Going Simien Mountains trekking is the best way to experience one of the most beautiful, pristine landscapes in Ethiopia.
Some people opt to visit on a day trip from Gondar – but honestly, unless you are super constrained on time or physically unable to hike, it’s a pity to miss out on the opportunity to be completely immersed in the nature.
Simien Mountains National Park has a multitude of trails, and you can go on two, three, four, seven and even eight day hikes – the latter one going all the way to Aksum. I have done the two-day Simien Mountains trek and it was a great experience – quite possibly the highlight of my trip to Ethiopia.
In this post, I explain everything you should know about Simien Mountains trekking, sharing plenty of information about the hike and giving you practical tips to make the most of it.
Some Background Information About The Simien Mountains
The Simien Mountains chain runs across the North of Ethiopia. Simien Mountains National Park is one of the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the country – and this should give you an idea of how unique and how beautiful the landscape is.
Easily accessed from the lovely city of Gondar, the Simien Mountains are home to some of the tallest peaks in Africa, with Ras Deshen reaching more than 4,500 meters, and Kidis Yared reaching 4453 meters.
The mountains are covered in this forest and meadows, and are home to several unique wildlife species such as the Gelada Baboons and the Ethiopia Wolves. This means that throughout your Simien Mountains hike you are bound to get incredible views – of the mountains, of the valleys below, of the forest and of all the animals that live in the area.
Add to this the fact that Ethiopia hardly is a mass tourism destination (quite the opposite in fact) and you’ll quickly understand why Simien Mountains trekking is a truly special experience.
2 Days Simien Mountains Trekking Experience
As I have pointed out before, the Simien Mountains trekking experience is likely to be the highlight of your time in Ethiopia.
The first day of the hike, after a few hours driving from Gondar and after having passed the Simien Lodge (the highest lodge in Ethiopia, where some base themselves to go on day hikes in the region), you’ll reach the beginning of the trail.
You’ll go on a gentle uphill to begin with – nothing strenuous if you are an experienced hiker. After about one hour of walking, the ascent stops and you’ll be walking on a plane for about another hour. Eventually, you’ll have to go on a steep downhill to get to the main dirt road, which you will follow for about ten minutes to get to the camp where you’ll have dinner and spend the night.
The trail isn’t marked, and it is hard to find at the beginning – but you’ll have a guide so you shouldn’t worry about it. Once you actually get to the trail, it is quite beaten and easy to follow. The terrain isn’t difficult, but keep in mind it can be muddy after a day of heavy rain.
During your first day of the Simien Mountains hike you’ll get breathtaking views of mountain peaks and valleys below. You’ll come across several animal species – we saw some gazelles, a bearded vulture (called Lammergeyers), right before we started hiking we saw a massive group of Gelada Baboons, and we even saw a caracal at night, right in the camp!
Yet, if you are anything like me you will find the second day to be even more rewarding.
Shortly after leaving the camp, on day two you will encounter the first groups of Gelada Baboons.
As you’ll continue walking, in around one and a half hour you will reach the impressive Jinbar Waterfalls, which drop for more than 500 meters. To get to the actual viewpoint you have to get on a very narrow rock path for a few meters, and there are no handrails and no protection whatsoever.
It’s not the easiest trail to walk across – definitely don’t do it if you get vertigo and if you are not 100% sure of your steps – but it is very short and honestly worth the effort. The view from there is simply spectacular – there even is a bench where you can sit to relax. Once again, keep in mind that there is no guard rail at the viewpoint, so don’t get too close to the edge!
The Gelada Baboons
Gelada Baboons, also known as “bleeding heart monkeys” for the bright red chest of the alpha males, are only found in the Ethiopian Highlands, where they live in large groups of up to 1,200 individuals.
One interesting fact about the Gelada Baboons is that they are not actually baboons! In fact, they are the last surviving species of the Theropitecus genus, a species of monkeys that live on land.
Gelada Baboons typically come out during the day to feed on grass and to groom. They are very peaceful – they will hardly notice your presence, so you can spend as long as you want admiring them and taking photos. However, make sure to never touch them – they can bite! And don’t stare at them in the eyes as they may see it as a sign of aggression.
What to expect when going Simien Mountains trekking
I didn’t find my Simien Mountains hike challenging, but I am a very experienced hiker. Other people that are less accustomed to hiking – such as one guy in my group – may find it very difficult. This is to say: the Simien Mountains trek is not for inexperienced hikers.
The first thing you want to keep in mind is the altitude. You will be starting at an altitude of 3,000 meters above sea level, and going up higher in some places. Unless you are very fit and have already fully adjusted to the altitude, you will find going up the narrow and steep trail terribly hard, and end up slowing down the rest of the group.
Having to struggle to keep up with the others will be unpleasant for you; just as the group will not like having to regularly wait for someone to catch up.
Another thing to keep in mind is the trail. It’s steep and narrow in parts, at times the terrain is rocky; and it can also be muddy and slippery. You really have to know your step!
I guess the bottom line is: know your level of fitness and know your limits before going on the hike, and warn your guide accordingly.
Overall walking distance
During the 2 days Simien Mountains trekking, you will be walking a total of around 22 km – more or less 10.5 km each day.
Overall walking time
10 to 12 hours spread across the two days, including various stops for photos, rest, lunch and to admire the views and the wildlife.
Practical Information To Organize Your Simien Mountains Hike
The best time for a Simien Mountains hike
The best time for a Simien Mountains hike is in the dry season, which in this part of Ethiopia goes from November to April. Having said so, you can expect some rain even when it is meant to be dry season – I hiked towards the end of November and it rained for more than 12 hours between the first and the second day of the hike.
Keep in mind that as you’ll be walking at an altitude (starting at 3000 meters above sea level) the temperatures can be quite cold during the night, and even during the day if the sun is not out – though you’ll surely warm up as you hike.
There have been incidents in the past whereby hikers have been attacked by members of the local community, apparently frustrated by the Ethiopian Government who pushes them out of their land and homes and wants to relocate them elsewhere.
I have experienced none of this – in fact, I mostly met friendly people.
The only minor nuisance (but hardly a safety concern) are the children who may get quite persistent in their efforts to sell you whatever sort of small souvenir and in demanding money. Saying a polite but firm no or ignoring them usually forces them to desist and is a f
Read my post 11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone May Be A Bad Idea.
Guided Simien Mountains Trekking
You can’t hike the Simien Mountains independently. Like for many other places in Ethiopia, a certified guide and an armed guard are necessary – the latter said to be there to intervene in case of animals attacks. There will also be a chef cooking the meals, and a person to help the chef. Groups tend to be small – no more than 10 persons usually.
You can book your Simien Mountain hike through your hostel or any tour company in Gondar or, alternatively, travel do Debark independently by bus or private shuttle and hire a guide and an armed guard at the National Park office where you have to stop register.
Keep in mind that it may take some time to arrange everything – especially as the office not only will have to hire the guide and armed guard, but they’ll have to arrange any equipment and food you may need for the hike, unless you are carrying your own. So, all in all, I recommend booking in Gondar.
You can even buy your Simien Mountains trekking tour online via engines such as Viator. The best tour in terms of value for money is this one.
A two days Simien Mountain hike costs between $115 and $130. The price usually depends on the size of the group. Different companies in Gondar may charge a slightly different amount, although the service is exactly the same. For example, I paid $115 (I booked through via Gondar Backpackers, a lovely hostel in town), but another person in my group booked through a different company and paid $185 for the exact same tour!
What you need to keep in mind is that all Simien Mountain treks take the form of community based tourism, with guides and the rest of the staff hired among the local community in Debark, the closest city to the national park. Paying more doesn’t mean getting a better service at all – as it often happens in Ethiopia – so I’d say go with the cheapest.
Food and drinks
You will be given food and snacks for the duration of the hike – a packed lunch, snacks and dinner on day one; breakfast and a packed lunch on day two. Make sure to bring your own water – around two liters per day. You can have your water refilled once you arrive at the camp – make sure to carry a bottle with a filter for that.
Food surprisingly good, given the circumstances. Snacks usually are tea and coffee with freshly prepared popcorn and toasted seeds. Dinner consists of a fresh vegetable soup, a pasta dish, lots of different vegetables and even a dessert (we had banana fritters).
Most people going Simien Mountains trekking sleep in tents which are carried and put up by the team in designed camps. Huts are available in the camps scattered around Simien Mountains National Park. These are very basic – beds around the perimeter of the hut, filthy mattresses and extremely old and dusty blankets. So, unless it’s pouring outside and your tent is leaking, you are better off spending the night in the tent.
My experience sleeping in the tent was actually very good: despite the heavy rain and the cold temperatures, the tent did not leak and the inside stayed dry. The sleeping bag was actually brand new and warm enough for the cold night. Some people in other groups reported leaky tents and ended up completely soaked during the night.
TIP: Make sure to enquire about the quality of the tents and the sleeping bags before the hike. There is no guarantee your concerns will be heard (customer care is virtually non-existing in Ethiopia), but hopefully you will get a decent tent.
There are no toilets at all when going Simien Mountains trekking, and you’ll have to use the bushes any time you have to go. There’s supposed to be toilet facilities at the camp, but after a member of my group reported on the dire status I thought it better to once again use the bush.
You’ll have to bring enough toilet paper, wet wipes and hand gel for the duration of the hike. Keep in mind you will need some bottled water to also brush your teeth at night as there also are no sinks.
Remember to leave as little footprints as possible when visiting Simien Mountains National Park. I recommend carrying an extra bag to place any garbage and to bring it back to town with you.
Essential items to wear and carry for Simien Mountains trekking
You need to be properly dressed and equipped when going Simien Mountains trekking. One the one hand, you need to wear appropriate clothing that take into account the chilled temperatures, especially at night. One the other, you need to pack as light as possible – though the good news is that you don’t really have to carry your stuff as it’ll go directly to the camp by car, along with the trekking crew.
I recommend wearing long hiking pants – you’ll be walking on tall grass on occasions; a light cotton long sleeves t-shirt; a light sweater and a rain jacket for the day. You will need to take a change of clothes and other essential items too.
This is an essential list of what you should be wearing / carrying:
- A pair of lightweight hiking pants. I like Kuhl Resistor Pants. You may want to carry an extra pair in case you get caught in the rain and need to get changed – in this case, bring Horizn Convertible
- A pair of thermal pants and a thermal shirt that you can wear at night to sleep. I swear by Kuhl Akkomplice Bottom and Akkomplice Zip Neck.
- A rain and windproof jacket or a poncho such as Kuhl Hydroflex. You may also want to take a warmer jacket such as Kuhl Skyfire Down Parka. This folds nicely into a pillow.
- A sweater or a micro fleece for the day. Also take the Kuhl Alskato wear at night.
- A light long sleeve t-shirts such as the Kuhl Intent Hoody.
- A pair of lightweight hiking shoes such as Salomon X Ultra 3 Low GTX. The hike isn’t that strenuous in terms of terrain so you won’t really need anything heavier.
- A pair sandals such as Teva Elzada to wear in the evening.
- A hat.
- A good daypack such as REI Trail Hydro.
- A headlamp
- Wet wipes and hand sanitizer.
- Toilet paper and tissues.
- A Lifestraw filter water bottle.
- A first aid kit
- Mosquito repellent
- A small quick dry towel
- A camera / smartphone with a good camera
- A power bank
- Any snack you may need for the hike
Responsible travel in the Simien Mountains
The Simien Mountains are a gorgeous place, and you should do your best to keep it this way, and to respect its natural environment, its wildlife and even the people living there.
These are a few rules you should follow:
- Don’t leave any garbage behind! Bring a small bag with you to place any toilet paper, tissue and even food left overs. If you come across some garbage abandoned by other tourists, pick it up.
- Don’t start a fire outside the camps – especially in the dry season, fires may spread easily. If you are a smoker, use extra caution.
- Don’t pick any plants, flower and rocks – you won’t need them at home anyways!
- Don’t disturb the wildlife – don’t scream in front of animals, and by all means don’t try to touch them!
- Respect the local population, their culture and lifestyle – always ask permission before taking photos.
- Don’t give gifts such as pens, candies, medicines or money to local children – think long term consequences of a seemingly nice action. Those kids should be in school, not out begging for money!
Make sure to read my post The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.
How to get to Simien Mountains National Park
All travelers who want to go Simien Mountains trekking base themselves in Gondar. This is where all guided hiking tours depart from, and where you will find the best accommodation and sleeping options. From Gondar, you will be driven to Debark, which is roughly a 2 hours drive. Once in Debark, you will have to sign Simien Mountains National Park register. From there, it is another hour to the beginning of the trail.
How to get to Gondar
The most convenient way to get to Gondar is by plane. You can fly there directly from Addis Ababa, Lalibela and even Aksum. Ethiopian Airlines has some really good deal – especially if you flew with them internationally on your way to Ethiopia. From the airport, you can get a tuk tuk (locally known as bajaj) to get to town: it takes around 15 to 20 minutes and costs no more than 200 Birr.
Alternatively, you can get there by bus. This is definitely a cheaper option, but keep in mind that bus travel in Ethiopia is terribly slow due to the bad road conditions.
Where to stay and eat in Gondar
You’ll find no shortage of good accommodation options in Gondar. The following is a small selection:
- Gondar Backpackers is a good, recently opened hostel run by an Israeli-Ethiopian couple. Dorms are basic, but the beds are comfortable; guests can use the kitchen and laundry facilities. Internet works ok – better than in most places in Ethiopia.
- Goha Hotel is a more upscale option, with nicely decorated rooms, a pool, a restaurant and breathtaking sunset views over the city.
With regards to restaurants, Four Sisters is possibly the most famous one in town. It serves dishes of international cuisine, though it is more popular for its Ethiopian dishes. Book in advance if you are going with a larger group.
Mami Shiro is closer to Gondar University and easily reached from Gondar Backpackers. You’ll find a few to no tourists. It serves Ethiopian dishes as well as some pasta dishes. Staff doesn’t really speak English so ordering may be a bit of a challenge.
Other useful information
Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip to Ethiopia, especially if you intend to go Simien Mountains trekking. Get yours here.
Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.
Make sure to check out my other posts about Ethiopia:
- 13 Unforgettable Things To Do In Ethiopia – A Two Weeks Ethiopia Tour
- What You Need To Know About Travel In Ethiopia
- A Very Useful Guide To Visiting Lalibela, Ethiopia
- What You Need To Know Before Visiting The Danakil