The Simien Mountains in Ethiopia are a very popular destination for tourists. Travellers might miss out on the other popular destinations but nobody really wants to miss the chance of visiting these stunning mountains. The best thing about trekking in the Simien Mountains is that you can decide for yourself the number of days you would like to spend here. Tourists spend anywhere between 1-12 days in the Simiens. Usually, travellers prefer a 4 day trek and only hardcore mountain climbers go for a 12 day expedition. For me, 4 days in the mountains were enough as I had rest of Ethiopia to explore within the 30 days I had in the country, and I wanted to visit the Omo Valley Tribes in the south as well.
At the same time, my travel buddy – Enya and I did not want to take a guided tour for these mountains. We wanted to do everything on our own and see how we end up on day 04. The idea of mules carrying our bags and chefs preparing incredible food at the end of the day was way too touristy for us and we wanted to explore a more authentic experience. Therefore, we ended up having a lovely time in mid – October’17 climbing these mountains in the Great Rift Valley all by ourselves.
When you reach Gonder, you will be ambushed by several tour operators for treks to Simien Mountains. You will be quoted somewhere around $250 for a 4 day trek. This cost will cover everything – Ride from Gonder to the Entry point in Simien Mountains, mules to carry your backpacks, mule-men to guide the mules, mandatory scout, guide, your tents and sleeping bags, trained chefs carrying a lot of food and drinking water and a ride back to Gonder after your trek ends. A lot of people end up taking these tours as it avoids a lot of hassles.
We didn’t want so many people to accompany us. Hence, we decided to ignore all the tour guides in Gonder and take a cheap ride to the Simien Mountains Headquarters in Debark to start our trek.
Simien Mountains are very dry and to keep your hydration levels high, you would need at least 3 Liters of water a day, if not more. There is no packaged drinking water available inside the National Park and at the same time, it’s not possible to carry 12 Liters of water all by yourself.
We decided not to take tents and sleeping bags as we had heard that there are “lodges” in each campsite with beds. This option was a bit cheaper as we didn’t have to rent tents, sleeping bags & mats and helped us keep our backpacks light. The lodges charge you 80ETB at every campsite, which is much cheaper than renting camping equipment.
We kept our bags as light as possible by removing all the extra clothes and items we wouldn’t need for our hike but they still weighed over 15 Kilos each. Mostly because of 3 Liters of water and a lot of canned food items.
We met Mokuanant early in the morning and we decided to walk to Sankabar (the first campsite) all the way from Debark. You will not come across a lot of people who would be ready to do this. Sankabar is about 36 Kms away from Debark by road. Guided tours take you in a van to Buyit Ras (the Park Entrance) and then you walk the last few Kilometers.
As my backpack was torn and it could no longer carry 15Kilos of weight, we decided to hire a porter from Sankabar who would carry my bag in a sack. We arranged a fixed price with him (and this was a much more difficult task than hiking 8 hours a day). We were surrounded by a group of angry men after they found out that the boy had agreed to take the bags for lesser amount. They acted as a union and did not allow us to hire that boy as our porter. Hence, we had to pay more.
On this day, the flora kept changing around us. By the time we reached Chanek, it was completely different. You will see below:
First we walked to the peak of Imet Gogo (at 3926m). It gives a 270deg view of Simien Mountains once you reach on top.
I woke up scratching and itching after a horrible night in the lodge. Beds in Chanek were infested with bedbugs. My waist line and arms were dark red. We had plans to climb Bwahit (2nd highest peak in the Simiens at 4430m) but we had no idea how to get back to Debark from here. Everybody had told us to book a car ride back to Gonder before the trip began but it was over 100USD and we were not ready to pay that price. Surely, there must be a way for villagers to commute we thought. Or, we could ask other travellers to accommodate us in their luxurious vans. (Although, their guides were reluctant about giving you a ride back to Debark. They ignored us as much as possible.) So, we thought we’ll take a chance and let’s see how we return.
And it worked! While I was sitting outside impatiently scratching myself, we heard the horn of a bus coming down the hill. THERE WAS A BUS!!!
We charged towards the bus to bring it to a halt and we tried to negotiate our ride costs. While the locals pay 20 birr, we were asked for 400 birr each! On persistent negotiating by Enya, we came down to 200 birr each. This was way cheaper than if we would have booked a car (2400 birr to Gonder).
So, this was my 4 day journey through the Simiens. Completely unplanned and without a guided tour. Guided tour operators quote somewhere around 250-300 USD for a 4 day trip, whereas, we managed to complete the same trip in about 80 USD each. Yes, the comfort was missing but when you’re hiking, it’s the last thing you want.
The Simiens are stunning! There is no reason for you to skip visiting these mountains in the Great Rift Valley. People of all ages take their chances and usually succeed. Altitude sickness could take over as you will be touching 4000m or even more if you climb Bwahit Peak (4430m). So, the things I would really recommend you to carry are – Water purifying system, good quality backpacks and shoes, any necessary medications and a lot of confidence!
14 thoughts on “🇪🇹 Ethiopia: The Simien Mountains National Park”
Sat shri akal Jaitegh. Your blog gives an insight view of Simien mountains. Never thought Ethiopia was so beautiful. WaheGuru mehar karan
Warm regards Baljit
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I enjoyed reading your articles about Ethiopia a lot!! 😀
Hoffe dir geht es gut & auf ein baldiges Wiedersehen! 😉
Hi, very informative blog! thanks!
would you recommend going there in July, or is it a rainy month?
I would not recommend the Simiens in July as it is the rainy period and it will be swampy and mushy. Some parts are really steep and this weather would only make things worse.
I thought the pictures were breathtaking! Good that you had good company/companion too. It’s looks like heaven. I wonder if I could make it…I think I would opt for the more expensive option because I’m not good at carrying a heavy load on my back…i am old enough to be your mum! Nevertheless, the blog and comments that are on this site are really really wonderful and inviting. Ethiopia is now on my list!
Thank you for your wonderful comment. I’m glad I could inspire you to make travel plans to Ethiopia! It really is a beautiful and an unexplored country with a lot to offer! For anybody over the age of 40 and having back and knee problems, I would definitely recommend taking a guided tour. You wouldn’t have to carry your backpacks and would be able to enjoy your hike through these beautiful mountains! If you indeed make it to Ethiopia and Simien Mountains, I would love to hear about your experiences!
Good luck and have a safe journey!
Thank you! One day I will become solvent and I have added the trip to Ethiopia to my list! Shame you can’t take children under 18!
Great article, so much good info! A friend and I are interested in crossing the Simiens on mountain bikes. We are highly experienced cyclists but I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me:
-How are the trails? How steep and rocky are they? We can of course handle a good bit of challenge, but if we are just going to be walking the whole time, we can leave the bikes behind 🙂
-Are there lots of stairs (either up or down) on the hike?
-Did you see anyone else on bikes while you were there?
-What do you think are the chances we could find a scout who could ride with us? Would they be able to follow on a horse?
Anythinge helps, thank you!
That’s a very innovative way to visit the Simiens and I’m not sure how many people would have done this before. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my knowledge. Hope it helps!
As per my experience, I found 80% of the hike could be biked. (I can only speak of the hike till Chanek which you could manage in 2 days on bike). There are narrow trails which go through the mountains and are not steep. They run almost parallel to the main village dirt road. Simiens are not dense forests. Instead they are barren rocky mountains.
About 15% is highly difficult to ride a bike on because of very rocky terrain which would have an impact on your balance and also on your tires. It is highly possible for you to have flat tires as I’m expecting that you would carry your luggage with you on panniers.
About the remaining 5% is impossible to ride. These parts are either highly steep (75-80deg slopes) or they are marshy. (There could be alternate routes which the scouts might know of). Again, this could vary with the month you go in. I would definitely not recommend the wet season for biking. (Although October is the best season)
I don’t think you can bike to jinbar waterfall as the climb is steep, so you could lock your bikes at some point before the hike to the waterfall and then go back and ride further. There are definitely few steep stairs but the villagers manage their mules there so i dont think you should have a problem with a bike. I didn’t see anybody on a bike there but now that I think of it, I would like to take up this challenge and try doing it. Yes, the scout will be able to follow you on a horse but you will have to pay for his horse and maybe for another man who would take care of it and feed it. Anybody you meet in Gonder will discourage you but the Simien Mountains Headquarters in Debark can help you arrange everything.
I’m really curious about your bike ride through the Simiens and would love to hear about it if you make it through! Please drop me an email on email@example.com about your experiences.
Wishing you the best for this trip!
Nice report of your Simien hike!
Just noticed that you got the birds a bit wrong. The birds on your pictures are ‘Thick-billed raven’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thick-billed_raven), not Lammergeier. Still an impressive bird, and even endemic to the Ethiopian highlands, but a bit easier to spot, since they are scavengers (and thus trying to steal your lunch), unlike the bonemarrow-eating lammergeier. 🙂
You got it right! I made a big mistake! Sorry for that and I’m correcting it right now. Thank you for notifying me.
hi its was 80 for each person? and for guiding trip they were asking for 250-300 each or each person for 4 days?
It was 80$ for 4 days when I was travelling with one other person. It would be more if you travel solo by yourself. And it is 250-300$per person for 4 days