Saturday, June 6, 2009

Trekking in the Simien Mountains

Everything in Africa seems to cost a lot more than it should do, especially tourist activities like trekking, safaris etc. The Simien mountains in Ethiopia are the exception. Amazing trekking can be arranged at prices that don't break the bank. You can pay much more for organised treks with cooks, beer and wine, and other luxury personal services. We saw a lot of these and they do look nice. If however you want to do it the independent way, here is how:

We did a four day trek. The bus from Gonder costs 21.50 birr and leaves quite often, not only at 5:30am which is a rarity. Dont listen to any of the touts in Gonder or the bored guys in Debark who want to be your guide and folow you around ad nauseum.

Simien Park Hotel (good place, rooms without/with private bath 70/180) is THE place to stay in Debark and they do good food and good draft beer.

If you head straight for the park office in Debark (about 500m back along the road away from town from then Simien Park Hotel) they can organise everything. The mandatory scout is 40birr per day and park fees are 70 birr for two days (inc. camping). If you want an official guide he will cost 120 birr per day. We intended to take a guide but in the office they told us the scout knows the way and where the water is (there are actually showers at the campsites!) so unless we wanted more info we didnt need a guide, but they recommend. Cooks are 75 and mules/muleteers are 35 each. The equipment costs are 15 birr for a sleeping bag, matress or raincoat, 30/40 birr for a 2man/3man tent and 30-40 birr for cooking materials. If you hire equipment there you will need a mule and handler as their equipment is very old and heavy, especially the cookers. If you have your own equipment, like us, then you can carry it yourself. It may be stubborn but I couldn't help feeling like some sort of colonial lord if I were to use a porter/mule and if I cant make a trek with my own gear I would rather not go.

You dont have to feed your staff but we shared tea/coffee, bread, dates and 'kolo' with our scout.

We trekked to Imet Gogo and back over four days, like this:

Day 1 - Debark to Sankaber, about 30km, 9 hours, nice views over the escarpment and lots of baboons
Day 2 - Sankaber to Geech - 12km - 5 hours, more amazing views including one precipice.
Day 3 - Geech to Imet Gogo and Imet Gogo to Sankaber - 22km - 7hours, amazing views from Imet Gogo, well worth it. More baboons on the return to Geech.
Day 4 - Sankaber to Debark - slightly more direct route, no views but quicker, 6-7 hours

In total our fees cost 140birr per person and the scout 40 per day. Split between two of us it came to 440birr plus about 300birr for food and supplies (best bought in Gonder). Because he had done what we expected a guide to do we tipped our scout quite well (100birr, although the average is 1days wage for every 3 worked). So 840birr between two people over four days works out at 105 birr or just under $10 per person per day. Of course if you want a guide etc it soon adds up. Also, we did not meet anyone else who walked out of Debark, most take some transport to Sankaber at least, and the charge for a one way trip is 800birr! I thought the walk was amazing although in the office they will tell you it is boring.

The trekking is not hard but carrying your own gear and food makes it slow going. If you are not at least used to some trekking you might find it tough. However these guys are used to taking out-of-shape tourists into the hills, they know we need to stop and rest and eat something. Just because they don't stop, doesnt mean you can't stop. Just call out that you need a rest, or just sit down. I know it sounds obvious but apparantly some people didnt think so, they were waiting for someone to tell them what to do, you have paid so you are in charge. Even at this altitude it leave one short of breath so we had at least two 10-15min breaks in addition to our lunch break.

Oh, and you can buy water purification liquid in Goha Pharmacy in Gonder for 4birr, just one drop per litre. The water from the taps at the camps looks crystal clear but you wouldnt want a dose of the trots three days walk from Debark so it makes sense to take this with you, the Amheric name is 'Wuha Agar'.

We had rain on two evenings but nothing too heavy, I suppose it will get worse as the rains draw in more.


  1. Was there too a month ago. Really a fantastic experience!

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  3. The hike through the most rugged and fascinating trails of Sagarmatha National Park, witnessing the traditional Sherpa culture in the villages of Khumbu and being in close proximity with world’s highest peak - Everest Base Camp Trek.