The Simien Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a rugged and remote chain of mountains that stretches across northern Ethiopia.
The tallest peak in the Simien Mountains is Ras Deshen reaching above 4,500 meters and the second highest peak is Kidis Yared reaching a close 4,453 meters. These tall peaks make for a dramatic and breathtaking backdrop no matter how long you choose to hike in the park.
With its jaw-dropping views of wild landscapes and wildflowers to its rare wildlife containing Gelada Baboons, Wallia Ibex, and Ethiopian Wolves, the Simien Mountains is a rarely visited wonderland of nature.
All of those attributes combined are what make this place one of the best-hiking destinations in the world and rightfully so has earned hiking in the Simien Mountains a spot on our Top 100 Travel Adventures list.
Hiking in the Simien Mountains is one of the Top 100 Travel Adventures in the world. View the list and follow our mission to complete them.
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Intro to Hiking in the Simien Mountains
While it is certainly tempting, you cannot hike independently in the Simien Mountains National Park, you must hike with a certified guide and also a licensed gunman at all times.
Due to the increasing fragility of the region, there are lots of rules that come with a visit to this park and hefty fines are issued if not obeyed. Don’t worry, we’ve listed all the rules and regulations at the end of this guide so you can be prepared.
Hikes range from 2-14 days depending on your skill level and the time of year you visit. Due to time limitations, we spent 2 days hiking in the Simien Mountains National Park with an overnight at the Sankaber Camp. How many hours you walk in a day is really up to you.
There are trailheads that will set you up for the complete hike route but it is also possible to start mid-trail for a shorter amount of walk time. It really depends on your skill level but you can hike trails from 6-8 hours per day at a steady pace.
We did a complete trailhead start to finish for a 7-hour hike on the first day and then ended up doing a part of 4 hours on the second day due to varying skill levels in our group.
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When is the best time to hike in the Simien Mountains
The drier season is between October and May, after the rainy season. It is possible to hike in the rainy season and this season has its own attractions. The plant life is particularly lush and it is the time of colorful flowering vegetation. During June, July and August afternoon showers occur pretty much every day, but this should not keep you away as the weather is warm and the rain usually sets in after midday, which leaves enough time for trekking.
Something worth noting
This is not a place for inexperienced hikers. The rocky hillside paths take you up towering peaks and down into deep valleys.
Hiking in the Simien Mountains can be strenuous and challenging, not only is it a safety concern if you lack the fitness to hike the trails but your group will not appreciate you holding them back from seeing more of the mountains and wildlife.
Be sure to hike within your level of fitness, we ran across many hikers that bit off more than they could chew. Doing so can make for an unpleasant hike for you and your group since you must hike with a guide and gunman.
Your guides will assess you before your start of the hike and you need to be completely honest about your fitness and skills. Do not think you can take on more than you are physically capable of doing, you’ll be miserable and the guide will not be happy.
Are the Simien Mountains safe
Safety has been an issue in the Simien Mountains National Park in the past. Locals are being forced by the government to relocate from their homes that have been in the National Park for generations.
As a result, there have been occurrences of crime to foreign hikers but it is not something that is prevalent or something that happens often. We did not run into any issues, everyone was friendly, willing to help and eager to sell us trinkets.
Related Article: Why You Should Go Backpacking In Ethiopia
How to Get to the Simien Mountains
The closest airport to the Simien Mountains National Park is in the city of Gondar. It is well worth flying into the area early and spending some time in Gondar before you start hiking.
You can stock up on supplies here and take in some very unique sights, including Camelot styled castles right in the center of town.
Alternatively, you can also fly into the capital of Addis Ababa, Axum or Lalibela and hop on a bus to Gondar. While taking the bus from any of these cities will be considerably cheaper than flying, something worth noting is that land travel in Ethiopia can be painfully slow. They lack the infrastructure and many of the roads are in disrepair making travel very slow going.
Once you reach Gondar, you have a couple of different options for traversing the 95km to the frontier town of Debark. You can join an organized tour either booked in advance or arranged through your accommodation, hire a private driver or take the local bus. The drive takes 2 hours no matter how you shake it.
You can not visit Ethiopia without visiting Lalibela.
Every Simien Mountains Hike Starts Here
The starting point for any visit to the Simien Mountains National Park is the National Park Office in Debark. This is the implementing institution for management, conservation measures, and rehabilitation activities in the Park.
The Park Office is the first place and only place to go to for permits, information, travel preparation and any other form of support for visitors to the National Park.
It is here that the required entrance permit can be purchased and an official SMNP Scout contracted. The National Park Office is located on the main road in Debark at the southern part of the town.
The address of the Park Office is:
P.O. Box 13, Debark, Gondar
8:30 am to 5 pm Monday–Friday
8:30 am to 12 pm on Saturday
While many people just pop into the office for permits and leave, we found Debark to be quite charming. There are many street markets where you can stock up on supplies for you hike, keep in mind nothing too fancy but good staples like bread, crackers, cookies, sweets, water, and soda.
Go for a walk before heading out to hike, the locals are particularly nice in this town and it’s a great place to get the feel for a rural Ethiopian town.
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Simien Lodge to Sankaber Trail
With permits in hand and having stocked up on supplies in Debark, it was time to head into the park and start hiking. Located 6km inside the Simien Mountains National Park gate is the illustrious Simien Lodge.
Some people opt to visit the mountains, basing themselves at this lodge for several days and hiking various parts of the trail with van pickup and drop off. This is a great option if you enjoy a comfy place to put your feet up each night.
Right after the entrance to the Simien Lodge is the start of all trails in the park. We were a bit surprised when the driver stopped the van in the middle of the road and told us to get out, we would start hiking from there.
Apparently, this is the trailhead for the Simien Lodge to Sankaber trail. Looking around, we didn’t see any designated hiking paths but it became clear that we’d follow the road for a short way before leaving the road and heading down a small hill covered in tall grass.
This wasn’t concerning to us because we had a guide, but it took us some time before we found the beaten trail. I don’t think we would have easily found this had we been starting this trail section on our own. It didn’t help that within minutes of leaving the road we came across our first group of Gelada Baboons.
Read reviews and check prices: Simien Lodge
This took us all by surprise as we were literally surrounded by hundreds of them. If we had started further up the trail, we would have missed them.
While it was exciting to see them and our small group of 6 took some time to photograph them, we didn’t spend too much time knowing we had a solid 6+ hours of hiking ahead of us before we would arrive at Sankaber to make camp. [More on the Gelada Baboons later]
The Simien Lodge to Sankaber trail took us through spongy grass and tree-lined trails before giving way to deep valley cliffs and amazing vistas. Once you reach this area, the trail follows the curvature of the cliffs, meaning the trails winds around including some steep ascents and descents.
All along the route are lookouts where you can pose on the cliff edge, sit on rocks or just take in the views. The scenery, well, it looks like a fake screensaver on your at-home computer.
We hiked the trail with the views over our left shoulder. Over our right shoulder was typically a steep incline of thick grass and trees. Due to how picturesque it was, we would hike for a stretch then make a photo stop.
This afforded ample time for recovery and rest but did make the hike last longer. Honestly though, how often in your life are you going to visit the Simien Mountains? It’s worth taking the extra stops and soaking in the scene. It’s a really unique part of the world that we have yet to find another spot that compares to it.
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Besides seeing the Gelada Baboons several times, we spotted them 3 times on this trail in large numbers, we had the pleasure of having some giant blackbirds join us for lunch.
When not soaring above the valley, these guys are looking for anything they can scavenge. Officially called Lammergeyers, they are large bearded vultures and their diet consists mainly of bone marrow.
Apparently, this requires them to drop big bones from the sky onto stones to expose the nutritious marrow. We did not get to see any feeding but they seemed awfully interested in our lunches.
Lucky for us, we had beautiful weather with bright blue skies and a comfortable temperature. Our guide led the way down the trail, pointing things out to us and answering questions about the park as we hiked.
He was as excited to showcase his country to us, as we were to explore it. We highly recommend hiring a guide, a) so you don’t get lost but b) because it will enrich your experience.
Always bringing up the back of the group was our required gunman. While we inquired from many different angles, we couldn’t get a clear answer on if we needed him to protect us from animals or people. Food for thought.
Simien Lodge to Sankaber Trail Notes
Once we located the beaten path at the trailhead, the path was easy to follow. While there is no signage, the trail is beaten. The trail itself, while not strenuous in entirety, does have some challenging portions and several areas with a good amount of incline.
You need to be well hydrated and properly fueled to complete this portion of the trail with a smile on your face, despite the amazing views.
There is nowhere to buy food on this trail or when you get to Sankaber, you must pack your own or have your guide arrange for meal preparation at the Sankaber Hut.
We packed a simple lunch from Debark, a variety of snacks and 4 liters of water (each) to get us through the 2 days of hiking.
In terms of how crowded this trail is, while we spent the first 4 hours without seeing any other hikers, the last part of the trail was shockingly busy with other hikers.
It became clear that many groups had bussed to a spot on the trail closer to Sankaber to only cover a shorter distance that day. This was, at times, frustrating because the walking paths are narrow.
Altitude is another consideration you should be prepared for. While this isn’t the Himalayas, you will still be affected by altitude while hiking in the Simien Mountains.
Debark starts at 2700 meters and by the time you finish hiking from the Simien Lodge to the Sankaber camp, you’ll find yourself climbing to and sleeping at 3200 meters.
Tips for dealing with altitude: Stay hydrated, stay fueled and take breaks when you feel tired.
Our night at Sankaber Camp
After our long, 7 hour day of hiking, we were happy to reach the first camp in the Simien Mountains National park known as the Sankaber Camp. There are two options for this camp, you can either book into the hut or you can camp out.
Both options share a very rustic drop toilet and there is no running water. The Sankaber camp is pretty basic, no matter how you use it.
The key is remembering that you are in a National Park and your expectations should match that. Since we were hiking in for 2 days and had a nice group size, our entire group filled one of the brick buildings and setting up camp for the night was smooth and easy.
The huts did provide a bed with mattress and blankets, but they left much to be desired and clearly had never been washed. We were happy we had brought our own sleeping bags.
As the sunset, our guides helped to prepare a meal over the campfire. We started with popcorn, beer and spent some time singing around the fire until dinner was ready.
Dinner was a simple, cooked pasta with red sauce and vegetables. The night was simple and we definitely needed a head torch for anything we wanted to view after dark. There was no power in the rustic bathroom and the trail to it was mostly covered in bush.
We were thankful, again, that we had brought our sleeping bags because even during the nicest time of year, it gets really cold in the Simien Mountains at night.
We both slept in our jackets to keep warm and keep our muscles from getting too stiff. We slept peacefully knowing that our guide and gunman, who refused to join us inside, were sleeping right outside our door.
Sankaber to Gich Trail
Waking to an early alarm, we were greeted by a very brisk morning with heavy dew on the ground. Breakfast was simple and full of carbs to provide the fuel we would need for our hike that day. Our day hiking the Sankaber to Gich trail would start on foot from the hut.
This part of the trail starts off with a steep climb up from the hut before leveling off into pleasant hiking for a short amount of time. After that, this part of the trail is challenging. It has steep grades on incline that last for long stretches and there were several people in our group that were not fit enough for this kind of hiking.
After a solid 2 hours of hiking, we reached the head of the entrance to the Jinbar Waterfall. This is an optional part of the trail that you can choose to bypass or complete the return hike to the lookout before continuing on the trail. Our group opted for the diversion and we set off chasing waterfalls in the Simien Mountains.
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This diversion is tough. It is steep and the trail, while beaten, is not maintained. You have to pass down into a valley on a path where there are loose rocks and we found ourselves having to grab nearby trees to stabilize as we climbed down.
Once reaching the bottom, we had to cross a small creek then climb back up onto a rocky hillside where the trail and trees gave way to massive boulders and sweeping vistas. They call this reaching the bottom of the Kaba Fen.
At this point, you have to traverse a very steep, open-faced and narrow- about the width of your hips- boulder bridge to the other side of a deep canyon trench to reach the viewpoint.
If you get vertigo or have trouble balancing do not attempt to cross this bridge. There are no handrails and the footing is uneven.
Once on the viewpoint, there are no guard rails and the footing is uneven. Be sure to have your feet planted before taking photos or you could trip and fall.
One of the people in our group was eager to pose for a photo and slipped near the edge. Everyone gasped as he quickly scrambled back to his feet, it was a close one.
We spent some time taking photos at the Jinbar Waterfall before taking almost an hour to hike back up the steep valley wall to the trail. When we reached the top of the valley we were treated to a huge troupe of Gelada Baboons grazing in a field.
Seriously, it was one of the most amazing wildlife sights we have ever seen. Our small group wandered through them, many of us sitting in the grass to take photos and just observe them. None of them cared and we enjoyed the quiet moment with nature.
Hiking up a little farther, the trail meets the road and we were informed by our guide that our van would be meeting us there to take us back to Debark for lunch and then returning to Gondar.
While we were disappointed by this, we had planned a full day of hiking with a late return, we understood that the upcoming trial was well outside the fitness level of some in the group.
Regardless, we got 5 hours in on the trail that day, saw a stunning waterfall and literally walked amongst an endemic species. You really can’t beat that.
The Simien Mountains are stunning and a real treat for anyone that loves nature. Personally, we loved the trails and found our fitness levels were up to the challenge of the trails we hiked. I have no doubt we could have spent 4-5 days hiking the trails and had an enjoyable time.
The guides and gunman we had (even the others we met on the trail) were personable, kind and very passionate about the mountains. They knew the area, the trails and had the knowledge necessary to make advised decisions about safety to the hikers under their care.
Will we do it Again
Sure we will. You’d be hard-pressed to keep us out of Debark and the Simien Mountains when we find ourselves in Ethiopia again.
Gelada Baboon Wildlife Viewing
I’d be lying if I said this isn’t one of the main reasons that people want to visit this part of the world. Endemic to the Simien Mountains alone, Gelada Baboons are very likely to steal the show while you are out hiking.
Unlike other primates, these guys tend to keep to themselves, spending their days scavenging the tender blades of grass that are emerging from the soil. You can literally walk amongst them and they will barely notice you, so intent on their finds.
This was very strange for us because our monkey encounters around the world have been nothing short of ‘be on your guard and carry a monkey stick’ (anything long that can be used to deter monkey from snatching your stuff orbiting you).
I have to admit, this was a very pleasant surprise and allowed us ample time to photograph them and enjoy their presence.
What are Geladas
Geladas, also known as the Bleeding Heart Baboon, are large primates that have long brown hair. They look like a 1980’s hairband member and have a large heart-shaped area of exposed skin on their chest that changes colors based on their mood.
Geladas are found in the high grassland of the deep gorges of the central Ethiopian Plateau. The Simien Mountains is the only place in the world where you can see Geladas in the wild.
They live in elevations from 1800 –4400 meters above sea level. They are gentle by nature and really do not care about anything besides gorging themselves on the rich grassy hillsides.
What to do when you come across Geladas while hiking
Don’t be scared, they are gentle creatures. Just find a good place to sit, you want to be low to the ground because if you’re standing up they will not come close. Find a good area with nice green grass and stay still. They will move in right beside you while they are eating.
Never approach them in large groups or in a rapid, fast-moving way. Never try to touch or pet them, they can bite. Also, never stare them directly in the eyes, this is communicated as a direct threat and will cause an attack. They are wild animals. Just sit still, quiet and they will go around you like nothing is happening.
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Simien Mountains Hiking Facts
- Fitness Level: Medium to High
- Hiking Length: Day Hikes, 2-14 day hikes
- Path Type: Dirt and Rock with up and downhills.
- Lodging Type: Simien Lodge, Camping or Huts
- Best Time To Hike: You can hike all year round but for the best wildlife, flowers and green landscapes are from September to November
- Group Sizes: 4-10 people, it’s also possible to hire a private guide
- Park Fees per 24 hours: Foreign Tourists Over 12 years- 90 Birr, Under 12 years- 10 Birr
- Vehicle Fees per 24 hours: Foreign Tourists Under 12 seats- 20 Birr, Over 12 seats- 40 Birr
- Camping Fees per 24 hours: Foreign Tourist Tent Up to 4 people- 40 Birr, Over 4 people- 60 Birr
Important Rules & Regulations of the National Park
- All trips to the park must be escorted by a trained Park administration scout. Instructions given by the official representative of the National Park must be strictly followed.
- Disturbing wildlife or carrying out any activity that might disturb or destroy their natural habitat is strictly forbidden in the Park (hunting, chasing away, excessive noise, specific sporting activities such as paragliding or mountain-biking).
- Any activity that destroys or removes plants or flowers is prohibited. The same applies to the destruction and removal of trees. At the official campsites, it is possible to buy firewood from the Park staff [Eucalyptus]. To stop the progressive deforestation of the remaining Erica forests, the purchase and use thereof have been declared punishable by law.
- Entering the park with domestic animals [e.g. dogs] is not permitted.
- Do not leave litter behind on a trek. Park scouts have started to dig rubbish dumps, thus making appropriate disposal possible. Your scout will know the latest regulations. Beyond this, don’t be afraid to pick up any trash you come across left by other hikers on the trail or in camp…
- Camping and overnight stays are only allowed in designated areas at the regular camping sites.
- Any fires outside the officially designated camp areas are strictly forbidden. Special attention is necessary when smoking, as this can cause grass and bush fires.
- A high degree of respect towards the resident population, their traditional values, and their lifestyle is required. This implies absolute respect for private propriety and a certain restraint when taking photos.
- Please be aware of the possible long-term consequences of handing out medicine and gifts [particularly sweets] to the local population.
Simien Mountains Packing List
You are not going to be able to buy much once you are in Ethiopia. We recommend buying everything in advance to save you time, frustration and money.
Hiking poles are great for unstable paths. We use and like: Foxelli Trekking Poles – Collapsible Lightweight
Lots of water and purification tablets for refilling from natural sources. Water Bottle, Fill up right out of the tap or even out of rivers with Lifestraw Go Water Bottle with Integrated 1,000 Liter Lifestraw Filter
First-aid Kit or Medkit stocked up with foot aides, pain meds, altitude sickness pills, and stomach pills.
Camping equipment: Sleeping bags and a pillow. A blanket is also nice for the cold nights next to the fire. towels, tents, headlamp and toilet paper. Baby wipes are also useful for a quick birdbath, so you can feel like new, especially if you’re doing a multi-day hike.
You can get a killer price on all of that gear at: REI, our favorite place to buy outdoor gear because they offer a 1 year – return for any reason- guarantee on all products!
Bring a pullover and rain jacket for the morning and late afternoon.
Do not forget your sunblock.
- Raw Elements Eco Form Sunscreen, SPF 30 Plus, 3 Fluid Ounce
- Banana Boat Sports Performance Lotion Sunscreens with PowerStay Technology SPF 30, 8 Ounces
- Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30, 8-Ounce
Mosquito Repellent- we have put together some of the best kinds of mosquito repellent to buy for your hiking adventure.
- Eco-Defense All Natural Mosquito Repellent Spray, No Deet
- Repel 100 Insect Repellent, 4 oz. Pump Spray, Single Bottle
- Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent, 4-Ounce Pump Spray
- Repel 94100 Sportsmen 30-Percent Deet Mosquito Repellent Wipes, 15 Count
Long hat and buff to cover your face from the sun and wind. ( Buff’s are the best for all adventures.)
Quick Drying Towel
Waterproof Bags for Camera/Phone/Etc.
- Universal Waterproof Phone Case
- Aquamare Waterproof Pouch Dry Bag Case with Waist/Shoulder Strap Fanny Pack
Do not expect to get cell phone service while hiking in the Simien Mountains.
Day Bag (We love our Pacsafe Venturesafe X30 backpack because it locks up 100%) A daypack is for all of your daily needs. As the main luggage is transported by the pack animals and will only be open/unpacked when you get to camp.
You can hire a pack animal at the start of the Sankaber camp if you are continuing into the park. They range in price depending on the time of year and the size of your group.
Don’t forget your camera- GoPro and video camera. Charge everything before your hike, there’s no power on the Simien Mountains. Bring a power hub for charging batteries if you’re hiking for more than a couple of days and camping.
- GoPro Hero 5 Black
- GoPro Karma Grip
- 10-25″ Telescoping Pole (Selfie Stick)
- GoPro Karma Drone
- Camera (We carry the Canon 6d DSLR camera with Canon 24-105L lens)
- Camera Rain Cover
- Sony FDR-AX53 Video Camera
- 4 in 1 USB charging cable for your phone or tablet.(To keep everything charged)
Arranging a Hiking Trip in the Simien Mountains
As we’ve mentioned previously, there are a couple of different ways you can arrange a hiking trip in the Simien Mountains. It all depends on you and how you want your trip to be.
Book with a company in advance
Many large tour companies offer Simien Mountain hiking options on their Ethiopian itineraries. This is the most popular way that people come to hike in this special place. Be sure that you select an itinerary that gives you at least 2 days, many of these will stay at the Simien Lodge and drive you out to various trailheads for day hikes
Book from a hotel in Gondar
No matter where you are staying, your hotel/hostel/guesthouse in Gondar can arrange a small group or private hiking trip in the Simien Mountains. Prices are going to be pretty fixed, because of park costs, but we do recommend shopping around first to get an idea of price. This is how our group arranged our trip.
Arrange it independently in Debark
Take the local bus or hire a driver to take you to Debark. Stop in at the National Park office to buy your permits and you will be assigned a guide and gunman for your hiking trip.
All guides, cooks, and horsemen are assigned by the park office. No matter how you arrange your hiking trip- through a big tour company, in Gondar or on your own, you will be hiking with registered, knowledgeable guides that will be able to speak English.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to visit the Simien Mountains National Park without a guide. Not only is this illegal but it is unsafe.
Recommended Hiking tours in the Simien Mountains
We have found some of the best tour operators that run hiking adventures in the Simien Mountains.
The Simien Mountains Trek
Start and end in London! With the hiking & trekking tour The Simien Mountains Trek, you have a 13-day tour package taking you through London, England, and 5 other destinations. The Simien Mountains Trek includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
The Simien Mountain Trek-Timkat Festival
Timkat Festival. Start and end in Addis Ababa! With the hiking & trekking tour The Simien Mountains Trek-Timkat Festival, you have a 14-day tour package taking you through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and 8 other destinations in Ethiopia. The Simien Mountains Trek: Timkat Festival includes accommodation as well as an expert guide, transport.
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