Tigray Churches & Danakil Depression

tour code - FT - 013

  • 9 Days & 8 Nights
  • Availability - Any Time
  • Kombolcha, Mekele, Hawzien, Hamed Ela, Erta Ale, Afdera, Awash National Park
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Price on your request

This itinerary is flexible and will likely change in order to coordinate visits with market days in the south, which is a great opportunity to mingle with the people, many of whom travel long distances on foot to attend.

About Danakil Depression and Rock Hewn churches of Tigray

The Danakil (or Dallol) Depression, which straddles the Eritrean border to the east of the Tigraian Highlands, is renowned as the hottest place on earth, with an average temperature of 34–35˚C. Much of this vast and practically unpopulated region lies below sea level, dipping to a frazzled nadir of -116m at Dallol, near Lake Asale, the lowest spot of terra firma on the African continent. One of the driest and most tectonically active areas on the planet, the Danakil is an area of singular geological fascination: a strange lunar landscape studded with active volcanoes, malodorous sulphur-caked hot springs, solidified black lava flows and vast salt-encrusted basins.

The Danakil is effectively a southerly terrestrial extension of the rifting process that formed the Red Sea, set at the juncture of the African, Arabian and Somali tectonic plates, and its low-lying surface was once fully submerged by saline water. Relics of those distant days include lakes Asale and Afrera, both of which lie at the centre of an ancient salt-extraction industry (seismic studies indicate that the thickness of the salt at Lake Asale is around 2km) linking the somewhat restricted economy of the Danakil to the more naturally bountiful Tigraian Highlands around Mekele.

It is some measure of the Danakil’s geological activity that more than 30 active or dormant volcanoes – roughly one-quarter of the African total as listed by the Smithsonian Institute Global Volcanism Program – are shared between its Ethiopian and Eritrean components. Following a series of fault lines running in a north-to-northwesterly direction, these volcanoes are all geological infants, having formed over the past million years, and a great many took their present shape within the last 10,000 years.

Rock hewn churchs of Tigray

The epithet of ‘best-kept secret’ has been applied to so many modern mediocrities that it seems ludicrously inadequate when confronted by religious sanctuaries as magnificently obscure as the churches carved into the sandstone cliffs of Tigrai. Practically unknown to other Ethiopians – let alone the outside world – before 1966, the rock-hewn churches of Tigrai have been described by the British academic Ivy Pearce as ‘the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people’. Most of these architectural gems remain in active use today, several house paintings and other sacred medieval artefacts, and every one of them is imbued with an aura of spirituality that seeps from the very rock into which they are carved.

The rock-hewn churches of Tigrai do not function primarily as tourist attractions. A select crop of about 20 churches is described in brochures compiled by the Tigrai Tourist Commission (TTC). The most popular and accessible of these churches might be visited by outsiders once or twice a week, the rest perhaps every two or three months. As for the rest – well, it would not surprise me to learn that half of the rock-hewn churches in Tigrai have gone unseen by foreigners since the 1974 revolution. Visits by foreigners are generally tolerated, sometimes welcomed, and occasionally met with visible distrust. Fortunately, because the Tigraian churches are more scattered and less accessible than their counterparts at Lalibela, it’s difficult to envisage their spiritual integrity ever being threatened by coaches full of prying tourists.

Sensitivity towards an older way of life is a prerequisite for exploring the Tigraian churches. So, too, is patience and humour. Many of the priests will not allow foreigners into their churches during mass, nor, as is customary in Ethiopia, will they open up the church if a mass has already been held on that day. At more inaccessible churches, the priests are understandably loath to undertake the long trek up from the plains unless a large pre-agreed tip is added to the official entrance fee. Then there is the small matter of locating the priest who keeps the key. Though, in recent years this has become increasingly easier.

Price Includes

  • Botteld water
  • Accomudation / Hotel / Lodge
  • Tour Guide / Local Guides / Driver Guide
  • Entrance Fees
  • Boat trip on Lake Tana
  • Fuel
  • Scout
  • All transportation in destination location


Drive to Kombolcha. After passing Debre Birhan, you will come to the Mezezo escarpment, with very beautiful scenes over the Amhara land. With luck, you will catch a glimpse of the endemic gelada baboons.

Overnight in Hotel


Continue driving to Mekele, via Woldia. You will pass through the land of the Tigray people, with their sandstone houses.

Overnight in Hotel


After breakfast, depart for Hawsein. On the way you will stop for a visit to the rock-hewn church of Mikael Imba, part of the Atsbi cluster of churches. After the visit, continue to Wukro to visit the church of Wukro Chirkos. After lunch, continue north to the Tembien cluster of churches. Here you will visit the churches of Mehdane Alem Adi Kesho and Petros & Paulos. Proceed to Hawsein for overnight Overnight in Hote/ Lodge.


After breakfast, depart from Hawsein for the Danakil Depression. On the way you will visit the church of Abreha we Atsbeha. Proceed driving to Hamed Ela via Berehale, where you will pick up police scouts, road guides and permits for the Afar region. You will see the camel caravans along the way, carrying salt from the salt lake to Mekele for sale. Overnight camping in Hamed Ela. Overnight in Comping


After breakfast, depart for Dallol, which at 116m below sea level is the lowest point on the African continent. Admire the stunning landscape, the ground many shades of red, yellow and orange from the hot water, acids and minerals spurting up from the ground. Continue to Lake Asale, which is the salt lake from which the Afar nomads extract salt. You will witness (and even try) their laborious task of removing salt from the ground as hundreds of camels relax before the long trek back to Mekele. At the end of the day, return to Hamed Ila Overnight in Comping


From Hamed Ila, continue to Erta Ale via Kursuwad. The Erta Ale volcano has been in a constant state of eruption for over 40 years. As the sun goes down you will start the 3-hour hike up to the crater rim of the Erta Ale volcano. The hike may be done by camel or on foot. At the top you will descend into the caldera and proceed to the crater’s edge. Here you will see the permanent lava lake inside the volcano (the only permanent lava lake in the world). Overnight in Comping


Today is an early morning start to witness the sun rise over the horizon. You will have your last look at the volcano’s lake of lave before descending from the volcano. After breakfast, continue driving to Lake Afdera for overnight Overnight in Comping


Lake Afrera is a wonderfully bright green lake situated with black basalt mountains behind. It’s a stunning location. Here you can see modern salt extraction from the lake, which is the main supply of salt to Addis Ababa. There is a hot spring nearby where you may take a bath. From Afdera, proceed driving to Awash National Park. Overnight in Hotel / Lodge / Comping


In the morning you will take a game drive to visit the wonderful birdlife and wildlife, such as oryx, baboons, greater and lesser kudu, warthogs, gazelles, colubus monkeys. Additionally, you’d be very lucky to see leopards, lions, and other cats. The landscapes in the park are beautiful, looking over the Awash Gorge. After the visit, return driving to Addis Ababa.


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Northern Ethiopia


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    Family Vacation
    January 25, 2017 Helpful

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