Simply put, Ethiopia is the best country in Africa for bird photography, and possibly the best country on earth for taking photos of birds. Ethiopian culture includes a strong respect for life of all kinds, and especially for birds. There is so little hunting or persecution of birds, that they sometimes feed right at your feet. It is perfectly conceivable that you could shoot good photos of 200-250 species of birds on this tour. These range from the towering storks and glittering kingfishers of Rift Valley lakes, to handsome waxbills and barbets of arid thorn scrub, to bizarre highland endemics like Thick-billed Raven and Wattled Ibis. Across the board, these birds are approachable and photographable. Even the migrants from Europe and Asia that spend the winter in Ethiopia become tame when they enter this haven of peace. A Lesser Spotted Eagle that might fly at the mere sight of a human in the Middle East will allow you to walk up and touch the telephone pole it’s perched on in Ethiopia!
Although Ethiopia doesn’t have the megafauna of Kenya or Tanzania, it does have its own unique set of mammals. Chief among these are Ethiopian Wolf and Gelada Baboon. Both will be prime targets for our photographic efforts. On top of the birds and mammals, Ethiopia is also one of the best places in Africa for landscape and people photography. The people dress and live much as they have for 1000s of years, against the backdrop of plummeting canyons, hulking montane plateaus, and rugged thorn veld.
Day 1: Arrival Addis Ababa. Afternoon market visit for cultural photography.
Day 2: Addis to Debre Birhan. Search for gelada baboons and landscapes to photograph.
Day 3: Debre Birhan to Lake Cheleleka to Lake Koka to Lake Ziway to Lake Langano. Rift Valley lakes.
Day 4: Lake Langano and Abiata-Shalla National Park.
Day 5: Lake Langano to Goba.
Day 6: Bale Mountains NP.
Day 7: Second day on the plateau or a visit to Sof Omar.
Day 8: Goba to Lake Awassa.
Day 9: Lake Awassa. Mega Rift Lake waterbird and riparian woodland bird photography.
Day 10: Awassa to Lake Ziway to Lake Koka to Awash NP. Rift Lakes
Day 11: Awash NP.
Day 12: Awash NP.
Day 13: Awash to Addis.
Day 14: Departures from Addis Ababa.
PACE: Moderate. This tour covers a lot of ground, but we will have some time off, except on long drive days. The sun rises at about 6:30am, and we generally sleep close to the photo sites, so most mornings are not too early. The 12-hour days near the equator mean that days are not extremely long. We will have field breakfast and/or lunch on a couple of days. There are some long drives (up to 7 hours), but all on tarmac roads.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most photography will be done from vehicles, or in short forays, mostly on flat terrain. Some walks may be long, but the pace will be slow, and the terrain flat. Almost half of the days of this tour are spent at elevations of 7000 ft (2100m) or above. In the Bale Mountains, we spend parts of one or two days over 12,000 ft (4000m) elevation.
CLIMATE: Highly variable depending on elevation. Ranges from very hot and dry in the lowlands to cool or even frigid in the highlands. Awash NP and Sof Omar are typically hot and dry (up to 105°F, 40°C). The highlands and higher parts of the Rift Valley have a pleasant and moderate climate: warm during the day and cool at night. The highest site is the Bale Mountains, where the weather is volatile; sometimes comfortably cool and other times near freezing, and with hail, sleet, or even snow possible.
ACCOMMODATION: Ranges from basic to good. Although the hotels on this tour have a bad reputation, they have improved drastically in recent years. All of the hotels have ensuite bathrooms, hot water, and 24h electricity (though power cuts are not unusual). Internet is only available in a couple of lodges, and is generally slow.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This trip has a roughly even split between vehicle-based photography and photography on foot. There are excellent chances to photograph birds, mammals, landscapes, and people. Although there are no feeders or other photo setups, the tameness of the birds and other wildlife renders most of what we find photographable. This trip has a strong cultural element; we often shoot photos adjacent to people living traditional lifestyles.
GEAR: The wildlife is so approachable that a huge lens is far from essential, but you still want a decent telephoto for smaller birds. Most people will certainly want to bring a smaller lens for landscapes and people. When we photograph on foot, we often approach birds, or follow moving flocks. Because of this, and the fact that light is usually abundant, tripods are not particularly useful. They will also be impossible to use most of the time when photographing from the vehicle. Bean bags and other such ways of stabilizing lenses inside of a vehicle will be very useful.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. A visa is required. Currently, 3-month tourist visas can be obtained upon arrival for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and most European countries. The visa costs $50. A visa can also be obtained beforehand through a Ethiopian embassy or consulate. Travel requirements are subject to change, and it is a good idea to double-check your entry requirements at least six weeks before you travel; contact the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to local guides, drivers, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 13; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 14; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks during meals; safe drinking water between meals; photography tour leader with audio playback gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the evening of day 13; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in suitable vehicle(s) with local driver(s); entrance fees and local guide fees for all the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters (if you require their services); snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
SITE GUIDE TO ETHIOPIA
Tropical Birding guides have published a birding site guide to Ethiopia. It covers all of the major birding areas of the country, and is copiously illustrated with maps and over 110 photos. Click here to learn more.
Gallery of the Top 20 Wildlife Targets in Ethiopia: