Most people visit the awe inspiring Simien Mountains for the scenic views and trekking. But the Simien Mountains are also famous for their wildlife, especially the friendly gelada monkeys, which can be seen all year round. Many people go for 2-3 days to the Simien Mountains, which are located in north-west Ethiopia.
But it is also easy to do a day trip from the nearby city of Gondar or Debark. With all the wet and cloudy weather, a day trip was the option that was taken, to get a taste for the place.
The Simien Mountains
With an early start of 7am, the weather on the drive to the park entrance seemed promising, with the sun shining and scenic views. Upon arrival after a few hours drive, trying to avoid the animals being herded along the roads, you arrive at the uninspiring gateway town of debark, to pick up a guide and scout.
The scout is needed to protect against wild animals, and maybe aggressive villagers within the park. But all people within seemed friendly enough.
After a 30 minutes drive ascending higher into the mountains to the park entrance, you suddenly find yourself up in the clouds and all visibility vanishes to about 30 metres view. With another 30 minutes or so driving, and heavy rain starting, the possibility of any proper view of the Simien Mountains disappears.
Hopping out of the car to take a quick 30 minutes walk, the mist surrounds you and the trail is slippy with mud. Deciding to take refuge in a nearby lodge at 3200 metres altitude, to try wait out the rain, all hope goes away of any view to be had.
But not all is lost on the trip, as the rain subsides a little, the mist is still all around, but a decision is made to drive in the car for a while, further into the mountains and see what happens. Soon enough, the guide stops the car after hearing the sound of gelada monkeys, and we exit to hike a little down the side of the mountain.
What we discover next is something you would never forget. Appearing through the mist, a large group of around 50 gelada monkeys makes it’s way into the open. Further down the mountain the sounds of more monkeys can be heard.
Monkeys generally have a bad reputation of being cheeky and aggressive. But not the gelada monkeys, they are very friendly and sociable. It is an experience that will not be forgotten, as they wander around you, jumping and talking to each other, with gawks and grunts.
The young ones cheekily play, as the adults pick through each others skin to remove fleas.
As they slowly move along, further down the mountain, you can trek behind them into the mist. Time freezes as you become lost in the moment. Slowly approaching them, you can get within 2-3 metres away, and sit among them and observe. Watching these fascinating animals, one becomes in awe of nature at it’s most raw.
Spending 2 hours following, sitting among them, then following again, as they disappear in and out of the mist like a dream, one soon forgets about the Simien mountains themselves. Of course seeing the mountains would have been good, but with all the mist around it added to the whole atmosphere of the experience, and you would be glad to have the same.
Time soon passes quickly, and with the rain starting again, and dark approaching, it’s time to leave and head back down through the clouds and back to reality. It is an unforgettable trip to see the monkeys of the Simien mountains. Most people visit to see the mountains, but the highlight for me was trekking with the gelada monkeys in the mist.
If you want to visit yourself for trekking, the best time is around October just after the rainy season, as well as other parts of the year. During July-August at the peak of the rains, there is a lot of cloud, muddy paths and rain, making for a harder trek, and no guarantee of views. But you can visit anytime of year to visit the gelada monkeys, and with 15,000 of them there ,and a good guide, you have a good chance of spotting them.
Head to Gondar from Addis Ababa to arrange a trip. Prices vary between tour companies, but an average of 800-1000 birr per person for a day visit in a four wheeled drive, seems normal. But bargain hard as there is no fixed price. For 2 nights camping in the park, with cook and guide, is around 1500 birr a person. Try to join a group to get the cheapest price.