Simien National Park
Simien (mountains) National Park is in Ethiopia. It was one of the first sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978 and can be incorporated into the the famous Ethiopia Historical Circuit for trekking or for visit by car.
Buses travelling between Shire/Aksum and Gonder pass through Debark, the National Park's main town. Ask to be let off here. From Shire, Debark is 5-7 hours; from Gonder about 3 hours. To access the park itself you must buy a permit at the park office at the south end of town, and hire a scout (armed guard) from that office. The office can also arrange guides, cooks, camping and transportation if required. The entrance to the national park itself is around 1hr drive east into the mountains at Buyit Ras, where you must be accompanied by a scout, and show your permit, to be allowed to enter.
Within the National Park, there is a road which can access some of the campsites and villages. 4WDs and lorries go through Sankaber, Geech and Chenek, although most visitors use mountain hiking paths to get around.
The Simien National Park contains Ethiopia's biggest and most spectacular mountain range, the Simien Mountains. Ras Dashen at 4553m is the country's highest peak, although the views from the Northern Escarpment are arguably a bigger draw, with rock faces falling away thousands of feet from summits like Inatye (4070m) and Imet Gogo (3960m). Wildlife is also an attraction of the Park. The Simien Wolf is the world's rarest canid and can be found in the mountains. The Gelada Baboon is indigenous and is a common sight on hikes. The rare Walia Ibex can be found in higher parts of the range. Birds include the lammergeier (bearded vulture), tawny eagle, and thick-billed raven.
Nearly all visitors to the Simien National Park come to hike through the spectacular mountain scenery. Hikes can be arranged at the park headquarters in Debark, where you must pay a basic park entry fee and hire a scout (an armed guard, who will likely speak only Amharic and little to no English). You can also hire english-speaking guides here as well as cooks, mules, and equipment, and buy food (though for greater culinary variety, most people stock up in Gonder/Aksum).
It is the essentials that are usually bought in Debark, the National Park's main town. A woven gabi (a kind of thick shawl) is useful for the cold mountain nights, and can be purchased at the local market. A few stores sell tinned food and bread; once on the mountain, (live) chickens and eggs can be bought from villagers. Maps are available at the park headquarters.
In Debark, The Simien Park Hotel, situated on the main road, offers reliable Ethiopian food. Once on the mountain, the only alternative to one's own supplies is the Simien Lodge, located at Buyit Ras, a few hours hike from Debark.
Both hotels mentioned will happily serve you a St. George beer or a delicious cup of Ethiopian coffee, even if you are not staying.
Visitors usually spend the first and last nights of their stay in Debark. There are a number of very basic low budget accommodations such as the Jasmine Hotel, Everlasting Pension and the Emit Gogo hotel (prices after bargaining 300 Birr pp, Jan2018) The main hotel is the Simien Park Hotel, situated on the main road. As of 2008, single rooms started at 35 birr, while doubles cost around 80 birr, but now in January 2018 start at 5000 Birr for a room. Slightly north of town, the Limalimo lodge is a new (opened 2016) luxury lodge, full-board costs (2018-19 season) for 2 people sharing from $255 in September to $370 in high season (October-April).
Inside the park itself, the Simien Lodge - the self-proclaimed 'Highest Hotel in Africa' - offers upmarket accomodation in tukels, or huts. A dorm bunk costs $31,a two-person tukel $135, and a four-person tukel $183. For trekkers, camping sites at Sankaber, Geech and Chenek are set one day's hiking apart. Dormitory beds are also available at these sites for a small fee. Arrange these at the park office when you get your permit.
As with entering, bus services between Gonder and Shire provide the only public means of getting out of the National Park.
Be sure to arrange transport out of the park before entering. There are no working phone lines in the park, so you can't call headquarters for a 4WD once you're in. Buses and trucks aren't allowed to pick up hikers. They'll ask for upwards of $200 to overlook this rule.