Sitting at a lofty altitude of 3,300 metres, Simien Lodge is the highest lodge in Africa and located within the breathtaking mountain landscapes of the Simien range National Park.
A 3 hour drive from Gondar and 22km from the nearest town, the lodge is positioned just inside the park entrance and within striking distance of the very best trekking opportunities, including the famous route to the peak of Mt. Dashen.
Opened in 2006, this is the only permanent accommodation available anywhere inside the park boundary. With its hot running water and hearty portions of food, Simien Lodge offers a very attractive alternative to camping, which can be very uncomfortable since Ethiopian tour operators are not known for their professional eye for detail when it comes to a night under the canvas.
Food & service
Both the bar and restaurant are attractively complimented by roaring log fires, which are lit in the evenings. The restaurant serves very decent food, while the bar offers some of the finer wines you’ll find on your travels in Ethiopia, including some palatable imports from South Africa. Occasionally, the local guides and staff break into spontaneous song and dance here – all adding to the ambience of a stay in the Simiens.
Its location is rather unusual in that it doesn’t take full advantage of the spectacular vistas to the north – one can only assume this is to limit impact on the aesthetic of the area. Meanwhile, the style is classically Ethiopian; not influenced by high design, rather more by practicality. While lodgings all over the country are not known for their flair in décor or architecture, we do feel it is an opportunity missed in this particular instance.
The twenty standard rooms, of traditional Tukul construction, are located away from the main restaurant/reception building and raised uphill facing the south-west, whilst the ‘safari suites’ look to the south-east. We prefer the standard rooms to the VIP rooms, finding them cosier and with better views due to their elevation. All provide miraculous and gratefully received hot showers as well as solar-powered underfloor heating and a plentiful supply of extra blankets for those crisp mountain nights.
With magnificent views of the Simien escarpment, enthralling local walks and nearby communities of Gelada baboons all features of the lodge, it’s an excellent option for those who want to experience the scenery and wildlife of the Simiens, but don’t wish to embark on the long treks through the park.
When Cox and King’s client Phil Brown visited the lodge, he conceived the idea to build a mini-factory locally to make log burning stoves out of cement. A log burning stove achieves several objectives. Firstly, the wood consumed is only 30% of that used on an open fire. Needless to say, wood has become a rare commodity in the Simiens and wood cutting is now banned.
Secondly, it reduces smoke in houses which causes eye infections like trachoma. Phil persuaded a friend to get her UK company Pastest Ltd to sponsor the manufacture of 1000 stoves to be donated to the poorest local families. Each stove costs about €10 to manufacture. However, the Director of the lodge, Nick Crane, knew that simply giving the stoves wouldn’t be enough, so he devised a scheme to ask the recipients to plant trees before receiving a stove. With the cooperation of the Agricultural Bureau, about 7000 trees were planted during the 2008 rainy season and 1000 families received their stoves.
The lodge is also proud to advocate for the welfare of local birdlife, and often liaises with wildlife societies regarding studies and conservation efforts.
A major venture at Simien Lodge has been improving transportation, and a 25 seater bus was brought – partially from donation income – and given to the local village committee. It has proved a dynamic source of both transit and income for the villagers.
Simien Lodge has, on many occasions, hosted and worked with Vision Aid Overseas, an innovative charity which aims to equip those struggling to see with glasses. Furthermore, the Lodge has – in partnership with a French rotary club – supplied a new eye hospital in Gonder with a cataract microscope, improving the diagnosis and treatment of eye issues in the region.