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!