. But the aforementioned mist and cloud blocked out all views and it was a fairly miserable and cold second half of the trek. By the time we finally reached the Chenek camp, the weather was truly miserable and we were pleased to retreat to our tents!

That third night was absolutely freezing! But yet again day 3 hiking the Simien Mountains was amazing.

Day 4: Chenek (3,620m) – Bwahit (4,430m) – Chenek (3,620m) – 12km

Given the mid-morning cloud the previous day, our guide had us up really early for the final day of hiking to the summit of Mount Bwahit. As we crawled out of our tents in the pre-sunset darkness, we were unsurprised to see frost glistening under the light of our head torches.

After a quick breakfast with coffee to help us thaw out, we were pleased to start moving and warm up. Setting off in the dark, we were happy to see clear conditions as the sun slowly rose and lit up the surrounding scenery.

pre-sunrise hike of mount bhawit

On a far off ridge, we saw our first Walia Ibex. These rare and endangered creatures were almost wiped out completely by hunting over the years. With an estimated population of 500, we were lucky to see a heard of around 6-7 silhouetted in the distance. As we climbed higher and passed the Bwahit Pass, a sole male Ibex casually strolled out. It was nice distraction from the ascent.

The stint up from the Bwahit Pass was the most draining of the 4-day trek. Looking upwards, we could literally see the clouds coming in. Racing up to beat them at an altitude over 4000m, certainly got the legs and lungs burning.

Trekking mount Bhawit

Our guides decision to leave extra early paid off, as we summited before the clouds got too thick. We were again treated to some awesome views and even saw some patches of snow!

Mt Bhwait summit

On the descent back to Chenek, we saw plenty more wildlife and came across a huge herd of Geladas grazing nearby the track. We kept our eyes peeled for Ethiopian Wolves, hoping we’d see another as we had in Menz-Guassa. Sadly, we didn’t see any.

Gelada grazing in the Simien Mountains

Upon returning to Chenek, we were able to enjoy some views from the campsite we’d missed the previous day, as the mist was yet to fully hide them. It was the perfect spot for our final lunch. Shortly after, we were picked up and driven back to Gondar via Debark. We had our first shower in four days and feeling tired, we had an early dinner at Four Sisters and an early night.

A day in Gondar

We’d purposefully left one full day in Gondar. Partly for a bit of rest and relaxation after the hike, but mainly to explore the Royal Enclosure. Knowing we had a colossal journey back to Addis the following day, we were happy to have a fairly chilled day, so started late after a very good night’s sleep in warm bed! First port of call for the day was a breakfast at The Four Sisters restaurant and several cups of their beautiful Ethiopian coffee before the short walk to the Royal Enclosure.

Royal enclosure

The entire Royal Enclosure (Fasil Ghebbi) is 70,000m2 and warrants a bit of time. The now UNESCO World Heritage fortress-city has been carefully restored and there’s lots to see. Undoubtedly its showpiece is its oldest, building is Fasiladas’ Palace.

Gondar Royal Enclosure

To finish off our time in northern Ethiopia we had one last meal at Four Sisters. There was so much traditional food to choose from, but we opted for the Assorted Fasting plate.

The bus back to Addis departed at 4am the following morning and took 12 hrs. Even though the bus stop was just down the road, it was still dark. So our hotel security guard walked with us, to ensure we arrived safely. Despite the long day, our journey was comfortable and the scenery was again, amazing.

Our final hours in Ethiopia were spent sampling more local beer and planning the next part of our travels – Jordan!


In Summary

Overall, we had a fantastic experience hiking the Simien Mountains with a very well run operator. The Simien Mountains were absolutely stunning and if visiting Ethiopia, we would certainly recommend putting this on your bucket list.


Getting to/from and around

Bahir Dar – Gondar

Minivans are the easiest and cheapest option costing around Birr 100 (US$3) p/p. You can pre-book a seat at the minibus station in town, or ask you accommodation to arrange it for you, which will usually include a pick you up from your accommodation. This may cost a little extra, but worth it in order to avoid the hassle at the bus station. It also means you will generally be first onboard. Grab the front seat to avoid being packed in the back like sardines. This is a particularly useful tip for any minibus in Ethiopia. Minibuses depart when full, so you may have to wait a while. Allow 5 hours travel time, even if they tell you 3 hours!

Gondar – Addis Ababa

Selam Bus, Ethio Bus and Sky bus companies run this route daily. We took the 4am Ethio Bus from Gondar to Addis. Simien Image arranged this for us whilst we were trekking. The cost was around Birr 440p/p for the 12-hour journey.

Accommodation

We stayed at the L-Shape Hotel in Gonder. This was the nicest and cheapest of the hotels we stayed at during our time in Ethiopia. Staff were friendly and the rooms were clean. They were also happy to store our bags when we went off and did our 4-day trek in the Simiens.

Best time to visit

We had read the best time to visit the Simiens was October/November. This is straight after the rains, which fall from June to mid-September. This means the scenery is typically green and lush, with the views being the clearest, escaping the mist and haze. We visited in the second week of November and it was wet, cloudy and misty. During our hike, the mornings (from sunrise to late morning) were clear and warm, and the second half of the day was misty with low clouds rolling in. The ‘occasional’ evening rains fell early and every day too. We’re not sure if this is standard or just bad luck. But it wasn’t quite what we expected.

From December to March/April, it tends to be drier, but the views can be hazy. The clearer skies also mean night-time temperatures regularly drop below zero. So you’ll want a decent sleeping bags and some thermals.

June to mid-September is generally the worst time to hike the Simiens Mountains. Heavy downpours make slippery and unpleasant hiking conditions. Mist and low cloud regularly block the views.

How much time do you need

From what we experienced, read and heard from other travellers, doing the standard 3d/2n Debark/Buyit Ras – Chenek, is the ‘must-see’ section. It’s the minimum for anyone who really wants to experience this amazing place. For those wanting more, there are multiple hiking trip lengths available, from day trips to 16+day trips taking you from Debark to Axum.

Day treks from Debark or the Simeins Lodge are options for those who don’t like the idea of multi-day treks or camping using the basic shared huts.

Tips and Essential Information

  • Doing the popular 3-5 day hike in the Simiens isn’t too challenging if you’ve done a bit of multi-day hiking at altitude before. Although the distances aren’t too great, remember the vast majority of trekking in the Simiens is above 3000m (9842ft).
  • As a comparison, in our opinion, this certainly felt a lot easier than the popular Inca Trail. But the unpredictable weather conditions and racing against the mist and rain kept us on our toes. So be prepared, take it slow and you’ll love it.
  • Simien Image (located opposite the L-Shaped hotel) was great, offering all-inclusive tours. We highly recommend them, but be careful, there were multiple shops around with the same name.
  • If booking with a different operator, speak to other travellers and read reviews before committing to a tour. Different companies offer different packages. Ask if the package is all-inclusive.
  • If you prefer to arrange a tour before you leave your own country, there are plenty of international small group tour companies that offer trekking in the Simien Mountains. But you will pay considerably more than arranging a tour locally.
  • Take enough cash to pay for everything you need here.
  • Tips are appreciated and to some degree expected.
  • Download Maps.me to your phone so that you have offline maps. We love pinning our journeys as we travel.
  • As the weather in the mountains changes quickly, pack clothes for every occasion, particularly wet weather gear. The time of year you visit will dictate what you need. Our November visit was freezing from early evening through til mid-morning. Check ahead to see what temperatures to expect.

Packing Essentials

  • A good pair of ‘broken-in’ hiking boots. By this we mean don’t just buy a new pair and use them for the first time on your trek. It’s a recipe for blisters and potential discomfort
  • Band aids for blisters are handy to have on hand, just in case
  • We actually did this hike in trainers. It was doable, but with wet conditions, slippery rocks and a variety of terrain, hiking shoes/boots would have been much better
  • Decent socks for hiking and for the freezing nights
  • Thermals. The afternoons and nights were super cold and we wished we had thermals with us
  • A warm 4-season sleeping bag. The sleeping bags we were used weren’t very warm, so we ended up sleeping in all the dry clothes we had. The nights really were freezing
  • A decent beanie or buff
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Biodegradable wet wipes
  • Antibacterial hand wash as there was no running water at the campsites
  • Decent water bottle. The rubbish and particularly plastic waste around the camps were abundant. By bringing a couple of decent-sized reusable water bottles, you can minimise the impact you have on Simiens
  • Head torch
  • Quick-dry travel towel
  • Pre-charge you camera batteries/phone as you’ll want to take a lot of pictures
  • Some people are content with just seeing wildlife. But if you have a passion for wildlife photography, we highly recommend taking a decent zoom lens. Although you can generally get quite close to the endemic Gelada, other wildlife isn’t as habituated. Critically endangered rarely seen Ethiopian Wolves, endangered Walia Ibex, big eagle-like Lammergeier and shy Common Duiker and Bushbuck are all residents of the Simiens. We shoot the majority of our wildlife pics with a Canon 100-400mm.
  • If the conditions are clear you will witness some of the most amazing views you’ve ever seen! We highly recommend a good wide angle lens

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