‘Tribal traits and traditions tour’ – Upper + Lower Omo Valley, South West Ethiopia

Three in a row with plates


11th - 22nd February 2020


Omo Valley, South West Ethiopia



Our photo tours focus on taking you to places, which have a unique appeal to photographers. We seek the beauty of landscape and seascape, the heritage of cultural diversity and the bustle of street and marketplaces. Effectively, photography through geography.

Our tours will seek the best moments, light and opportunities to compose shots, which reflect upon those inimitable moments. We feel it is of value to immerse ourselves in local culture through, not only people and landscapes, but also, where feasible, through culinary experience and accommodation, which is culturally sympathetic.

Interaction and understanding and, where feasible, spending time with people, makes moments and images more meaningful.

We pride ourselves on a ‘hands on’ approach, which enables clients to avail of sessions in which there are photo critiques and a chance to reflect on images captured whilst on tour. It is recommended that all participants bring laptops or tablets so that we can benefit from interaction and discussion, and ways of editing our images to get a result reflecting your own unique style.
‘It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see’.
Henry David Thoreau

The Omo valley of Ethiopia is part of the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region (SNNPR) and is a relatively isolated area of the country, renowned for its indigenous people or tribes. There are approximately 40 tribes in the region, many of who are living as they have existed for millennia. It is these tribes that we have come to photograph – in their villages, the bush, roadside and local markets

With tribal peoples photography is different. A very good local guide is necessary but here the precedent of paying villages and/or individuals is almost universal. This was something the tour companies seem to have instigated decades ago when tourism was in its infancy. We always try to give to the village instead of the ‘person’ because it is less discriminating, and we get our local guides to deal with payment to take pressure off the ‘photographers’.

We are sensitive to the impacts that tourism can cause, hence, we try to make visits sustainable and avoid promoting ‘zooification’! It is all a delicate balance and the local guides are often best in deciding which strategy to adopt.

In some cases when we have stayed in a ‘Suri’ village, for example, we wander around the village without a camera just to become a familiar sight. It is interpersonal skills, which make the moment count. And in that moment we want to capture light, colour, emotion, insight, character and spirit. We try to shoot in the golden hours or at least where there is shade from the intense African sun. In the right light, at the right time the ordinary becomes extraordinary and that is something to strive for. Extraordinary portraits, tribal life and street markets. Arbore, Hamar, Kara, Nyangatom, Bena, Ari, Suri, Dassenech, Tsemai – names of some of the tribes we will encounter. Villages are sometimes remote and this is what makes the photography rewarding. We travel in comfortable 4X4’s (Toyota land cruisers or similar) to get to some of the very best locations.

There is always a plan B if plan A has to be abandoned due to the occasional downpour, for example, making unsurfaced tracks impassible. It is also possible that we change the itinerary spontaneously if we hear of a local festival or celebration (bull jumping – hamar tribe, Stick fighting – Suri tribe).

Camping is in good quality tents with thick roll mats, a toilet tent and a cook to cater for all our meals. A bucket shower is also available. Ethiopia isn’t like Kenya or the countries to the south where ‘luxury tented camps’ are the norm, but the camping is comfortable and good. And you get to places others so not see!

You do need a sense of adventure for this trip. A good first aid kit with Malaria prophylaxis. I will send out a ‘things to bring’ list later. We will be off the beaten track but will not be doing any arduous ‘treks’ except to walk around, and to, some of the villages, which are short distances.

I first travelled to the Omo valley in 2000 and lived in Ethiopia from 2006-2010, hence I know the country well and love it. In the last few years, since living there, I have been back once every 12-18 months to capture those inimitable moments in the Omo and elsewhere.

Tour Details

Alternative Visions


Light Motives



Day 1 – Tuesday 11 Feb : Addis Ababa

Group members gather in the lobby of the Monarch International Hotel. Tour overview, briefing and Q&A session at 5:30pm. Overnight stay at the Jupiter International Hotel or Monarch Hotel

Day 2 – Wednesday 12 Feb : Addis Ababa - Jimma – Mizan Teferi

Flight (ET131 11.30- 12.25) Addis Ababa to Jimma. Drive from Jimma to Mizan Teferi. Overnight at Kashanin Hotel

Day 3 – Thursday 13 Feb : Mizan Teferi – Kibish

We start at 7:30am, heading to Kibish one of the larger villages of the Suri tribe. We drive through Bebeka, the largest coffee- plantation in Ethiopia. We arrive at Kibish in the late-afternoon. About 3/4 hours driving. Camping overnight. Evening photo shoot.

The Suri tribe are divided into three clans - Zilmamo clan settled around Tulgit, Chai clan around Kibish and Tirma clan around Jeba. The Tirma are more urbanized and have lost some of their traditions so we stay in Kibish, which is more convenient and has great access to the surrounding villages. The Suri are renowned for their facial and body painting, stick fighting (Donga) and the woman often have lip plates.

Day 4 – Friday 14 Feb Kibish – Koka cattle camp

At 6:00AM, we depart for the Koka area where there are a couple of cattle camps of the Chai clan. Cattle are integral to the life of the Suri tribe. We see the herders, young men, taking the cattle to water, milking and perhaps blood letting. Kibish is a village of the Chai clan. In the late afternoon we will visit a village and photograph life as they know it – body scarification is common. Occasionally we witness their renowned stick fighting (Donga). We camp overnight.

Day 5 – Saturday 15 Feb : Kibish – Kakuta (Plan B Kibish to Bonga)

An early morning village visit while the team breaks camp. At 8:30AM we drive to Kakuta, a remote and rarely visited tribal area which is home to the Nyangatom, who are said to be descendants of the Toposa tribe in South Sudan. At midday we arrive at Kakuta and in the afternoon we visit a village of the Nyangatom tribe. Here, we will have opportunities to photograph the tribe, who live in a climatically challenging area of the Omo (very arid). The women wear numerous strands of beads, which they build upon during life. Tribal adornment is an integral part of their culture. The area is semi arid and water has to be collected from rivers each day. Camp overnight in Kakuta. 105kms / 3 hours driving. Lunch boxes are provided to create time to photograph in the villages.

Day 6– Sunday 16 Feb: Kakuta – Dus (via Kangatan) – plan B Bonga to Sodo

Departing Kakuta at 5:00AM, we drive to Dus, the second of three village settlements of the Kara tribe. Sited on the banks of the Omo River, the Kara known for their creative and decorative body chalk painting. Many of the Kara women have pierced lips and insert nails, flowers and pins. In addition to various photographic opportunities in the village and on the banks of the Omo River, we may be able to photograph the ceremonial, communal dance performed by the people of Dus.. This is dusty and very atmospheric – photo opportunities abound. The Kara of Dus pride themselves as the best dancers in the Omo. Overnight camping.

Day 7 – Monday 17 Feb : Dus to Turmi (Plan B Sodo to Turmi)

We break camp, after an early morning visit to the Kara, and proceed to Turmi in the Eastern or Southern Omo. Visit Turmi market but if there is a chance of a Hamar bull jumping ceremony our itinerary will change. The Hamar women have high cheek bones, wear thick copper/metal necklaces, elaborate beads, goat-skins and their hair is often coloured with red ochre and butter. The men often use coloured clay on their hair and take real pride in their appearance and culture. Like all the tribes, they are very photogenic. Overnight at Buska Lodge www.buskalodge.com or Paradise Lodge

Day 8– Tuesday 18 Feb – Omorate (Plan B visit Kara today and Dassanech in the morning)

We drive to Omorate to visit a remote Dassanech village, close to the Kenyan border. Here, we visit their villages and photograph daily life. This is an arid area with very fine silt soils deposited by the Omo river in the past. After our visit to the Dassanech we go to Dimeka market and in the late afternoon we proceed back to Turmi, perhaps stopping at a Hamar village to get the best of the light in the golden hour. Overnight in Buska Lodge www.buskalodge.com or Paradise Lodge.

Day 9– Wednesday 19th Feb : Turmi – Arbore

We depart at 5.30am from Turmi, heading to Arbore located at the northern edge of Mount Buska. The Arbore women are absolutely stunning, with extremely dark skin and strong features. Prior to marriage the women have their heads shaved. They wear dark robes, colorful beads and their huts are constructed of tree branches and reeds. We will visit another Hamar village in the afternoon. We spend the night at Buska Lodge www.buskalodge.com or Paradise Lodge.

Day 10 – Thursday 20 Feb: Turmi – Konso via Key Afer market

We depart early to visit the Konso tribe via Key Afer market. Their stone-walled village fencings with narrow alleyways, iconic thatched huts, colourful skirts of their women, etc. In July 2011 the Konso Community was named as the 9th UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ethiopia for their nine-clan community structure, terraced fields and unique farming skills. Overnight at Kanta lodge

Day 11– Friday 21 Feb: Konso to Arba Minch

A morning visit to the Konso people and a boat trip on Lake Chamo, renowned for its crocodiles, hippos and peilicans. We then proceed to Arbaminch and visit the Dorze tribe. Overnight at Paradise Lodge.

Day 12 – Saturday 22 Feb

We go to the airport. - Flight (ET134 13.44-14.55) Arba Minch to Addis Ababa. Transfer to the Monarch Hotel and at 7:15pm, we have a farewell ending our 12 day photography tour of the Upper and Lower Omo Valley in South-West Ethiopia. Transfer to Bole airport and departure

 Services included

  • Meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner for the time of the tour. Meals may occasionally be local depending on location but for the most part the food is unsophisticated western fayre. Meals will also include water and soft drinks.

  • Entrance fees/permits for villages.

  • Transfer to and from Bole airport to the hotel.

  • Accommodation as stated but the nature of the destinations that we operate in may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that in countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Photo tour leaders and local guides.

  • Travel by Toyota land cruisers (4x4) or similar.

Tour Cost

The cost of the tour is US$6980.

To reserve a place there is a deposit of US$1000

The single supplement is US$250 and there is a surcharge of US$180 for domestic flights when flying to and from Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines ( it is highly recommended to fly with ET as ET discount internal flights substantially when flying long haul with them.

With other airlines there is an additional cost which will be added).

Payment is possible by Bank Transfer and also by PayPal, in this case an additional 5% will be added to cover the transaction fees (PayPal).

The final balance is due three months prior to departure.

Services not included/additional costs
  • Alcohol
  • Paying for photographs if there is a special ceremony – eg Bull Jumping or Stick fight. We will try, where negotiable, to pay a lump sum to the village but sometimes this is not possible.
  • I recommend approximately $150 per person for ‘photo fees’. This needs to be converted to small notes (Birr) on arrival in Addis Ababa. Some photographers take thousands of photos!!!
  • The local guides will handle payments.
  • You will also need some extra money for tips for drivers, cooks, guides etc.
  • Approximately US$15/20 per driver/guide/cook per day. This shared between all participants.

I will send out medical forms, gear lists, additional information on the tribes, travel liability forms at a later stage.

If you have any questions please contact me by email or telephone trevcole1@me.com +353872825851