Meskel Best

Ethiopia's Meskel Festival

10 days from £3,414pp (excl. international flights)

Gondar  – Simien Mtns  – Lalibela  – Axum

History, Mountains, Wildlife and the Meskel Festivities

Enjoy Ethiopia's famed Historical Highlights and attend Meskel

This tour was not able to take place in 2023 due to the political unrest in the northern part of Ethiopia.

If the situation improves during 2024 we do intend to run all our Ethiopia small group tours, so please call or email to office if you’d like to register your interest.

This small-group set departure tour departs in September 2023 and includes both Ethiopia's famed historical circuit (including Gondar, Lalibela, Bahir Dar and Axum) as well as the unique Meskel Festival - one of Ethiopia's most significant religous festivals and undoubtedbly one of the most impressive.

Meskel, which roughly translates as the 'Finding of the True Cross', is a Christian holiday in the Ethiopian Orthodox church and commenemorates the discovery of the True Cross by the Roman Empress Helena in the fourth century. The festivities are held in Meskel Square (named after the festival) in Addis Ababa and includes the burning of a large bonfire known as 'Demera' - based on the belief that the Empress had a revelation in a dream that she must build a large bonfire and the direction of the resulting smoke would show here where the True Cross was buried.

Accompanied by an expert cultural guide, you'll arrive in Addis Ababa in time to see crowds gathering for the procession of the cross, followed by the lighting of the massive pyre that is the Demera and the jubiliant celebrations that follow. In a country with many religious festivals, Meskel is undoubtedly a highlight - a fact recognised by UNESCO who have listed Meskel as an item of global "Intangible Cultural Heritage"

Following the festival - the group departs on the historical route, as well as a visit to the magnificent scenery of the Simien Mountains National Park, where you can also see wildlife such as the iconic Gelada monkeys and the Walia Ibex Another spectacular geographical feature included in the tour is a visit to the Blue Nile Falls, one of Ethiopia's best known attractions near Lake Tana.

In all, for those keen on seeing the best of Ethiopia's Historical attractions, combined with the spectacle of a major religous festival and a wonderful mix of mountains, waterfalls, lakeland and dry country scenery - this small group tour represents a wonderful choice.

Other Ethiopia group tours
Timket in Addis Ababa -- We also operate a second Timket Tour - view the full itinerary. This follows a very similar itinerary but starts three days earlier so that the group can experience the Timket celebrations in Gondar rather than Addis.

Timket in Gondar --We also operate a second Timket Tour - view full itinerary. This follows a very similar itinerary but starts three days earlier so that the group can experience the Timket celebrations in Gondar rather than Addis.

Please note our small group tours to Ethiopia operate with a maximum of 10 participants + our specialist guides. This allows you to explore Ethiopia with other like-minded individuals at excellent value - but take note spaces are limited and this tour does sell out quickly.

Some images are by Fikreselassie Admassu

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Ethiopia Specialist

01768 603 715



Ethiopia Specialist
01768 603 715

The expert planning your trip will have lived, worked or travelled extensively in the region you are visiting.

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The itinerary…

Day 1: 26th Sept 2023: Welcome to Addis Ababa

Meskel  Superb

Meskel, Festival of the True Cross around the Dermera

On arrival at Bole Addis Ababa International Airport, you will be transferred to Golden Tulip Hotel where you will spend two nights.

Today you will take a tour of Addis visiting the Cathedral, Avenue of Independence, the Merkato (Africa’s largest open-air market) and the National Museum giving you great context for the rest of your trip.

This evening marks the eve of Meskel and families across Ethiopia prepare the demera, a tall prism built from twigs meant to resemble the burning fir tree that guided Helena to the cross.

Day 2: 27th Sept 2023: Meskel Festival

Meskel Festival

Meskel Festival

Today is all about Meskel Festival which marks finding the true cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Head to Meskel square where brightly coloured umbrellas embellished with gold appear over the horizon and priests gather. When the square is full, a bull or goat is sacrificed.

In the afternoon, the demeras are burnt, dancing begins and traditional songs are sung while circling the stick structure. As darkness falls, the dancing around the flames intensifies and then as the demera slowly burns out, families often collect the ashes left and mark themselves with a cross, symbolizing their devotion to God.

Day 3: 28th Sept 2023: Island Monasteries and lakeland

Bahir Dar Mural


Take an early morning flight to Bahir Dar which is the start of your discovery of Ethiopia's historical Northern Circuit. On arrival at Bahir Dar, transfer to Avanti Blue Nile for an overnight stay with all meals included.

During the balance of the day, you will be taken for a boat trip to Zeghe Peninsula and to see some island monasteries in Lake Tana which contain some of the friezes and carvings of any Ethiopian church.

Day 4: 29 Sept 2023: Gondar and Simien Mountains

Simien  Lodge Front

Simien Lodge

An eventful day taking in diverse scenic highlights: after breakfast, drive to the Blue Nile Falls. From there, continue along the shores of Lake Tana to Gondar for a lunch stop.

After lunch, travel about two hours to the awe inspiring Simien Mountains National Park where you will stay two nights in a chalet at Simien Lodge.

Day 5: 30th Sept 2023: Hike the Simiens Mountains

Walia Ibexes


Your guide and a local national park guide, will take you for an exploratory walk into this unforgettable place. You should get the 'Gelada experience' today and if you are lucky might spy the striking walia ibex. It is also a great spot for birders, with rare raptors often seen around the clifftops.

Please note: the guide will make an assessment of the exact route based upon the capabilities of the group to ensure everyone can enjoy the walking as much as possible.

Day 6: 1st Oct 2023: Mountains and castles

Gondar  Castles  Etb

Gondar castles

Make an early morning walk in the Simien Mountains to see the Gelada baboons. Return to Gondar for lunch. Visit the amazing Imperial Compound for its enchanting 17th Century castles, one of the ‘must see’ sites along the Historical Route. Overnight in Goha Hotel.

Day 7: 2nd Oct 2023: Flight to Lalibela

Rock  Church In  Lalibela

Lalibela rock church

Transfer to the airport to check in for the mid-morning flight to Lalibela.

On arrival into Lalibela, you will be met and transferred to Maribela Hotel to stay 2 nights. You will be taken to see the first group of rock-hewn churches which were cut into the rugged mountainsides in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Day 3: 3rd Oct 2023: More of Lalibela

Lalibela  Exceptional

Walk to Yemrehane Kristos, Lalibela

Today you will head into the mountains for the short trek up to the ancient cave Monastery called Yemerehana Kristos. One of the most important historic sights in the country, the façade resembles a layered chocolate cake and a visit here is the highlight of any trip.

In the afternoon, you will visit the remaining rock churches, finishing the day at Beit Gyorgis, the only freestanding monolith in the region.

Day 9: 4th Oct 2023: Flight to Axum

Aksum Stelae Field

Aksum Stelae Field

Transfer to Lalibela airport for the flight to Axum in the Tigray region. Here you will be met and transferred to Sabean International Hotel. The balance of today will be taken up seeing the many attractions in this town, foremost of which is the Obelisk park for its pre-Christian stelae, the largest free-standing stone monoliths to be seen anywhere.

*If Axum is not yet accessible for any reason, we will have a third day in Lalibela, and do an excursion to Genete Mariam Church and Nea'Kuto Le'ab Monastery.

Day 10: 5th Oct 2023: Axum and Addis Ababa

Golden  Tulip

Golden Tulip Hotel

Transfer to Axum airport for the morning flight to Addis Ababa and check in to the Golden Tulip hotel where you started your trip. This afternoon is yours to relax or to explore more of Addis Ababa.

Stay overnight at the Golden Tulip hotel and in the morning you will be transferred to the international airport for your flight home.

Duration: 9 nights

Location: Ethiopia Holidays, Africa

Price: £3413pp

This Meskel Tour is priced at £3,413 per person and includes the following:

  • All domestic flights (x 4)
  • Accommodation as indicated
  • All meals
  • English-speaking expert guide throughout
  • Transport services
  • Entrance fees including Meskel Festivities entry

Single room supplement: £484.

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