-The fee for the church entrance was raised to 50 USD
-Golden gate restaurant does not have Chinese food. It is mostly Ethiopian food. We thought it was overpriced for the food we ordered
Romana Roschinsky writes:
Just returned from a holiday in Ethiopia in July/August 2013. Your guide was really helpful. Although I did not have the latest verision, we ere in general very happy with the recommendations.
A few comments.
Ghion Hotel Bahir Dar.
The room we got for 300birr was ok, but not much more.
We approached the reception to organise a tour to the monastries. They referred us to a guy on the porch. Later we found out that he is some relative of the manager.
We were booked for a tour and promised to see between 4-5 monastries the next day starting from 8.00. The tour was said to be 250birr/person and last around 4-5 hours. We were told there was an extra 100 birr entrance fee for Ura Kidane Mihret church but he adviced us that woud be worth it. And we could enter the monastry compounds of the other monastries without paying and decide if we wanted to enter the buildings. Then we would be charged accordingly. We thought allright.
We were ready the next day. Had to wait with all other tourists for an hour, but that was ok. We went to Zege Peninsula where we were welcomed by our guide. We visited Ura Kidane Mihret and it was perfectly fine. Then we made it back to the boat.
Passing another island the boat guy said the monastery would be closed, but thhere was a museum that the men could enter. The men on our boat refused out of solidarity. We approached a second island and disembarked. We wanted wo move around the compound but were told we woul dhave to pay yet another 100birr per person. We refused, discussed that we had been told we could at least move around on th ecompound and asked to be brought to another place. The boat guy did so but at the next monastry the same game. We refused again. As “compensation” he offered us to take us to the Nile outlet. We agreed. The promised Hippos were nowhere to be seen because: The temperatures were too cold. What a stupid lie.
Back at Ghion Hotel We approached our organizer. First I asked him to give back the extra 50birr he had charged me but not the other tourists. He did that. Then all of us complained that we did not get what we payed for and were really disappointed. We asked him what he yould offer us. He said it was not his fault and shoved the boat owner into our faces. He tried to run off several times but we always managed to confront him again. He said we could go again to the lake but none of us was interested after spending hours on the water already. He refused to do anything else for us.
So I strongly advise against booking the Tana monastry tours at Ghion Hotel in Bahir Dar. A bad idea.
Queen Taitu Pension is a terrible accommodation. We were put into a room with mould across all walls. The smell was disgusting. We could not change rooms, as all others were booked and did not know where else to go as it was dark already.Do not stay there!!!
I know this night be updated now but the entry fee is now 50 US$/ person. It’s well worth it but we were surprised be the amount.
We were told the tourist information is closed. We did not check if that was true though.
Axum: Africa Hotel: very nice place. But check the room before you pay. They wanted to give us a mould one at first.
Addis Abeba: Taitu Hotel: The main building is very nice. But the bathrooms are terrible. No toilet seats, mould, cockroaches. Still the price was ok for 300birr/night.
Simien Mountains Lodge:
We got a wet season discount and payed 90US$ for a double room. They even brought us a massive bucket full of hot water as the fog was too thick for the solar power panels to work. Very nice.
In Gorgora (p 213), the Gorgora Rock Resort as of July 2013 never got built, and indeed, not on one brick got laid that I could see. However, the lovely Tim and Kim Village is nearby. You can find details on timkimvillage.com. There are lovely chalets on the shore of Take Tanna, and it is 10 minutes walk from Gorgora. Camping facilities are also available. Tim and Kim employ and train local staff and it is (by a long way) the most relaxing and pleasant place to stay in that part of the world.
On my trip I got fly strike by tumbu (or mango) flies. The gravid females lay their eggs on damp cloth and the larvae hatch out and burrow under the host’s skin. As they develop, the maggots cause a massive inflammatory responses and are extremely itchy. I had a total of six! My advice would be that if travellers have insect bites which do not settle down after three days or so, they should seek medical attention. If not treated, eventually the larvae leave the host and the cavity they created should heal up, but they can leave abscesses and it is generally not very nice.
I attended a folk club in Gondar and did not have such a positive experience as you did. There were some extremely drunk locals who I found a bit intimidating (although no-one threatened me), and the musicians and dancers kept on insistently hitting on me for money. I would advise ferengi to go with a local, or at least with a friend.
Otherwise I found the guide to be extremely helpful, so thanks for your efforts.
Former Bradt commissioning editor Tricia Hayne has kindly sent me the following feedback:
Page 216 Getting there and away/By air Asking around, it seems that almost no-one reconfirms tickets. Certainly no-one we spoke to in Gondar or Addis. We did in Lalibela – but when I went to the Ethiopian Airlines office it seemed a formality rather than a necessity.
Pages 220-1 Where to eat
Our favourites were the Mini Fogera (main dishes around US$1.50), and the new:
Masterchef (218 D3). Opposite the Belegez Pension (which isn’t in quite the right place on the map), it was set up by an Ethiopian chef who has spent time working in Dubai. Simple seating is both indoors and outdoors, service is friendly yet professional, and the food is excellent – both fish goulash and fish dulet (US$3.50) make it worth the trip. US$2.50-5.
There’s also a convivial restaurant at the Nile (218D1) which is on the map as a hotel, but not in the text. Tables are under cover but the restaurant is open at the front, with foliage and lights blocking the rather urban surroundings. US$2.50 average.
Goha Hotel The three-course dinner here (see also p217) wasn’t up to much: the soup was OK, and the stir-fry was good, but the fish was dry and unappealing, and the dessert horribly oversweet. At 150 birr (US$8) a head without drinks, it was the most expensive meal we had in Ethiopia, and far from the best. Service, though, is indeed good, and there was live entertainment when we were there on a Saturday night – though note that you’re expected to tip the dancers.
Fogera Hotel The restaurant at the Fogera looked empty and unwelcoming when we went there, and no-one we spoke to recommended it. Instead, we went across to the Mini Fogera opposite.
Four Sisters justifies its reputation – once we found it – the map is somewhat misleading. Tej served with the meal was an added bonus. Prices at US$3-6 aren’t as expensive as locals make out, though drinks are higher than average.
Sofa Juice doesn’t serve pizzas; instead try a huge slice of cake or a pastry with your juice!
Page 223 Central Gondar There’s a beautiful 400-year-old ficus tree in front of the castle, which as you might expect has all sorts of legends attached! The area around it, effectively an oversize roundabout, was being ‘beautified’ when we were there, with arches, paths through the gardens, and posh new toilets nearing completion. In the centre of the Piazza is a gleaming new statue of Emperor Tewodros, which I think was erected in 2012.
Page 224 Fasil Ghebbi Guide fees are US$5 (100 birr) for 1-3 people, or US$7.50/150 birr for 4+. We didn’t see any connecting tunnels – though they could of course be there. Only the first floor of Fasilides’ castle is open to the public.
Bakafa’s banqueting hall was – according to our guide – used as a bunker by the Italians, who concreted it to withstand bombing from the British. Or not, of course!
Mentewab’s Castle has been closed for a couple of years for structural reasons, and there is no longer a gift shop at the castle.
Gemjabet Maryam is accessed from the road rather than from within the enclosure.
Page 225 Ras Ghimb (end of page 225) is almost opposite the Church of Medhane Alem. It was apparently open to the public until 2012 (50 birr), but is currently swathed in scaffolding and closed for restoration. You can still get inside the complex, though!
Page 226 Fasilides’ Pool To get there, take a minibus (1 birr) from opposite the Circle Hotel and get off at Fasilides’ School. From there it’s about 300m: take the road that forks to the right, and follow on round the back of the stadium, where there’s a signboard. We were particularly struck by the gnarled roots of what I think are banyan trees, seated like some fairytale ogres along the exterior walls of the pool.
We couldn’t find the House of Chickens – though it’s possible this is the building that’s by the road and is being restored (I’ve no idea for what purpose).
The domed pavilion mentioned in the box above is in a state of partial collapse, and is now held up by scaffolding.
Page 226 Kuskuam As with Fasilides’ Pool, take a minibus from opposite the Circle Hotel , and get off at the hospital (1 birr). There’s no signpost, but the road is clear. At Kuskuam, we searched everywhere in and outside the banqueting hall, but found no sign of the cartoon-like etchings that you mention, though they could have been hidden by scaffolding.
Page 227 Debre Birhan Selassie It’s worth getting a guide to interpret the paintings, but make sure as always that he’s official… We didn’t get any sense of a helpful caretaker! Re the symbolic architecture box, the info at the end about the seven-pronged medallion relates to many churches that we saw in Ethiopia.
Page 230 Wolleka is about 3km, not 5km, from Gondar, a pleasant 45-minute amble along the main road. Plenty of crafts stalls all line the road here, but there’s a fair amount of ‘persuasion’ from youngsters touting their wares or seeking to take you to the synagogue. Much better and more peaceful is to visit the Ploughshare Women’s Crafts Training Centre, which is on the opposite side of the road at the start of the village (not 2km away), on the right as you’re heading from Gondar. You can watch the potters and weavers at work, as well as buying their crafts; standards are high and prices fair.
Pages 236-7 map In the key it says that ‘hiking route follows road for much of the route’. Our experience over three days suggests that it does in parts, but is more often off road.
Page 239 Three days (two nights) Walking from close to Simien Lodge, sleeping at Sankaber and Gich, then walking a circle to Imeg Gogo and back to Abergirna (I think!), where we were collected and driven back to Gondar. Superb walking; stunning scenery and fantastic raptor population; would love to go back!
There are a few Simien specialists in Gondar, including one based at the Atse Bekafa Hotel, and the one we used, who although a little more expensive, we’d recommend:
We stayed for one night in Befikir Kossoye Ecology lodge in Queens Village. This lodge is very new and is at the road from Gondar to Debark, 30 km behind Gondar.
This place is very special, because the Ethiopian emperors Yisak , Fasil, Teklegiorigis, Yohannes IV, Haile Selasie I und king Tekelhaimanot of Gojam had been there.
The 10 double-bungalows with bathroom are very clean. The manager and the staff are very friendly. In the morning we had a good breakfast with bread, honey, marmalade, eggs, tea and coffee.
In the evening the manager offered us 3 different meals. The meals were very good. After the meals the manager and the staff celebrated a very special coffee-ceremony for us.
From the lodge you have a nice view to the mountains. The area around the lodge was afforsted by the manager.
The manager organizes hikes to chugi mariam (6 – 7 hours).
The adress is:Befikir Kossoye Ecology Lodge
Kristen Davis writes:
Hi there, I’d like to recommend a guide and tour agency I used in Gonder who did a fabulous job of organizing our 5 day trek in the Simien mountains. The guide and agency owner, Addis Yimmer, and his team really know how to put together a tailor made package and know the area so all the questions you have about geology, flora & fauna are met with interesting replies. I’ve trekked all over the world and can say this was one of the smoothest and most friendly outfits I’ve worked with.
P.s. Awesome Ethiopia guide! Keep up the great work!
First of all thanks a lot for the great guidebook, it was not only helpful but also a good pastime during long bus rides and a source of many laughs…
Here some updates and personal experience from my 4 weeks Ethiopia trip in May.
- Maestro/MasterCard can be used with any Dashen ATM, the limit per withdrawal was 4000 birr
- Attention: the forex bureau/bank at Addis Bole airport is closed during the day (open only mornings and evenings)! If you happen to have surplus birr, the Ethiopian Airlines lounge will change for an inferior rate (23 birr/$ instead of 17!)
- cashed Travelers Cheques at Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (100$), same exchange rate as for cash, service charge less than 1$)
- exchanged dollars at Dashen bank, same exchange rate for all denominations (even for 1$ bills)!
- Baro Hotel: rundown and quite rough, but clean enough; 135b for a tiny s/c single; shoestring in the great Piazza area
- Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place: most expensive accommodation during my trip, but a very friendly place and good location with many restaurants, shopping facilities etc. around; 220b for a spacious clean single with shared bathroom
- Old Piazza Restaurant (Mahatma Gandhi Rd. below De Gaulle Square, maybe identical with the mentioned “The Pizzeria”) has good pizza, pasta and some local food
- for getting to the Meskel Square, ask for a minibus to “stadium”; they didn’t know “Meskel” or mixed it up with “Mexico” Square
- Tana Pension was very rundown, many mosquitoes (the window didn’t close) and erratic water supply; 80b for a s/c single
- Wudie Pension (50m from Tana Pension at the crossroads) has nice rooms; 120b for a single, but the common bathrooms could be cleaner…; try the delicious Fatira for breakfast
- just across from Wudie is a very good restaurant (check out the balcony on the 1st floor)
- Habesha Cafe for good juices and coffee
- booked a 3 days Simien trek with Mickey (simientrektours.com) for 320$; for sure there are cheaper offers around, however I was happy with the tour, we were only 2 and had the best cook around, the guide and the scout just for us, and didn’t meet a single other tourist; very good organization
- the bus ride from Gonder to Shire was long and bumpy (almost 12h), but wonderful landscapes and views; tough but worthwhile
- Africa Hotel is a very nice place; 170b s/c single with hot shower and DSTV
- the Tekra Tesfai cluster of rock-hewn churches is easy to visit as a day trip from Wukro, even caught a minibus to Mekele the same afternoon; don’t pay the “keeper” at the foot of the cliff just for taking photos from below the cliff
- Atse Yohannis Hotel is a great place; try to get a room on the 4th floor, mine was the corner room and had great views over the city from the balcony; 200b for a spacious s/c single
- very good local food just across the corner from Atse Yohannis (Bellevue Restaurant?)
- the Green Valley Cafe serves good pizza, burger and of course coffee with some nice pastry
Thanks to Anton for sending us this trip report from his visit to Ethiopia in September 2011.
Weather: I think, September is not the best time to visit E., because there’s still heavy rainfall, most in Addis, during midday and afternoon, but otherwise everything is flourishing
On Bole Road there are almost ALL African embassies.
I can recommend Bole Ambassador Hotel near the airport (www.boleambassadorhotel.com) for those who only want to overnight, but you have to pay 90 US for a single and 120 US for a double room (including buffet breakfast). The transport to and fro the airport is FREE
I also can recommend RAS-Hotel at Churchill Rd. Many travellers; clean; Taxis in front oft he hotel; but you have to bargain a lot! To Airport is 10$US. If you wan t to rent a taxi for a few hours: that will cost you 250 BIRR. Opposite of RAS-Hotel, there’s a street, where you can find fast internet!
Near RAS-Hotel you can find GALAXY TRAVEL, where you can book flights etc. People, who want to got to South-OMO, should ask there for Mr. Tesfaye MIDEKSO; he’s the guy with all info. A 10 day trip will cost you up to 2400 EURO
Lufthansa is now in AXUM Building! Within walking distance: go from Meskel-Square in direction of Haile Selassie Road outtown, and after the Carnivore Resti, go the next broad street tot your right.
Address: PO Box 3484, Axum Building, Urael Church to Atlas Hotel Road, Addis Ababa
Eating: If you like American/European food go to “Carnivore Addis Restaurant“ Salad-Buffet; good menus. Not far form Meskel-Square; Haile Gebre Selassie-Road, right
ATM: maximal withdrawal 5000 Birr per day, Exchange rate €1=25 BIRR; US$1=19 BIRR
Postcard < 5 Birr
Water 2 Litre bottle: 8-10 Birr
Café Espresso: 5 Birr
If you want to spend a lot of money, go to Sheraton Hotel for a mixed fruit juice, very delicious, but 120 BIRR!!!!
I recommend to take a flight. The airport is a kind of joke, still under construction! Baggage claim is out of the airport, there’s a building to your left, where all the hotels have their boards. Here you can get a transport to YOUR hotel.
I choose the Summerland-Hotel; the guy for this Hotel is Mr. Haile Yesus, he’s a good but somehow expensive man! But you can trust him, he can help you in any way!
To do the Nile-Falls with a guide and private taxi you pay US$50. The falls are now full of water again!!!
Summerland-Hotel: single is 500 Birr (with breakfast). Because of water pressure take only room at 1st or 2nd floor!
Ghion Hotel is right now not in a good state
Zege Peninsula: if you can see only these 2 churches, this will be fine! The boat is 750 birr! Entrance fee to the church is 50 birr. Guide 110 birr: this is o.k., because he knows all the pictures and can describe them. There are al lot of souvenir stalls, but the people are very friendly and not pressured.
Other monasteries on the lake:
The boat costs you 2400 BIRR: this will be a very long day, starting at 0600 in the morning until 1900 in the evening. Most of daytime you will spend on the boat. Important: Bring some warm clothes with you, otherwise you will freeze!
Because of time limits you can visit only 3 churches, if you have different wishes, that will cost you more! Of interest is in my opinion only the Selassie church. Otherwise I think it’s not worth the money and the time, but….
Tana Kirkos: it’s a very beautiful island, but the monk is crazy: he asks 150 Birr entrance fee (monk’s law, as he said!!). The view from top oft he island is spectacular! We didn’t pay and therefore I don’t know, if the inside oft he church is worth to visit! The „last“ church next to town is Debre Maryam – is in a very bad state; I suggest, NOT to visit!;
Otherwise the bird nests at the lakeside in the papyrus are very nice
Mixed Fruit-Juice in Harar Supermarket – go down the ally from R/A (warrior monumentl) to the south; after 100 meters it’s on the right side! A very tasty fruitjuice costs you 8 BIRR (in Gonder you pay 11 birr)
1 Kilo Bananas 12-15 Birr
We shared a taxi (3 persons) to Gonder, that is 1500 Birr, this is not bad and has a big advantage: you can stop on your way to Gonder and can visit the GUZARA castle which is world heritage and well worth to see: the view unto the lake is wonderful and also the site itself; entrance is 50 birr. There’s a good guide, he knows a lot of stuff and speaks a decent English
This is NOT a really Must see-city; it’s no good place, in my opinion, only the castle is really worth to see.
There’s no need to take a guide, they charge 120-150 birr; the entrance is 50 birr
1 night is enough there!
I overnight at Atse Bekaffa Hotel: 25 US per night for a single room; had a lot of flees and other bugs!!!
Near this hotel is a very good restaurant: Habesha Coffee Shop
The only thing to stop in Gonder is to rent a car with driver! We did this at the wonderful Tourist Information! There’s a very good manager there, where we discussed the possibility to go by private car to Axum (and first to Simien lodge). He recommended us the freelancer Mamoush! After all we have been driving around with this guy for 3 weeks(!). This cost you for the car (and fuel) 150 US per day!! It was the best thing we could do and was worth every penny!
We did with „our“ driver the whole north: Simien Mountains, Axum, Gheralta, Mekele, Lalibela)
Don’t forget in Gonder to visit church Debre Berhan Selassie: because of the ceiling paintings!!
The drive from Gonder to Debark is remarkable
Park entry in Debark 100 Birr; office can not be easily seen, but it’s on the left of the main road. They speak a very good English. In Debark they can arrange everything; you can buy food and all stuff you need! A scout is obligatory; he is carrying the usual AK 47. There’s plenty of food around the shops in town! Debark is one oft he most dirty towns I’ve every seen (in rainy season!)
Simien Lodge; wonderful house; a family room is in total 250 BIRR, breakfast is included. It‘s very cold there! In the evening everybody is sitting round an open chimney.The food is not bad!
Be aware, that if you are trekking there, you are NOT alone: there are living a lot of people along the trekking paths, the settlement is all around and there’s a lot of cattle there!
The geladas are easily to find, not far away from the lodge, they are used to people and are not afraid of man! The kids will show you the way to some; but as you have a guide/scout and so on, of course they will do this! With a car you can go to Chennek and further on! There are a lot of roads up there! So trekking is not very nice! Our driver told us, you can go almost to the base camp of Ras Dejen! To drive there is only a matter of money!
From Simien lodge to Chennek it will cost you by car 100 US!! And it is WORTH it!!! Spectacular view! A big waterfall is there! For the drive to this place and back by car, you need a whole day!
Yeha-Hotel; very good with nice view from the stelae ; the food is so la la!
Don’t forget to visit Panteleon-monastery: going up and down is wonderful! The view from top is incredible.
Guide for a whole day is 250 BIRR. If you take an „official“ guide, he will take 400 birr!
Temple of Yeha: wonderful surroundings, you should see this! – have a look at the so called LION-shaped mountain
There are many wonderful landscapes on your way to Gheralta Lodge, one oft he best I have ever seen: it’s a mixture of Grand Canyon, Patagonia, Scotland and so on; you will see many birds!
On your way you will pass Debre Damo church: be sure to be fit, as you must climb up on a rope, almost 20 meters, that was quite an experience: the people managing the rope will of course help you going up and down!! As a matter of fact, they will pull you up, if you have no strength. 20 birr is the price: don’t pay any money before you are UP!! –Whatever the people downstairs tell you. Pay for the entrance to the church on top oft he hill!! The price is 150 birr. But ask first, if there is a service in the church, if it is so, they would not let you in, but they take of course your money!!!! In our case it was so, so we had a lot of troubles to get our money back!! Best, to give the money directly to the priest or to his helper!
Gheralta Lodge is a wonderful hotel ; we spent 3 days here, but you should stay longer; the landscape is extraordinary: we have visited all churches in the surrounding ; the food here is „Italiano“ and wonderful! There are a lot of table mountains and other fantastic rocky formations!
The church Peter & Paul was beautiful: the rest oft he churches are not really highlights, but you should visit at least a few oft hem!
Atsbi Cluster ist an absolutely must!
The priests are almost a big disaster; but they all have now persons, who will open the churches for you, even when the priest is NOT there! We could visit all churches: there has always been a person there, who could open the doors!!
If you have car and driver, you must visit Abba Yohannis: you will need a whole day; it‘s best to do on your way from Gheralta lodge to Mekele: don’t plan to come back to Gheralta lodge
Mekele & Erta Ale:
Axum Hotel is not bad; I must say, the food is good. There’s is free internet in the lobby!
Near the hotel ist he office of GK Tours and a very helpful tourist office: i must mention the head of the tourist office, Mr Gebrehiwot Taddesse. E-Mail – firstname.lastname@example.org – he was very helpful and has a lot of infos!
He can help you in all ways, especially, if you want go to Danakil depression: i was in contact with him, when I decided this January to visit Erta Ale and he told me immediately, that there was an assault, where 5 tourists died in an attack by terrorists (so I had to quit this trip)
But HE has the latest info and will help you to prepare your trip!!
You have to pay for Erta Ale per person 500 €, if you are lucky to join a group: Mr. Taddesse will see to that and can put you on a group!!!
If you want to got by yourself, that will cost you at least 2000 €
I recommend Hotel Tukai Village, also Mr. Bill Clinton had an overnite here (without Monica)! The restaurant is good, but only a few meals; the rooms are very spacious. Every hotel organizes transport to he airport; it’s 70 Birr and less.
The bugs bites you get in the churches are terrible!! Especially women will have a very bad time there!
Do some of the churches near of Lalibela: at least Genata Maryam and Yemrehanna Kristos. Car and driver is necessary
A visit to the hyenas is an absolutely MUST, this is strange, but I will never forget this trip; I visited the hyenas twice because I was so excited ; you can feed them by your own hand, and it’s……whooow!
Expect to pay at least 150 birr for this remarkable adventure. The animals are strolling around a courtyard and they will touch you…..
Guides are already asking you for helping at the airport at Dire Dawa: if you go with them to Harar, that will save you time; but it’s very costly and you should bargain hard! For 3 days I paid 130 US (!)
The Belayneh Hotel is not a bad choice: 200 Birr night. They can organize everything. „Harar Ras Hotel“ was under construction
The town itself is world heritage; nice old city, good for walking, don’t expect much; but you can feel, that the people are not very friendly with tourists. The main thing are the hyenas and from them you will see a lot!
We stayed at the Ankober guest house in Piazza area (right next door to Baru) and were more than happy with the choice. The staff there were always friendly and the owner, Mesfin, went out of his way on a number of occasions to give us invaluable help sorting out our flights and bus trips. We stayed there on three occasions during our trip and the rooms are simple but clean and they had hot water which we found out is not something you can take for granted while traveling through the country. There is also a Dashen Bank and ATM a hundred metres away which was very handy. The restaurant at the Wutma hotel opposite served good food and there were great little places for breakfast further up the street.
Belegez Pension was perfectly adequate, I had a single room with a bathroom for 175 birr, though the hot water didn’t work. It did work though in the communal bathroom! Not far is the Four Sisters Restaurant which has a nice setting and serves a tasty injera though we were not impressed with an evening meal we had which was supposed to be a combination of dishes served with rice, but which we found pretty tasteless; I’d stick to the normal dishes, rather than a mixed grill or whatever it was they called it. They did, however, put on a nice impromptu dance performance for us (our group of six were the only guests) which they even got us to join in, so I now know the basics of the very entertaining shoulder dance!
Simien Mountain Trek:
I had earlier arranged to go on a four day trek. Our group consisted of four people and initially we were going to hire a 4X4 to drive us to the Park and later (after our trek) accompany us to Axum and through Tigrai to Lalibela. Our guide then asked if we wouldn’t mind having a German couple join us for the trek and for the ride to Axum. He added that we would have the use of a minibus instead which reduced the costs per person and proved adequate and comfortable, though it meant we would not be able to drive through the short cut roads I had initially planned on a rougher surface through Tigrai (going via Sekota for instance).
In the event, the trek was great, well organized and with good food and we all got on well and the drive from Debark to Axum was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We got a good massage, as our driver Alex called it, as the road was gravel from Debark to Shire and under repair some of the way, being widened and improved. From Shire to Axum, it was smooth asphalt. The original road was built by the Italians in the 1930s and is now being repaired by a Chinese company. The views were stunning which made the eight or so hours ride more tolerable. Not much traffic along the road though we were pleasantly surprised to round one bend and to be met head on by a convoy of camels with their riders making their slow and graceful way up the mountain road.
Our guide’s details:
The guide who organized all this for us and who accompanied us on our trek was Birhan Asmamaw who I can happily recommend for his integrity and helpfulness, and his reasonable prices. I read about him online and had heard good things about him, which I can confirm. His email is: email@example.com
He speaks very good English and also arranged for us to have a competent and friendly driver accompany us all the way to Lalibela, his name was Alex and he also spoke good English. Birhan can organize hotels for you along your way too if you wish according to whatever your budget might be. He would ring our driver every evening after he left us, just to check how we were getting on.
Axum: Africa Hotel, simple but perfectly ok.
Axum through Tigrai by road:
From Axum we followed the road to Adigrat along lovely rolling hills and through Adwa, where the Ethiopian emperor won an important battle against the Italians at the end of the 19th century. From there through Adigrat and then south on a smooth asphalt road through stunning countryside and roads rising to above 3000 metres.
We stopped off to visit the Petros and Paulos rock hewn church in Teka Tesfai which involved clambering up a rickety looking but perfectly solid ladder, followed by the ubiquitous local children up to a lovely small church which the priest’s wife opened for us, for a fee of course.
I cannot remember if we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant called Mother restaurant on the high stree (right hand side) in Teka Tesfai or a bit further on in Wukro. I mention it because it was a place which served very good meals (one injera and four spaghettis with side salads, 3 beers, 2 cokes and 5 coffees came to 160 birr, not bad)
After visiting Wukro Chirkos church we turned off the main road and made our way towards Hawzien on a gravel road and stopped to visit the beautiful church Abreha we Atsbeha in the late afternoon before traveling for another hour to reach the first (and only) „fancy“ hotel during our trip, the Gheralta Lodge. What I initially thought to be a light mist seemed to cover the whole area around the Gheralta plains. The next morning however I saw it was still there and believe it was more a light layer of white looking dust which seemed to pervade everywhere there, giving the immediate vicinity a slightly other worldly aspect. Clean room, hot water, good food, beautiful natural setting and decor, what more could one want?
Gheralta and Abuma Yemata Guh
Next day, the four of us (middle aged ladies I might add) drove to Abuma Yemata Guh and trekked up to the base of the perpendicular rock (about 50 mins walk) where we all managed to successfully clamber (rather than climb) up to the little jewel of a rock hewn church perched a third of the way up. The last stretch along a narrow ledge with a two hundred metre drop to one side proved almost too much for one of my friends who was tearful by the time she reached the church door, tearful but delighted. Beautifully maintained 15th century murals and an ancient hand painted bible were the main attractions there, though the view from the church was equally stunning. Making our way down proved to be as exciting (terrifying) as making our way up. The whole venture was done in good humour and with the eager help of the scouts who, I suspect, would drag you up or down if you let them.
The only minus side to this excursion was the 250 bir we had to pay for our group of four as guide’s fees. The young guide who approached us as we made our way towards the church insisted this was a new rule (supposedly in agreement with the Gheralta Lodge which annoyed us somewhat) and after some argument, he took us to the little tourist office in the village and gave us a receipt after showing previous samples of receipts. On top of this we of course had to each pay 100 bir to see the church and the tips we paid the scouts for helping as well as the priest for opening the door. All in all, quite a steep cost. I am not sure if anyone else has encountered this new rule. The 250 bir for our group did admittedly include a visit to the Maryam Korkor (but as some of our group were feeling the strain after visiting Abuma Yemata Guh and it was approaching the hottest part of the day, we gave that a miss and instead visited the less known Hawzien Tekle Haymanot).
We did wonder if this 250 bir fee applied only to the guests from Gheralta Lodge and aimed to ask the Italian owner about it, but he wasn’t around when we returned so we were not able to confirm this information. I would recommend you ask at the Lodge if this special fee is standard.
From there we made our way to Lalibela via Woldia where we stayed the night at the Lal hotel, get a room at the back if you don’t want to be kept awake by the disco music from nearby. The road from Wukro to the turnoff for Lalibela at Weldya is good quality asphalt and goes through some lovely and varying landscape, from dry and arid plains to alpine-like hills with coniferous trees growing by the roadside. From Weldiya you leave this road and travel on gravel up across undulating hills until you reach the airport near Lalibela where you hit asphalt once more. The journey from Woldia to Lalibela took us some four hours. We met some people who had followed the same route that day by local bus, when it took more like nearly eight hours.
At Lalibela we stayed at the very pleasant Asheten Hotel and there is a great small place to eat directly across the street.
I am ashamed to say I cannot remember the name of the little monastery church we visited up the mountain just behind Lalibela. We took a path from behind the Asheten hotel and it took us nearly two hours to reach the church. I’d be grateful if someone could remind me the name.
Addis to Harar:
From Addis we caught the early morning bus to Harar (Selam 260 birr one way). It is pretty nippy at 5am in the morning so dress warmly; the bus turned up nearly an hour late and you have to wait on the street. The perfectly comfortable journey (they hand out small cartons with juice and a sweet biscuit).
At Harar, we were hoping to stay at the Zubdeyda Waber Guest House but the remaining sister (one of them passed away recently) stood firm in her price of 350 birr per bed (small double beds) of which there were two in a room. We were hoping to negotiate a better price (the hotel was empty) as we wanted a bed each and the 700 birr per room she charged (one of the rooms was en suite, the other wasn’t, both at 700 birr) was too steep for us. So we ended up going to the perfectly comfortable Belayneth Hotel, just outside the old city walls and with acceptable food from the restaurant from which there was a wonderful view into the old city and a great place to take photos from.
Paininka (see also piaregan.wordpress.com for more details and pics)