Introduction to the Simien Mountains
The Simien Mountains are one of Ethiopia’s most popular destinations. Sitting just north of Gondar, it’s easily accessible along the northern circuit of Ethiopia. Comprising 220 square kilometres of peaks, plateaus, vistas and valleys, the park offers stunning viewpoints and some of the best trekking routes in Africa.
The two lodges in the area, Simien Lodge and Limalimo Lodge, offer great alternatives to the typical camping and trekking setup, meaning whatever your budget, fitness levels, or accommodation preferences, you can visit the Simien Mountains and enjoy all the beauty the park has to offer.
5 Reasons to visit the Simien Mountains
1. Stunning Viewpoints
The entire Simien range is characterised by exceptional scenery. As you advance further into the park, the altitude increases and the viewpoints become increasingly spectacular. The first major viewpoint you’ll encounter is Imet Gogo, sitting at 3,926m between the Gich and Chennek campsites.
As you continue your journey, you’ll find Mount Bwahit at 4,430m, and for the adventurous, Ras Dashen towers just east of Mount Bwahit at a staggering 4,550m, making it Ethiopia’s highest peak and the tenth highest peak in Africa.
2. Trekking & Camping
There are three main campsites setup in the park: Sankaber, Gich, and Chennek. A typical route through the Simiens is a 4 day trek through through the park. Most visitors add on a night at the luxurious Limalimo Lodge at the end of the trek for some much deserved relaxation.
You can explore the great hiking routes of the Simiens regardless of whether you stay at a lodge or camp. If you're staying at Limalimo Lodge, you'll need to take a short drive into the park each morning.
For those looking to spend more time in the mountains, a number of lesser-visited campsites are set up east of Chennek. These campsites are often used as base camps for treks up Ras Dashen, and then out into the lowlands to the north or south where you can learn more about local life on a community trek.
Trekking Routes in the Simien Mountains
3. Luxury Lodges
Experiencing the Simien Mountains isn’t limited to those willing to camp. Simien Lodge is Africa’s highest lodge and sits inside the national park, meaning it’s the perfect base for exploring the range via day trips on foot. Troops of Gelada Monkeys play on the compound, and you can take short self-treks around the lodge if you want to explore at a slower pace.
Just outside the park is arguably Ethiopia’s finest lodge, Limalimo Lodge. Fast becoming the default way to explore the Simiens, the lodge’s beautiful aesthetic is matched only by its surrounding landscapes. The lodge is in high demand, and with only 12 rooms it is booked out well in advance of peak season so you’ll want to make your arrangements early if you’re planning to travel between October and March.
4. Flora and Fauna
The altitudinal range, topography and remoteness of the Simiens Mountains supports fascinating range of natural habitats. The major endemics found in the park are the Walia Ibex, Gelada Monkeys, and the Ethiopian Wolf. Gelada Monkeys roam in large troops in the Simien Mountains, and these monkeys are quite used to humans so you can sit amongst them as they shout and play in the fields.
Walia Ibex are best found near the Chennek campsite - if you are staying in a lodge you can drive to this part of the park thanks to a road that runs through as far as Chennek.
The Ethiopian Wolf is seldom spotted in the Simiens, so you have to be quite lucky to spot one here. If spotting an Ethiopian Wolf is high on your Ethiopian adventure bucket list, head to the Bale Mountains where they are found in larger numbers.
5. Local life
Beyond the 3 major campsites that run along the main ridge of the park, there are a further 6 campsites further east. These campsites and homestays take you to lesser-visited, remote, and rugged areas of the Simien Mountains. You will pass through rural farmland and across peaks and valleys, and these camps are a great opportunity to learn more about life in this region of Ethiopia.
Community trekking in Ethiopia, first set up in the Wollo region of Lalibela in 2004, is also available in the Janamora region of the Simien Mountains. The guesthouses are very basic, but you'll experience wonderful local hospitality, incredible viewpoints, great hiking trails and you'll leave with a much deeper appreciation for life as a farmer in rural Ethiopia.
Guide to the Simien Mountains National Park
The Simien Mountains National Park is situated on the northwestern side of the Simien mountains massif in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, roughly 900km north of Addis Ababa. The region overlooks the lowlands of the Tekeze River. The park itself lies in the woredas (districts) of Debark, Adi Arkay and Janamora.
Situated in the centre of a triangle formed by Gondar, Lalibela and Axum, the Simien Mountains is a highlight stop along the Historic North Circuit. The nearest major city to the Simiens is Gondar, which is easily accessed via Ethiopia's domestic flight network. From here, it's a short drive to the town of Debark, the HQ of the Simien Mountains. From Debark, it's a 14km drive to the park entrance gate at Buyit Ras.
Places to stay
The classic route through the Simiens involves a 4 day trek from Sankaber Campsite near the entrance to the park, across the plateau to Geech campsite, before spending a final night at Chennek by Mount Bwahit. Many travellers opt to spend a final night by the roaring fire of Limalimo Lodge.
If you don't want to camp, you have the option of staying at one of the two lodges in the regions (Simien Lodge or Limalimo Lodge). Both are in high demand and are often booked out well in advance of peak season. The nearby Befiker Kosoye Lodge is a pleasant alternative, but sits 1.5 hours drive from the park and is usually only used if there is no availability at Simien Lodge or Limalimo
When to Visit
The highlands of northern Ethiopia experience heavy rain from June to August that sometimes extend to mid-September. Trekking routes become blocked during this time, and muddy tracks makes driving through the park difficult. It is still possible to explore the Simiens during the rainy season, but you should expect intermittent heavy showers in the afternoons and cloudier skies throughout the day. Campsites are closed during the rainy season so you'll be exploring the mountains from one of the two lodges in the region.
The best time to visit the Simiens is from October - May when skies are clear and all trekking routes and roads are accessible.
Geography and Geology
The Simien Mountains are ancient structures that pre-date the Great Rift Valley. The mountains are part of the Simien Massif, a high plateau of ancient volcanic rock from which dozens of peaks rise to over 4,000m above sea level. Chief among them is the 4,533m Ras Dashen, the highest mountain in Ethiopia and the tenth highest in Africa.
Some 55 to 75 million years ago, volcanic activity pushed the basaltic rock of the Simiens upward, creating a field of active volcanoes. A series of eruptions between 40 and 25 million years ago, deep in the Oligocene period, covered the entire Simien range with thick lava thousands of metres deep. As the volcanic activity calmed, what remained was a jagged and cinematic landscape of cooled lava below which ancient, dormant volcanoes lie.
Most travellers spend 2 or 3 days in the Simiens, depending on their budget, time-frame, and interests. Day trips to the park are possible, but unless you're in a particular hurry, we recommend a minimum of 2 full days in the park. The classic Sankaber > Gick > Chennek trail can be extended to cover the outer peaks and valleys of the range, including summitting Ras Dashen, and for this you're looking at 5-6 days in the park. For the explorers among you, you can add a couple of nights community trekking in Janamora to bring your time in the Simiens up to the 10 day mark.
The two lodges in the region mean that if you wanted to, you could do almost no trekking and instead take sorties into the park via 4x4, stopping off at all the best viewpoints. Therefore, you don't need to be particularly active in order to visit the Simiens. However, you're going to be well above 3,000m for majority of your time in the mountains, and this puts extra strain on the body, so a reasonable fitness level is required to enjoy the mountains. If you have any concerns about this, talk to our specialists.
We wish they were better. Unfortunately, the equipment available at the campsites is often quite poor, and with temperatures dropping to below 0 at night, we often recommend bringing your own sleeping bag for extra warmth. All Brilliant travellers will receive a full kit list prior to departure, and so you'll know exactly what to bring to survive the cold nights up in the mountains. The facilities at the campsites are basic pit latrines.
Altitude sickness is a very real possibility in the Simiens. However, most visits to the mountains take place a third of the way through your time in Ethiopia, which means you have already had a chance to acclimatise to the high altitude in Ethiopia's North. If you're particularly susceptible to altitude sickness, we recommend avoiding any viewpoints above 3,500m and generally limiting your time in the Simiens.
All Brilliant travellers will receive a comprehensive kit list before departure so there will be no surprises when you're in the mountains.
The cost of a Simien trek depends on the length of your stay, the size of your group, and whether you're opting for lodges, camps, or a combination. Get in touch and we'll let you know what's possible with your budget.
With the recent introduction of Limalimo Lodge, most travellers opt to spend their time in the mountains in the comfort of this luxury lodge, taking sorties into the park via 4x4. Whilst this is a great option, the downside is that it's more expensive than camping, and you don't experience the full treks on offer, which for some travellers is a deal breaker. You can always combine lodges with camping, so get in touch and we'll talk you through your options.
Ready to explore the Simien Mountains?
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