Few have heard of the illusive roof of Africa. Being among the great Simien Mountains is a world-class experience which offers stunning views of awe-inspiring jagged peaks and sharp precipices. Let’s look at the best ways to explore the roof of Africa.
About the Simien Mountains
With its jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and fear-inspiring cliffs – some as deep as 1,000 meters – the bizarre geology of the Simien Mountains could not be more worthy of the lavish description above. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a high plateau which includes dozens of peaks above the 4,000-meter mark, amongst them Ethiopia’s highest mountain and the fifth-highest in Africa, the 4,533-meter Ras Dashen.
As well as being home to the enormous versions of plants found in the rest of the world, like the Giant Heath and Giant Saint Johns’s Wort, the Simiens are carpeted with wild flowers like the Abyssinian wild rose and silver clusters of everlastings.
Join an Organized Tour
Organize your hike with one of the many tour operators in Gonder, the historic city which lies 100 kilometers to the south of the Simiens Mountain National Park. These tours will typically include transport between Gonder and Debark, the starting point for the trek, and will take care of all park red tape, camping equipment, food, water, guide, scouts and mules. These last-minute trips, which can be organized the day prior to departure with one of the many brokers that will approach you on the street, often offer the best deals but can sometimes feel a little ‘hodgepodge,’ and you may be left waiting around for your transport to be arranged.
Book your tour well in advance, with one of the many tour companies. Simien Ecotours is one that offers a good range of packages at great rates. What sets them apart from the others is their focus on responsible tourism and the fact that they fund a number of different conservation projects, from beekeeping to the construction of rubbish dumps, which you can visit as part of your trek. Simien Ecotours can arrange an individual tour for you, or you can join one of their fixed departure tours for four days and three nights.
Go on Your Own Independent Hike
Unlike many other mountain ranges in Africa, it is possible to explore the roof of Africa without a guide. The only person you are required to hike with is an armed scout, even though the Simiens is a safe area.
Pay for park fees and arrange optional guides at the Park Headquarters in Debark. Although not strictly necessary, since the scout will know the way, taking a local guide is a good way to know more not only about the flora and fauna but also about life in the villages in and around the park. You will also contribute to the local economy and help the young guides
When hiking on your own, bring your own camping gear and cooking equipment, especially if you are going for a long trek. But if you’re looking for a short stay, you can sleep at one of the community lodges near the Sankaber, Geech and Chennek campsites. These ‘lodges’ have basic facilities but are warm and clean for the most part. And unlike most tourists who stay in the campsites, you will have the opportunity to hang out with the locals, have a few beers around the fire and maybe even dance to some Ethiopian music in the evenings. They also offer simple but delicious Ethiopian food such as injera and shiro, as well as a selection of cold beverages.
Which Routes to Trek
The most popular trek is the one that takes you from Debark to the Chennek campsite, which usually takes four days and includes some of the most fantastic scenery in the Simien Mountains.
Not to be missed is the stunning 533-meter-deep Jinbar Waterfall, which dries up to a trickle during the dry season. Nonetheless, the sheer enormity of the gorge and the site of huge bearded vultures gliding effortlessly below you should be enough to gawp at. Imet Gogo is another highlight of the trip. This promontory, which stands at 3,926 meters, affords 360-degree views, arguably the best in the Simien Mountains. From Imet Gogo, the most scenic route follows the escarpment, where you will come terrifyingly close to sheer cliffs dropping hundreds of meters before reaching Chennek.
If you still have the energy, climb Mt. Bwahit, which at 4,430 meters, is the park’s second highest peak. If scaling high peaks is your thing, keep going to Ras Dashen. Although less visually intriguing than the first part of the trek, climbing the highest peak in Ethiopia will definitely grant you bragging rights and will take you to lesser-visited parts of the park.
Planning Your Trip
Exploring in the Simiens is possible at any time of year, but each season will bring with it a different experience. Many tourists choose to go between September and November when the landscape is alive with green after the rainy season. December through April is also fine hiking weather, as the sun is often out and temperatures are higher, but views tend to be a little hazy, and the landscape turns from vivid green to yellow and dry. The least popular hiking months are June, July and August when rain falls daily.
Temperatures during the day tend to be comfortably warm in all seasons but can fall below zero at night, so pack warms clothes and a good sleeping bag.
With their dramatic scenery, unique plants and rare animals, the Simiens is a great place to hike and explore on the road less travelled. Whether you are going for a day trip or a two-week hike, this park will not fail to astound even the most seasoned of hikers and promises to become one of the world’s best hiking spots.