South Omo & Lalibela trip report

Eric R writes:

I’m from Seattle, Washington and just came back from a 2 week trip to the Omo Valley and a 2 day side trip to Lalibela in the of Ethiopia.

Here are my recommendations for South Omo:

1) In the Omo Valley, the roads are poor south of Arba Minch. Be prepared for a lot of road dust, animals on the road, and slow travel. 2) Malaria is very real here. Bring malaria pills and take a mosquito net. Not all hotels have mosquito nets. 3) Don’t expect great accommodations in any of the towns south of Arba Minch. However, the Kanta Lodge in Konso was very good and the Buska Lodge in Turmi was also decent. Other hotels were dumps. 4) Food is very cheap here. $3-5 for a good dinner. Buy your local guide a meal, if you can afford it. Most local guides are very poor. 5) Bring something to give back to the locals. Polaroid images, pens, etc… I made animal balloons for the local kids. They loved it. Balloons are easy to carry and fun to give out. 6) Electricity is out often. WiFi internet connections are very poor. Cell coverage is better if you need internet connectivity. 7) I used a guide from Addis Ababa for my trip. Got his name from a fellow photographer, Eric Lafforgue, who lives in Toulouse, France. My guide, Solomon Berhanu, speaks many of the languages of the tribes in the Omo Valley, including the language of the Mursi. That made the trip very rewarding as I was able to interact with the local tribes through Solomon. I had no aggressive problems with any of the tribes, including the Mursi. You can Google Solomon’s name on Youtube and see a video of him explaining Bull Jumping by the Hamar Tribe. 8) Expect to pay fees in the Omo Valley. These people are dirt poor. That’s how they make some money. Don’t complain, just enjoy the experience. If you don’t want to pay the fees, don’t visit.


Lalibela is worth a visit. But I do have an issue with where the $50 entrance fee goes. I’m not convinced the money goes back to the local community. The churches belong to the local people of Lalibela and the people of Ethiopia, not the fee collectors at the churches. If you visit Lalibela, ask your guide and the fee collectors where the money goes. At $50 per person, they collect enough money to help the local people– who desperately need it. With enough people asking, we all can make a difference in the lives of the people in Lalibela.

South Omo trip report

Erik Lönnroth writes:

I just got back from a 9 day trip to Omo and would like to provide a few updates. All in all, I would not recommend this as a travel destination, with the possible exception of researchers looking for a case study in tourism mismanagement. The Bradt 2012 guide mentions that this is a “once in a lifetime experience”, but these days for all the wrong reasons. I would go one step further: it is questionable whether a visit to this region should be recommended at all – and that goes for both organised tours and independent travel. As someone who has lived in Ethiopia and several other African countries, I assumed I would be able to use basic Amharic and street smarts to sidestep the herds and discover my own, more authentic, experience of Omo. I was wrong. No matter how noble your intentions, you’ll find it nigh-on impossible to avoid the prescribed itineraries forced on you by the guide associations that guard the gates of every attraction like a local mafia. The prices quoted in the 2012 guide are also out of date – as a rule of thumb I would say that in July 2014 they were 50-100% higher – that goes for food, hotels, guides, and village fees.

As mentioned in the Guide, several of the tribes have developed an obsession with getting money from photos. For the Mursi and Dassanech, this behaviour now verges on OCD, with some variation of “photo”/”5 birr”/”you take a picture” constituting 100% of interactions with the villagers. One gets the sense that the tribes people harbour few warm feelings towards foreigners, and with every right; their villages have been transformed into human zoos, with no area – including the insides of their huts – off limits to snapping cameras. With the exception of very young children who have yet to be corrupted by the faranji hysteria, you are unlikely to establish much of a human connection during your visits. An exception to this rule was the Evangadi dance, put on one evening by a Hamer village near Turmi, in which we danced and sang with the people in what felt like a genuinely upbeat and friendly experience.

As mentioned, Omo prices have increased substantially since 2012. Several experiences feel like complete rip-offs, particularly the charges imposed by guide associations, who typically demand 200-300 birr for activities that last an hour or two. As each attraction is controlled by a separate association, a new guide is required – and thus a new charge – at each stop. The “guiding” element tends to be non-existent – these young men typically exhibit an air of disdain for both faranjis and the tribes, and seem thoroughly uninterested/incapable of explaining anything but the most banal facts (“this is the hut where the people sleep”, “they wear clothes of animal skin”). After collecting their fees the guides return to chewing chat and drinking beer, waiting for the next busload of tourists. Haggling is impossible – fees are supposedly set by government and a receipt is duly presented. Where the money actually goes – other than to beer and chat – is anybody’s guess.

Here is an update on pricing at each of the attractions I visited (bear in mind that July is supposedly low season):
Key Afer market – Guide: 200 birr. Parking: 36 birr.
Dimeka market – Guide: 200 birr.
Mursi village – Guide: 200 birr. Village: 200 birr per person. Photos 5 birr per portrait.
Dassanech village – Guide: 300 birr. Boat 150 birr. Parking 36 birr. Village: 200 birr per person. (Note that this ends up being roughly triple the price quoted in the Guide. The Dassanech are also the worst of all the tribes when it comes to asking for photos – we literally had to flee the scene when we refused to take our cameras out. A bridge across the Omorate river is due to open in a few months, which will make it possible to avoid the jacked-up boat fee, and possibly reach more remote villages. However, it will probably be a matter of only weeks or months until those villages become just as corrupted by faranji fever).
Evangadi dance (Hamer tribe) – Guide: 200 birr. Dance: 200 birr per person.

Budget hotels in Konso, Jinka, Turmi, and Dimeka typically charge 250-300 per room with cold shower, although one one or two occasions we were able to haggle it down to 200 (due to it being low season).

You’ll easily end up spending $50 per day on accommodation, food, and activities, and that’s not counting the driver and 4×4, typically $120-$150 per day. Total expense for a trip: Minimum $1,500 but more likely $2,000+. There simply is no way to do Omo on a shoestring – the government, guide assocations, and tribes have made this literally impossible.

All in all, I can think of much more enjoyable and less exploitative ways of spending that kind of cash, in Ethiopia and beyond.

Thanks for reading!

Overland Ethiopia Tours

Alan Friedlob (Bellingham, Washington) & Mariann Kocsis (Baltimore, Maryland) write:

This April, we were fortunate to have spent about three weeks traveling with Overland Ethiopia Tours ( ). (Haileab Seyoum Beyene and his support staff)– in a private tour of the Northern Circuit, Rift Valley, South Omo, and the Bale Mountains. What impressed us is the social network Haileab and his guys have across the country. Everywhere we went—from Gonder to Yabello, warm greetings were exchanged through chance encounters with acquaintances of friends, and Haileab’s seamless connections with local guides opened doors to a better understanding of the cultural diversity that is Ethiopia. Haileab speaks Amharic, Oromaic, and Tigrinya; any of which may come in handy in helping guests bridge the challenges of Ethiopian travel. . As a guide, he listened to what we wanted to do—stopping at an unexpected market, listening to music, or finding high quality crafts and high grade coffee. He and his colleagues did everything possible to accommodate us. Haileab’s itinerary and accommodations were exactly as we had agreed. In one instance where he could not secure the hotel on our itinerary, he compensated us with three nights’ of meals at our next location.

Regarding our itinerary, I would like to suggest that you consider not visiting the Mursi people, or if you go, clarifying what your visit will entail, and then decide. As you are probably aware, the people of the South Omo Region expect to be paid for all photos. In the case of the Mursi, this practice has become extreme. It will be extremely difficult for a tourist to learn about Mursi ways as “photo,photo” will dominate the experience. Many world renown photographers like McCullin and McCurdy have captured the Mursi. Perhaps better to buy their books than contribute to the tribe’s self- exploitation. A difficult decision for some tourists.

Thankfully this is not the case for other people that you are likely to visit, even though similar pressures will be found. For example, the Key Afer and Dimeka markets are “must dos” but there are many other markets where you would be the only outsider. Haileab patiently negotiated the landscape with us, and we learned.

Again, if you are planning to visit, please check out Overland Ethiopia Tours. You won’t be disappointed.



South Omo operator recommendation

Mateusz writes:

I’d like to recommend a tour guide operator for South Omo Valley who took a group of friends and myself on an unforgettable journey. Lalo Desse ( was raised in Jinka and has many friends and family still living in the area and within some of the tribes themselves. Some of the reasons I recommend his services:

– While Lalo is a younger operator who has been running his own tour company for only few years, he is very adept at organizing activities and reservations. When unexpected events occured (and they will), he was quick to remedy the situation. And while he may be dressed casually and wearing a turtle-shell necklace (unlike the uniformed guides of other tour companies), his genuine warmth towards tourists and excitement for what he does really shows through.

– Very reasonably priced, especially compared to other tour operators which I contacted. He also offers the choice of a minivan vs 4×4. We chose the former (sans A/C) to save on costs and had a great time rocking the “party bus”.

– Having friends and relatives in the tribe, Lalo gave us the incredible experience of sleeping overnight in tribal villages. This was the highlight of the trip and offered us a glipse into real day-to-day activities of some of the tribespeople.

– Unlike the convoys of 4×4’s you will see on the road, Lalo travels solo. While I can’t compare it to the larger group trips, we all enjoyed our intimate experience with Lalo, his driver, and the mechanic, and by the end we felt like a group of old friends. He also encouraged us to take our time to see the villages and tribes, unlike other tour operators I contacted who wanted to cram in as many tribes in as few days as possible.

– Conscious of the effects of tourism on the local tribes, Lalo was keen to inform us on good stewardship of the local economy. We even saw him interject when he saw tourists pulling over in Mago National Park to take roadside pictures of children who dressed up to attract photos (supposedly illegal by tribal regulations)

Overall, I’d highly recommend Lalo and his services, especially for those looking for a personal approach and access to some of the off-the-road experiences South Omo has to offer.

Glory Ethiopia Tours

Based on this recent reader feedback ( and a similarly off-putting older comment (, we would strongly advise against making any travel arrangements with Glory Ethiopia Tours (a company that was formerly recommended by several readers) or its owner Daniel Demtew Aseffa.

I am also pasting in the review in full below:

Gail Riba wrote:

In January 2013 we had the worst experience that we have had in our many years of travel to many countries. We had booked a private tour ( January 16-February) with Daniel Demtew Aseffa of Glory Ethiopian Travel. Friends had previously used Daniel with a positive experience 2 years before. In the interim something changed Daniel. We were cheated, lied to, robbed, and eventually abandoned because of Daniel’s incompetence and dishonesty. Here are the details:
We spoke to him via Skype and sent numerous emails back and forth. We paid him by means of wire transfers a total of $9194 for three people for a tour from January 16th through February 1, 2013.

1) At the last minute he reversed our trip so that we went to the south first. We now realize that was because he had no reservations for us in the north.

2) Before the trip we researched some of the hotels and decided to upgrade 2 of them. We sent Daniel the extra money for the upgrades but we never stayed in those hotels for 2 of the nights 3 nights booked. He pocketed that money too.

2) More than once he took us to hotels we had not booked and told us it was because they were better. We now know that it was because the ones we booked were more and/or would no longer take his reservations.

3)) Also on day one we gave him $200 cash so that he could negotiate with the villages which required a fee to enter ($20 per village. We later found out that this was 10 times what he would have to pay. So he, all along, planned on pocketing that money.

4) The car: Most importantly we were the only non 4 wheel drive car we saw in the South Omo! The warning lights on the dashboard were lit day one. He said the light was broken. Then day 2 the air conditioning went (it was in the 90’s and very dusty). The brakes squeaked which he claimed were because of new brake pads. Then the radiator went and he began gluing it together, leaving us for hours and days on the side of the road and in restaurants/hotels to supposedly fix it. Later we found out there were no radiators in Southern Ethiopia so we have no idea what he was doing while we were stranded. One back door did not open. One back window did not open at all and the other opened only halfway. Car was a death trap. In an accident there was no escape.
During this time there were 4 days where we had breakfast, were stranded and given a 3-4pm lunch and no dinner, having arrived at hotels after 9pm. One day were left at a hotel at 6pm and not picked up until 3pm the next day with no contact in between.

6) At the Mursi village we wanted to buy lip plates. He told us it would cost us 200 birr per plate. Without negotiating we bought them for 30 birr each from a woman who approached us. I’m sure he planned on pocketing the difference there also.

5) At the Murulle Lodge he asked us for an additional $100 each saying the price had gone up and if we didn’t pay we’d have no place to stay. When we questioned how they could do that after we had reserved at a particular price we were told that was common practice in Ethiopia. I’m sure he pocketed that money

6) At one point we went to see some totems and the people kept yelling at us in Amharic and waving us away. Daniel went in an office and we heard arguing. He came out and said they were accusing him of his papers not being good. He called them stupid peasants. Later we found out it was true that he was not licensed.

7) On our many drives he slept or read. No conversation or information occurred.

8) The morning of our departure for the north at 5AM he said he would pick us up to take us to the airport and, at that time, would bring us our vouchers for the northern part of the trip. We ALL know that that was a lie.

9) On our last ride with him to Addis from the south the car was completely broken down so we had to take a taxi van. He wanted us to pay that also but by then we were disgusted and refused. Then Daniel, the taxi driver, and a friend drove up to 180 kph, chewing chat and drinking a clear liquid mixed with coke. When we complained Daniel said we had to accept it or they could just leave us on the side of the road with our luggage. We were truly afraid for our lives by this point. The license number of the taxi van was # 07809

10) We arrived in the north to find out that the tour operator there expected us to arrive with the several thousands of dollars they were owed by Daniel. We were told the m oney was to pay for the last month’s tour group of Australians that Daniel never paid for. He also had not paid for us so we were on our own. We then had to repay for everything (hotel, transportation, tours) until we got back to Addis 5 days later to fly home. We had to stay in hotels that took credit cards as we did not have that much cash on us. At Lalibela the fees had double since the time we had booked so because Daniel never paid for our admission or tour, we had to pay the increased fee to enter the churches ($100 each)

11) A man name Fitsum Gezahegne( President – Ethiopian Tour Operators Association and Managing Director Paradise Ethipia Travel) helped us. He is the president of the Ethipian tour guide association. It was from him that we learned that Daniel is not licensed. Fitsum rebooked the hotels and tours. He also got us a van when a dust storm from the Sudan cancelled all flights for three days. In this way we were able to pay him at the end with a credit card since we did not have enough cash on us to continue the trip.

12) We also spoke with a man named Mr. Sisay Teklu, an assistant to the Minister of tourism. However when we met with him it was in an office with lots of boxes and a desk. He said they were remodeling. When Daniel was asked to repay us he said he had spent the money long ago. We wanted to have him arrested right then but we assured the ministry would recover our money and we would not get anything if Daniel was in jail..We signed papers (in Amharic) supposedly saying that if Daniel didn’t pay the agreed upon amount he and his wife (his partner in crime) would go to jail. We were also told in an email from Fitsum “The next day after you left, Mr. Sisay of the Ministry of Tourism had written a formal letter to Daniel requesting for an explanation about the whole thing and he signed a paper at the Ministry to pay all your money back before 31st of March. If he cannot pay the money by then, the government will pay you back and prosecute him accordingly.” We naively believed the ministry would stand by its promise. However when Daniel didn’t pay by the deadline, we received an email from Mr. Sisay that Daniel had been given an extension until May 4. We wrote asking them to honor the original agreement but that has not happened. At this point we are convinced we have been totally used and lied to and will never see this money and that Daniel will not go to jail for what he has done.
We believe the ministry should honor their promise to pay us and then get their money back from Daniel since they seem to trust Daniel and we don’t.
Also, not all Ethiopians are dishonest. We did meet several who tried to help us, including Fitsum.


Joyce Vera wrote:

I too did extensive research for our historical trip to North Ethiopia and was impressed by Daniel’s quick response to our many inqueries. Landing at Addis after a 30 hour flight he was one hour late picking me up which was the first of many disappointing events during our 11 day tour.

The next day we planned a full day tour of Addis and again one hour late. The full day tour lasted 4 hours claiming every thing was closed since it was Sunday.

We planned two nights at the Simein Moutain lodge with two single rooms. Upon arriving was told he only paid for one room. Called Daniel and he said two nights were too expensive so we would have to pay for the second night or share one room. Not acceptable to us.

We drove from Simein Mountains to Axum with a chat chewing driver in a pretty beat up minivan stopping to repair the battery, again to repair the door latch, and again when when it broke down completely half way
to Axum which resulted in us taking a public hop bus the rest of the way. We arrived in Axum exhausted, hungry and filthy and failed to notice the guide dumped us off at the wrong hotel. Our reservation was for the Remay but he left us at the Exodus which was much cheaper than the Remay.

The final day of the tour we flew from Lalibela to Addis where we promised a city tour, shopping, and a farewell dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. The chat chewing driver showed up 2 hours late and without a English speaking guide. The driver managed to find an English speaking friend of his who joined us and explained the van had no diesel and could not take us anywhere unless we bought the gas so what choice did we have? And the dinner, well he had no money for that either. Calling Daniel was no help, he claimed he was out of town so we would have to fend for ourselves.

All I can say is travellers beware of this company who simply did not deliver what he was paid to do.

I can not recommended this company.

Suri Country with South Expedition Africa

Dietmar from Germany writes:

In October 2012 I stayed 4 weeks in Surma area around Kibish and Tulgit. Surma is the official Ethiopian umbrella term for three ethnic groups in South Ethiopia: the Suri people, the Mursi people and the Mekan people. Very often the name ‘Surma’ is used for the Suri people as well, but this is wrong, a Suri would never call himself a ‘Surma’. The Suri people are semi-nomadic cattle herders and live on the west side of the Omo River in the southwestern part of Ethiopia.

This area is still much undeveloped, only unpaved roads lead to the heart of the Suri settlements: Kibish. There are two roads from Mizan to Kibish: the old road via Bebeka Coffee Plantation and Dima, or the new Waji-Maji road via Tum and Koka. From time to time the roads are blocked because of rain, so you should better ask in advance which road is open. Beginning of October only the old road was passable.
Suri people have a cattle-centered culture, the wealth of a family is measured by the number of animals owned. Usually the animals are not eaten unless a big ceremony takes place or a family member is sick. The animals are used for milk and blood. The Suri tribe is used to conflict, like for example the constant conflict with the neighbouring Nyangatom (Bume) tribe over land and cattle. In October 2012 however, the Suri and the Bume tribe lived together in peace. The Suri culture demands that the men are trained as warriors as well as cattle herders. Stick-fighting events like the ‘Zegine’ (or ‘Saginay’, also commonly known as Donga, the Amharic name for the stick fights) take place to train boys and young men and also to allow them to meet women.
However, Kalashnikovs are omnipresent and threaten to destabilize their society. Many ceremonies like weddings or funeral celebrations (Kilonga) look more like a military ceremony these days with a lot of Kalashnikovs and many gunshots. Even the stick-fighting events are accompanied with gunshots, sometimes deadly in case too much local beer was involved. As a result the Ethiopian government banned the stick fights, which now have to take place secretly and without presence of tourists.
In four weeks I only met a handful of tourists. This area is still quite untouched, and there are plenty of opportunities to see and experience the traditional life of the Suri tribe. The Suri people love to sing and dance, especially in full moon nights. If you are lucky you can see scarification, blood drinking ceremonies and other traditional rituals of the Suri people. All in all a wonderful experience.
If you are looking for a flexible, reliable and trustworthy company South Expedition Africa could be your choice. Especially if you are looking for off the beaten tracks or a tour operator who supports photo expeditions. The owner Nathaniel Taffere, helped always in any possible way to create a perfect logistic and to get the best local guides. The driver Gecho was great, a wonderful travel companion and advisor, and always driving very carefully and responsible. In summary, I had an amazing time and I would like to recommend to anybody planning to visit Ethiopia, especially people who are interested in photo expeditions and indigenous tribes.

Some thoughts on the Hamer “Bull-Jumping Ceremony”

Gert writes: 

As it is well described in the text, the Hamer still practice the annual “Bull Jumping Ceremony” (at different times in different locations) – and as described – during these ceremonies, the young girls allow the men to heavily beat them (as encouragement) with wooden sticks

This might sound harmless enough, but it isn’t – the place actually looks like a slaughterhouse because the girls are being beaten until they have deep, heavily bleeding gashes on their back. Over time, these gashes heal and create deep, thick welts/scars that are said to be “honorific scars”. Seeing Hamer women is something you are unlikely to ever forget – their backs are covered with enormous and multiple scars.

For NGOs it is impossible to work towards change as proclamation no. 612/2009 distinctly prohibit international organisations to work in any area that addresses “equal right, women’s, disabled or children’s rights, abolition of harmful practices, rights-based approaches, etc”.

The only ones who could make a difference are actually tourists…..however, a discussion with the representative of the Ministry of Women’s and Children Affairs revealed some interesting and disturbing insights.

Some of the Hamer elders would actually be prepared to abolish the practice of beating women as they realise that this is a harmful tradition that has no place in a modern-day society – even in their own. However, they will and cannot abolish this practice as it an important source of income: Tourists come for the explicit purpose to witness this ritual and handsomely pay for it !!!! I can just imagine: Back home, they go on the street carrying placards in favour of women’s rights, and on holidays they travel to Ethiopia and take loads of camera shots during the “beating of the women” ceremony. Humans are strange animals, indeed !

I admit, I am probably  overly critical but I think the Bradt Guide could do more to highlight the controversy and to encourage visitors to make a difference? That way, tourism could become some positive factor.