Close up of women's dresses from Hamer tribe, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Omo Valley

The Omo Valley is a remote south-western enclave of Ethiopia, home to some of Africa’s oldest and most fascinating tribes.

The Omo River is the life-line of the region, meandering from north to south where it empties into Lake Turkana on the Kenyan border. The region is home to at least sixteen distinct ethnic groups all of which have retained traditional lifestyles due to the remoteness of the Omo Valley.

Hamer Tribe Dancing, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Omo Valley, Ethiopia

A little more about the Omo

The environment of the Omo is harsh yet beautiful and the diversity of the people and their traditions is unsurpassed anywhere else in Africa. Fiercely proud of their tribal identity, the people of the Omo express their cultural individuality through vibrant jewellery, make up, body painting, body scarification and elaborate lip and ear plates.

In addition, each tribe conducts distinct and fascinating ceremonies, ranging from stick-fighting to bull jumping and elaborate dance ceremonies that can last for months.

Local people by Omo River, Ethiopia
Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Gibe Dam project

The Ethiopian government has big plans for this region, harnessing the awesome power of the Omo river to provide irrigation for massive commercial farms (under the auspices of Turkey and China) and to generate hydro-electric power on an unprecedented level. The last dam to be built, Gibe III generates more kilowatts of electricity than Kenya currently uses and there are two more dams still to be implemented. Ethiopia is positioning itself as the key provider of power to the countries of north and east Africa but at what cost to the lifestyles of the people of the Omo?

The annual flooding of the Omo River allows many of the ethnic groups in the valley to adopt a practise called ‘flood-retreat cultivation’. When the river floods and the water subsequently recedes, silt-rich soil is left behind which is particularly fertile ground for growing staple crops like sorghum, maize and millet. Since the dams have been implemented, the river no longer floods and so the people are already migrating away from the river to find soils that offer more sustenance.

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Kara, Body Paint, Ethiopia
Omo Valley, Ethiopia


In some areas, tourism in the Omo has developed a reputation for being exploitative and voyeuristic. Steppes has stopped short of banning cameras from the trips we run in the Omo, however, our guides on the ground are at pains to limit their use and ensure that any photographs acquired are done so consensually.

On arrival into local villages or tribal encampments, we ask that cameras remain concealed until you have spent time getting to know your hosts. There will be occasions when taking photographs is simply not permitted and so we ask that you comply with the advice given by our guides.

Mursi girl, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Tides of Change in The Omo Valley

“The hum of affable conversation is in the air as the village of Dus gathers to prepare for a ceremony. The Kara tribe love nothing more than a raucous dance-off and I have been invited to witness the pre-party preparations. The men are putting on make-up. They have exchanged their coveted AK47s for tiny paint brushes and sticks which they use to delicately apply a mixture of ash, clay, crushed charcoal and ochre to themselves and to each other.”

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What do you really love doing? We curate your itinerary especially for you.

Dassenach, Dimi, Ethiopia

Meet the Dassenach

Visit the crocodile-hunting Dassenach people, staying at a mobile camp nearby, in the Omo Valley.

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Kara, Body Paint, Ethiopia

Meet the Kara

Meet the colourful Kara people of the Omo Valley, renowned for painting their bodies with a tapestry of colours.

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Local people by Omo River, Ethiopia

Explore by Boat

Explore the Omo Delta by boat, visiting isolated and rarely encountered communities in this culturally rich and varied region.

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Mursi girl, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Photography in the Omo Valley

Meet the local and tribes and spend time getting to know them, establishing a relationship with them. Then have the chance to photograph them in a respectful, non-exploitative fashion.

Suggested Holiday Idea

Cattle Drive, Awash, Ehtiopia
Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Ethiopia – Tribes of the Omo Valley

To travel through Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is to remind oneself that there are ways of life that still exist that are vastly different to our own. The Omo is renowned for the vibrancy and distinctiveness of its people.
This trip opens up access to these fascinating communities, using a culturally sensitive approach that focuses on promoting responsible tourism, whilst also enabling profound cultural experiences.

5 days

from £4,200 pp

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Lale's Camp, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Lale's Camp, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Lale's Camp

Arriving at the camp by boat is an impressive start to your stay at Lale’s and sets the foundations for a camp that puts authentic experience above anything else. The setting is superb, overlooking the Omo river with a multitude of birds frequenting the fig trees that provide the camp’s shelter.

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Meet our experts

A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.

Illona Cross

Born in a small South African town, I have always followed my passion for nature and discovery. After studying Nature Conservation in Pretoria, I was one of the first women to complete a very tough cadetship in the Natal Parks Board. It was here where I cut my teeth in African wildlife management.

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Why Choose Steppes?

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