Arcadia Expeditions specialises in immersive historical and cultural journeys to some of the world’s most inspiring and exotic destinations.
For humanity, perhaps the greatest unanswered question is…where did we come from? Where is the home of our earliest ancestors, the so called ‘cradle of humanity’? “If you imagine our human origins as a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle”, says palaeontologist Patricia Kramer, “then today we have maybe eight pieces near the east edge of Africa and four pieces from the south. We can grasp a bit of the pattern, but we’re nowhere near seeing the whole picture.” During this expedition, we will explore part of that jigsaw – the remarkable biosphere of the World Heritage Listed Omo River Valley and Lake Turkana.
However, our journey will not be one of simply ‘stones and bones’. As well as exploring the very distant past, we will also experience the very vibrant present. Since the time of Lucy 3.2 million years ago, this ancient realm has been constantly inhabited by hominids. Today’s custodians are the eighteen or more seasonal nomadic tribes known as ‘The People of the Omo’. It is through their lands we will first travel, and it is in their villages we will stay and experience their myriad tribal customs and traditions.
This is an ‘expedition’ in every sense of the word. Commencing in Addis Ababa with a private viewing of the remains of the world famous bone fossils of Lucy, we fly to the border region of Ethiopia and Sudan, where we meet our expedition team and vehicles and head south into the remote Omo Valley. Travelling on the western side of the river, our route takes us through the spectacular wilds of the rarely-visited Omo National Park.
Then, by a specially arranged permit, we cross into Kenya at an unused border post manned specially for our crossing. We are the only company to offer this cross-border expedition, the logistics of which are considerable, with our supplies and safari vehicles traveling more than a 1000km across the deserts of northern Kenya to meet us at the border in order to transport and provision the expedition unsupported for the next ten days.
We explore the Sibiloi National Park on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana – the largest saline desert lake in the world. We have then arranged an exclusive stay at the Turkana Basin Institute and Koobi Fora, home to the Arcadia-supported Leakey Foundation, where the Leakey family made some of their most extraordinary finds. The region’s wildlife includes thousands of Nile crocodile and hippo and from our lake side camp, we explore a remote volcanic island by boat. We then cross the Chalbi desert where we meet the Turkana and Gabbra People, before reaching journeys end – Lake Paradise – where we set up a luxury camp for some well-earned R & R and game viewing.
Charlie was born in the Seychelles and came to Kenya at the age of four. His parents had bought a beautiful farm in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Huge cedar forests bordered the farm and he and his sisters spent many hours playing and learning about the flora and fauna of Kenya. After a short service in the Royal Navy, he worked for his brother-in-law Robin Hurt, helping to arrange safaris in the Sudan. In 1976 Charlie guided his first safari. He was handed some keys to a safari vehicle and instructed to find camp in Amboseli at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro in time for dinner. Having last been there as a child, it was a true adventure. He then worked as apprentice to Miles Burton, a well-known safari operator. Since 1981, Charlie and his wife Mouse have been leading tented safaris across Kenya and beyond.
“We truly believe this is the very best way to see Africa, where you fully immerse yourself in the wilderness, leaving not a trace behind. Starting your days waking up in the cool, crisp dawn for a quick cup of tea or coffee before venturing out to find wildlife and ending them by the fire with the sounds of the African bush all around you is simply good for the soul.”
Charlie’s interest in all things on safari make him an enthusiastic guide. His infectious fascination with everything from the huge elephants to the smallest harvester ants will give you a better understanding of the wilds of Africa. His knowledge of and affinity with the tribal peoples of Eastern Africa makes Charlie the perfect guide to explore remote regions of the Omo and Turkana.
Voted the most luxurious hotel in Africa four years in a row, the centrally-located Sheraton is the perfect place to base our explorations of the Ethiopian capital. The rooms of the grand hotel are decorated with timeless African elegance using mahogany furnishings and shutters that open up on spectacular views of the Entoto Mountains.
Buska Lodge is an unpretentious eco-lodge offering travellers the best accommodation in the Omo Valley region. This atmospheric hotel overlooks the plains of Buska Mountain and has been constructed to blend beautifully into the natural surroundings.
Lake Paradise & Uaso Nyiro River
Our luxury camp will be set up on the shore of Lake Paradise and by the Uaso Nyiro River in Shaba Game Reserve. The centre of the camp is the mess tent with its bar and dining table adjacent to a campfire, where we spend the evenings under the stars. Samburu warriors stand guard at night to keep us safe from the larger game.
Fully immerse yourself in one of the world’s great game reserves on our tailor made mobile tented safari. Start your days waking up in the cool, crisp dawn for a quick cup of Kenyan coffee before venturing out to find wildfire on the savannah and end by the campfire with the sound of the African bush all around you.
The island paradise of the Lamu archipelago is well off the beaten tourist track, offering many opportunities for adventure, fun and relaxation. The enchanting Tusitiri Dhow has been carefully restored and is today a majestic and comfortable vessel ideal for ideal for sailing these pristine waters.
On arrival at Addis Ababa Airport, you are met at the arrivals gate by an Arcadia representative. You will be then transferred by private vehicle to the Sheraton Hotel.
At 6pm, your Expedition Leader Charlie McConnell will host a group meeting and welcome drinks with your Ethiopian Guide followed by a welcome dinner at the delightful Stagioni Restaurant.
Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa | Meals: D
This morning we visit the National Museum of Ethiopia and meet the Curator, who will take us on a special paleoanthropological tour of the early Humanoids including the famed Lucy skeleton and Selam, a three-year-old female estimated to date to 3.3 million years ago.
After morning tea in the garden, you will then be at leisure to explore the rest of this fascinating museum. The collections include weapons, musical instruments and jewellery from ancient and medieval periods, as well as regalia and memorabilia from former rulers including Emperor Hailie Selassie. The museum also houses Ethiopia’s most famous art from traditional to contemporary works.
After lunch we visit Trinity Cathedral, Ethiopia’s largest Orthodox Church, which is decorated in ecclesiastical paintings outlining episodes of Ethiopia’s history. Our history fix is topped off by a visit to former palace of Haile Selassie, now home to the Ethnological Museum of craft, culture and art.
Later this afternoon we will visit Sholla Market, a maze of alleys filled with friendly traders selling vegetables, spices, frankincense and traditional dresses alongside Chinese T-shirts and jeans. Here you are overwhelmed by the sights and smells of the real Ethiopia and leave with a bag filled with precious experiences and perhaps an authentic Ethiopian woven basket or Jebena (coffee pot).
After a rest at the hotel, we will dine at one of Addis Ababa’s finest restaurants, 2000 Habesha, and sample the best of Ethiopia’s delicious cuisine.
Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa | Meals: B, L, D
Today we fly by charter aircraft two hours south west to Amaa airstrip where we will be met by our vehicles and drive to Tulgit via Dima with lunch along the way. We arrive at our camp set up in the grounds of a Mission at Tulgit and have dinner.
Camp, Tulgit Mission | Meals: B, L, D
After breakfast we proceed to the lands of the Surma or Suri people – a collective name for the Chai, Timaga, and Suri Baale who all speak South East Surmic. The Suri are a self-conscious and culturally proud people, with, among others, a liking for saginé ceremonial duelling or stick fighting that serves as a right of passage for young men. They share a similar culture with the Mursi and carry on traditional rivalries with neighbouring tribes such as the Nyangatom. After lunch we drive to Kibish and set up camp in the grounds of the Government Office close to the river.
Camp, Kibish| Meals: B,L,D
We spend another day with the Surma, camped in their village. We will see a number of their cultural and day to day activities including the taking of blood from their cows. The Surma have two distinctive features of their society by which they have become known to outsiders – ceremonial duelling (sagine) and the large pottery discs or ‘plates’ (debhinya) which are worn by women in their lower lips. Young women beautify themselves for marriage by having their bottom teeth removed and their bottom lip pierced, then slowly stretched, so as to insert larger and larger circular clay plates. This disfigurement by Suri and Mursi women is what makes them so sought after by photographers and tourists alike. However, the bodily disfigurement likely originates in the time of the slave trade, where after constant raiding, the woman chose to self-mutilate to render themselves worthless.
Camp, Kibish| Meals: B,L,D
After breakfast and a final walk through the village we drive to the Adicas region to meet the Dizi people.
Camp, Adicas| Meals: B,L,D
This morning we enter the Omo National Park and drive to the location of our campsite for the next two nights. After lunch we will head out on a game drive along the edge of the Omo River, which defines the park’s eastern boundary.
The Omo National Park was created to protect its extensive wilderness area and prolific plains wildlife. It is known for its large herds of Common Eland and its elephant conservation.
Camp Omo National Park HQ | Meals: B,L,D
We spend a full day exploring the park with a picnic lunch out on safari. It is likely that we will come into contact with the Nyangatom warriors who graze their cattle in the park. The park is the last strong hold for several species of wildlife, as the riverine forests provide good wildlife habitat including 75 mammals and 325 birds including Buffalo, Giraffe, Burchell’s Zebra, Lesser Kudu, Topi and Oryx, as well as predators (Cheetah, Lion, Leopard) and primates (including de Brazza’s and Colobus Monkeys). Birds include the Blue-Breasted Kingfisher, Red-Naped Bush Shrike, Bare-Eyed Thrush, Boran Cisticola, Violet Wood Hoopoe and Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-Weaver among others.
Camp Omo National Park HQ | Meals: B,L,D
This morning drive to Kangatie in the centre of Nyangatom tribal territory. The Nyangatom are predominantly pastoralists, but also practice dry farming during the wet season and flood cultivation along the West Bank of the lower Omo and Kibish rivers during the dry season. They are often in dispute with the Surma and the Mersi over cattle. Young men between the ages of 16 and 20 undergo an initiation ceremony, which involves an animal sacrifice. This is a prerequisite for the later taking of a human life. The status of a warrior is determined once a man has killed his first enemy, an event he will mark by notching a scar on his right shoulder or chest. After his first killing, he begins carrying a weapon. His clan sponsor gives him a spear and other weapons, a stool that serves as a headrest, and a pair of sandals.
Camp Nyangatom Village | Meals: B,L,D
After breakfast we will cross the Omo river by canoe to Omerate where you will be welcomed by your new drivers, who take us to the village of Turmi. On the way, we will stop at Korcho to visit the least populated tribes of Omo valley called the Kara tribes. Like the Hammar people, bull jumping is the Kara’s initiation rite. It is an extraordinary ceremony only carried out after a good harvest, where bulls are lined up and then the young men run across their backs to show that that they are worthy to their bride’s family. The Kara people share traditions and rituals with surrounding people like the Tsemai, Ari and Bena. We drive on to Turmi for our last night in Ethiopia at the wonderful Buska Lodge.
Buska Lodge | Meals: B,L,D
By special permit, we then cross into Kenya to explore the eastern shore of Lake Turkana – the largest saline desert lake in the world. After passing through customs, which involves showing your passport and raising the wooden pole blocking the road, we will be met by Charlie’s wife ‘Mouse’ and her team who will set up a lovely picnic lunch with views over Lake Turkana. We will then visit a village of the Dassenach people, where we witness one of their famous tribal dances.
By private arrangement we stay overnight at the Turkana Basin Institute and explore a current dig site, the new home of the Leakey Family’s field studies. The world-renowned Leakey family, along with many other scientists, have led research teams here for years, finding plenty of fossils and unravelling the mysteries of the development of mankind, as well as ancient wildlife. The facility provides accommodations, logistical support, research laboratories and storage for scientists. This unique region has produced numerous hominid and animal fossils, including fragments of Australopithecus. The deposits of human vertebrae, fauna and paleo-environmental evolution shed light on the earliest stages of the origins and development of Homo Sapiens of Africa, while the discovery of ancient stone tools offers evidence of the oldest known technical activities of prehistoric beings.
The Institute is part of The Leakey Foundation, an Arcadia sponsored project (financially supported by Arcadia Expeditions) that runs a community outreach programme supporting mobile clinics, bursaries and scholarships. We stay at the simple accommodation of the Institute, with beds put out on the verandas of the main buildings with mosquito nets for coolness. Together with an expert guide, we will visit the displays in the field, where extensive paleontological finds have been made, including the discovery of Paranthropusi Boisei in 1969.
The Lake Turkana Basin Institute | Meals: B,L,D
Driving south today, we will cover a short distance before coming to Sibiloi National Reserve and Koobi Fora, the lake side camp where Richard and Maeve Leakey made some of their most extradentary finds. The human and prehuman fossils found in this area include Australopithecus Anamnesis, Homo Habilis / Rufolfensis, Paranthropus Boisei, Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens. Now a National Museums of Kenya site, it has some impressive mammalian, molluscan and other fossil remains.
The simple rooms are built on the edge of the lake, on a sand spit and are open with beds and mosquito nets to collect as much breeze as possible. These buildings are not in excellent condition, but quite serviceable. Here you will meet your safari crew who will look after the kitchens and the mess for the remainder of the expedition. Peter our cook is an expert in his own field and can produce the most delicious meal from an old tin box and a saucepan.
The finds in the area also range to giant fossils of ancient game and aquatic animals, remnants of a time when the climate of these lands was radically different. The regions wildlife includes thousands of Nile crocodile and hippo, which we will observe from our lake side camp.
Koobi Fora Cottages | Meals: B,L,D
Leaving in the morning, we will drive south again as we visit the petrified forests for a picnic lunch on the way. We will spend the next two nights camping in the Lake Turkana Campsite. This is set up on the southern edge of a small bay, protected from the strong winds that prevail here. Our small, simple camp will be set up ready for us on arrival by the crew. We will sleep in canvas dome tents and our mess will be a large awning under a tree. There are bucket shower tents and eco style safari loos behind our tents as well. Our safari crew will look after all of our needs.
In the morning (weather dependent) we will take a boat trip to visit Central Island and see the volcanic lakes in this rocky outcrop. Huge numbers of crocodiles and flamingos can sometimes be seen here. Following a picnic lunch on the beach, there is a chance for some fishing on the edge of the lake, casting out to catch fresh fish for dinner.
Camp Lake Turkana | Meals: B,L,D
Leaving the lake today, we will have a day’s drive south and east across the Chalbi Desert. This is an old lake basin which is believed to have dried up thousands of years ago. As we are leaving the park, we will start to find plenty of tribal people to visit on the way, mainly Turkana and Gabbra people. Leaving the park border, we will drive to Ileret and meet some of the Dassenach people.
We will need to resupply with what we can from the local villages and markets. A very arid area, the nomadic tribal people need to visit the few water holes that are around. We will spend a night camped next to one of these and see the people as they come in to water their stock. Our camp will be set up with the help of the crew under the shade of some trees and in the evening, we hope to witness a tribal dance. A few Oryx, Ostrich and even the endangered Grevy’s Zebra can sometimes be seen here.
Camp near Turkana or Gabbra Village | Meals: B, L, D
Leaving the desert today with a picnic lunch, we will drive east to Marsabit. A verdant green volcanic mountain raising up out of the deserts that surround it, the sublime oasis of Mount Marsabit makes for a wonderful contrast to the deserts of Turkana. With three craters, each with freshwater lakes, it is not surprising the largest one is called Lake Paradise. As we enter the National Park we will find plenty of Buffalo, Impala, Dikdik and monkeys, including Baboons, Sykes, Colobus and Vervets to welcome us. Elephant have also made the lush forest their home. Here we will find a comfortable camp ready for us on the edge of Lake Paradise.
A luxury camp with larger tents and a lovely mess tent will be transported from Nairobi and be set up exclusively for us on the edge of the crater lake. We will spend the middle day exploring this remote park and its wonderful wildlife and birdlife. On the outskirts of the park, slightly down the eastern side of the mountain are some singing wells, where Samburu people bring their cattle to water and if they are in action, we will go and visit these.
Camp Lake Paradise | Meals: B, L, D
Leaving our camp this morning, we will head south and west with a picnic lunch. Arriving at the edge of the Mathews Mountains, we will spend the night near Nguranet, a small trading post between the edge of the desert and the mountains. Lovely freshwater springs come out of these hills and nomadic pastoralists will bring their cattle here to water. We will see some Samburu people here with their very ornate colours and bead work. Their tribal history is often told in songs and dance and we will hope to see some dancing.
The Samburu, just like the Maasai, are a semi-nomadic people. The Samburu are still very traditional and have not parted with old customs in comparison to the Maasai. Cattle, as well as goats, sheep and camels, play a vital role in the Samburu way of life and culture. The Samburu are highly dependent on their livestock for survival. Their diet comprises mostly of milk and occasionally blood from their cows.
This will be our last night in our lightweight camp.
Camp Nguranet Meals: B, L, D
We drive south to Shaba Game Reserve where your private tented camp will be ready in an idyllic spot beside the Uaso Nyiro river. The mess tent has a spectacular view over a bend in the river. Cool breezes from the water make this a lovely place to sit and rest in the afternoons. Well known for its Elephant and many northern game species such as Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra, Kudu, Gerenuk and Reticulated Giraffe, most big predators including Lion can be seen in Shaba or nearby Buffalo Springs National Reserve. A wonderful walk down the river in the evenings and some rock climbing through a rocky gorge make Shaba a lot of fun.
We will spend three days here in this remote and spectacular wilderness, mainly watching out for wildlife and visiting the Borana people, who often take their goats and cattle to the water holes inside the crater of Magado.
Luxury Camp Uaso Nyiro River Meals: B, L, D
Leaving Shaba today, you will take a schedule flight down to Nairobi, in time to connect with your homeward flight, or continue with your next adventure.