Dominating the north of Ethiopia, the spectacular Simien mountains are accessed from the small town of Debark, an enjoyable 2 hour drive from the ancient city of Gondar.
The National Park itself is a narrow strip of highland, mostly along the northern ridge of the range and including Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia set at 4533m, to the east. The whole mountain area is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site for its outstanding beauty, the unique wildlife and important flora.
The landscape, formed millions of years ago, comprises broad sandstone plateaux cut by deep gorges and river valleys, and eroded into dramatic pinnacles. On the lower slopes lie terraced fields and wild meadows, with tiny villages scattered dispersed across the cliffs and valleys in neat arrangements of round, thatched tukul houses, linked by walking trails and often inaccessible by vehicle. The villagers have few worldly possessions and rely on farming for their livelihoods.
Janamora district is one of four districts in the Simiens, running south from the core National Park. You walk between and stay in farming villages set at 2,900- 3,200m (9,800-10,500ft) in the rolling highlands that fall away from the peaks to the north. The views are sensational as you look across the gorge that separates Janamora from Ras Dashen.
The Simien Massif is home to a wealth of wildlife, including gelada baboons, leopards, caracal, eagles and lammergeier, the famous Walia ibex - a rare mountain goat endemic to the Simien National Park - as well as the world's most endangered canid, the Ethiopian wolf, russet-coloured and often referred to as the Simian fox.
The Village Ways guesthouses, ready to welcome their first guests in 2016, are located in the Janamora Woreda. Over the past two years, together with support from AWF (the African Wildlife Foundation), we have been working with the Amhara Village communities on the southern edge of the Park to develop this group of village guesthouses with communities trained to host and guide guests, directly supporting their livelihoods. Their enthusiasm and drive in this endeavour has been inspirational. The guesthouses are built in traditional 'tukul' roundhouse style, with mud-plaster walls and a thatched roof. Each guest tukul has three twin bedrooms and there is a separate dining tuku and kitchen. Washing facilities are simple, with a solar shower and eco-toilet.
Taga Mariam ('Twin Gorge') village perches on an escarpment-top at 3,035m, with breath-taking views across the Simien plateaux. The guesthouse sits close to the village, framed by African olive trees. Kalid Abo village sits at an altitude of 3,038m and offers dramatic views towards Ras Dashen, the highest peak in the Simiens. The guesthouse at Timbala sits at the top of the village, with views across the village and crop fields, allowing a true insight into life in these rugged hills. The village, set at 3,235m, offers wonderful views across the other side of the valley, towards Ras Dashen.
With the support of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Village Ways has been able to develop a unique new way to visit the Simien Mountains, the National Park and its southern fringe communities. AWF is closely involved in the development of the Park; this initiative is a vital way of extending the Park's reach to these neighboring communities both for the enjoyment of visitors and at the same time engaging communities in park conservation.
The aim is to help protect sensitive wildlife areas by creating community-run guesthouses, thereby generating vital additional income which reduces the need for agricultural practices which risk damaging wildlife areas, and gives communities a stake in conservation.
Read more about the whole project here.
The climate in Ethiopia is fairly constant all year round, with mild average annual temperature around 16 degrees Celsius. The midday warmth diminishes quickly by afternoon, and nights are usually cool. The mean annual rainfall is some 1,275 mm, with heavy rain in July and August.
As in any mountainous area, there are local climatic differences according to the terrain: cooler conditions occur at higher elevations and temperatures are greater in the deep valleys.
The four main seasons are described below.
This (summer) season extends from June to August. This is the period of heavy rainfall. Average temperatures range from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius, humidity levels are high (75-85%) and cloudy skies reduce sunshine. But this is a verdant time, with hillsides becoming green with new vegetation.
This lasts from mid-September to November, is the main harvesting season. The skies are clear, there is minimal rainfall and lower humidity (65-70%). Mean maximum and minimum temperatures range from 20 degrees down to 5.0 degrees, respectively. Warm clothes are needed, especially in the cool evenings.
This winter period extends from December to February. This is the dry season, with minimal rainfall, low humidity and an average of 9 hours of sunshine per day. Temperatures average between about 22 degrees (maxima) and 6.0 degrees (minima). In January, overnight frosts can occur and snow may fall at the highest elevations. This is the season for warm clothes.
This covers March, April and May. Showers of rain build up and temperatures start to climb. May is the hottest month, with mean maxima and minima temperature of 25 and 10 degrees, respectively.
Text from WF The weather in Ethiopia, at least in terms of the heat, is fairly consistent all year round. The only real change is in rainfall and as all our trips go between the end of the long rains (September) and the beginning of the short ones (April) this should not be a problem. During the day the temperature hovers around the mid 20’s, falling to an overnight low of 6-8 degrees (and perhaps even colder in the mountains).