Simien Trekking Itinery
To get current information and to make bookings, it is best to contact the Ethiopian Tourist Organisation and the Wildlife Conservation Organization in advance of your trip. If you write from abroad, it is probably best to write directly to :
- Park Warden
- Simien Mountains National Park
- P.O. box 13
- GONDAR – Ethiopia
If you wish to reserve space in one of the buildings in the park, you should contact the warden. Remember that postal service is slow and that the warden may not go to Gondar to pick up his mail for several weeks.
If you are making arrangements from Addis Ababa (AA), you may telephone the Ethiopian Tourist Organization and the Wildlife Conservation Organization for the latest information, for reservations and for renting equipment. You should ask for the names of the persons in Debarek who are responsible for renting pack animals, and ask for names of recommended guides.
You may fly or drive to Gondar, 748 km from AA. There are some good hotels and grocery stores in Gondar, and there is a branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. Gondar is a tourist attraction in its own right and it is well worth spending a day there. If you plan to buy anything in the Simien it is good to get small change in Gondar. Farmers in the Simien will be unlikely to have change for a ten-dollar bill. Foreign currency, of course, must be exchanged at the bank.
To get to Debark from Gondar you may drive, take the bus, or a taxi. The distance is 101 kilometers, and taxi fares are reasonable. Taxis are more comfortable and more convenient than are the buses. At Debarek, hotel accommodations are not geared to foreign tourists, and the grocery store has a very limited selection of tinned food. If you have driven vehicle to Debarek, you may leave it with the local police station for safe-keeping while you take your tour to the park. A motorable road to the park is under construction at the time of writing. It is advisable to inquire in advance, in AA about the rental of pack animals and riding animals. Price may vary and recommended dealers change.
The park office in Debark is very reactive, can organize the trip within few hours, it’s easy to reach Debark by yourself, you can sleep there if you arrive late in the afternoon.
It is customary to make one muleteer per two pack animals. In each case the price is according to the number of days the animal or man is away from Debarek. If you plan to stay for a long time, you may send the animal back and make arrangements for them to collect you at a specified time when you wish to return.
Tourists are advised to examine each animal carefully before selecting it; ask to have the saddle removed and look at the animal’s back to make certain that there are no sores, and to be sure the animal is not lame. It is recommended that you take a short ride on an animal before you select it as a mount. You should also make sure that the saddle is securely fastened and that the stirrups are the correct length before you depart. Remember that the Simien is in its infancy as far as tourism is concerned; you must be prepared to take a certain amount of responsibility for your own welfare. With time, effort, and patience a smoothly-operating tourist facility can be established. Be patient!Mules are animals that anyone can ride. They are surefooted and safe, if somewhat dull mounts. Horses have more spirit but less stamina. Donkeys are used as pack animals, not as mounts. They go more slowly and carry less than do mules or horses. All of the animals are used to the mountains and familiar with the trails.
Equipment should be packed in duffle bags or gunny sacks (Amharic : djonia). Bags or wooden case (Amharic : saten) and ropes for tying the packs, can usually be bought in Debarek, but are more expensive there than in AA.
You should make sure that there is no misunderstanding about the terms of your rental of animals and equipment before you depart. You will probably be asked to pay half of your fee in advance, the other half upon your return.
Ethiopian saddles resemble western American saddles more than English ones, except that they have less padding. You may want to use a coat or blanket to sit on. A stick may be used as a quirt; you turn your mount by tapping its neck with the stick, on the side away from which you are turning. If you are riding a mule and want it to go faster, use the stick on its rump and shout “mitch”. For horses use the same procedure but shout “che !” You may feel silly doing this, but it is more effective than simply kicking the animal’s ribs.
At high altitudes, dehydration takes place very rapidly compared to the rate at similar temperatures at lower altitudes. It is wise to take a canteen with you. It is also good to keep a raincoat and sun hat with you at all times.
The trek from Debarek to Sankaber takes 4½ to 5 hours by mules. It is primarily through cultivated areas. This is also a motorable road. At Sankaber there is an English-speaking Ethiopian Game Warden and some scouts. A campsite and a tourist house with ten beds (with bugs and fleas) are available, and at the time of writing additional tourist facilities are under construction. Sankaber is on the boundary of the park. You can walk from the campsite to the edge of the abyss, where you may get your first glimpse of the spectacular scenery. You may see Walia ibex (soon in the morning); and the Sankaber area is one of the best places for getting a really close look at Geladas baboons. Klipspringer may also be seen if you are (very very) lucky. Birds of course are visible throughout the region.
From Sankaber to Geech the trip takes 3 to 3½ hours, through meadows and forests and some cultivated areas. At Geech there are an expatriate warden and some Ethiopian game scouts. There is a tourist house (A small guest house has opened about 200m from the camp, called ‘Everlasting Lodge’. The family there sell national food and drinks and offer hot showers) with room for ten “long term” guests : and some small rondavels (“tukuls”) with a total of fourteen beds, hot shower and a common self service kitchen. There is a small charge for the use of these facilities.
Geeks is worth a stay at least two days. There are several good lookout spots where one may see walias, geladas, and klipspringers. There are views from Gidgergot, Q’adadit (3,760m), Saha and Emiet Gogo (3,930m). just east of Q’adadit you have a chance to see Colobus monkeys in the very far lowland forests if you have some very good binoculars.
From Geech to Chenek the trek takes 2½ to 4 hours. You may have to dismount and walk part of the way where the climb is steep. At Chenek there is a game scout camp, a site for pitching tents, and a tourist house which can accommodate 4 to 6 persons. The view is superb and there are many places for seeing Walia. There are also caves which can be explored, if you are extremely lucky (what a good boy you are!), you can see rock Hyrax (Procavia sp. – Amaharic : shikoko), the small mammal which look like an overgrown rodent but which is, in fact, related to the elephants.
From Chenek you can return directly to Sankaber (3 to 4 hours) and from there to Debark (5 to 6 hours). You can spend the night in Sankaber or not, according to your time and stamina. It would be well to remember that tourist facilities in Debarek are not particularly comfortable.
If you wish to continue onwards from Chenek, you can visit Buakit (4,437 meters altitude) in about 5 hours’ time, round trip. This should be planned in advance, however, and you should take a guide. Buakit is outside the National Park.
Ras-Dejen, the highest point in Ethiopia, is not a difficult mountain to climb. It is in fact, just a higher “hog-back” than the neighbours. Nevertheless it requires planning and preparation, as it is off the usual tourist route. A guide must be taken. The round trip from Chenek takes 3 days.
TO THE LOWLAND
Three game scout camps exist in the lowlands : Dirni, Muchila and Adernas. A trip to the lowlands is a real expedition and only recommended for tough people able to walk under hard conditions and cope with rock climbing. A trip from Chenek all along the foot of the escarpment to the Wolqafit pass and Debark lasts about 5 to 7 days.