Ethiopie – Simien (1) US article


No matter how you look at them, the Simien Mountains will leave you speechless. This massive 4000m-high table of rock, riven with gullies, offers easy but immensely rewarding trekking along the edge of a plateau that falls sheer to the plains far, far below. It’s not just the scenery (and altitude) that will leave you speechless, but also the excitement of sitting among a group of 100 gelada baboons or watching magnificent walia ibex joust on the rock ledges. Whether you come for a stroll or a two week trek , the Simien Mountains make a great break from the historical circuit’s constant monument-viewing. Besides the mythical baboons (see the boxed text, p75 ), the mountains are also home to a variety of other endemic mammals, birds and plants.
Thanks to the wildlife the park is a World Heritage Site. Although facilities for trekkers are few (the undeveloped state of the park is actually one of its attractions), the mountains are never theless easily accessible and treks can be quickly organised. The Simien Mountains aren’t to be missed – they undoubtedly rank among Africa’s most beautiful ranges.


Although organising trekking yourself at park headquarters in Debark is straightforward, it still takes two hours to complete. It’s best to arrive at headquarters the afternoon before you plan on starting your trek. Organising treks through agencies in Gonder and Addis Ababa is easy, but you’ll end up paying a lot more for the same trip.


December to March is the driest time; after the rainy season in October, scenery is greenest and the wildflowers are out. During the main rainy season, between June and September, mist often obscures the views and trails can be slippery underfoot. However, you’re still assured of several hours of clear, dry weather for walking; the rain tends to come in short, sharp downpours. Daytime temperatures are consistently between 11.5°C and 18°C, while 3°C is typical at night. Between October and December, night time temperatures can dip below freezing.


Park entry fees include camping and are payable at the park headquarters (Tel 0581 113482/0581 170407; admission per 12 hours Birr 90, 5-seat vehicle Birr 20; h8.30am-12.30pm & 1.30-5.30pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-noon & 2-5pm Sat & Sun). Entrance fees won’t be refunded once paid. However, if mules, cooks, guides and scouts aren’t used (because of bad weather or acclimatisation difficulties), their fees can be refunded; make sure this is clear before setting off.

Ethiopia Simien carte 17 000


The most useful trekking map is produced by the well-respected Institute of Geography, University of Berne, Switzerland: the Simen Mountains Trekking Map (2003; 1:100,000). The park rents a laminated version for Birr20 per day. If you want your own copy, it’s best to get it before leaving home. It can also occasionally be found for between Birr200 and Birr250 in Gonder or in Debark’s Simien Park Hotel (p130 ).


Mattresses (Birr15 per day), sleeping bags (Birr15 per day), two-person tents (Birr30 per day) and cooking equipment and gas stoves (Birr40 per day) can be hired at park headquarters. Debark’s petrol station sells kerosene (parrafin).


Outside Debark, there are no shops; though you can buy eggs, chickens and sheep from mountain villages. Your guide will negotiate prices. Mule handlers will gladly kill, skin and roast a sheep if they can tuck in too. Gonder is a better place to stock up as Debark’s food supplies are limited to a few tin cans, biscuits, pasta, tomato sauce and milk powder, plus some fresh fruit and vegetables. Stoves, lanterns and kerosene are also available in Gonder. Anything ‘specialised’, such as packet soups, should be bought in Addis Ababa.
Water is available during the trek but should be treated. Make sure the cook, if you have one, boils the water sufficiently. Though eucalyptus wood (sold by villagers on the mountain) is permitted for fires, it’s best to bring a stove. Burning wood from indigenous trees is strictly forbidden.

Cooks, scouts, mules and guides are all organised at park headquarters. Only the scouts are compulsory.

  • Official guides (Birr120 per day) are recommended and help translate while in villages. Although freelancers, they’re trained by the national park on courses established by an Austrian team. Most are excellent; a few are less so. Guides work by rota, but you should not be afraid to ask for another if you’re not happy with the one assigned to you. Official guides work on a rota basis directly with the park, but many can also be hired privately. We have had very good reports regarding the services of Dawoud Sulayman Mekonnon ( Most people who’ve hired cheaper unofficial guides off the street end up regretting the decision. See p247 for more.
  • ‘Scouts’ (armed park rangers) are compulsory (Birr40 per day). Few speak English, but what they lack in conversation they make up for in willingness to help.
  • Cooks can be hired for Birr75 per day (cooking for one to five people), a welcome and not-too-costly luxury for some. Porters aren’t available, but mules (Birr35 per day) with handlers (Birr35 per day) can be hired.
  • Check mules for tender feet (ask the owner to walk the mule up and down) and signs of saddle sores. If in doubt, ask for another.

The guide and scout will expect at least one mule for carrying their blankets and provisions. Guides, scouts, cooks and mule handlers should bring their own food. In reality many bring token supplies or nothing at all and will then look to you for sustenance. This is OK if you know about it in advance – sadly most people don’t and the result is that everybody goes hungry. We have received dozens of complaints regarding this. Either check that they have enough or bring extra packets of rice etc. If you plan on covering two days’ worth of trekking in one, you’ll have to pay your team double for the day. See p252 for post-trek tipping advice.


There are numerous tour operators or travel agencies in Addis Ababa (see p270 ) and several more in Gonder ( p120 ) that can organise transport, guides, equipment rental and food. However, they charge you a lot more to hire exactly the same services from the park headquarters that you can easily arrange yourself. There are also numerous freelance ‘agents’ in Gonder offering to organise treks for you, but most receive mixed reviews at best from travellers.

Ethiopia Simien trekking Lonely Planet map

The foot that is restless, will tread on a turd

Ethiopian proverb


Most treks begin and end in Debark, but it’s possible to use 4WDs to start or end your hike anywhere between Debark and Chenek. If you have time, strong legs and a hatred of doubling back, you could finish your trek at Adi Arkay, 75km north of Debark.
Once on the mountains you’ll be following centuries-old paths that crisscross the slopes and connect villages with pasturelands. They make terrific trekking routes; the walking itself is generally not challenging and gradients aren’t too steep. Be sure to allow time for acclimatisation when planning your routes, particularly if you’re aiming for Ras Dashen. Review the Safety Guidelines for Trekking (p243 ) and Responsible Trekking (p244 ) boxed texts.


For spectacular scenery, head for Geech. For walia ibex, Chenek is good (be sure to get here no later than 9am). Gelada baboons are best between Buyit Ras and Sankaber; Chenek and Geech aren’t bad either. For pleasant walking, the stretch between Geech and Chenek is good. For lammergeiers, head to Chenek. Ras Dashen, frankly, doesn’t offer a great deal beyond the satisfaction of ‘bagging it’. And thanks to an odd perspective from its summit, nearby peaks actually look higher. This has led disgruntled trekkers to drag their guides up peak after peak, repeatedly musingthe ‘one over there’ is higher!
Most people trek for four or five days. In four you can trek to Geech and back; with an extra day you could get to Chenek, taking in Mt Bwahit. If time is of the essence then in two days you could walk from Debark to Sankaber and back. While for the dedicated with around 10 days to play with, you could bag Ras Dashen (these times include the return journey to Debark). If you’re short on time and want to maximise your time in the mountains, using a vehicle to access Sankaber will save at least two days. The following Debark to Chenek trek is the classic five-day route; the lower camps can be bypassed using a vehicle. Times vary from person to person, and also depend on whether exact routes are followed. The following routes and times have been devised in consultation with local guides.


Debark to Buyit Ras (10km, Three to Four Hours)
Sankaber can be reached in a single day, but many trekkers prefer to break at Buyit Ras, where there’s an abundance of gelada baboons. There’s also a camping spot with beautiful views, though you’ll have to share the area with the Simien Park Lodge. If you push on to Sankaber, it’s another 13km (around three to four hours).
Buyit Ras to Geech Camp via Sankaber (25km, Seven to Eight Hours)
The dirt road will take you straight to Sankaber, but the scenic route along the escarpment isn’t to be missed. There are particularly good views between Michibi and Sankaber. Look out for gelada baboons. From Sankaber to Geech it’s between four and five hours’ walk.
Geech Camp to Chenek via Imet Gogo (20km, Seven to Nine Hours)
Geech to Chenek takes about five to six hours, but you’d be crazy not to take in Imet Gogo,
around 5km northeast of Geech. It takes 1½ to two hours one way. The promontory, at 3926m, affords some of the most spectacular views of the Simien Mountains. To make a day of it, you could continue to the viewpoint known as Saha. From Saha, you can head for the viewpoint at Kadavit (2.5km, 30 to 40 minutes) and then return to camp. You can also trek to Chenek via Imet Gogo using Saha as a starting point (eight to nine hours). Saha lies around 3km from Geech.
From Imet Gogo you have two choices: the first is to return to Geech by your outward route, then head directly south and back across the Jinbar River to where you’ll eventually meet the dirt road that leads to Chenek.
The alternative, which is harder but more scenic, is to follow the escarpment edge south all the way to Chenek. Near Chenek is Korbete Metia, a stunning spot with a sinister side. It was here that some regional officials were executed. Korbete Metia loosely translates to ‘the place where skin was thrown down’. Lammergeiers are often seen here. Chenek is probably the best spot in the Simien Mountains for wildlife.
Chenek to Mt Bwahit & Return (6km, Two to Three Hours)
If you can spare a little more time, the ever tempting summit of Mt Bwahit (4430m) lies to the southeast of Chenek camp. Around 20 minutes from the camp towards Mt Bwahit, there’s a spot that affords one of the best opportunities for glimpsing, at long range (around 300m to 400m), the walia ibex. This animal, a member of the wild goat family, lives on the crags of the steep escarpment above 3000m. Come very early in the morning or late in the afternoon (after 4pm) with binoculars.
For the return journey you can either retrace your footsteps (Sankaber is seven to eight hours away), or get to Sankaber by taking the scenic local trail up to Ambaras through the village of Argin. The trail affords good views of the escarpment and the foothills of Mt Bwahit.


Chenek to Ambikwa (22km, Eight to Nine Hours)
If the mountain vistas keep on calling, why not push on to the Big Daddy of them all, Ras Dashen? Heading on from Chenek, the first day takes you along a track leading eastward and then southeastward up towards a good viewpoint on the eastern escarpment, to the north of Mt Bwahit. To the east, across the vast valley of the Mesheba River, you can see the bulk of Ras Dashen.
Ambikwa to Ras Dashen & Return (17km, Eight to 10 Hours)
Most trekkers stay two nights at Ambikwa and go up to the summit of Ras Dashen on the day in between. It’s a good idea to start at first light. At Ras Dashen there are three distinct points, and much debate about which is the true summit. Whichever peak you go for, the total walk from Ambikwa to reach one summit is about five to six hours. If you want to knock off the others, add two to three hours for each one. Returning by the same route takes about three to four hours.
Ambikwa to Debark (77km, Three Days)
Most trekkers return from Ambikwa to Debark along the same route via Chenek and Sankaber.
Ambikwa to Adi Arkay (About 65km, Three to Five Days)
One alternative return route is to trek from Ambikwa to Arkwasiye, to the northeast of Chenek, taking in the nearby peaks of Beroch Wuha (4272m) and Silki (4420m). From Arkwasiye to Adi Arkay will take another two to three days of strenuous walking, via Sona (three hours from Arkwasiye). From Adi Arkay, which lies 75km north of Debark, you can continue northward to Aksum.


There are endless alternatives for keen trekkers, such as a return route from Ras Dashen back to Ambikwa and Chenek, via the east and north sides of the Mesheba River.
One slightly more challenging route that will give you a taste of the highlands as well as the lowlands, and bags some 4000m peaks on the way (and is much more interesting than climbing Ras Dashen), is from Debark to Adi Arkay via Sankaber, Geech, Chenek (climbing Mt Bwahit at 4430m), Arkwasiye (climbing Beroch Wuha at 4272m) and Sona (climbing Silki at 4420m). The route should take around nine to 10 days. Note that since it takes the guides, mules and other members of your trekking entourage two further days to return to Debark from Adi Arkay, you must pay two days’ extra fee.

Sleeping & Eating


Simien Park Hotel (tel 0581 17005; s with/without bathroom Birr 120/50, d with/without bathroom Birr 180/70)
About 600m north of park headquarters, the older rooms with common bathrooms are as popular with flies as they are trekkers. Behind these rooms a newer block contains tiled ensuite rooms with occasional hot water and slightly fewer flies.
Giant Lobelia Hotel (tel 0581 170566; ; s/d Birr 110/200)
The rooms at this sterile, giant pink flower of a hotel vary a little, so ask to see a few first, however, it’s the best place to stay and the manager cannot do enough for you. The downstairs restaurant gets lively at night and produces fair faranji-flavoured food.


If you don’t have camping equipment (and don’t want to rent it), you can do as the guides do: stay with locals (you should contribute about Birr 20 per night). Don’t expect luxuries. A floor or wooden platform covered with a goatskin serves as your bedroom; any number and combination of animals, children, chickens and especially fleas will be your roommates. Note that most guides do their best to discourage this and you might have to push hard for them to admit that it’s possible.
Camping (per 24hr Birr 20)
The obvious choice for trekkers. It’s possible anywhere, but if you’re in the vicinity of an the official camp (Sankaber, Geech and Chenek) it’s more convenient to drop your tent there. These camps have huts for your guides and scouts, as well as long- drop loos.
Sankaber Lodge (dm Birr40)
This spartan lodge has a couple of nine-bed dorms. Don’t expect more than a rickety bed, blanket, some old bed linen and possibly the odd flea.
Simien Park Lodge tel 0582 310741; ; dm US$ 31, r from US$ 135)
At 3260m Africa’s highest hotel offers a polished service and comfortable rooms in tukul huts that have underfloor heating and solar-powered hot showers. Unfortunately most rooms are perfectly positioned to not quite take advantage of the stupendous views. The dorm consists of bare bones, two bunks per room and common showers. A portion of its profits (2.5%) go to local projects, which makes it about as close as north Ethiopia gets to an ecolodge.

Getting There & Around

Two morning buses run from Debark to Gonder (Birr 21, 3½ hours). The only bus running north to Shire (for Aksum) is the Gonder service that passes through Debark between 9am and 10am, but is almost always full. If you want to get a seat on it, the national park office will reserve you a place by getting somebody in Gonder to keep a seat warm for you by sitting in it between Gonder and Debark where you swap places! They charge Birr 200 for this service and you need to arrange it at least a day in advance. Failing this an uncomfortable seat in a goods truck can be all yours for around Birr 150. It’s possible to arrange 4WDs through the park office to drop you off at Sankaber (one way/return Birr 800/1600), but it’s not a reliable service and requires several days’ notice. It’s technically forbidden for tourists to ride the occasional supply trucks that take goods to villages in and around the park.


Being relatively close to the Equator, there is an almost constant twelve hours of daylight. In Addis Ababa, the sunrise and sunset are at around 06.30 and 18.45 respectively.


The mean annual rainfall is 1,550mm falling in two wet seasons, from February to March, and July to September which is said to have become much lower since the 1960s (Magin, 2001). Temperatures range from a minimum of -2.5°C to 4°C to a maximum of 11°C to 18°C. There are often drying winds during the day; frosts may occur at night, and snow sometimes settles on the summit of Ras Dazhen.

Geography & Geology

Comprising one of Africa’s principal mountain massifs, the Simiens are made up of several plateaus, separated by broad river valleys. A number of peaks rise above 4000m, including Ras Dashen (4543m), which is highly touted – incorrectly so – by Ethiopian tourism officials as the fourth-highest mountain in Africa. They seem to have happily forgotten the Ruwenzori Range’s Mt Speke (4890m), Mt Baker (4844m), Mt Emin (4792m), Mt Gessi (4717m) and Mt Luigi (4626m), as well as Tanzania’s Mt Meru (4566m)! The Simiens’ landscape is incredibly dramatic. It was formed by countless eruptions, some 40 million years ago; layer upon layer of molten lava was poured until it reached a thickness of 4000m. The subsequent erosion produced the mountains’ jagged and spectacular landscapes seen today. The famous pinnacles that sharply and abruptly rise from the surrounding landscape are volcanic necks, the solidified plumbing of the eroded ancient volcanoes. The 179-sq-km park lies within the ‘Afroalpine’ zone, between 1900m and 4543m elevation.


The mountains are home to three of Ethiopia’s larger endemic mammals: the walia ibex (numbers were estimated at around 600 and increasing at the last survey conducted in 2005), the gelada baboon (estimated to number around 6000) and the elusive Ethiopian wolf (71 were seen in and around the park in 2005). Other mammals sometimes seen are rock hyraxes, jackals, bushbucks and klipspringers. Endemic birds include the often-seen thick-billed raven and the less common blackheaded siskin, white-collared pigeon, whitebilled starling, wattled ibis, spot-breasted plover, white-backed black tit and Ankober seedeater or serin. Though common, one of the most memorable sights (and sounds!) is the lammergeier soaring low. Along the roadside on the approach to Sankaber, look out for the endemic ivorycoloured Abyssinian rose.

4 réflexions sur “Ethiopie – Simien (1) US article

  1. Logo Atalante
    Vous traversez les hauts plateaux bordant le lac, avant de rejoindre Gondar puis Debark, l’entrée du Parc National du Simien. Vous montez à Sankaber, point de départ de votre randonnée. Fin de journée de balade tranquille dans les environs. Le camp est situé, sur un large pont naturel entre deux falaises impressionnantes.
    J2 MONTAGNES SIMIEN (GEECH CAMP – 3 600m) 5h de trek TENTE
    Journée de trek, de Sankaber à Geech, assez facile avec de nombreuses haltes pour admirer le paysage. Les dénivelés sont raisonnables car vous randonnez sur un grand plateau d’altitude légèrement vallonné. Belle course d’arête en haut de falaises dominant la vallée de Jinbar Weilz, où vous observez des troupes de babouins Geladas.
    Dénivelé: +370m
    J3 MONTAGNES DU SIMIEN (CHENEK CAMP – 3 600m) 7h30 de trek TENTE
    Ascension du promontoire d’Emet Gogo à 3 960m, qui offre une vue à 360 degrés sur le massif du Simien. Descente sur un col à 3 660m, puis remontée sur l’Inatyre qui vous fait dépasser les 4 000m d’altitude. Nombreux belvédères spectaculaires puis descente
    J7 MONTAGNES DU SIMIEN (AMBICO – 3 200m) 7h de trek TENTE
    Montée dans un vallon sous le sommet du Bwaït, 4 430m d’altitude. Franchissement d’un col entre les vallées de Serekawa et Mesheba. Au loin, au milieu de falaises et de pics, vous apercevez le Ras Dashen. Vous sortez des limites du parc national des Simien et arrivez dans des lieux de passage assez fréquentés par des caravanes de mules et d’ânes. Longue descente à travers des hameaux jusqu’à la rivière Mesheba. Un chemin permet de gagner votre campement au village d’Ambico à 3 200m.
    Dénivelé: +430m, -1 230m
    J4 MONTAGNES DU SIMIEN (AMBICO) +1 300m/ -1 300m 10h de trek TENTE
    Réveil très matinal et ascension (facultative) du Ras Dashen (4 543 mètres d’altitude), le point culminant de l’Ethiopie et retour vers Ambico. L’acclimatation est bonne et l’ascension n’est absolument pas technique. C’est juste une longue journée de randonnée, sur le toit de l’Ethiopie avec une vue à couper le souffle.
    Dénivelé facultatif: -1 340m, +1 340m
    J5 MONTAGNES DU SIMIEN (ARKO AZEYE – 3 550m) 6h de trek TENTE
    Pour le retour, vous prenez un itinéraire différent, vous descendez du haut plateau central et passez donc dans les profondes vallées et les sommets que vous observiez quelques jours plus tôt. Les villages sont plus nombreux et les cultures plus variées. Descente pour traverser la rivière Mesheba puis montée raide pour parvenir à l’altitude des hameaux.
    Dénivelé: +350m
    J6 MONTAGNES DU SIMIEN (LAMU – 2 050m) 6h30 de trek TENTE
    Passage du col au dessus du village puis très longue descente jusqu’à la rivière Ansiya où vous pouvez vous baigner. Courte marche l’après-midi pour rejoindre le village de Lamu. Les rencontres sont fréquentes, c’est un aspect important de ce trek, car partout les montagnes sont habitées.
    Dénivelé: -1 650m, +150m
    J7 MONTAGNES DU SIMIEN (MULIT – 2 150m) 5h de trek TENTE
    Depuis Lamu descente jusqu’à 1 700m, baignade possible, puis remontée à 2 150m. Campement à Mulit site
    spectaculaire au pied des tours d’Amba Toloka et d’Amba Ton.
    Dénivelé: -350m, +450m
    Départ à l’aube pour 2h de trek sur une ligne de crête assez fréquentée par les populations locales pour rejoindre Adi Arkay. Puis gondar par Minibus.
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