Simien Mountains National Park: the Unique Wilds of Ethiopia

simien mountains

Simien Mountains National Park is a dramatic wilderness in the north of Ethiopia. Its jagged landscape, complete with soaring peaks and hidden valleys, is home to alien flowers and rare creatures. It is the perfect adventure for visitors who love trekking, nature, and stunning views.

Read on to discover the best things to see at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, how to get there, and where to stay.

Where is Simien Mountains National Park?

The Simien Mountains (also spelled Semien mountains) are located in the Ethiopian Highlands, often referred to as “the Roof of Africa”. The highest point in the country is the mountain Ras Dashen at 4,550 m, found within the park.

Simien Mountains National Park is located close to the town of Debark, where the park headquarters and main entry point can be found.

Debark is on the main road between the historic cities of Gondar and Axum, within a few hours’ drive of each. There are also buses that run between these two cities that stop at Debark.

What to See in the Simien Mountains

Simien Mountain National Park is like nowhere else on earth. The volcanic rock of the Ethiopian plateau has been eroded by the forces of nature over millions of years to create a maze of rocky peaks and ravines. This unique environment is home to equally unique flora and fauna. These inhabitants and the scenery are the biggest draws for visitors.

The best way to see the park is to go on an organized trek from Debark.

The Rugged Landscape of the Roof of Africa

The Simien Mountains region has diverse terrain. Travelers trekking out from Debark will first pass through eucalyptus groves and highland pastures in the steep-sided valleys. From there on, there are sheer cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and escarpments offering incredible views over the lowlands.

Overlooking it all is the imposing peak of Ras Dashen. Important things to know about this mountain include:

  • It is the highest point in the Horn region of Africa (and tenth highest on the whole continent)
  • It offers views over more than 10,000 km²
  • The trek from Debark to Ras Dashen and back takes at least 9-10 days
  • The ascent of the mountain itself tends to take 2 hours or more

Anyone can attempt the climb, but it is only recommended for serious trekkers.

There are many shorter treks available for travelers who would rather not make the climb and the view of the mountain itself can still be enjoyed by all.

Rare Flora and Fauna of the Simien Mountains

Simien Mountain National Park is home to a number of rare plants and animals, some of which are endemic to the region (i.e. they cannot be found anywhere else). Lucky travelers can spot the following:

  • Walia ibex — this endangered species, related to the goat, can only be found in the mountains of northern Ethiopia. They are known for their large horns.
  • Gelada monkey — also known as the “bleeding heart monkey” for the bright pink patch of skin on its chest. These baboon-like monkeys are only found in the Ethiopian Highlands, where they can be found in large groups.
  • Ethiopian wolf/Simien fox — endemic to Ethiopia, this creature is technically neither a wolf nor a fox (although it resembles both), but is closely related to dogs and wolves. Its red fur is beautiful; however, there are very few left in the wild. Travelers may get lucky and spot one while exploring the plateaus of the Simien Mountains.
  • Giant lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) — a plant that only grows in Ethiopia. With their large leaves spiking out like a bizarre palm tree, they seem like a relic from prehistoric times.

Other animals native to the Simien Mountains include:

  • African buzzards
  • Baboons
  • Bushbucks
  • Caracals
  • Colobus monkeys
  • Common duikers
  • Hyenas
  • Lammergeyer (bearded vulture)
  • Leopards
  • Verreaux’s eagle

How to Visit Simien Mountains National Park

Most international travelers arrive by airplane to the capital city of Addis Ababa. From here, domestic flights can be taken to Gondar or Aksum, from which the Simien Mountains can be reached by road.

The first step to visiting Simien Mountains is to obtain the correct documentation to enter Ethiopia. For most nationalities, this means applying for an Ethiopia eVisa.

The Ethiopian eVisa is the quickest and easiest way to get your application processed. Before applying, it is best to check that you meet the requirements for an Ethiopia online visa.

Once you have arrived in northern Ethiopia, the following information is very useful for organizing your visit to Simien Mountains National Park.

When is Simien Mountains national park open?

The national park is open 8.30 am–8.30 pm from Monday to Friday and 8.30 am–12.00 pm at the weekend.

How much do Simien Mountains National Park tickets cost?

Visitors must first go to the National Park Office in south Debark, where they can obtain permits to enter the park. Visitors are not permitted in Simien Mountains National Park without a trained scout, whose instructions must be followed while in the park. A scout can be hired at the park office.

Travelers who want a more in-depth tour of Simien Mountains National Park can also hire an official guide.

The entrance fee for foreigners is 90 birr (US$2.94), with an extra 40 birr (US$1.32) for each day of camping. The scout’s fee is 150 birr (US$4.91) per day.

The total cost of trekking in the Simien Mountains can vary, depending on what you want. Optional extras include:

  • An official guide (400 birr/US$13.08 as of July 2019)
  • A cook (300 birr a day for 1–3 people)
  • Mules (200 birr per mule per day + 200 birr for the mule man)

Where to stay in Simien Mountains National Park?

There are 2 hotels in the nearby town of Debark, which are aimed specifically at visitors to Simien Mountains National Park:

  • Hotel Simien
  • Hotel Simien Park

Visitors may also choose to stay in Gondar to take advantage of its tourist attractions and history and drive up to the national park.

While trekking through the park, many visitors choose to camp. However, there are also lodges in the Simien Mountains offering basic accommodation scattered throughout the park for travelers who don’t mind paying a bit more for a real roof over their heads. The Simien Lodge, which advertises itself as “the highest hotel in Africa” is one such example.

Before staying in the wilds of Simien Mountains National Park, visitors should make sure they have had all the vaccines needed to travel to Ethiopia.