Gondar and the Simien Mountains
Information pictures and diagrams from "East Africa Mountains".
Recent changes in political and economic controls now make it possible for visitors to see this beautiful country whose culture and and heritage go back well over 1000 years. The castles and churches of the ancient capital of Gondar, the rock carved churches of Lalibela, the island monasteries on Lake Tana: all these are now easily seen and can be combined with a visit to Ras Dejen (4543m) in a two week trip thanks to an efficient and relatively cheap internal flight system. During the rainy summer season crops grow well on the rich volcanic soils of the highland plateau; the land is green but roads are very muddy. From September to June the weather is much drier and progressively the green cover vanishes. The best time to visit Ethiopia is probably between September and Christmas; after that the land becomes dry and many of the beautiful flowers wither.
The Simien Mountains are really the edge of a huge volcanic plateau and dramatic cliffs drop down to the hot lowland plains to the north. Occasional volcanic plugs rise out of the plains and provide a challenge to climbers. During the short Italian occupation of the country Walter Bonatti recorded some climbs in the Simien; little has been done since and the potential is great although much of the rock is of rather poor volcanic origin.
A section of the Simien Mountains has been designated a National Park and within this area the remnants of the once magnificent Afro-Alpine moorlands are being protected from the further encroachment of cultivation. There remain fine stands of groundsels, ericas, lobelias and other high altitude vegetation. Bird life is very rich and there are also quite good chances of seeing the rare Walia Ibex and the Simien Fox as well as the Gelada Baboons.
Access International flights to Addis Ababa. Taxi to a town hotel costs between $3 and $5. Hotels range from $2 per double to $150. Quality varies accordingly. For $20 a very respectable room for two is available in the recommendable Extreme Hotel; it is close to the colourful market, to St Georges Church and to the Addis Ababa restaurant (cheap local food in a pleasant and original setting).
Regular buses to Bahar Den and Gondar (cheap, 2 days travelling). It is better to fly; internal flights are cheap; Addis - Gondar return costs about $100 if tickets are bought abroad. Cheaper still to make a reservation and pay in Addis (half the price) but a local contact would be useful. Gondar Airport is 15km from the town (about $5 for taxi). The town is situated in rolling, wooded hills. It was the capital of Ethiopia for several centuries and the castle, which comprises several buildings, is well preserved and worthy of visit ($8 entry). There are also numerous churches; The Holy Trinity is the most famous and has a magnificent painted ceiling ($25 entry). The Goha is the most expensive hotel and is situated on a hill outside of town. The Terera is pleasantly sited near the town centre and the castle; it provides a good service although slightly run-down. The Cuara is also recommended.
A variety of foodstuffs are available in Gondar including fruit. vegetables. sugar, tea, coffee, etc. It is worth buying green coffee, sugar and small cups here for a visit to the mountains - when other people or villagers come to your camp it is then possible to invite them to coffee - the guide will roast and grind the coffee as required. Make sure you have large plastic water containers and rope for tying on luggage. It is possible to hire minibuses at the bus station to take a party all the way to Debark and the Park Office. The cost for an 8-person vehicle is about $80. The public bus is much cheaper; there are two a day with departures at 05.30 and 09.30. The 100km drive takes about 2h, or 3-4h by bus. Debark (2700m) is a dusty small market town. There is one reasonable hotel - the Simian. It serves good local food, is clean, and the staff make an effort to ensure your stay is pleasant. It is cheap but there is no running water. Hot water for washing on request. An area suitable for camping lies some 2km SW of the town.
Park entry procedures, Mules and Guides The Park Offices are presently located on the main road 1km S of Debark bus station. In the future they may be moved nearer to the park itself. A guide. armed scout, mules and mule driver must be engaged here in a short time. Per day fees are as follows. Park entry $5, mule $2, driver $2, scout $3. Guide fees are negotiable, $5-$6. Mules carry c40kg. In theory the men hired should have their own food and tentage. It is best to check this; in particular they should at least have a plastic sheet, otherwise in the event of rain they will be forced to stay in park huts or villages thus limiting your campsites. Regarding food, they tend to buy some, or be given some, along the way. The following are sometimes available: kolo (roasted barley), eggs. kurofis (an alcoholic drink brewed from barley).
There are only very limited amounts of firewood available in the Simien. At some villages eucalyptus trees are grown and it is possible to buy this wood for open fires. Erica and other indigenous species should not be cut - what little remains is still being cut illegally by the locals and unless protected will soon disappear.