After arrival in Addis Ababa and post completing your customs and immigration formalities at the Bole International Airport, an ORYX representative will meet you outside the baggage hall. Thereafter you will be transferred to your hotel, where you will overnight in anticipation of your upcoming Ethiopian adventure.
This morning we depart Addis Ababa, and fly to Awassa, a town located in the Great Rift Valley. We will be collected from the airport, and will then embark on the drive to the Bale Mountains. Our routing takes us through a juniper forest which rings out with the songs of birds including the musical Abyssinian Catbird and Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, before ascending the Bale Massif, all the while watching for the huge Mountain Nyala, which is sometimes seen feeding in the stunted vegetation on the open hillsides. Climbing over the edge of the escarpment, we will have the glorious Sanetti Plateau stretching out in front of us.
The wide valleys and undulating, hilly terrain are the perfect habitat for the handsome Ethiopian Wolf, and we should encounter a few of these lovely beasts on our drive over the Sanetti, before beginning our descent to our well located lodge in the Harenna Forest below.
This morning we will depart early and ascend the Bale massif onto the Sanetti Plateau, which is between 3,800m and 4,377m above sea level. Once we reach this unique plateau, we will be driving on Africa’s highest road, passing close to the summit of Ethiopia’s second highest mountain. This is an area of high altitude plateau that is broken by numerous spectacular volcanic plugs and peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and rushing mountain streams that descend into deep rocky gorges on their way to the lowlands below. As we ascend into the mountains we will experience changes in the vegetation associated with altitude, from broad-leaved and then juniper forests lower down, to heather moorlands and alpine meadows dotted with Giant Lobelias at the highest altitudes.
Our main photographic target here will be the plateau’s most celebrated resident, the Ethiopian or Simien Wolf, crowned with the unfortunate title of “the world’s rarest canid.” Watching these vibrantly coloured animals, most closely related to the European Timber Wolf, exhibiting their hunting prowess whilst pouncing on Giant Mole Rats (another endemic to the Sanetti Plateau), is surely amongst Africa’s greatest wildlife experiences.
We should enjoy excellent photographic opportunities in this unique mountain wonderland. Bale Mountains contains three distinct eco-regions: the northern plains, bush and woods; the central Sanetti Plateau, with an average elevation of over 4000 metres; and the southern Harenna Forest, known for its mammals, amphibians and birds including many endemic species. The central Sanetti Plateau is home to the largest population of Ethiopian Wolf. Incredibly, the moorlands here are estimated to support an amazing biomass of 4,000kg of rodents per hectare! Of special interest is the Giant Mole Rat, a large species that feeds above ground in the daylight and makes hefty craterlike depressions. It only partly emerges from these holes as it feeds around the edges. Later it blocks the entrance with soil and vegetation, and then digs a new crater nearby to commence feeding once again.
The large numbers of rodents in turn support not only the healthy Ethiopian Wolf population in the high plateau area, but also numerous spectacular birds of prey. We should encounter some of the fantastic highland endemics that occur in the area, including Rouget’s Rail, Chestnut-naped Francolin, Ethiopian Siskin, Spot-breasted Lapwing and Blue-winged Goose, as well as well as large numbers of raptors that feed on the plateau’s abundant rodents!
After an incredible day on the plateau, we will descend to our lovely accommodations in the mythical and underexplored Harenna Forest, which is home to an interesting assemblage of large mammals – we stand a chance of the biggest pig on earth, the hulking Giant Forest Hog, Menelik’s Bushbuck, the endemic and localized bamboo specialist Bale Monkey and elegant Guereza Colobus.
Lion is sometimes heard roaring in the vicinity of the lodge at night, and although our chances of finding such creatures are slim, Spotted Hyaena, African Wild Dog and Leopard are all reported from the forest, including a recent sighting of a mythical Black Leopard! An unresolved canid has been seen in the area, as has an undescribed black adder! Clearly much is still to be discovered in this fascinating forest.
Today we leave the Bale Mountains, driving over the now familiar Sanetti Plateau and back to the capital, where we will overnight.
This morning we have an early flight to Gondar. After arrival in Gondar we will meet our drivers and depart for the Simien Mountains, stopping en route at the town of Debark to sign into the park, and enjoy a fresh cup of Ethiopian coffee! Leaving the tar road in Debark, we will make our way to our lodge, which is located within the national park.
The spectacular highlands of Simien Mountains National Park are a haven for endemic and endangered species and our photographic targets here are without a doubt the magnificent Walia Ibex and incredible Gelada Baboon. These verdant moorlands encompass the largest single area of Afro-alpine habitat in the world, forming “an island of mountains in a sea of lowlands”, truly a photographer’s dream destination! After settling in and enjoying a warm lunch, we will embark on our first photographic session with a nearby troop of Geladas.
The next three days will be spent exploring and photographing the legendary Simien Mountains and its unique inhabitants. Here we will be presented with some of the most dramatic scenery in Africa—great volcanic plugs formed 40 million years ago and eroded over the eons into fantastic crags, pinnacles and flat-topped mountains—“the chess pieces of the Gods”, as one writer aptly described them. This dramatic topography is a result of the erosion of basalt lavas over 3000m (almost 10,000 feet) thick. Fissures in the dense basalt were carved by countless floods that poured into them, creating “bottomless” gorges and incising an incredible array of jagged rock formations reminiscent of America’s Grand Canyon and Namibia’s Fish River Canyon.
Amidst beautiful alpine meadows punctuated with Giant Lobelias and flowering “red hot pokers” (Kniphofia’s), we will find ourselves surrounded by massive troops of extremely photogenic and docile Gelada Baboons.
Troops of Geladas up to four hundred strong thrive here, and we will spend quality time observing and photographing these unique and fascinating primates. With long woolly capes, tasseled tails, bare red chests and an arrogant swagger, these remaining relics of once widespread grass-eating baboons are now restricted to the highlands of Ethiopia. Geladas roost on the massive cliffs that dominate this park but spend their days hunched over the grasses that form the bulk of their diet. Despite sporting massive canines (the largest in proportion to body size of any mammal!), Geladas are non-aggressive and, with patience, we May find ourselves amongst a troop of these gentle animals as they concentrate on their foraging. Here we may be treated to a formidable lip-flip – the imposing grimace put on by Geladas to reveal their impressive upper jaw and canines, but will more likely be completely ignored as they go about their daily business. Geladas are extremely vocal, and are able to produce a large number of vowel and consonant-like sounds!
Deeper in the park near Chenek, we may be entertained by the head-butting battles of Walia Ibex rams preparing for the forthcoming breeding season, whilst spectacular Bearded Vultures cruise the sky above against a breathtaking backdrop of high wilderness peaks. The Ibex is a large goat-like creature that sports a monstrous set of horns and inhabits the rugged rocky and grassy slopes of this seldom-visited region. Gradually the numbers of these animals are recovering since the area has been protected and greater awareness has been created around them.
Other attractions include superb opportunities to watch soaring birds, including the afore-mentioned Bearded Vulture, Tawny Eagle and the outrageous Thick-billed Raven, which often cruise by at eye level!
After a final excursion photographing Geladas, we will return to Gondar. This, the “Camelot of Ethiopia”, is a city noted for its many medieval castles and the design and decoration of its churches. Between 1632 and 1855 Gondar served as Ethiopia’s capital city and it remains one of the country’s richest areas in terms of culture, history and natural beauty, with plenty of both Islamic and Christian influence in the cities’ architecture. Built at around 2,500 metres above sea level, Gondar commands spectacular views over surrounding farmlands and on a clear day, even to the gleaming waters of Lake Tana 35 kilometres to the south.
We will spend the first portion of the afternoon exploring the Castle Complex (a UNESCO World Heritage site) with its impressive buildings. The oldest and most impressive structure is the two-story palace of Emperor Fasilidas, built of solid basalt stones. Some of the other royal buildings we visit include the library of Emperor Yohannes I, the House of Song where royal ceremonies took place, the elegant reception and banquet hall of Emperor Bakaffa, and the palace of this king’s wife.
Thereafter, we take some time to view the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie, an imposing structure with its harmony of brightly coloured ceilings completely covered with intricately painted angels, before ending off nearby at the tranquil royal bath (more of swimming pool really!) of King Fasilidas (where modern-day Timkat ceremonies are performed).
This morning we depart Gondar, flying back to Addis Ababa where this tour will sadly come to an end.
Although Dale grew up in suburban London, which certainly isn’t replete with wild animals, his addiction to wildlife films instilled a deep love for animals and the outdoors, and he has subsequently left London and spent the last 20 years travelling the globe working with, and photographing its wildlife.
During this time, he has produced more than 400 nature, travel and photography oriented magazine articles and has worked on numerous wildlife documentaries including for the BBC. His photographs have appeared on high profile front covers and he has won several awards with global publishing companies.
Aside from having guided widely in Africa, his extensive experience in tropics, whether it be the steamy jungles of south-east Asia or South America, or the endemic rich island of Madagascar, make him the natural choice for ORYX’s Brazil, Borneo and Madagascar tours. His sense of humour and relaxed demeanour ensure that he is a hit with all the people he guides, both young and old!
“I thought I should write to you of the amazing trip we had to the Omo Valley with Dale.
The trip was well organised and we were well taken care of.
Dale was a wonderful leader. He was generous with his knowledge and we learnt a lot from him. He was kind, considerate and a lot of fun!
The local arrangements with Dinknesh were excellent too, the drivers were very pleasant and Melkamu in particular was fantastic.
It would be remiss of me not to also mention Kirsty, who was always responsive and efficient.
You can be sure we will be recommending ORYX to our friends!
“I second all of what Shobha has said. We had such an amazing time. The Dale-Melkamu combination was fabulous, as were all our drivers from Dinknesh. We always felt well taken care of, and safe.
Dale was not only generous with his knowledge but also his lenses. He truly has a wealth of information and we really learnt so much from him. His wicked sense of humour was also much appreciated :)
Thank you too to the ever efficient Kirsty!
We hope to be doing more photo tours with ORYX in the not too distant future!
“Trip to Omo valley with Oryx expeditions and Marius Coetzee is like a dream, like a walking meditation. Every detail is so very well ironed out that you forget you are in some of the remotest parts of the world. He will always have his ear to the ground for the rumblings in the valley. Giving you indelible memories is what he is after. No corners are ever cut to ensure your comfort. If some unexpected situation does arise, his steady and calm leadership will keep you centered. You know that he will put your safety first no matter what.
From photography point of view, his genius is talked about a lot all over the internet so I won’t delve on it. What I would like to highlight however is how generous and patient he is as a teacher. He quickly assesses your level of expertise and gives you appropriate pointers. His passion and zeal is consistent whether you are amateur fumbling with a new camera or a well versed photographer yourself. Sometimes he will push you out of your comfort zone to get better images and and then other times he knows to give you creative space.
I have wondered at times if he has more than two eyes. Not sure how he picks on you making faulty composition, helping someone set their camera, keeping an eye out for the senior member so that she does not fall and watching where the “red bag” of a forgetful client went all at the same time!
This is not an expedition. This is treasure of life experiences. You genuinely forget that Marius is your expedition leader. He becomes your friend and family.”
“Game over. All the good things come to an end and it is now the time to say bye bye to Ethiopia.
The trip to Omo Valley has been a real photographic expedition and a great adventure. I travelled to lot of places with different people but I must say that this trip was very special. I had the chance to meet Marius Coetzee few years ago and I had the impression that, besides the fact the he his really a great photographer, he is also a real tour leader with clear ideas of what he is doing. I do normally travel with my wife and not too much oriented to groups but this time it was different. We acted like a team and everybody was just fantastic and I was honoured to share this time with you all.
Now, many Companies sell the Omo Valley tours. Just forget about. If you are a photographer just Google ORYX Photography and sign a tour with them! This was not only a ‘tour’ this was a real experience with real people and a real leader.
Thanks Marius and thanks ORYX! I also had the chance to improve my photography with you, and thanks to my entire companion. You were all great and it was a pleasure to share this experience and will be glad to repeat it with all of you (and this time with my wife!) the Mongolian Experience in 2016. Travel safe, travel with ORYX…”
“Last day of a fabulous and extraordinary three week adventure in Ethiopia! Massive thanks to Marius Coetzee and Kirsty Horne at ORYX Photography for a superbly organized trip and also to Eyob our legendary local guide!
Anyone wanting an Epic trip, I can highly recommend Ethiopia – stunning scenery, friendly people, great food (and beers) and so much more… And go with ORYX Worldwide Photographic Expeditions -you won’t regret it!!”
“I had a simply phenomenal time and loved Ethiopia every bit as much as you forecast! The other participants on the trip were great fun – we were from five different continents – and all got on extremely well. Thank you for an exceptional, inspiring holiday, ORYX. Everybody said how wonderful you had been, Kirsty, always responding in a friendly, efficient way as if we were your only clients. Thank you, team!”Ethiopia
“Kirsty, Marius and ORYX photography expeditions in general. What I can say..words sometimes cannot justify and explain experiences those experiences need to be lived so one can understand them. Kirsty from day one when I sent the initial email you replied within hours and since never ever anything seemed to be problem..to be honest it was your prompt responses that made me make the final decision to go ahead with ORYX…so for that huge Thank you Kirsty you are amazing :).
Marius – I really don’t have words to describe your commitment towards your clients, your passion for photography, your people skills and ability to deal with different situations. Kirsty you have asked if the tour was up to my expectations. To be honest well above exceeded my expectations..uncle Marius is the best :).
I guess this trip and the people that I met will always stay in my memories..how can one forget the adventures that we had from crossing rivers, negotiating with uncles, to meeting up the most isolated tribes and learning more about photography….I’m looking forward to be with the same group of people on the Mongolia trip.. and final word…. Marius you are young passionate entrepreneur and you should be very, very proud of yourself my friend :).
Regards and lots of Love”
“It does not matter whether you are an adventurer, photographer, traveller or tourist, the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, has a special appeal. Its exotic name conjures mystery, mysticism and certainly, a road less travelled. It is in this valley that several tribes with their traditional ancient culture and customs reside. Each tribe has their particular features and uniqueness. The Mursi with their lip plates, the Karo with their beautifully painted bodies, the Hamer with their Ochre hair and they offer excellent opportunities for “unguarded moment” photography. However, with increasing tourism, it has been a practice that the person to be photographed will demand payment for each photograph taken. Do not be deterred as this is probably one of the ways that the tribesmen can earn some tourist dollar. Do not expect luxurious accommodation but the basic accommodation is liveable and adds on to the rustic experience of your trip of a lifetime. In some places we had to stay in tents which are large and comfortable.
Returning to the Omo valley, I found that the experience second time around was better than the first. This was mainly due to the people that I was travelling with. The leader of our team was Marius Coetzee, a superb photographer, who is the CEO of ORYX – Worldwide Photographic Expeditions (Pty) Ltd. The trip undertaken by me and my two Australian travelling companions, was a customised photography tour and Marius was always ready to share with us his experiences and tricks of the trade of a photographer extraordinaire. The organisation by ORYX is immaculate and excellent and the vehicles, drivers, cook, guide used were world class. The company took care of everything including negotiating the payments for the photographing of the tribes and preventing the unnecessary hassle of us having to negotiate for a price to photograph an individual and then spending endless time and effort debating over a few cents.
It was a 13 day well spent, I returned from the trip certainly a better photographer and more knowledgeable in the culture of the various tribes of the Omo Valley. Furthermore, I appreciate how difficult it is for the tribes to cope with the changes to modernity. I certainly also left the valley as a better human being.”
“Words really fail me in trying to thank you adequately for leading and orchestrating an unbelievable, enlightening, photographically enriching, rough, tough, soul searching and at times happy and sad, all rolled into one, expedition to the Omo Valley, Ethiopia.
I have come out of the experience not only having acquired new photographic skills but also understanding so much more about myself and what I need and would like to achieve as a person on a harsh but beautiful planet!
The organization of the trip was faultless and Afe and all the guys of Dinknesh, Ethiopia were fantastic. The vehicles held up under incredibly rough conditions without a blip and considering the kilometers travelled, days on end, the group and team were like a close knit family unit…. Chilled and respectful towards each other and photographic models we encountered along the way.
Literally, I was blown away and loved every moment! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you will be able to lead many like minded people to the Omo before things change too much!
Thank you Marius and team, please also convey my thanks to September for the delicious food whilst camping…. Although, I’m also missing my omelette and hot red wine in a tumbler ;). Good times!”
‘I travel overseas 18 times a year, many of these being photographic trips. Ethiopia is not an easy destination – truly beautiful but definitely hard roads and weather conditions.
This is a trip that I had been planning for 2 years. I went thru’ every single tripadvisor review on Ethiopia and looked at many webpages of travel agents and photographers offering photo expeditions to this place. During our trip, we bumped into a few other travel expeditions by other travel companies. It is clear that the deal given to me by Oryx was the best. Everything was carefully planned, we did not have to compete with other tour groups. Very happy with this trip altogether…my highest recommendations. Thank you Marius once again for making all this possible!’Ethiopia - Omo Valley
“I just returned from the Omo Valley trip and must say it was the most interesting cultural expedition I have ever taken. In looking back at my photos I am overwhelmed by the amazing people and places we visited. We were able to visit a number of tribes, all with different beliefs and customs. In addition we spent 5 hours at a Bull Jumping ceremony with access that few people get. We also were able to attend a morning ceremony of harvesting blood from cows. The blood is mixed with milk and the tribe drinks it for protein. This wasn’t a staged ceremony, it was a daily ritual. Everything we saw was authentic.
Marius was always on the look out for photo opportunities. You never knew when he would stop the car, and we would pile out, lay on our bellies in the dust, and have someone drive a heard of goats or cattle our way in order to catch the light hitting the dust to get just the right image. We made several stops at markets and were always the only non-local people in attendance. The trip was perfectly coordinated by ORYX and we had a fabulous local guide, Afe, who added local knowledge to the trip. ORYX has a long standing relationship with most of the tribes we visited.
Knowing the Chief and elders ensured our safety and made it easy to photograph the people.
I can’t imagine any detail that was overlooked. Our safety and comfort and photographic education were always paramount.
After going on a trip with ORYX, I don’t want to do anything other than small group travel again. There were 3 guests, a local guide Afe, Marius, and we also had another professional photographer with ORYX, Sam, who gave us invaluable advice. I used exposure settings and compositions I had not considered, and got great results. I can’t say enough positive things about ORYX.”