Archive for the ‘Lake Tana’ Category

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.

Gonder:
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!!!

Lalibela:
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.

 

Former Bradt commissioning editor Tricia Hayne has kindly sent me the following feedback:

 

Page 191                  Bahir Dar/getting there and away/by road The drive from Gondar by minibus takes about three hours, with tickets at 65 birr (US$3.50) one way.  Accidents – by bus and minibus – are frequent.

 

Page 196                  Ghion Hotel Currently US$22 for a double room with lake view.  Presumably the prices here are back to front – I think the back view are slightly cheaper.

 

Page 197                  Lakeshore Resort Prices here are on a par with the Ghion Hotel, but the food is a cut above, the views unfettered by barbed wire, and the service exemplary. Oh, and it’s spotlessly clean!

 

Page 198                  Balageru Cultural Club You can eat here, too – our kitfo (cooked), doro wat, spinach and cheese with injera was excellent, and so was the tej. Go with someone who speaks Amharic if you can; it makes all the difference to understanding the spontaneous lyrics.

 

Page 203                  Southern monasteries There’s now a universal fee of 100 birr (US$5) for each of these monasteries, including Debre Maryam.

 

Kibran Gebriel, home to 87 monks, is indeed not open to women, but we were allowed to sit on the island by the jetty; there’s also a small ‘museum’ that women can visit, but at 100 birr (US$5) it seemed overpriced and the Ethiopian women I was with said it wasn’t worth it.

 

Conversely, the adjacent island nunnery of Entos Eyesu Monastery (also 100 birr/US$5 pp) welcomes both male and female visitors.  Some 25 or so nuns live here, and the walls of their 200-year-old church is adorned with depictions of Bible scenes painted in joyfully bright colours.

John writes:

I could fill a book with all the positve aspects and good fruit juice places etc in Ethiopia!!! But a few negative experiences:

Lalibela

For low budget travellers to eat in Lalibela, go to the bottom of the town, walk past paradise hotel, continue uphill, before turnoff road to jerusalem hotel, past nobles gift shop on left is Hanna’s. She has she only been there 2 months & a internet place is to the right of her kiosk. Hanna basically caters for the local fratenity esp the street kids so if you want youngsters to practice ther english with you and eat great tastng homemade flatpan bread and scrambled eggs this is your breakfast stop befroe going uphill. Also, from midday, continue past the lal hotel to roha supermarket on the left side also, next to that is a white painted kiosk, selling souvenirs when open, behind that is Denke’s House. Denke is a bit of a local legend as she takes in street kids and feeds them as well. she does injera meals for 10 birr, does more assorted meals at the w/e due to more veggies from the market on saturday, if you have 2 boiled eggs on your plate its 15 birr more. she serves til the evening when all the food has gone.
Jordan’s Pension is the cheapest faranji place to stay at the top of the town, for 80 birr. It’s past the niteclub strip, past the blue lal hotel on the right, down a pathway, i got a room at the paradise hotel down at the bottom for 150 birr,rooms 1 to 6 being the cheapies

Gashena scam:


In feb i was with 2 other faranji going from gashena to bahir dar,we were approached by a guy with one third of his right nostril missing looks like a minor burn,he duly got us places on a mini bus to bahir dar for 150birr-later we found out it should be 100 birr,anyhow he took us to the minibus and we paid 150 each,no ticket issued of course,i wasnt particalary bothered about paying more at that time, but a little while later the ticket collecter lad tried to get another 150birr out of us,then i took umbridge to this and so did the other 2.basically what happens mr fixit gets you on the minibus takes the payment outside,and the driver,the ticket collecter,and mr fixit get 150 birr each,split it 3 ways and no ticket are issued,tana transport lose 300 birr without the companys knowledge. Its the law that all passengers must be given a ticket,the police enforce this.watch what other passengers are paying if you doubt the sincerity of some ticket collecters.

Lake Tana by boat

2 day boat trip to gorgora on lake tana from bahir dar.if you are approached when you dock in gorgora by a guy called saddam with an east africa flora and fauna guidebook be wary.turn left you arte at the government hotel within 2 minutes,to be honest he helped me get the cheapest room there for 60 birr opposite the tennis courts.later i went to the village main sterrt 3 mins away and he showed me the local eatery which i would have found anyway.i bought him a meal and a drink.he hovers round the hotel bar all the time.he was under the impression that since i met him off the boatthat i had employed him as guide,not so!he may well be a flora/fauna guide and know his stuff,but make it very clear to him you do not require his services,unless you do need a guide,basically when i got a morning bus out,i had to remonstrate to the crowd via an englsh speaking ethiopian,that he was a xxxxwit and a pest.and he appolished to the his village as he lost face.

Simien Mountains
Whatever any guide tells you in the park office,you do not buy food for your scout,muleman and guide if you choose one.theres a band of brothers thing going on at the campsites where where the fellow,guides/cooks look after thei fellow comrades,also dont buy more than 6 pieces of bread they go solid quickly in the mtn air.you really dont need the added expense of a guide .

Yohannis Maikudi (Tigrai)

on 14th march faranji date i hitched a lift with an ethiopian/swiss couple in their own minibus to yohannis maikudi church,they also had their own ethiopian guide who was travelling with them,though not an official guide from a tour office.hoardes of school children descended on the minibus,running across fields,2 youths were employed one to watch the minibus another to escort us up the mtn,3 or 4 others came along to.we had tella nad injera after the priests had stopped fasting at 3pm.one priest apparently said to the youths ,be good to these people,they are good people.we were met by a mass of children at the minibus beng met down from the mtn.then it wa the old,you,you,you,give me money,give me money,bridgade kicked in.the two guides were paid but demanded more then,then everybody was demanding money,we made a hasty retreat,pushing them off to slam the sliding back passenger door,some body had apparently put a sharp in strument in the hatch door as john the owner couldnt open it with a key.the van was pelted with rocks and stones and youngsters ran across the fiels to cut us off,thankfully we made it,ive read jon girling’s accout that he sent to me.

Street kids in Addis Ababa

I buy off street kids everyday, to support a micro economy,but be wary of them in addis they bunch you and twice very nearly robbed me,once on an inside pocket and up by st georges chuch managed to unzip my day bag as well!

 

Adam writes:

We were in Ethiopia in Jan/Feb 2013. We have done the northern circuit which is like most people i would say.

Just want to let people know the cost of some things (especially visiting churches)

On Lake Tana (Bahir Dar) All the monasteries and churches around the lake are all charging 100 Birr ($5.50 per person or 3.40 pounds) This total cost for two of us seeing all the places the boat took us to was 1000 Birr. I cannot say that they all were worth the cost.

We enjoyed both Bahir Dar and Gonder both very nice cities.

We did a five day trek in the Simien Mountains with just the two of us and paid $400 each. (this gave us a guide, scout (man with a gun) Cook and the mules and helpers so our tent and everything was sorted. I am sure you can get this a little cheaper but we thought it was worth the money.

The internal flights are cheap around $50 each per flight, and saves spending a day on a bus. We did a bus from Addis to Bahir Dar (very nice trip tho)

We also did Gonder to Axum the day after our flight was cancelled due to Fog and was told this could last three days. We did the trip door to door in 13 hours (great road but not sure i would rush to do it again lol.

In Axum we hired a car to do a two day trip to see rock churches in Tigrai. We booked the 4 X 4 though Africa hotel and the cost was $100 a day. If there are 4 people this works out very cheap.
We told our driver which churches we wanted to go to but this did’t seem to fit into his plans.
All the rock churches are charging 150 Birr per person ($7.50 or 5 pounds) on top of this you still have to pay a person for opening up the church and the shoe person. After six churches the cost was in excess of $100.

We then went to Lalibela,

This place is taking every cent of the tourist dollar/pound/euro.
They have put up the price to see the churches to $50 for the pass. This has only just been put up in mid Jan from 350 Birr. For the two of us it cost 1827 Birr. I did ask what the money would be used for and why the huge increase in price. I was informed that they only worked for the priests and there were 900 of them including the monks that needed paying. They are in the future going to build a medical centre (not sure when or for who). We were later informed that the Lalibela priests have not long bought their 3rd hotel (the 7 Olives) so it seems the money has been spent in different ways.

The churches are worth the $50 but i do think given the poverty in the country the church seems to be taking so much of the tourist dollar and not much goes downwards.

Tim & Kim Village, Gorgora

Posted: November 17, 2012 in Gorgora, Lake Tana

Tom Otte of Tim & Kim Village writes:

 

Tim & Kim Village is a campsite of over three hectares just outside the village of Gorgora in the north of Ethiopia. The campsite is situated in a quiet spot in the middle of the countryside on the banks of Lake Tana. A paradise for bird spotters, fishermen and everyone who is looking to relax after a long trip. We offer spacious stands by the lake where you can park any overland vehicle. We also rent out lodges for two persons and fully equipped tents. The site has simple solar-heated showers and clean toilets. There is a 24-hour security guard. Our restaurant is centrally located on the site and you are most welcome to drop by for a drink and a bite to eat. We serve local and imported drinks and three meals a day. For rates, contacts and other details, see www.timkimvillage.com

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

 

Addis Ababa:

 

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

side

 

 

Money:

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!!!!

 

 

Bahir Dar

 

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

 

 

 

Gonder:

 

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

 

 

Simien Mountains

 

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!

 

 

 

Axum:

 

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!

 

Debre Damo:

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

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 – hotgereth2007@yahoo.com – 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 €

 

Lalibela:

 

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

 

 

 

Harar

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!

Lake Tana ferry

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Bahir Dar, Gorgora, Lake Tana

I took the boat from Bahir Dar to Gorgora. Despite what you mention, the first class cabin is very bad value for money, it would be a third class in Europe or even lower. No tables, no toilets at all for first class passengers, 30% if the seats are missing cushions and are only a metal frame, cabin completely overcrowded because no control on tickets… on top of that the boat stopped on monday afternoon in Delgi and did not continue that day, so the boat only arrived in Gorgora on tuesday…

Under these conditions not very recommendable.

Dirk

Just returned from a trip from Ethiopia yesterday. Not for the faint-hearted. I found it more challenging than the less developed Malawi, primarily due to language and tourist infrastructure. However, I must add that your section on Cultural Etiquette and responsible travel was especially pertinent and succeeded in shifting our attitude and therefore experience.

Some updates:

1.) Prices- prices have increased quite significantly since the last edition of your guide-sometimes up to 100%. The monasteries on the islands of lake Tana now charge between 50-100 Birr per monastery as apposed to the 20-40 Birr quoted in the guide book.

2.) Harar- had fantastic stay at Ras Hotel wonderful staff, also enjoyed a guided tour of the old city and insights into contemporary ethiopia with a guide organised by the Ras Hotel. Very disappointed in Fresh Touch Restaurant- bad food and service, several disappointed and upset customers. However there is a new Juice Bar called Tesh Juice- best juice in the whole of ethiopia:). Mmmm banana with a squeeze of lime…

3.) Addis- Outside of the main building the rooms at the Taitu are awful. Definitely worth extra to stay in the main building. The Jazz bar Jazzamba, on the Taitu property is pricey- 80 Birr entrance, but so wonderful; try it!

4.) Gonder- stayed at the Belegez Pension- small, cheap (115 Birr d shared bathroom) friendly and clean- recommended!

5.) Bahir Dar- Culture Club about 100m passed Ghion, just passed Wudie Coffee the ambience and dancing absolutely fantastic. Also ate delicious fish goulash (30 Birr) at bar on the lake front to the right of the Ghion.

We fell in love with music, dancing and food and learnt a lot about ourselves and our continent.
Thanks for your guide it was a much enjoyed companion.

Nic and Nikki

Our itinerary

We have visited Ethiopia twice. The detailed account of our trip to the Lower Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression over the Christmas holidays 2010 – 2011 has been published on our website, on the website of the Lonely Planet & of the Bradt Guide and received a lot of attention.

But we felt our Ethiopia experience was incomplete without exploring the great history of this country. So over Easter 2011, we followed what has become known as the “Northern Historical Circuit”. This term subsumes unparalleled highlights: Bahir Dar and the Monasteries of Lake Tana, the Royal Palaces of Gonder, the Stelae in Axum & the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela.

 

Organisation

With only 12 days in the country, we decided to fly between all major cities except Bahir Dar & Gonder, which takes only 4 hours by minibus on a good road. Having said this, all roads in Ethiopia are under construction thanks to Chinese money and engineers. Most only lack the final surfacing. As a consequence, overland transport in Ethiopia is due to change soon!

We arrived with only one hotel reservation, for Lalibela over the Easter weekend and four plane tickets. The rest we organized ourselves in the country. This is very different to how the vast majority of tourists travel through Ethiopia. It is mainly groups large and small, in busses or jeeps that congregate at the best hotels in town and leave only with their guides to some tourist highlights.

From this behavior Africans must conclude that white people do not walk! Tourists venturing out into town are treated like a true curiosity, like people who have lost their way. Not even the markets in Bahir Dar, Lalibela and especially Axum attracted visitors. Despite the staring, we enjoyed our extensive strolls and also met a few independent travelers on and off.

The unique history of this once great empire and its many other attractions has led to a boom of high-priced tourism in one of the poorest countries in Africa. No wonder that a vast number of tour companies offer their services, hotels pop up like mushrooms and road construction is well under way. Ethiopian Airline, a highly modern airline, flies pretty much everywhere in the country. Most important, since April 2011 domestic flights for tourists have become a lot cheaper!

 

Perceptions proven wrong

Of course, there are still people who ask why you travel to a country at war and in the midst of a famine, when you talk about your plans of travelling to Ethiopia. At this we usually roll our eyes, but we equally proved vulnerable to wrong perceptions…

Most travel blogs we read before our first trip dwelled on wild descriptions of “Faranji Fever”. This actually made us travel first to the Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression, hoping we would be less “exposed” there. Well, those a bit familiar with tourism in the Omo Valley know that nothing beats that place in terms of “Faranji Fever”.

Actually, on the Northern Historic Circuit, locals and even children have become accustomed to tourists. School children in Lalibela even seem to have been trained to greeting them with “Welcome to Lalibela” and rattling off the name of every single capital city in Europe. Once, we played a nasty trick on a youngster claiming we were from Albania. The kid looked at us and answered “Tirana” without blinking!

Talking about beliefs… Nowhere else did we encounter such an unbent national passion for legends, myths and martyrs. The Arch of Convent in Axum; the gory images of chopped off heads and tortured martyrs in the monasteries on the shores of Lake Tana; the deep religiousness, to name a few!

 

Budget

Only beginning of April 2011 did Ethiopian Airlines stop charging overinflated “Faranji – Prices” on domestic flights. Having booked before April, we dished out a hefty 450 Euros for four domestic plane tickets per person.

The mid-range to upper mid-range accommodation we chose cost on average 29 Euros per night for a double room. The more upper mid-range, the more large groups you have, if this is what you want to avoid.

We never saved on food and more often than not chose nicer restaurants, which came to 7.5 Euros p.p. per day. To be honest, you can only eat so many Injeras…

Everywhere, we hired a local guide at the local sights, which added 8.5 Euros p.p. per day to our budget.

All in all? Except for flights, we spent 43 Euros on the Northern Historical Circuit p.p. per day. Considering our choices of hotels, eateries and activities, it was actually quite cheap…

 

 

The highlights of this trip?

  • Each of the four places we visited is a highlight of its own, so it is really difficult to make any kind of ranking.
  • We truly enjoyed Bahir Dar, its small town feeling, and the monasteries on Lake Tana.
  • The Royal Enclosure in Gonder is a must see, otherwise the city has little to offer. The excursion to Koseye was a nice and short alternative to the Simean Mountains.
  • Axum was amazing. We considered skipping it, but luckily we did not. It is not just about the Stelae, but the rich history of the once mighty Axumite Empire.
  • Lalibela with its rock-hewn churches is the definite must, especially on religious holidays.

 

Places we did not go

Giving our limited time budget of 12 days, this was a tough decision! Of course we wanted to see Harar, so different from everything else, but it is a whole day’s drive from Addis. Yes, the rock-hewn churches of Tigray and a cozy night at the Gheralta Lodge were also on our wish list.

But none of this would have fit into our 12 day itinerary. We briefly considered shortening our stays in Axum, Gonder and Lalibela by one day and trek the Simian Mountains. Eventually we decided against rushing through the historical towns and to be honest, we dreaded the cold nights.

 

Were there things we disliked or we would do differently?

  • Taxis at the airport try to brutally overcharge you (70 to 100 Birr is the normal price).
  • Travelling to Lalibela during a religious festival has its price. Financially, most rooms go for over 100 USD, but also emotionally… We watched members of larger tour groups walk into off limit parts in churches, bang the drums or throw money around to have their picture taken with the priest holding a priceless cross. The archetype of rudeness was a senora who pushed a priest aside and sat down on a bench with 20 priests reading mess.
  • If you can, travel right after the rainy season to enjoy the green landscape. The dry and sunburned highland at the end of the dry season was not the best to take photos and the roads were nothing but dust.

 

Conclusion?

The Northern Historical Circuit is a “Must-Do” when you are in Ethiopia and actually a succession of highlights. 12 days were actually too short, even when flying. So we sadly had to miss some of the more remote gems of this country.

For more information, check our website: http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-visited/africa/ethiopia/

Gilles

 

Bahir Dar & Lake Tana

Posted: April 21, 2010 in Bahir Dar, Gorgora, Lake Tana

I found Bahar Dar on the one hand pleasant with quiet streets and the lake, but on the other hand I might prefer to stay in Gorgora next time. It was the worst when it came to touts, well mostly when walking around with my backpack. The concentration is very high near the busstation.

The monasteries

I found them all pretty similar, but the closer to Gorgora, the better. I visited:

- Kibran Gebriel (close to Bahir Dar): you can’t get in, useless stop

- Ure Kidane Mihret (on Zege). Super touristic, aggressive sales, lots of construction

- Narga Selassie (Dek): beautiful location

- Debre Sina Meryam (Gorgora): the most authentic, amazing surroundings when arriving by boat, very devote, adobe building (like Ure Kidane Mihret). My favorite.

Accommodation

Blue Nile Spring Hotel

None of the tuktuk drivers had a clue where this place was. I had my map, so left with one guy who first tried to drop me of at Tana Hotel. Than he asked some locals and we drove further north to Abay Minch Lodge. This completely didn’t fit the description, also the bungalows were expensive (and not worth it). I got one of the older rooms at Birr 250, they were sort of nice, but in the morning, just after I got out of bed, a splash of water came down from the ceiling, due to some construction work. For the receptionist it seemed to be normal that this happened. On the way back to town (the lodge is beyond the bridge), I was the Blue Nile Spring next to the gas station, before the bridge if coming from town, but didn’t take the effort anymore to check it out. There is no ‘Abay Minch’ in the name of the Blue Nile Spring Hotel, probably the start of the confusion.

Than I stayed at the Ghion, which is best for meeting fellow travelers, but on the other hand I found it rather run down. And the prices went steep up, 300 birr for the front bungalows, 250 for the ones in the back. I managed to bargain the front ones down to 250, still too much. But the beds are good, no discussion about that. I had expected more of it, but would stay there again.

Bahir Dar Hotel: a little more basic than Ghion, with a pleasant courtyard at Birr 70, but full of con-artists and touts. The staff doesn’t act upon it, even if the touts pretend to work there. When I asked to see some of the rooms, the staff pointed me to one of the touts, who claimed to be the sun of the owner. Obviously they need them to bring new costumers. Because of all this, I believed it was the son of the owner and when he invited me to a coffee ceremony I said yes. He brought me to some shack not far away. I had asked the price before, but than after that we got into an argument and so I threw 250 on the table and left, ready to go and talk to his fatherm who turned out to have no son. This whole story ended in the police station, but I’m not sure if the police is ever going to make an effort to find them. It all made a very disorganized impression. Luckily I had made some pictures of the ‘son and his friend’, so at least they know who they are. I also forwarded the pictures to all the budget and midrange hotels that have a @-mailadres.

Getting there

Addis to Bahir Dar

I took the Selam Bus, very comfortable, nice trip of 9 hours. It leaves at 5.30 from near the train station. To the left of the trainstation, look for the billboard. I’ve taken Selam 3 times and I’m very happy with their services. The competition, Skybus, slightly more expensive, leaves from Meskele Square (ticket office in Taitu)

Bahir Dar to Gonder

My travel partner rented a boat and it was an easy trip across the lake to Gorgora, I think just like four hours or so, plus some stops on the road.

Danny Jacqmot