Sue Turnbull’s updates

We have recently returned from a three week holiday in Ethiopia – the northern circuit plus Bale mountains and rift valley lakes.

Earlier in the year I devised an itinerary using the extremely valuable Bradt guide as my main source of information and sent it off to several UK and Ethiopian-based travel companies. While waiting for the responses, I came across a recommendation on this site about a tour company called Ethio Renaissance and having nothing to lose forwarded them my itinerary as well. In the end, based on several criteria, we decided to use Ethio Renaissance ( This was the first time we have ever booked a holiday direct with a local tour operator (and we are quite well travelled) and as such was a bit of a leap of faith on our part. However, we have no regrets – the service compared very favourably, and for the most part exceeded that of any UK company we have used in the past 25 years. We would have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone else. So many thanks to Lizzie Vardon for her comments on this site.

Some other general comments that travellers to Ethiopia may find useful:

1) Roads – there is a lot of road building by the Chinese going on everywhere, at least in the highlands, and this is scheduled to continue for the next few years. The road between Debark and Shire (on the way to Axum) was particularly bad and at one point we just got through before the road was closed for three hours. In another area the road was closed for a while because of a landslip – the new road was being built above the old road and the hillside collapsed on top of it (and the hillside was still ‘moving’ as we eventually drove past). Dust at some points reduced visibility to zero! Even so we would still recommend road travel over air given the fantastic scenery and opportunity to visit local villages etc.

2) Lalibela: Tukul Village Hotel – an earlier posting on this website said that the hotel rooms had fleas and indeed in the hotel room there was a handwritten note from a previous incumbent that the bed contained fleas. However, we had no problem whatsoever and the room was cleaned daily to a very high standard. Our guide told us the flea problem was more likely to occur in the rainy season and indeed it could have been the tourists that picked up the fleas from the churches and brought them back to the hotel. One way around this is to either spray your socks with deet before entering the churches (shoes off of course) or to wear plastic carry bags held up by rubber bands when visiting the churches.
Our return trip up to Asheton Maryam by mule/walking took four hours in total but that included about one hour exploring the church and taking in the scenery – just to clarify previous comments on this site. However, we are reasonably fit and if you suffer from the altitude/ or are infirm, it would take longer.

3) Axum: Yeha Hotel – abysmal plumbing in the bathroom but we made do. The shower could barely manage to produce a trickle of water but buckets were provided – we found it easier to wash using these!

4) Hawzien: Gheralta Lodge – this is a great place to stay. We had booked two nights here but got bumped in favour of a tour group for the second night, which was a bit annoying. It can be a good idea to have a back up plan/ second choice as I guess this could happen at any location.

5) Bale mountains: Wabishebelle Hotel – we arrived at about 6pm and the hotel was in darkness due to a power cut and electricity was not due to be restored until 10pm. This meant there was no hot water etc and only a candle to see by in the room. However, hot food was available in the restaurant (and cold beers!) which had emergency lighting. We understand that this may be a regular occurrence at the moment (the next night was OK though). We were extremely lucky to see a leopard on the return journey to the rift valley lakes. We would strongly recommend that all travellers carry with them an LED torch for these occasions and for exploring some of the churches.


2 thoughts on “Sue Turnbull’s updates

  1. Bridget says:

    Hi Sue

    How was your Bale trekking experience? did you use the local Bale Trekking? and what were the places you stayed like? I am planning to go just two of us for 2-3 days but one review said the accommodation was very dirty. I don’t mind a bit of rough, have been in Ethiopia before but would like to show my friend the good bits and skip the itching! where possible. Also how did you travel there, if it was public bus did you get from Addis in a day?

    Thank you if you have a chance to reply.


  2. MM says:

    Just spent an amazing two weeks in Ehtiopia. I have a friend who lives and works in Addis for five years now, and she recommended Ethio Renaissance tours -run by Mr. Bemnet Gizachew- to me (as she has to all her friends and family), and I was not disappointed. On the contrary:

    Naturally I had a lot of questions prior to my trip and each was responded to promptly and in great detail. I also changed my tour itinerary quite a lot and each request was responded to and changed according to my wishes. Bemnet was very flexible and adapted to all my needs without further ado. He is possibly also the most kind and polite person I have ever met in my life.

    I also decided to take a friend with me at the last minute so ovbviously the rooms, flights, rates etc had to recalculated accordingly etc. Bemnet was very patient and flexible and took care of our every need.

    We ended up booking a five day tour of the North from Addis to Axum, then two days in Lalibela, on to Gondar and then drove to Bahir Dar for one night there. Everything went very smoothly and all the guides were very nice and caring. They went out of their way to ensure that we were comfortable, and when I got very sick half-way (bad case of the flu) they even treated me with local herbal remedies- which to my surprise worked very well- and offered to drive me to the hospital in the middle of the night should things get worse.. (thankfully, they didn´t).

    Bemnet also managed to get my DLR-camera battery and charger to me in Lalibela on the next early morning flight – I was so tired from my trip to Bale Mountains that I had forgotten it at my friend´s place in Addis- fully charged but with the plug still in the socket. I realised this when I boarded the plane to Axum… Desperate and appalled at my own idiocracy, photography being my main hobby, I called Bemnet, totally exasperated with myself, and somehow he got it on the next flight so that it was waiting for me in Lalibela with the local guide/driver when I arrived the next day!!! Don´t ask me how he did this, but he did! Needless to say I was thrilled!

    I then managed to drop my camera on the next flight, causing the sun guard to break and the driver and local guide again managed to get it repaired while we checked into our hotel!!!

    I also had the chance to travel with Bemnet around Bale, Awassa and Addis / Entoto and I must say he is probably the most-informed tour operator in Ethiopia, having studied history and philosophy- he knows his stuff!

    I am already planning my next trip for February, to Danakil and possibly on to Djibouti for some diving, and I know I will be in good hands with Ehtio Renaissance!

    I read in a few posts here that the Blue Nile Falls are no longer worth visiting because of the dam, but I must say that – compared to the indeed disappointing Bujagali Falls (White Nile) in Uganda, which are now no more than a bathtub – we were not disappointed. Maybe we just got lucky, but the falls were very impressive (even if the water level is no longer as strong as it used to be..). I can send anyone who is interested some pics if they wish.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, and I will try and answer them ASAP.

    (And if anyone wants to join in on a trip to Danakil in the 2nd half of February, please contact me about sharing costs!)

    Best wishes from Berlin,


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