Detailed 2017 trip report

Nicola Brimson writes:

3 weeks in Ethiopia. Used the Bradt guide and anything we could find online to assist with our planning and inspiration. Online E-Visa worked very smoothly to order however twice at Addis airport we were met with extremely confused immigration workers who clearly hadn’t had to process one of these as yet. Flew with Ethiopia Airlines which was fine, got you from A to B.

Bahir Dar, B&B The Annex, 3 nights

  • The room and our welcome was really nice. A very short walk from the lake, in a residential area, very quiet at night, tonnes of birds in the garden, really nice fresh generous breakfast included, generally felt safe in the area (although we were fresh to Ethiopia!). Wouldn’t hesitate in recommending.
  • Bahir Dar itself was a lovely place to visit and 3 nights as our first stop was perfect to get over the long travel from Australia and settle into Ethiopian life. There are plenty of buna (coffee) stalls to get your fix and practice ordering, lots of places to pick up a beer and gaze at the lake and people were up there as the friendliest of our trip. We mostly ate, drank and bird watched while we were there (also saw a hippo from the shore!) but did make the trip out to the Blue Nile falls. At this time of year there was a lot of water and it was quite impressive. Not so impressive is the number of people wanting to help you and then asking for tips – we had to navigate a lot of very muddy, rocky patches where I was very grateful for the guy who helped me but the usual ‘not enough’ when a tip is given is quite disappointing.

We took a local mini bus from Bahir Dar to Gondar. Mostly hassle free… the person we paid for our tickets wanted to charge us more for our baggage (1 bag that went on the roof) that we managed to haggle down but shouldn’t have had to pay in the first place. Driver was pretty safe and roads are fine.

Gondar, Lodge du Château, 2 nights

  • Probably the friendliest service we received. The manager is really dedicated to providing great customer service and is keen to continuously improve. Rooms are probably underwhelming for the price but the view from the upstairs restaurant and the amazing breakfast make up for it completely. Great location right by the complex.
  • Gondar was nice but didn’t have the same friendly feel as Bahir Dar. We spent a morning walking around the complex which was surprisingly enjoyable – we didn’t get a guide, just took our Bradt with us and that was sufficient. Heaps of beautiful flowers and lizards at that time of year.

We were picked up from Gondar by our Simien Mountain guide.

Simien Mountains, 3 nights

  • We did a 3 night 3-day trek through the mountains with Sammy Kassaw – Hike Ethiopia http://www.hikeethiopia.com/ Sammy grew up in the mountains and maintains a very strong connection to the NP and its flora and fauna. He had thought through every detail of our trek and the experience from picking us up in Gondar to dropping us back at the Gondar airport was seamless. Sammy rotates two groups of support staff and the group we had was completely on board with Sammy’s desire to make our tour as enriching as possible. The food was delicious, varied and plentiful, the sleeping bags kept us warm at night, our tents were brand new and there was plenty of water, coffee, tea and snacks provided. In fact, it is difficult to think of something that Sammy hadn’t thought of or if there could be any improvements to his trekking company – would highly recommend.
  • The park itself is amazing. The 3 camps we stayed in were all totally different, we saw lots of wildlife, learnt a lot about the parks history and the plans for its future. Treks were quite strenuous but as long as you have a level of fitness/endurance you should be fine. In terms of altitude, this was a problem for me as I picked up a head cold in Gondar so really struggled with headaches, not being able to clear my head and difficulty breathing when going uphill… to the point where I couldn’t complete the final day and had to trek back to the main road in order to get the local bus to our next camp (an experience to share on another day!). My husband however had no problems with the altitude – we were both taking Diamox given we live at sea level.

Simien Mountains, Limalimo Lodge, 2 nights

  • The room and view from our room was spectacular. Laundry included in our rate was amazing given the state of our clothes from the week prior. Staff were friendly. Food was of a high standard and varied. Unfortunately, my husband got some sort of food poisoning/virus from our first night and spent the subsequent day in bed recovering (I was fine and we had eaten pretty much the same things). Would say it is probably worth the price as the location is spectacular and unwinding after our trek was very welcome.

Our guide arranged our transfer back to Gondar airport and we flew into Addis.

Addis Ababa, Caravan Hotel, 2 nights

  • Airport shuttle included was great. Breakfast was fine. Room is a little boxy but has hot water and comfortable enough, although no air/ventilation unless you open the window so does get very stuffy. Staff not overly helpful or interested. Quite a lot of dog noise during the night. Location is decent – lots of coffee, food and drinks around.
  • Addis was my least favourite place we visited. The pollution is insane to the point of struggling to breath when walking down the street. We also got very heavy rain and so being soaked through and dirty don’t make things better. Visited the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum – had some interesting photos but failed to really explain the history, it is definitely created with the assumption of prior knowledge. We spent the rest of the day visiting old coffee houses, with Tomoca being the highlight, which was great but in hindsight I would have been perfectly happy to spending no time in Addis.

Had planned to get the Selam bus from Addis to Dinsho however they stopped running a couple of months before we arrived. We asked our hotel, our bale guide, google how to do the trip and everything provided very different answers which was quite stressful. We ended up arranging through a friend of a friend of our guide to drive us to Dinsho in his car.

Bale Mountains, 2 nights

  • We arranged our time in the Bale Mountains with an amazing guide, Armaye from Armaye Ethiopia Tours – http://www.armayeethiopiatours.com/ He is from the area and has a real passion for the Bale Mountains. All communications prior to our arrival were fantastic, in person he is an extremely calm and relaxed person which makes him extremely easy to be around. He took our request on board to ensure we ate local food – a seasonal snack of steamed potatoes with chilli sauce, wild forest coffee, shiro tegabino, shekla tibs, the best mountain honey, fresh bread and kale… the list goes on, finishing with a home cooked meal and coffee ceremony in his sister’s house as we said goodbye. I would highly recommend Armaye!
  • The Bale Mountains themselves are an incredible place. The varying landscape and the number of animals is fantastic. We had a car during this time which was a good experience and most of the animals are not frightened away. We were the first guests to stay at a new local lodge in the town of Rira which was one of the highlights – the owners provided amazing hospitality and delicious home cooked food. A totally different experience to the Simien Mountains and if you have the ability to get to both then you should do so.

Bale Mountains, Bale Mountain Lodge, 1 night

  • Unfortunately, our experience here was not a good one… although I think we can put it down to being the end of off season and the only guests staying at the time (although still not an excuse for the $ that is costs!). There was a long list of things that weren’t great and feedback has been provided to the owner. The location of the lodge is incredible and we really enjoyed the few walks we did around the area with Armaye.

We took a local mini bus from Robe to Shashamane – I would say this was a mistake however I’m not sure what other options we have. The drive down the mountains was horrifying…. Tearing around corners at high spread with no brakes and at one stage something was burning at the back of the bus where we were sat filled up with smoke. Once down from the mountains the driver was great. We then took a regular bus from Shashamane to Awassa.

Hawassa, Progress International Hotel, 2 nights

  • No frills, but the garden that the rooms are located is why you stay here. Flocks of hornbills, 2 kinds of monkeys, sea eagles and various water birds all on your doorstep. Rooms are super old but the shower is hot and the location is very peaceful.
  • Hawassa itself is a great town. Walking by the lake and watching all the stalks could occupy you for hours. The restaurants on the water serving up fried fish are a lot of fun. We went out on a boat into the lake and found a group of hippos which blew our minds.

We got a minibus from Hawassa back to Shashamane where we were met by an employee of 10000 Flamingo. He directed us to the local bus to take us most of the way to the lodge before having to get on Moto’s for the last 6 km. Unfortunately, the cost that was charged for the bus and the motos was almost the same as if we booked a car transfer from Shashamane, and would have saved us a huge amount of hassle as this area was the first time we felt unwelcome during our trip. We also had our first pick pocket experience walking through Shashamane which wasn’t enjoyable.

Lake Chitu, 10000 Flamingo Lodge, 2 nights

  • Amazing views, rooms are really nice, didn’t have hot water, food was pretty good and everything was made from scratch. Again service wasn’t really evident as we were the only guests staying. Assistance from the owner who was not at the lodge was quick and efficient.
  • Other than going down to Lake Chitu and checking out the flamingos, we spent most of our time by our room looking down at the lake and relaxing. That was when there weren’t local kids climbing over the barbed wire fence to come up to us to ask for money or try and sneak into our room. Hard to say if I would recommend the area or not – the views are worth the money and the experience of waking up to the sound of flamingos is unforgettable, but I felt uncomfortable the entire time and was glad when we left.

We booked a car (funnily enough it was the same local minibus that had picked us up in Shashamane when we arrived) to take us back to Shashamane and then got a minibus back to Addis Ababa.

So in summary, Ethiopia is amazing and everyone should go. I felt that our 3 weeks was a good amount of time for what we wanted to see and do. I didn’t feel rushed and think our time in each spot worked out well. Extremely happy with the 2 guides that we used and was happy to have paid more in order to have it all worked out prior to arriving in the country. Any questions or if you want further details just reach out to me at nfbrimson [at] gmail.com.

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