March 2015 trip report

E&M writes:

This is a great resource that I so appreciated when I was researching our trip to Ethiopia. We spent 33 days in this amazingly beautiful country (Dec/Jan 15), and wanted to add my notes in the hopes it might help others.

Trans National Airlines (TNA) We did not fly w Ethiopian Airlines, so TNA was great for us. We flew on it twice $50 each way from Bahir Dar. The first flight saved us the 9 hour bus ride from Addis. The 2nd flight we drove from Lalibela to Bahir Dar and then flew from there back to Addis, saving us the 2 day bus ride from Lalibela. Make sure you confirm flight times, as our information was a 12pm flight, so a 5am departure from Lalibela to ensure we would get there on time. The actual flight time was 3pm.

Addis – Lots of construction, but when the light rail is finished it will be so much easier to get around the city. We were not there long enough to get a grasp of the buses and the taxis never seemed willing to go below 150 birr, so we did a lot of walking. The Caravan is a great place to stay for $50-60 US per night, and includes free airport shuttle. Fairly centrally located with great restaurants nearby, plus the hotel restaurant is quite good, too. The employees are great, each time we returned we felt like we were meeting old friends again. Addis Eats Walking Tour – great food tour that highlights 3 restaurants, 2 coffee shops and a juice bar. We did it on one of our last days in Ethiopia and wondered if it was worth the $s. It definitely is! We had a great time, and enjoyed the best Injero and Tibbs.

Ethio Travel andTours – Great company and great experience with them. We met with them the first day after exchanging emails earlier, spent @ 2hr firming up our itinerary. We only booked 2 tours with them – 4 day Simien trek and The Danakil, both were excellent. They offered great logistical suggestions, such as the TNA flights which saved us time and money. Several times we called them on our trip to arrange transport and we found them responsive and helpful.

Other suggestions ETT recommended included – starting the Simien trek at the waterfall and then hiking the first day to Gich. This allowed an extra night at Chenek, which we preferred over spending the first night at Sankabar. Also, scheduling a vehicle at Chenek and driving to Axum, rather than going back to Gondar. The drive to Axum is long with many switchbacks, but stunning scenery. After hiking in the Simiens, the drive allows you to look back up into the Mtns on this drive. We found everyone we dealt with at ETT professional and helpful.

ATMs – prior to arrival this was the most conflicting information. Perhaps we were just very lucky, but we never had a problem getting birr from the ATMs. We used them in Addis, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum, and Mekele. There was a 4000 birr max per transaction, but we could do multiple transactions. At the time of our ETT booking (Dec 5, 2014) they were not able to accept credit card payment. But they drove us to the Hilton in Addis and were able to get the birr for payment.

Bahir Dar – we really liked this pleasant tree lined city bordering Lake Tana. We only stayed 2 nights since we had committed to the Simien trek, but definitely would have stayed longer. Stayed at B&B The Annex – a small 4 room B&B with a beautiful little courtyard in the center where we ate breakfast and enjoyed the birds. A great restaurant on the South Shore of the lake, can not remember the name, but also had @ 100 beautiful pelicans nearby.

Gondar – enjoyed the castles. Three Girls restaurant – delicious food.

Simiens – Our understanding – the guides are randomly assigned by the Park Headquarters. We were very lucky to have Davey Yohannes assigned as our guide, and would recommend him. http://www.ambarasethiopiatours.com We are not clear whether you can request a specific guide ahead of time. This is a beautiful trek. Itinerary suggestions above. It is definitely cold, proper gear is essential. Mid Dec we woke up to ice/frost. We were traveling for too long to carry our own gear, but it would be a consideration for another time.

Axum – Africa House is a decent place to stay. Had our best spitz across the street from the Africa House.The small Archeological museum (at the Stella site) is nicely done, with very knowledgeable staff.

Loved the Tigray area – especially the Geralta Lodge. Well worth the splurge!

Mekele – probably the only non interesting town for us, but perhaps it was due to just spending 4 days in the Danakil. Atse Yohannes – upgrade and request the balcony – its old and tired, but ok for a quick stop before and after The Danakil and convenient to the ETT office in Mekele.

The Danakil – GO! It is amazing!!

Lalibela – lots already written – the churches are amazing. We had read lots of warnings on the hassle from the children. Someone has been working very hard to change that image – we were greeted with “welcome to Lailabela’. Yes, they would join you walking, but they did not hassle us.

Harar – a long 9 hour bus ride, stumbling into town at the edge of the massive market, arriving at a dumpy ‘recommend’ hotel (The Belayneh) that did not have water, and pretty filthy … The next morning, stumbling around in the old city, trying to locate the Cultural guesthouses. Finally asked someone and Sherif took us to the unmarked gray door – Zubeyda – to walk into a lovely courtroom with 3 rooms. It changed the entire dynamic of the city. Spent the next 2 days touring with Sherif, the camel market, the spice market, the cloth merchants. Highly recommend a guide to really enjoy the city. Just negotiate the daily charge ahead of time.

Ok, so that is a long post. Hope you find it helpful. We truly enjoyed our trip and definitely hope to return!

More 6th edition errata & updates

Thanks to John Grinling for the following corrections & updates:

P. 159, « The Churches of Kiddist Maryam etc. »  2nd para, first line :
The church named Kiddist Maryam you are speaking about here is not
located at C4 on the map p.162. As you mention, the Kiddist Maryam
church you are speaking about is situated just beside Beta Maryam
where the Menelik II Mausoleum can be found. These two churches are
both are on the western side of the Guebbi, at D1 on the map p.162.
The church situated on that map at C4 is another Kidist Maryam,
therefore also dedicated to St Mary.

P. 185, map : please spell “Tilili” and not “Tiliili”

P. 230 – I would also suggest you mellow down the over emphasized mention of :
“…the world most persistent shoeshine boys…” – I stayed four
days in Debark and could not find event one listro.

P. 256 – “… escape the yelling kids and wanabe guides…” (p. 256) – During a
leisurely week spent in Axum, I particularly appreciated being left
close to totally undisturbed. By the way, the Abinet Hotel seemed to
me particularly well maintained and friendly, and does not make use of
Faranji prices. The prices are cheap – in the range of 200 and 250
birr – and the same for all. It is rare enough to be stressed.


P. 406, one paragraph before the bottom of the page, you mention
“An ambitious excursion from Asbe Teferi…” in the direction of Machara
and the Mt Arba Gugu. Both are not “further east”, as you write, but clearly towards the
south west, as Machara is situated on the continuation, direction
south west, of the road to Kuni. Your book speaks also, first line p.
407, of Kuni being 25 km south east of Asbe Teferi. It should read
south west.


 

Trip report Dec/Jan 2013/4

Matthew Birt writes:

I enjoyed reading and made good use of everyone else’s information, so I thought I ought to contribute:

 

Dec/Jan 2014

Travelled solo, independently using local transport

 

Bradt Guidebook excellent

 

General

 

Generally felt very safe and welcome

Quite a lot of hassle from kids, beggars, tourist touts, blokes in the street – quite consistent, but not that persistant and certainly not threatening in any way. Groups of kids are a right royal pain in the ____ .

 

Transport pretty good. People always really helpful – and I always got to where I was heading, even if I’m not sure how. Roads generally good and traffic free – all the driver has to worry about are the people standing in the middle of it and the aimlessly wandering livestock

Cheap tuk-tuks just about everywhere – seem to have replaced garis in most places

Mobile phone coverage generally good – cheap and quick to get sim (need photocopy of passport and photo)

 

Everything seemed very inexpensive – accomm, transport, food, etc

Easy to change cash in banks/airport

ATMs in a lot of places – Dashen and Commercial Bank worked for me

 

Forgotten how noisy Africa is, especially at night – or at least it was where I slept. Every night. My top tip – take the finest ear plugs money can buy. As well as eye drops (for the dust) and lip balm (for the sun).

 

Budget hotels – apart from in Harar – always provided towel, toilet paper and soap.

 

Weather – always sunny and hot during day – 25-30 C. No rain. In some towns, pretty cold early morning and night and required two fleeces (e.g. Debark, Debre Birhan, Abese Teferi)

 

Bole Airport

 

Arrived 2am, and stayed in there until morning flight to Axum. Felt safe, although pretty cold. Nowhere nice to sleep, try and get into domestic terminal departures asap where there are comfortable loungers.

 

 

 

Axum

 

Hotel reps waiting at airport with free transport

Africa House – fine – 175B en suite single

Thought Tsion Maryam complex at 200B a rip-off, considering much of it closed and under refurbishment

Really enjoyed walk out to Debre Liqanos Monastry

 

Shire

 

Africa Hotel – fine – 150B – adjacent restaurant good but noisy at night

Nice just to be in a normal town, without the tourist ‘nonsense’

Good to walk out of town into countryside to see ‘real’ Ethiopia

 

Debark

 

Bus from Shire didn’t leave until after 7, even though told to be there at 5. Awful road. Wonderful Simien scenery for 10 hours or so!

Simien Park Hotel – good – 250B en suite single

Unique Landscape next door also looked good, but slightly more expensive.

If not trekking, negotiate hard and get a number of quotes for your day trip into the national park – tourist touts, argh!!!

 

Gondar

 

Queen Taitu Pension – 200B en suite single. Poor. No hot water, etc. Noisy.

Moved to  Belegez Pension, 200B, water still a problem, but quieter and nicer courtyard

Four Sisters Restaurant – great food and fantastic dancing. Before I left I didn’t think some contrived dance show for tourists would be a highlight of my trip. But it was. Go and see for yourself.

 

As solo, negotiated guide fee down to 100B (rather than 200) for castle complex

 

Kosoye also a highlight. Easy to get to (30-40 mins north of Gondar). Had a very nice breakfast at Befikir Ecolodge, which is visible from main road. Staff super friendly. Then great walk down into valley. Scout cost 100B, and worth every penny. Tough going.  Highly recommended.

 

Bahir Dar

 

Wudie Pension –  nice big room – 200B.

Ghion looked really run down to me, although good spot for meeting fellow tourists.

Tread carefully with the tourist touts in town. Both half day trips to the lake monastries and waterfall were shambolic and a rip-off. Average price paid seemed to be 200B/person, but I’m sure you can get for less. Get itinerary and any additional costs written down. You have been warned! Good for meeting other (equally hacked-off) tourists though!

Lucky with Blue Nile Falls – water was flowing – and another highlight.

 

Lalibela

 

There for Christmas, so very busy and accomm prices x2 or x3 normal rate

Hotel Lalibela, been refurbished and now rather swish. $45/double en suite

Private Roha – very basic, but felt safe – 400B/twin shared facilities

Recommend Unique Restarant opposite Asheton – cheap and good fun

Walk up to Asheton Maryam good, although hard

 

Used local guide  – Zewudu Melak – +251 (0) 913636414 – for churches – nice guy – only ‘guide’ I used that I can recommend

 

Lake Hayk

 

Logo Hayk Lodge (I think, maybe name changed, not sure)

This place could probably be very peaceful and relaxing, but not on Christmas Day with a huge party going on!

230B/hut ensuite for okayish room (150B if you’re Ethiopian!)

 

Debre Birhan

 

Akalu Hotel – reasonable place – 100B for ensuite

Really nice restaurant at Eva Hotel

 

Bishoftu

 

Alaf Hotel – bit noisy and water issues – 170B en suite. Great view of lake

 

Awash

 

Buffet D’Auoache – 150B/room – pretty nice and peaceful place. Dusty, nondescript town though

 

Managed to find a ‘guide’ to get me into Awash National Park by asking around at hotels. Hired a good minibus and driver for 1000B for the day (6am-6pm). Really enjoyed the reserve, it’s not the Serengeti, but saw quite a lot of game. Waterfalls fab. Awash Falls Lodge looked nice and was a good spot for lunch

 

Abese Teferi

 

Kebsch Int Lodge – decent room – 150B en suite; good restaurant attached

 

Got 6am bus direct to Kuni, found ‘guide’ quickly albeit using sign language and pointing to pictures in my Bradt Guide and visited Kuni Muktar Mountain Nyala Sanctuary. Not sure about ‘30-45 mins walk to river’. I got taken 2 hours up a bloody mountain, then 2 hours back down it. Not my ideal start to the day at 7 am. Fantastic though. Saw plenty of (skittish) nyala, warthogs, reedbuck and hyena.

 

Harar

 

Everyone I met moaned about the hotels in this place – except for those in the cultural guesthouses. The only town where I found that hotels were full

Trawfik Sharif Hotel – bit grim – bucket shower – 150B

Tewodros – 160B ensuite – okayish – despite stinking communal bathrooms at entrance

Belayneh – only offering doubles for 300B and water issues

Heritage Plaza looked more run down and mismanaged than guidebook suggests

Harar Ras – looked best bet – been refurbished – cheapest room 230B – good restaurant serving absolutely wonderful pizzas

Fresh Touch Restaurant – good, but expensive (for Ethiopia)

Hyena feeding cost me 100B – the greatest concentration of tourists I saw in one place throughout my 4 weeks in the country

 

Addis Ababa

 

Almaz Pension – 200B shared bathroom – clean, friendly, quiet, safe

Yod Abyssinia – good fun, if expensive – don’t go alone, sit at the front and be of above average height, otherwise you are liable to get dragged up on stage to dance – much to the amusement of the local crowd. This can lead to embarrassing flashbacks.

 

Have a good trip.

Guide recommendations

Natasha writes:

There are two guides I would like to recommend:
(1) Rufael Fitsum: rufael12@yahoo.com who guides in the Axum and Tigray region (and also took us to Danakil Depression).
(2) Girma Tilahun: girmatour@yahoo.com who is able to arrange trips all over Ethiopia (he is originally from Bale Mountains area) and accompanied us on a 10 day trip from Harer, through Awash and down to the Omo valley region.
Both these guides are fluent in English and demonstrated not just a wealth of information about the sites that we visited with them (delivered in an engaging and contextualised manner), but they also appeared to have excellent relationships with other local guides and hotel owners etc.  Both were excellent at spotting and negotiating photo opportunities
Girma in particular appeared to be well known everywhere we went
Rufael also has a keen interest in birds.
By way of context, we (me and husband in mid thirties) were travelling on a private tour organised.  These two guides were found for us by another agent in Addis who had organised our overall 22 day trip.

Hotel news from Axum & Lalibela

Christina writes:
All the rooms of the Africa Hotel in Axum have been painted and it is a pleasure to sleep in this cheap hotel and have a drink in the garden.
A cheap option to sleep in Lalibela is the Asheton Hotel. The rooms of the Asheton Hotel have been painted and doors and windows renewed. The bathroom is not  so clean.
Very near to the Asheton is the Seven Olives Hotel, where a drink or dinner in the gardens is a real treat.

July/Aug 2013 northern circuit trip report

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.

 

Northern Ethiopia trip report

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.