The Simien Mountains, a UNESCO site, are found in northern Ethiopia.

The tallest peak is Ras Dashen at 4543 meters in  The Simien Mountains are found on a massive plateau (412 sq km) ranging from 1600m-4543m. Peaks dangerously dive into deep gullies. The most common launching point is Gondar, about a 3 hour drive away.

Simien Mountains

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Besides the stunning panoramas, the Simien Mountains are also known for its indigenous wildlife. The Gelada Baboon, numbering 5000, is a common sight. You will most likely see the rarer Walia Ibex, numbering 1100. The Simien Wolf only numbers 100 and I unfortunately did not view any on my trek.

You will be captured by the stunning vistas and the abundant wildlife. Unfortunately, my three day trek can be surmised as 5 star prices with 1 star facilities. I only have myself to blame. Out of laziness and planning four trips concurrently, I decided to use Blue Sky Ethiopia Tour and Travel (NOT recommended) to set up half my travel during Ethiopia. My three day hike clocked in at $750, all inclusive (except tip).

When trekking I felt like Kanye West and his extensive posse. The national park is wisely engaging the local populace by providing jobs to the locals. My posse consisted of a scout, guide, driver, cook, and an assistant cook. The scout is a camouflage-clad man armed with an AK-47 to fight off the non-existent bandits. The reality is my trek only required two people, a guide and a driver. The food was fine but extremely basic. Think an egg for breakfast and spaghetti for dinner. I looked at my guide and pointed to my assistant cook, “who is he?”. “That man cleans your dishes,” my guide explained. “You mean the one dish and fork I have been using?” My support staff was very pleasant and gracious but totally extraneous and distracted from the experience. Multiple times I literally bumped into my English-less Scout. I couldn’t fathom why we were bumping into each other. There was no one in view for miles. The campgrounds were sparse. There was one permanent hut where my posse slept and cooked the food. I was provided with a sleeping bag and tent. It was quite chilly at night and it dipped below freezing. My days were sunny and ranging from brisk to warm after hiking for a bit. There was a bathroom facility but I never laid eyes on it and was told it was quite rudimentary.

My posse!

My posse!

My three day trek began with a ride from Gondar to Debark, a three hour drive. Debark is the launching point for the Simien Mountains. At the National Park Office in Debark, you will pay the park fee and also meet your Scout, guide, and cooks. An additional drive brought us into the park. The car stopped and I departed with my Scout, and guide on foot. While trekking up inclines my chest tightened with the thin air. Within moments we came across scores of Gelada Baboons. The coarse-haired baboons were oblivious to the three of us and I waded into the middle of the throng. Multiple baboons were deep in concentration sitting on their haunches, furiously grabbing and eating grass.   Grass comprises 90% of their diet. Other groups sat grooming each other, while others frolicked around, in addition to a couple of baboons making love. Throughout the trek also encountered a number of birds. After several hours, we arrived at camp. It was off peak tourism season. Besides myself, there was one other tent, a couple from Illinois who were international teachers in Cairo. I gobbled down some spaghetti and stared at the ink jet sky scattered with crystal clear stars unadulterated from any light pollution.

Grooming time

Grooming time

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Foraging for grass

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Day two was a full day hike. The climax was reaching 4100 meters and staring into a deep, expansive gorge. We rested and ate our lunch. The landscape was fantastic. At the end of the day, we arrived at the second camp and were greeted by scores of Geladas again. Mixed in were a dozen Walia Ibex. The Ibex have chestnut-brown coats with large horns that curve backwards. My guide informed me that were returning back to our first camp via the car despite my agenda stating that we were to stay at this camp. My guess is they were too lazy to set-up camp for a second time. We arrived back to camp after speeding over dirt and gravel roads in the pitch dark. I awoke on the third day as the only tourist in the camp. But I was joined with 30 locals who lounged around my tent detracting from the tranquility of the mountains. The third day of trekking did not take place despite paying for a three day trek. The trek ended and I was driven back to Gondar by noon.

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The Simien Mountains are visually beautiful and the animals are very engaging. It is simply not worth the price compared to other opportunities in other country, such as Nepal. The work-around is to set up your trek in person at the National Park Office in Debark. By doing this, you can customize your retinue. At minimum you are still required to bring a Scout.


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