Which Simien Mountains trek is for you?

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A Simien Mountains trek should be an essential part of any visit to Ethiopia. We summarise the best routes to help you choose which trek is best for you

With a range of trekking options available, from day trips to mammoth multi-day thru-hikes, choosing a Simien Mountains trek can be a bewildering process. As with most things in Ethiopia, there is a dearth of information available online. With that in mind we’ve summarised the most popular trekking routes in Simien Mountains National Park to provide a solid overview of each option.

Whether you join an established trekking company or organise your trek independently, the below routes and itineraries are a great place to start. We recommend SimienEcoTours, who were by far the most professional supplier we encountered in Ethiopia.

Buyit Ras – Chenek

Distance: 50-55km
Duration: 4 days / 3 nights

Suggested itinerary
Day 1: Buyit Ras – Sankaber (10km)
Day 2: Sankaber – Gich (13km)
Day 3: Gich – Chenek (15km) via Imet Gogo (20km)
Day 4: Chenek – Bwahit (4,430m) – Chenek (12km)

This is the classic Simien Mountains trek and covers a fantastic cross-section of the park. After organising the formalities in Debark, trekkers are dropped off by 4WD eight kilometres inside the park entrance near Buyit Ras. Before long, you will see an abundance of gelada monkeys and an immediate view of the wonders to come.

The first day is a leisurely afternoon walk along the escarpment via Michibi to Sankaber Camp. Sankaber to Gich is another relatively tranquil day’s hike via Jinbar Waterfall and its vertiginous cliffs.

The third day to Gich via the Imet Gogo promontory at 3,926m (12,880ft) is far more challenging, not least due to the altitude. However, with the height come the most spectacular views of the Simien Mountains. The 360-degree view at Imet Gogo is nothing short of breathtaking – in every sense of the word.

The final day is an early morning ascent to the summit of Mt Bwahit at 4,430m (14,534ft). It’s this area that offers the best chances of spotting an Ethiopian wolf, the world’s rarest canid and Africa’s most threatened carnivore. Fewer than 500 remain in the wild.

interesting facts about Ethiopia wolves
Atlas & Boots Fewer than 500 Ethiopian wolves remain in the wild

Fixed departures leave from Gondar twice a week, every Wednesday and Saturday morning. Book via SimienEcoTours.

Debark – Chenek – Debark

Distance: 104-109km
Duration: 7 days / 6 nights

Suggested itinerary
Day 1: Debark – Buyit Ras (10km)
Day 2: Buyit Ras – Sankaber (10km)
Day 3: Sankaber – Gich (13km)
Day 4: Gich – Chenek (15km) via Imet Gogo (20km)
Day 5: Chenek – Bwahit (4,430m) – Chenek (12km)
Day 6: Chenek – Sankaber (24km)
Day 7: Sankaber – Debark (20km)

Trekking the simien mountains cliff face
Atlas & Boots One of the stunning viewpoints en route to Chenek

This Simien Mountains trek is largely the same as the above – although it starts and ends in Debark and includes a full return route without using a 4WD.

The initial part of the trek is through a populated region of the park, but the camp and community lodge at Buyit Ras offers superb views as well as ample interactions with the resident gelada monkeys. Book a custom trek at SimienEcoTours.

Sankaber – Adi Arkay

Distance: 81-86km
Duration: 6 days / 5 nights

Suggested itinerary
Day 1: Sankaber – Gich (13km)
Day 2: Gich – Chenek (15km) via Imet Gogo (20km)
Day 3: Chenek – Sona (18km)
Day 4: Sona – Mekarebya (10km)
Day 5: Mekarebya – Mulit (17km)
Day 6: Mulit – Adi Arkay (8km)

Jinbar river in Simien Mountains National Park offered the perfect lunch spot
Atlas & Boots Serene views along a valley

This Simien Mountains trek begins at Sankaber, bypassing the more populated parts of the trail. The trek then follows the same route to Chenek before branching north to Sona.

From here, the trail follows a more cultural route through the warmer and less visited lowlands of Simien Mountains National Park. The trail passes through local Amhara villages where trekkers can expect a more social experience with local farmers and villagers.

At the lower altitudes, the hiking in the latter half of the trek is less strenuous, but the views up the valleys are just as impressive as down them. The trek finishes at Adi Arkay, 75km north of Debark and 175km from Aksum. Book this trek at SimienEcoTours.

Sankaber – Sankaber via Ras Dashen

Distance: 122-127km
Duration: 7 days / 6 nights

Suggested itinerary
Day 1: Sankaber – Gich (13km)
Day 2: Gich – Imet Gogo – Gich (10km)
Day 3: Gich – Chenek (15km) via Imet Gogo (20km)
Day 4: Chenek – Ambikwa (20km); ascend Mt Bwahit (4,430m)
Day 5: Ambikwa – Ambikwa (21km); ascend Ras Dashen (4,550m)
Day 6: Ambikwa – Chenek (19km)
Day 7: Chenek – Sankaber (24km)

Simien Mountains trek gich campsite
Atlas & Boots Sunset from the campsite at Gich

This Simien Mountains trek has lots of room for adaption depending on how much time you have and how sprightly you feel. It can be started from either Debark or Buyit Ras adding extra days at the start or end of your trek.

This itinerary assumes you make use of a 4WD and maximise time in the mountains. There’s even the option to drive all the way to Gich or Chenek, but some of the finest scenery in the park will be missed en route. Additionally, the ascent of Mt Bwahit is optional, but highly recommended.

Ras Dashen at 4,550m (14,927ft) is Ethiopia’s highest mountain and peak baggers will almost certainly want to knock this off. However, the mountains does not offer much more than Mt Bwahit or even Imet Gogo and due to a strange trick of perspective, the surrounding peaks actually look higher. Book a custom trek at SimienEcoTours.

Buyit Ras – Adi Arkay (via Ras Dashen)

Distance: 155km
Duration: 11 days / 10 nights (+rest days)

Suggested itinerary
Day 1: Debark – Buyit Ras (10km)
Day 2: Buyit Ras – Sankaber (10km)
Day 3: Sankaber – Gich (13km)
Day 4: Gich – Imet Gogo – Gich (10km)
Day 5: Gich – Chenek (15km)
Day 6: Chenek – Ambikwa (20km); ascend Mt Bwahit (4,430m)
Day 7: Ambikwa – Ambikwa (21km); ascend Ras Dashen (4,550m)
Day 8: Ambikwa – Sona (21km)
Day 9: Sona – Mekarebya (10km)
Day 10: Mekarebya – Mulit (17km)
Day 11: Mulit – Adi Arkay (8km)

original world heritage sites Simien Mountains
Atlas & Boots The best views are not necessarily from the highest mountain

The big one! The above thru-hike from Debark to Adi Arkay incorporates all the best bits of the Simien Mountains including the summits of Imet Gogo, Mt Bwahit and Ras Dashen, as well as the more cultural section through the lowlands near Sona, Mekarebya and Mulit.

It would almost certainly need rest days built into the itinerary, especially before (and maybe after) the ascents of Mt Bwahit and Ras Dashen, making this the best part of a fortnight’s trekking experience. If you have the time, money and legs for the above thru-hike it would make for an epic Ethiopian hiking experience through one of the most beautiful ranges in Africa. Book a custom trek at SimienEcoTours.

Day hikes

Chenek is only a two-hour drive from Debark so there are lots of opportunities for day hikes. Some of the below options are good places to start.

Imet Gogo offers one of the best viewpoints in Simien Mountains National Park
Atlas & Boots The 360-degree view at Imet Gogo is perhaps the finest in the park

Option 1: Sankaber – Jinbar Waterfall – Sankaber (10km)
Option 2: Sankaber – Jinbar Waterfall – Gich (13km)
Option 3: Gich – Imet Gogo – Gich (11km)
Option 4: Gich – Imet Gogo – Chenek (20km)
Option 5: Ambaras – Imet Gogo – Ambaras (23km)

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Lonely Planet Ethiopia is a comprehensive guide to the country, ideal for those who want to both explore the top sights and take the road less travelled. Independent travel isn’t easy in Ethiopia given the huge distances. If you prefer to travel in a tour, we recommend G Adventures and their small group Ethiopia tours.

Lead image: Atlas & Boots

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