Simien Mountains National Park
The Simien mountains national park is a land of overwhelming beauty — towering waterfalls, jagged peaks, deep valleys, sudden precipices, frightening sheer cliffs, and a dramatic escarpment stretching for miles with astonishing views over the lush rugged lowlands below .
Brief History and Notable Facts
The Simien Mountains National Park is situated in the Semien (North) Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region and has been managed since 1944 even though it was formally established in 1966 and gazetted in 1969. In those times, the area was used as a royal hunting ground until wildlife conservation efforts became necessary due to the increasing pressure on land and resource use. In 1978, the Simien Mountains National Park became a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site
Today, the Simien Mountain massif is one of the major highlands of Africa and even boasts snow and ice on the highest points. The park itself has three general botanical regions — the cultivated and grazed lower slopes, the forested alpine regions ( up to 3600m), and the mountain grasslands of the higher lands. The dramatic landscape is a result of massive volcanic activity that occurred millions of years ago followed by erosion ever since. As one of Africa’s widest and most beautiful mountain ranges, the Simien Mountains comprise several plateaus, separated by broad river valleys, along with a number of peaks that rise above 4000 meters, like Ras Dashen, which is the highest peak (and the highest point of Ethiopia) at 4533 meters.
Visiting the Simien Mountains
Trips to the Simien Mountains start from 1 day long and run all the way up to 17 days, which will take you on a 175 km trek from Debark to Lalibela or Mekele. Your actual stay will depend on a number of factors, including how much time you have, how much money you have, how much you want to hike and how much you like camping in the wild.
For a short visit it is possible to make a day trip from Gondar, but it's better to stay overnight in Debark where budget accommodation is available or inside the park at the beautiful Simien Lodge or Limalimo Lodge. These lodges are a good base to go further afield as well.
A great alternative to experience the majestic Simien Mountains is at the Befiker Kossoye Lodge. This eco-lodge is situated 30 km north of Gondar. Not in the National Park but situated at an stunning site with great views and excellent service.
Wildlife Unique to Simien Park
While the Simien Mountains are home to a great variety of wildlife including klipspringers, bushbucks, duikers, hyenas and jackals, the altitudinal variation of the national park combined with its isolation has given rise to a number of rare and endemic species and a high level of biodiversity. The big three mammal species that can only be found in the Simien Mountains are the Ethiopian Wolf (also known as the Red Fox or the Simien Fox), the Walia Ibex, and the Gelada Baboon.
The Ethiopian Wolf
The Ethiopian wolf is the only wolf species known to inhabit Africa, it is also rarest and most endangered canid in the world. Unlike other wolf species, these wolves are solitary hunters. Their diet consists mainly of the giant mole rats and common grass rats that are abundant in their habitat. On the rare occasion, they will hunt cooperatively to bring down young antelopes, lambs, and hares. However, they are social animals and form packs of three to 13 individuals—this allows them to defend a territory with enough rodents to feed the entire group.
Ethiopian wolves are monogamous, which means that one male mates with one female exclusively. Mating takes place between August and November. The pack’s dominant female is the only one that will breed, and she gives birth only once a year. This wonderful creature is now so rare that it’s close to extinction with a population of between 400 to 520, and you will be very lucky to see one during your mountain trek.
The Walia Ibex (Capra walie)
This is a wild mountain goat found nowhere else in the world. Although also threatened with extinction, the Walia Ibex is sufficiently abundant on the Simien Mountains so there is a good chance of seeing one from the edge of the escarpments
Walia ibex actively move and feed only during the early mornings and late evenings. During the middle of the day, they are very lethargic and hide under dense brush to avoid the intense sun and predators. They are herbivores with diets consisting of bushes, lichens, grass, herbs, shrubs and creepers. It is not unusual to see them standing up on their hind legs to reach the tender, new leaves of bushes and shrubs. They live in herds consisting of five to twenty animals, but the older males tend to be more solitary except during mating seasons. Most of the herds consist of females and their offspring. They reach sexual maturity at one year of age. The only known predator for the adults is the hyena, but the young are also often hunted by a variety of fox and cat species.
Local legend states that the Walia were brought to the park by Saint Kidus Yared, a legendary Ethiopian musician credited with inventing the sacred music tradition of Ethiopia’s system of musical notation, who used them to carry his holy books.
The easiest parts of the park to spot them are exclusively in the Chennek and Bwahit areas where they thrive in hundreds.
The Gelada Baboon
The most common and most memorable of the rare three animals of Simien Mountains. Its local name is Chilada, but it is also known as the bleeding-heart monkey due to the distinctive red bald patch on its chest that changes colors based on their mood. Some also refer to it as the lion monkey due to the shaggy golden mane of hair on the male species. The Gelada Baboon feeds mainly on grass and roots, and live in elevations thousands of meters above sea level. They are known to live in social groups with each male having a harem of around half a dozen females.
Birdlife in thePark
Over 180 species of birds have been found in the Simien Mountains National Park. Of these, five are endemic to Ethiopia and a further 12 to Ethiopia and Eritrea. One of the most remarkable birds of the park is Red-billed chough, a small population of which live on the Gich plateau, apparently separate from the population in the Bale Mountains, the only other population of this species in the region. The park is particularly rich in raptors and vultures. The near threatened species: Pallid Harrier, Lammergeier and Augur Buzzard are generally common throughout the park. Other interesting species recorded are the Wahlberg’s, Verreaux, and Martial Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Rufous-Breasted Sparrow-hawk, Fox Kestrel, Cape Eagle Owl, Abyssinian Owl and Black stork recorded on passage.
The Bearded Vulture: Bone Crusher
One of the largest and most spectacular birds in Ethiopia, this enormous bird has a wingspan of over 2m. They are often seen soaring alone along high cliffs and rock outcrops looking for food. Clocked at speeds of 130km/hr and flying at staggering heights with barely a beat of its gigantic wings, they are a magnificent sight.
Bearded vultures wait patiently until other scavengers finish picking meat off a carcass to make their move. They soar down to retrieve a whole bone and return to the sky. From there, the bird picks up speed, pointing the bone forwards to reduce air resistance, and heads for an area of open rock. As it nears the dropping zone, the bearded vulture dips sharply to increase velocity and releases the bone to fall and break on the rocks below. They are incredibly accurate at estimating where and when to drop the bone – they usually hit an area of 4m2 while soaring at a height of 30 to 40m. As the bone shatters, they descend rapidly, turning into the wind, spreading its tail and flapping its wings to brake. They swallow the bones shards whole as their gastric fluids are so strong that they can easily digest bone. The bearded vulture is the only animal that feeds almost exclusively on bone (70-90% of their diet!)
General Facilitiesin the park
All the campsites in the Simien Mountains National Park offer sheltered cooking areas, enclosed drop toilets, a source of water, and huts for the rangers. Hikers settle in for the night in modern dome tents set up and taken down each day by the campsite porters. Some campsites have small shops where you can usually buy bread, eggs, and even sheep from the local communities around. There are three main campsites — Sankaber, Gich, and Chenek, all of which have cold showers. However, there are a number of smaller camps available for visitors who are trekking for longer than the standard Sankaber – Chenek route. Community lodges provide toilets, running water, Beds, and blankets, as well as simple Ethiopian foods. There are also options for more luxurious accommodation at some newer lodges.
Most treks in the Simien Mountains start from this point. The camp is nicely situated with some stunning sunset views and the toilets are well away out of sight from the camping area. It offers a real sense of wilderness with some stunning hidden viewpoints just a few minutes’ walks away from the tents.
This campsite is set in an open spot on a vast sloping plateau with views away from the main ridge and is set around half a mile away from Geech Village.Like Sankaber, the toilets are set well away from the main camping area for convenience and privacy. Eagles, ravens, and vultures are a common sight in this area
Situated just beside one of the roads running through the Simien Mountains, Chenek Camp usually has a lot more people around, which can sometimes give it a less of a sense of wilderness vibe. It, however, makes up for this by being a profuse wildlife setting where Gelada Baboon and Walia Ibex are common sightings.
This is the only lodge inside the national park. It comprises a series of tukels – Ethiopian name for the house. Each tukel forms two rooms, each spacious enough for two large single beds and with two bathrooms with shower. There are also family rooms comprising of two rooms and a bathroom.Simien Lodge serves as a fantastic base to trek in the Simien Mountains while its bar is the highest place in Africa to get a drink.
This new boutique 14 room lodge sits just outside the park. It offers luxurious accommodations with a variety of related activities, including luxury dining and hosting special events. Guests are also able to explore the unique flora and fauna of the Simien Mountains as well as take a short trek to visit the local surrounding communities. If you’d rather stay in, you can simply laze on the terrace or curl up in front of the log fire to keep the night cold at bay. All rooms are en-suite with spectacular views, while the restaurant and bar area provide ample relaxation spaces and offer spectacular views over the Simien Mountain landscape. Prices range from $180 to $460 per night, depending on the type of room and the season of your visit.
Simien Mountains National Park is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. The park is a nature lovers dream, rich in wildlife and offering unique sightings of very rare mammals that are endemic to Ethiopia. So if you’re ever planning a trip to Ethiopia, make sure to include a trip to these marvelous mountains. It promises to be an experience of a lifetime.