Omo Valley Tribes and Cultures - 13 Day Tour

  • Meet the Dorze, Ari, Mursi, Bana, Hamer, Karo, Dassanach, Tsemay, Borena and Sidama peoples
  • Try your hand at local crafts such as spinning and weaving
  • Experience colourful village markets
  • Support community tourism projects in Dorze and Konso
  • Explore the natural wonders of the Rift Valley lakes, including hippos and crocodiles
  • Visit the remote and beautiful Mago National Park
  • See the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Tiya and the Konso Cultural Landscape
  • Observe the ancient practices of salt extraction and (in the dry season) the famous "singing wells" of the Borena people

This is an extraordinary opportunity to meet some of the more remote ethnic groups of the fascinatingly diverse areas surrounding the Omo River in South West Ethiopia.  You'll learn about the varied ethnic groups who inhabit the region - from the Mursi, renowned for their lip-plates, the Konso famous for their terraced farming to the Hamer famous for their bull jumping coming of age ceremony.

 

Responsible Tourism in the Omo Valley

Venture Ethiopia Tours and Travel seeks at all times to promote responsible tourism.  This is especially important in the Omo Valley, where tourism is now a major source of income for many villages.  We only work with recognised local guides, who are approved by village elders, to ensure that the benefits of tourism are fairly distributed throughout the community.  We expect our customers to be respectful of the people they are visiting, their cultures and traditions.  Please also ask the permission of individuals before taking any photographs.  You can read more about our commitments to responsible tourism here.

 

Day 1: Addis Ababa

Day 1 starts with a half-day city tour of Addis Ababa, including its museums, churches and the 'mercato'.

Day 2: Addis Ababa to Butajira

On day 2, you will leave Addis Ababa and head towards Butajira, making several stops along the way.  The first of these will be Melka Kunture prehistoric site, where you can see artefacts excavated from across Ethiopia, visit an open air excavation and see a prehistoric animal butchering site.  The next stop is to explore the rock-hewn church of Adadi Mariam, built during the 12th or 13th Century.  Adadi Mariam is the southernmost of Ethiopia's rock-hewn churches still in existence and local tradition associates it with King Lalibela's visit to the area in 1106.  The final stop before Butajira is the mysterious stone stellae field of Tiya.  Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, nobody really knows who carved the stellae, or the meaning of their mysterious symbols.

Day 3: Butajira to Arba Minch

A scenic drive through fertile countryside from Butajira to Arba Minch will take most of the day.

Day 4: Arba Minch

In the morning, you will take a boat trip on Lake Chamo to see the famous "crocodile market" - a stretch of sand where enormous Nile Crocodiles like to warm up in the sunshine.  Sightings of hippos are also common on the lake.  In the afternoon, you'll take a drive up the hillside to the highland community of Dorze.  The Dorze people are famous for their skill as weavers and on a tour round the village, you will see some of their products.  Even their houses are woven from bamboo. You can try your hand at spinning thread, and find out some of their many uses of the enset (false banana) plant.

Day 5: Arba Minch to Jinka

Leaving Arba Minch, the tour continues southwards, past Lake Chamo to Karat-Konso.  The Konso Cultural Landscape, which includes 42 villages and surrounding farmland, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There are around 250,000 people living in this area, mostly in hill-top villages surrounded by high stone walls.  Konso farmers use a sophisticated system of stone terracing to retain moisture and prevent erosion of the hillsides.  The area is also famous for the waka (carved wooden funerary statues) that dot the landscape.  The Konso people are thought to have lived in this area for at least 400 years and they speak a language belonging to the Cushtic family.  From Karat-Konso, the journey continues, stopping on the way to see a village of the Tsemai people, who live around the Woito River.  The Tsemai practice slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as animal husbandry.  The spiritual leader of the Tsemai is the bogolko, who prays for rain, good harvests and the health of children.  The Tsemai are considered as magicians by some people in surrounding urban areas, but they are also known as one of the most peaceful peoples among the ethnic groups of the Omo Valley.  You will then continue on to Jinka, where you will spend the night.

Day 6: Jinka (Mursi and Ari villages)

From Jinka, you will spend the day exploring villages of the Mursi and Ari people.  The Ari people, who live in the fertile lands surrounding Jinka, predominantly practice settled agriculture and produce a variety of cereals, pulses, root crops, fruit and vegetables, as well as the cash crops coffee and cardamon.  In rural areas, you may still see Ari women wearing traditional dresses made from the leaves of the false banana plant, and draped with colourful beads and bracelets.  The Mursi people, who live in an almost inaccessible area between the Mago and Omo rivers, are famous for the clay lip-plates traditionally worn by women.  There is much controversy surrounding the origins of these lip-plates with theories ranging from disfigurement to discourage slave-raiders to a sign of beauty.  Both men and women of the Mursi tribe practise scarification and cut their hair very short, often with patterns shaved into it.  Men traditionally wear only a blanket tied at one shoulder, and women, a similarly-fashioned goat skin.  The Mursi have a reputation for being aggressive and the men carry a Donga (large stick) for fighting.  Ceremonial fights are also performed.  Cattle are the Mursi's most prized possession.  They are used in virtually every significant social relationship, most notably marriage, where they are used as a dowry, paid to the bride's father. They provide milk and blood, which form an integral part of the Mursi diet and the Mursi even name themselves after the colour of their favourite cattle.

Day 7: Jinka (Mago National Park)

A whole day devoted to visiting Mago National Park, the closest thing that Ethiopia has to the classic savannah reserves of the rest of East Africa.  The park consists of a vast tract of humid low-lying acacia woodland, interspersed with small areas of open savannah and pristine riparian forest lining the Mago river.  There are also extensive swamp lands that rise sharply to the Rift Escarpment and the 2,528 m high Mount Mago in the north.  The park is home to a wide variety of animals, although some of the more charismatic species are rarely seen now as their populations have been depleted by decades of poaching.  There are primates and antelope species in abundance though, as well as more than 300 species of birds to see.

Day 8: Jinka to Turmei

Leaving Jinka, the tour continues south to Turmei, passing through an area occupied by the Hamer/Bana people.  On the way, you will stop off at a traditional Hamer village.  Hamer women wear elaborately decorated goat skins with beaded necklaces, bracelets and waistbands, usually black and red, with the number and type of necklaces worn denoting their marital status.  Women decorate their hair with clay and butter and twist it into small braids.  Men wear a clay cap which is painted and decorated with feathers and other ornaments.  The Hamer are famous for their cattle-jumping ceremony which takes place when a man comes of age.  He must successfully leap over a line of 8-20 cattle 4 times if he is to be allowed to marry, have children, and own cattle of his own.

Day 9: Turmei

From Turmei, you will visit villages of the Karo and Dassanech people.  The Karo people are traditionally pastoralists, with goats as their main livestock.  They also practice spear-fishing in the Omo river.  Karo men are best known for their elaborate body painting before important ceremonies.  Like many tribes in the region, the Karo people are polygamous, but marriage is usually with the consent of the two partners, rather than arranged.  However, custom does not allow younger members of the family to marry before their elder relatives are married.  The Dassanech tribe, living around Omerate, is not strictly defined by ethnicity but has absorbed a wide range of different people over time.  The Dassanech are divided into eight main clans, each of which is believed to have special powers over different things such as water, crocodiles, snakes, diseases, drought, eye infections, scorpion bites and muscular problems.  Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying (or even dancing with) each other.  Both men and women of the Dassanech adorn themselves with beads and bracelets.

Day 10: Turmei to Yabello

From Turmei, it is a long but scenic drive Yabello.  On the way, you will have another chance to see how the Tsemai people live and work, as well as seeing the way of life of the Borena people.  The Borena are semi-nomadic pastoralists, considered to be the most traditional of all the Oromo groups.  Their culture is well adapted to the hot, dry, harsh plains of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya and they keep a unique breed of cattle with humps and small horns.

Day 11: Yabello

From Yabello, you will take a trip to a crater lake named El Sode, meaning "place of salt" in the local Oromifa language.  This inky-black lake, surrounded by 200m-high walls, is an important regional centre of salt extraction.  In the dry season, there is also the opportunity to see the famous "singing wells" of the Borena people.  These wells, which were dug centuries ago, can be up to 30m deep.  Men form a chain, balanced on precarious-looking ladders, along which they pass giraffe-hide buckets of water.  As they do so, the men sing in unison to help maintain the rhythm and pace of the passing.

Day 12: Yabello to Hawassa

From Yabello, you will start the journey back north, passing through fertile countryside in which false-banana, maize and coffee are grown.  The roadsides are often lined with villagers selling fresh, seasonal fruits.  Your final destination for the day will be Hawassa, a pleasant lakeside town where you will spend the night.  Views over the lake at sunset can be spectacular.

Day 13: Hawassa to Addis Ababa

In the morning, you will see Hawassa's famous fish market, before departing north for Addis Ababa.  On the way, you will stop for a tour of Abiyata-Shala National Park, where flocks of up to 50,000 flamingos gather, and to see Lake Ziway.  The tour ends with dinner at a cultural restaurant in Addis Ababa, where you can see traditional dances from around the country while sampling various Ethiopian dishes.

Services Included

  • An experienced professional English-speaking guide

  • All meals from lunch on day 1 to the cultural dinner on day 13

  • All land transport involved in the itinerary

  • 12 nights hotel accommodation

  • Entrance fees and local guides for all excursions described 

Services Not Included

  • Travel Insurance

  • Ethiopian Visa

  • Tips for staff

  • Miscellaneous expenses – alcoholic drinks, souvenirs etc.

 

Joining Arrangements & Transfers

You must meet with the group at the hotel in Addis Ababa, preferably by lunchtime on Day 1. A single group transfer from the airport is provided and the trip leader or a representative of our local agent will assist with this transfer. The transfer is timed to the arrival of the Ethiopian airlines flight from London Heathrow and will normally depart the airport around 8.30 - 9.00 am on the day the itinerary starts. Anyone may use this transfer regardless of flights.  At the end of the trip there will be a single group transfer to Addis Ababa Airport in the late evening of the last day of the trip itinerary. Private airport transfers each way can be arranged, but may incur an additional cost.

 

Accommodation

This trip includes 12 nights' accommodation in tourist class hotels.  The exact hotels used will be dependant on availability but please remember that Ethiopia is a developing country and that accommodation can be basic in comparison to European standards. All accommodation is based on two people sharing a room. If you are travelling by yourself you will be paired up with another single client of the same sex. Depending on availability, it may be possible to book a single room, although an additional charge may apply.

 

Group Leader & Support Staff

The group will be accompanied by an experienced English-speaking guide plus a driver and various local support staff.

 

Guidance On Tipping

Tipping should not be seen as something you have to do but in Ethiopia, as in many parts of the world, it is an appropriate way of saying thank you for a service well done. For each of your drivers on this trip we would recommend around £5 per day from the group, and for each of your guides around £10 per day from the group.

 

Upcoming group tour dates:

  • Monday 14th - Saturday 26th October 2019 (open for bookings)
  • Sunday 8th - Friday 20th March 2020 (open for bookings)

Interested in this tour but can't make those dates?  We can arrange dates to suit you so please contact us.

 

Prices

The cost of this tour is 58,721 ETB (2,135 USD / 1,813 EUR / 1,586 GBP) per person.

It is possible to arrange this tour for 1 or 2 people, but a surcharge may apply.  Please contact us to find out more.

Please see the further details tab for information about services included.

A deposit is required upon booking.  For more details, please see our FAQ page, or read our full terms and conditions.

Omo