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Southern Ethiopia 8-Day Road Trip Itinerary

This post was sponsored by Ghion Travel and Tours

I visited Ethiopia briefly in 2017 for just 4 days. I had just enough time to eat some of the BEST food of my life, drink amazing coffee and explore the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. It was a-maaa-zing and I knew I had to go back, so I decided to finish off my year in East Africa in Southern Ethiopia, on an 8-day road trip!

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Related | Exploring the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

The following is an itinerary for the ultimate Southern Ethiopian 8-day road trip, complete with tips and photos to help you plan your best trip. I also always recommend Lonely Planet as a resource for trip planning.

Getting Around Southern Ethiopia

Okay let’s start with the obvious: how to get around the country.

I had a private driver through Ghion Travel and Tours, but it is definitely possible to get around independently. However, with that said, I saw so many public buses flipped and crushed in ditches that I lost count, which made me thankful I hadn’t attempted to take them.

I was also glad I hadn’t rented a vehicle because some of the road conditions in the South are quite poor. There was constantly herds of cattle and goats we had to navigate around and occasionally corruption along the roads (i.e. unauthorized roadblocks). I was SO grateful for my driver Bini, who has been driving for the company for nearly 20 years, so he knew the roads like the back of his hand.

If you are interested in a guided trip, Ghion Travel and Tours is now offering a 10% discount for my readers with the code ‘THEPINKBACKPACK’.

Day 1: Addis Ababa to Arba Minch

Assuming you will be flying into Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, you will depart on your epic road trip from Addis. Leave the city at 7:00AM to avoid traffic and head south to begin your Southern Country adventure!

Your first stop is a small village called Tiya, where a UNESCO world heritage site awaits. The Tiya Megalithic Steles site contains 900 year old standing stones (picture the Ethiopian version of Stone Henge).

The stones themselves are grave sites to a pagan warrior community that once lived on this land. Along each stone, you will note engravings of swords (indicating the number of people the individual buried had killed) or jewelry (indicating it was a notable woman). I found this site fascinating and I was lucky to be the only tourist there.

After Tiya, stop for a local coffee in the next village for just 5 BIR and continue onwards. You will notice at any one time, there are herds of cattle and donkeys with carts towing parcels to and from the markets along the roads. We passed fields of lush green crops and ‘false’ banana trees.

Stop in Albara Quilto for lunch, wifi and a bathroom break at the Sera Lodge Hotel, or you could stay here overnight if you have tons of time and want to break up the journey. Alternatively, if you can wait for food you can also stop in Sodo. I purchased bananas from the road for 25 BIR and a St. George beer for 28 BIR.

Arba Minch, apparently translated from Amharic to English means 14 springs. It is situated along the SW bank of Lake Abaya, not far from the Ethiopian/Kenyan border.

Where to stay in Arba Minch

I stayed at the Derik hotel, which is literally so new that it doesn’t have a website but it was a modern and clean budget option at just 600BIR per night. It also conveniently has an amazing Italian/Ethiopian fusion restaurant on the premises which I tried and tested (obviously).

Derik Hotel ($)

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Dorze Lodge ($$)

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Paradise Lodge ($$$)

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Emerald Resort ($$$)

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Day 2: Arba Minch and Around

Start your day with Ethiopian coffee and a nice breakfast at the hotel and then depart for your Lake Chamos Boat Adventure!

Within the Nech Sar National Park, you can explore Lake Chamos by boat with a local guide (ask for Solomon). The cost should be around 2500 BIR regardless of the number of people in your group, or it will be included in your tour package.

Lake Chamos is smaller than Lake Abaya, but safer. Apparently, Lake Abaya is void of fish so the crocodiles are more aggressive. Lake Chamos has nile perch, tilapia, cat fish, and TONS of bird species such as storks, herons, pelicans and eagles.

I was lucky enough to see some crocodiles enjoying the morning sun, a lone hippo getting into the water and further down a pod of 6 hippos sleeping. We couldn’t get too close as Solomon said they have been known to be aggressive to the boats.

There are also some really interesting Acacia trees, which cannot survive due to the lake’s salt content, and their withering shapes made for some interesting photography.

The fisherman in the National Park on local boats are illegal, but they enter the area at their own risk of crocodile or hippo related injury/death. Their boats are made out of a soft wood which doesn’t provide much protection should an animal get close.

Pro tip: You will want to bring your sunglasses and sun cream for this boat trip. After the chilly weather in Addis, I was bundled up but quickly became hot and stripped down to a t-shirt. I was wishing I had my sunglasses and some sunscreen because the sun was strong! Also be sure to bring a zoom lens for your camera if you have one, as you will want to get photos of the animals and birds (I use this Sigma lens).

After lunch, drive up the mountain to the Dorze Hayzo village for a cultural tour. You will meet Tesfa, a local guide, who will introduce you to his family and give you a tour of his home and compound so you can learn how this tribe lives. I had the opportunity to try a traditional string instrument (krar), and attempt to weave cotton which will be later used in traditional garments like scarves and blankets.

The local bread (kocho), is made from the false banana tree roots. The dough is made by scraping the bark from the tree and put underground to ferment. When it is ready, the dough is baked over an open fire to create a pita bread or flat bread, dipped in local honey and chilli.

I had the chance to also try local alcohol made from hops, garlic, onion, barley and local grains. After taking the 3 customary shots, I then learned the liquor is anywhere from 45-50% proof — yikes! LOL.

This family also has a lodge at the back of the property called Mekonnen, were tourists can stay for the night to see traditional dancing, food and a bonfire. You can contact Tesfa at (+251952923441).

Day 3: Arba Minch to Jinka

Take a leisurely morning and then start driving! This is a long drive day, but the views will be worth it. You will want to stop along the way for photos, so make sure your camera is charged up and ready to go!

Eventually you will cross the Magu river and see views of the Buska mountain (Buska means chain) and cotton and sunflower fields in the distance. By now the temperatures are getting hotter and we peaked at 33C in the truck before we started climbing the roads up to Jinka.

Where to stay in Jinka

Jinka is a fairly small town with limited hotel options. I stayed at the Orbit hotel which is a budget accommodation situated in a motel style, with a bar and restaurant in their garden area. It was basic but clean and comfortable.

Orbit Hotel ($) 

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Jinka Backpackers ($) 

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Day 4: Jinka to Turmi

Start early with a drive through Mago National Park. The park’s wildlife has mostly migrated to Kenya. Apparently there used to be lions, elephants, buffalo and antelope but now the park is limited to baboons, dikdik (small antelope) and lots of birds. My guide, Toffu, said this migration was due to lack of conservation initiatives in the country, as well as deforestation in the area by sugar factories.

As we pulled into the Mago National Park we picked up a guard, who was casually rocking a AK49. We were on our way to meet a nomadic tribe in the park, the Mursi tribal peoples, who apparently also have weapons. Guns are very easily accessible from across the South Sudan border, so my driver explained it was for our protection to have an armed guard.

Young Mursi man with rifle

Similar to the Maasai tribe of Tanzania, the Mursi people are nomadic and drink cow’s blood or a mix of blood and milk. The women wear these clay lip plates in their lower lip when they reach womanhood and during our visit they were working on painting them.

One woman quickly approached me with a barter proposition: the scarf I was wearing for one of the lip plates she was selling. She was quite persistent so I figured why not? She immediately wrapped the scarf around her in a sarong style, and I now have a unique keepsake to take home.

We were encouraged to pay a 100BIR fee to take photos, which would go to the community but while some of the other tourists also visiting the tribe were shoving their cameras into people’s faces, I waited until I had engaged a little with some of the women and asked for their permission.

I met a young woman with a lip plate and asked her for her photo, and allowed her to use my camera to take some. She was smiling and laughing so much she had to remove the clay plate.

Pro Tip: The guide I used is called Toffu Kifle, based in Jinka (+251913376928)

Where to stay in Turmi

I stayed at the Green Tourist Hotel. Turmi is a very small town with limited hotel options, so you can expect basic but clean accommodation. The Green hotel had an in-house bar and restaurant with local and Italian food.

Day 5: Turmi and Around

Drive from Turmi to Omorate, a small town situated along the Omo River. As you drive, you will notice huge termite hills and cotton fields.

These are massive termite hills!

From Omorate, take a traditional dugout canoe made from wood across the Omo River to visit the Dastenich tribe on the other side of the river bank. The tribe is a nomadic group, who’s name means “people of the Omo delta”.

The Omo River!

After your visit, take a coffee in the town of Omorate before heading back to Turmi for lunch and a quick break. With temperatures reaching 45 degrees C, you will be thankful for this afternoon reprieve.

In the late afternoon (once the weather had cooled down slightly), we drove just outside of Turmi to visit the Hammer tribe. A group of young women and girls sang for me and even permitted me to join their dance circle.

Day 6: Turmi to Konso

Shortly after departing from Turmi, there is a small church on the right side of the road which you can visit briefly. The Turmi area is primarily Christian orthodox, so you will notice many people with crosses around their necks or women with white scarves wrapped around their heads.

Conversely, the Konso area where you will be driving to is primarily Pagan. Upon arrival to Konso, check into your hotel (I stayed at the Konso Korebta Lodge) and have lunch before re-grouping for your afternoon tour.

Pro tip: You will be doing a lot of walking and stair climbing on this tour, so hydrate, eat an energizing lunch and be sure to pack water (I use this water bottle for travel)!

In the Konso area, there are 12 tribal villages which are UNESCO world heritage sites. We visited the Gamole village, which is over 900 years old and is home to nearly 5000 people.

The design of the village is like a bull ring with four circles. As you enter further into the village, the circles gets higher and higher in altitude, with the inner most circle sitting at 2000m above sea level!

The walls separating each circle also get higher: the third outer circle has 2 meter walls, while the second has 4 meter walls and the inner circle has 5 meter high walls.

According to my guide Olata, the circles of the village are also oriented by socioeconomic status, so the richest people live at the top in the inner circle, while the poorest live outside the third circle, which does not yet have walls around it (but will eventually form a fourth circle when built in the future).

A pathway inside the village

A doorway into one of the homes within the village

Each circle has designated entrances cut into the stone walls, and diagonal staircases to access them. It felt like a maze, and I could imagine myself easily getting lost in all the passage ways. When we reached the inner circle at the top (after a lot of stair climbing), the view was unbelievable! From here you can see all the way back to Arba Minch and Lake Chamos.

The view!

Pro tip: The guide I used is called Olata Kactoya, based in Konso (you can reach him at [email protected] or 0949622459)

Day 7: Konso to Hawassa

We backtracked through Arba Minch on the way to Hawassa and then took the scenic route. This is a long driving day, but the views from the road are unbelievable so be sure to have your camera ready!

Once in Hawassa, take a stroll along the waterfront to see the lake. There are plenty of vendors selling woven baskets and other trinkets if you want to do some shopping, or simply sit on a park bench and relax. There are also some restaurants and bars along the lake area where you can chill out.

I stayed at the Oasis International Hotel, which conveniently has a fully stocked bar and restaurant, as well as functioning wifi so I had everything I needed and didn’t venture out that evening. I tried the vegetable primavera pasta which was stacked with ginger and garlic, and a Hawassa beer (okay a few, it was our last night).

Pro tip: Note that a lot of the hotels and restaurants cannot accept credit card due to frequent power cuts. Even with a generator, the hotel’s card system was down, so just be sure to always have cash with you.

Where to stay in Hawassa

AirBnb ($)

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Oasis International Hotel ($$)

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Kerawi International Hotel ($$)

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Rori Hotel ($$$)

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Day 8: Hawassa to Addis Ababa

We started the day with an early morning tour of the local fish market. While tourism is the biggest income generator for the town of Hawassa, the fish industry is a close second and also a generational trade for males.

The men were fishing tilapia, massive cat fish and gold fish, while the women make fish soup, sashimi or ceviche. They also curate chilli, pepper and garlic sauces to sell.

A local woman making fish stew 

Chilli, black pepper and garlic sauces for sale

There were SO many bird species by the lake including marabou storks, pelicans, hammer birds and Egyptian geese.

This is a hammer bird and it was the first time I had ever seen one!

A marabou stork gazes at it’s reflection

Pro tip: I had a local guide coincidentally nicknamed “Fish”, who showed me around the market. You can reach him at +251916778650.

The drive back to Addis is long, but once you hit the freeway it is smooth sailing! In Addis, I stayed at the Mosaic hotel near the airport, which I was really pleased with for the price. It’s located near tons of restaurants and the airport.

Where to stay in Addis Ababa

AirBnb ($)

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Mosaic Hotel ($$)

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Radisson Blu ($$$)

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Ghion Travel & Tours are now offering 10% OFF to my readers with the code ‘THEPINKBACKPACK’.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about my experience with them on my Southern Ethiopia 8-day Road trip!

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Southern Ethiopia 8-day Road trip

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