Simien Mountains, Ethiopia – Solo Trekking
First of all, let me start by mentioning that this won’t be an entertaining article… my bad. It’s 100% informational, if you’ve landed here hoping to be entertained, than maybe check out How To Get Robbed or Don’t Ever Go to France.
The Simien Mountains in the Northern part of Ethiopia are however ridiculously difficult to solo trek, so I thought I’d give a little 101 to anyone that might end up in my shoes out here. If you are short of time and want a quick overlook at the budget, scroll to the bottom.
Okay first of all forget about everything until you get to Debarek, you can organize everything from here, feel free to totally ignore all tour agents and companies in Gondar, or Addis Ababa or elsewhere.
That being said, if you’re planning on bringing your own tent and sleeping bag, you might want to have that with you
already. You can also find places to leave your luggage in Debarak.
The park office is at the bottom of town (walk down the only paved road until you see it on your left), where you’re going to be approached by all sorts of guides and whatnot. The rules (at the moment) state that what you have to pay for are park fees and a scout.
Park fees: 90 birr/day
Scout: 150 birr/day
After this, everything is negotiable. They will insist that you need a guide, you don’t. They’ll insist that you need to take a private vehicle, you don’t…. and then they’ll go into the mules, cooks, and mule drivers… at this point, feel free to laugh.
I found the most difficult part was trying to figure out who to pay and how. I speak a bit of Amharic and even then it was complicated… Honestly, at this point, I would say ask one of the guides that’s in there with you. You’ll probably end up getting his pitch, but at least he’ll tell you how to do it.
Go to the bus station to ask about the public bus that goes into the park. At the office they tell you it doesn’t exist, but the bus station seems to have different information.
Most people skip the walk to the first camp, Buyit Ras, claiming that it’s boring and along a dusty road. Personally, I loved it. It is dusty, and you don’t see the park yet, but no other tourists go that way, so you meet some great locals who will walk with you, and you really appreciate the incredible change of scenery as the park opens up. Incidentally, it was the day where I spent the least amount of time on the road, so I’m not sure where the ‘all day on a dusty road’ info came from. Also, Buyit Ras is pretty close. We left well afternoon, and arrived well before dark… so I’m assuming it was about 4 hours. This was the end of my first day and also my favourite lodge. (remember to tell you’re scout ‘community lodge’ if you don’t want to spend oodles.
The Second day, I found no problem going from Buyit Ras, through Sankaber, (no food at that lodge) and up to Gich. You will be starting to get quite high by this point, so if you’re feeling the altitude, take it slow. The scout told me that this walk is normally about 8-9 hours, but we did it pretty leisurely in 5.
The Third day, you can easily make Chennek, despite what people may say. I was told 10 hours, and made it in under 5. Again my scout insisted it was because we were walking fast, but it didn’t seem that way. Other large groups that left Gich seemed to take more like 7 or 8 hours.
From Chennek, I headed out of the park. This was a HUGE pain. There’s a brutal monopoly on the vehicle that are allowed to pick up tourists. Technically, only the private vehicles are allowed… and they run it like a Mafia. You can, unofficially wander down the road and bribe your way into a Isuzu truck, hiding in the back… so they say, but that didn’t work for me. Instead, we walked out. The supposed 12 hr day from Chennek back to Buyit Ras took us around 7. This day was, indeed, mostly along the dusty road. However, it must be said that I appreciated this walk greatly. It was an excellent end to the park. You see, in Gich and Chennek, you will get hassled non-stop by the guides to pay 2000 Birr to get into the vehicles… so this walk was a nice and calm, hassle-free saunter with my scout.
On the last day, we hiked out from Buyit Ras and this was perhaps my favourite part (path wise) of the whole park.
So many people are walking into town, and you end up in the thick of it. But these aren’t the tourists, or the tour operators, these are the people that live in or around the park; these are the herders; the shepherds; the country-folk. If you want to truly experience what life is like in Ethiopia, than really, you must make this walk. Everyone walks together like they’re long lost friends, chatting about anything and everything (and you)… by the time you get closer to town, you’ll feel like you’re part of a great pilgrimage that’s a few hundred strong, many of whom do this multiple times a week!
At the time of writing, $1 USD = 20 Birr.
On the cheap (as of February 2015):
Park Entrance – 90 birr
Scout ———— 150 birr (can be shared by up to 5 people)
Pitch Tent (your own) – 10 Birr
Food (your own) —- 60 Birr ?
Water (to boil) —– 0 Birr
Bed @ lodge —————- 120 Birr
Food (Break, Dinner) 80 – 100 Birr
Water Bottle (2x) ———– 50 Birr
Total – 240 Birr per day + 70 Birr per night if you bring all your own things.
Budget for 240 Birr/day and 350/night and you should be golden.
3 day/2 night with own gear – 900 Birr or $45 USD
3 day/2 night without gear – 1400 Birr or $70 USD
Scout Food – 80-100/night
Guide ——– 500/day (1-5 people)
Pack Lunch – 50/day
Bus ———– 50 One way (???)
Isuzu (if possible) – 300 one way
Private Car —– 1000 – 2000 One way
Mule ——— 120/day
Mule driver – 150/day (???)
Cook ——— 250/day (???)
??? – Denotes possibility that price is off by +/- 10%
175 – Emergency rations (Tuna, Bread, Water)
240/day – Park entrance and scout
320/night – Bed, dinner, breakfast, scout’s dinner and breakfast (optional), tea,coffee, water.
150/night – Debarek hotel (it was luxurious and I bargained hard)
70 – Bus from Gondar (high season, it should be 40)
190 – Bus to Axum (might be able to get it for 180)
Overhead ——— 175 Birr
5 days @ 240 — 1 200 Birr
4 nights @ 320 – 1 280 Birr
2 nights @ 150 – 300 Birr
Bus to ————- 70 Birr
Bus away ——— 190 Birr
Total 3,215 Birr or 160 $ USD
Hope this was helpful and you find it well worthwhile to solo trek the Simien Mountains. They are beautiful and unforgettable. But honestly, before you leave, check out something that might be a little more interesting to read.