And the best way to see it all is by helicopter. The country will unroll before your eyes as you fly from the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Tigray to the astounding Tekeze Gorge and carved sandstone mountains of Gheralta.
Also on your flight path will be the Stelae monuments of Axum, the Simien Mountains at dawn and the sulphur springs of the Danakil Depression (subject to FCO travel advisory clearance).
After checking into your hotel, a local guide will take you on your first excursion to explore the nearby rock-hewn churches, many of them date back to the 12th century and feature hidden crypts and winding passages – all carved from solid granite.
On your second day in the rural town of Lalibela – originally built to be the ‘new Jerusalem’ – you’ll meet your helicopter pilot and visit the fabled church in a cave; Yemrehanna Kristos.
Stay: Two nights in Mountain View Hotel.
From a cave to the air. Your helicopter whirrs you along the awesome meanders of the Tekeze River and its ultra-deep canyons, on your way to Gheralta in the heart of Ethiopia’s scenic Tigray region. You’ll land deep in the Gheralta Mountains; perfect for landscape photography and visiting more ancient churches – many with colourfully decorated interiors. You have the opportunity to meet priests who live a simple life in the mountains, as well inspecting the churches attributed to the Aksumite kings of the 4th century.
On day four your helicopter whisks you away at dawn for a breakfast picnic high in the Simien Mountains, amongst jagged peaks, plunging valleys and unique wildlife. Watch out for soaring lammergerie with three metre wingspans, walia ibex, gelada baboons and the rare Ethiopian wolf.
The next day brings another surprise. You’ll visit the fascinating town of Aksum – reputedly the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant – with its impressive Stellae monuments, ruined palaces, underground tombs and ancient carvings. Your final day in Gheralta sees you flying off to perhaps the most spectacular setting yet; the Danakil Depression. This wild landscape is criss-crossed by camel trains transporting the region’s natural salt to far away markets, following salt routes that have been used for centuries. At 100 metres below sea level, the Depression sits on a geological fault in the Great Rift Valley, so you’ll be able to explore colourful sulphurous springs, acid lakes, active volcanoes and giant salt pans – and experience some of the world’s hottest temperatures.
Stay: Four nights in Korkor Lodge.
Your helicopter returns you to Mekele Airport to connect with your flight home.