NOTHING can prepare one for the experience of meeting the wonderful and distinctive people of Southern Ethiopia, notably around the South Omo region. On very carefully and sensitively arranged individual tours, your professional and experienced, dedicated, English-speaking guide will take you to meet some of the people in this remote area, including the Mursi, Konso, Karo and Hamar.
Tourism to this region is one which has sparked considerable debate in the last 15 years. It is, as our friend Philip Briggs wrote in his Bradt Ethiopia Guide book's 7th edition, a 'veritable playground for easily outraged zealots'. But, as Briggs also writes, 'there is much that is genuinely uplifting about the sheer tenacity that has allowed South Omo's incredible cultural and ethnolinguistic mosaic to survive into the 21st Century largely intact. Romanticse it or condemn it, South Omo is what is is and frankly, it couldn't give a damn what outsiders think'.
The tribespeople of the region are up against immense challenges, including the construction of the Gibe III hydroelectric dam which affects flooding of the Omo River (and so the livelihood of more than half a million people in Ethiopia and in Kenya), land conversion for monoculture by foreign investors in the region and the inevitable effects of globalization/westernization. Tourism, the people have informed us, is appreciated as it provides an incentive for some tribes to protect their distinctive identities and it brings income to villages which are visited.
Transportation is in a comfortable 4WD vehicle (air-conditioned and perfect for negotiating the terrain) and bottled mineral water is provided in the vehicle. On your day of arrival you will be given a careful briefing by your guide, so that you are well prepared for your time in th Omo.
Accommodaton: there are now comfortable lodges at the various centres on this journey, such as Konso, Jinka, Turmi, Arba Minch and Yirg Alem. The lodges (with exception of Paradise Lodge at Arba Minch) tend to be quite small so management is able to give guests personal attention. Food is good (May 2016 update) - lodges will be able to cater for special dietary requiremens if we are advised in good time.
2017 update: we have added an extension on at the end of the itinerary (it can also be slotted in at the beginning if you prefer) to Debre Libanos to allow for the chance to see a different aspect of Ethiopian culture, spectacular gorge scenery and seek wildlife such as Gelada monkeys and many raptors, notably Lammergeier.
Day 1 Check in at London Heathrow for the overnight Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa. In Ethiopian Airlines' comfortable Dreamliner aircrafts, flight duration is now less than 8 hours.
Day 2 You will be welcomed on arrival in Addis Ababa and transferred to the comfortable Jupiter International Hotel in Kazanchis. It is a short drive from the airport. Relax at your hotel for the balance of the morning. Your guide and driver will meet you after lunch to take you on a guided tour of the capital city including Mt Entoto. Overnight at Jupiter International Hotel with breakfast included.
Day 3 You will be collected from the hotel and transferred to Bole airport to check in for the quick flight to Arba Minch, a 'gateway' to much of Southern Ethiopia. On arrival you will be met by your dedicated, professional guide and driver. Depart on the easy drive to Karat-Konso, the centre of the Konso people. (Time allowing, you could visit a Dorze village as this is about an hour's drive from Arba Minch).. As you approach Karat- Konso, note the terraced hills which with 11 villages, were declared one of the country's UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites. Stay overnight in Kanta Lodge, which has a delightful terrace and an excellent restaurant. All produce is locally sourced, the property having its own livestock, poultry, vegetable garden and fruit orchard.
Day 4 You will be taken to various sites of interest in the area today. The fortified Konso villages or paleta are very interesting, somewhat reminiscent of Mali's Dogon people. You may also be taken to see some 'waka', which are carvings placed on graves. Continue towards Jinka with a relaxed lunch stop or coffee break in the beautiful and little-known Mago National Park, where you'll see plenty of 'indicators' of a thriving and healthy ecosystem - there are (critically endangered) White-backed vultures, a myriad other birds and clouds of butterflies in evidence. You can then visit a village of the Aari people.. Arrive in Jinka during the latter part of the afternoon. Here you can relax at Eco Omo Lodge and enjoy dinner in the restaurant.
Day 5 After breakfast, visit the Omo Valley Cultural Museum. You will then collect your local guide, who will accompany you to a village of the iconic Mursi tribe. Here you may take some photos - your guide will assist you with regards to ensuring you have the appropriate amount of Birr ready in order to settle the photographic fees with the villagers - and explore the village with your guides, who will give you an insight into these very interesting people, whose numbers are now at most 10,000. Continue to the outback town of Turmi, home of the Hamar people. Here you stay for 2 nights in Buska Lodge.
Day 6 Various activities are possible today: you may visit a village of one of the most interesting tribes of Ethiopia, the Hamar. Then drive to the bank of the Omo River, to a village of the Karo, who are best known for their body painting. Once again, your guides will take good care of you and will give an insight into the interesting cultures of these people. They will also assist you so that you are prepared with the appropriate amounts of Birr to settle photographic charges with the villagers. If you are fortunate, your visit may coincide with a Hamar Bull-jumping ceremony. These are conducted when a young man decides he is ready to become an adult. In order to mark the transition, he has to jump 4 times over a line of cattle, at an enormous festival held in a remote location in the harsh countryside. The Hamar actually welcome tourists or 'faranji' to these events, as the family has to pay for food and drink, for anything up to 300 or so guests, so the earnings from tourist fees do make a contribution towards these often hefty costs.
Day 7 Depart after breakfast from Turmi which is near the Omo River (pictured) on an all day, scenic drive with stops to see various places of interest on the way. (You could include a visit also to the Arbore people). Overnight at the very comfortable Paradise Lodge, perched on a clfftop overlooking a wide, wooded valley. The weather here is very pleasant and conducive to enjoying sundowners on the wide deck outside of the restaurant. The lodge has a pool, sauna and after your time in the more remote outposts of the Omo, there's WiFi contact at reception.
Day 8 After breakfast you can do an early morning boat trip on Lake Chamo, at the little known and scenically impressive Nech Sar National Park. Birdlife here is wonderful. Your guide and skipper will take you by motorised boat to look for large Nile crocs, pods of Hippo and aquatic birds, most memorable of which are groups of Pelicans and African fish eagles. There is something magical about being on a boat in the middle of this Rift Valley Lake and looking out at the surrounding Rift Valley mountains. Continue to the lush and sub-tropical area around the town Yirg Alem, where you stay for 2 nights in the highly praised Aregash Lodge with all meals included. Among the people you will be able to meet on this journey, are the Halaba (Alaba, pictured). At dusk, enjoy a coffee ceremony (coffee here is home-ground, produced by the owners who have farmed this plot for almost 70 years) ...
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
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