I was in Ethiopia for 2 and a half months for research from mid July 2014 – end September 2014, but also did some travelling. I did a lot in public transport, for which information is sometimes scarce so I have added some info here, though it is usually quite easy to get information by asking around a bit. Note that the prices that I have put here is what I was charged in Summer 2014, however prices are variable depending e.g. on market days, type of bus taken for transport, prices also vary for peak/off peak seasons, e.g. for hotels , I was there in the off-season.
Their office on Meskel square in Addis does exist but is hard to find, and we found the man bad tempered and unhelpful…maybe it just wasn’t his day…and told us that there were no tickets left on the bus, however we went to the office at Itegue Taitu hotel in Piassa and the lady was very helpful and got us tickets for the bus we wanted.
Took Skybus from Addis – Hawassa and back, a good bus service that leaves on time and is a good price, though there is constantly noise from film/music/standup comedy that they play for the whole bus, so earplugs are worthwhile if you want some quiet. For toilet breaks, the bus just stops on the side of the road somewhere quiet. Also receive a small snack & drink.
They are also very flexible, we had almost illegible tickets (through water destruction) for a Friday, we had tried changing the date, however no-one was around in the Hawasa office and on the phone they just told us to turn up at the busstop at 6am on the Sunday, the day we wanted to leave. After we explained the situation, they accepted our ruined tickets for the wrong day and allowed us to travel! Great!
I took it from Bahir Dar – Addis, same comments as Sky bus.
Generally speaking, if you are careful, there should not be a problem, but there are the odd people that will try to take things from you. In 10 weeks, only 2 attempts were made to take my things (luckily both failed!). In Addis a group of boys distracted me on one side while one of them puts their hands into your pockets on the other side. Even so I continued to keep e.g. phone in my pocket throughout my travels, but I was careful. In minibuses & public transport, if you have bags with you, keep an eye on them (or if you travel with big bags/rucksacks, just avoid keeping important things in them, or if you must, then put them in the least accessible places). I had a small rucksack that I had put by my feet in a minibus, and later caught a man’s hand in it! Luckily I had tied up the inside opening well and he couldn’t access anything, but it is better to keep smaller bags on your lap.
Another friend had his phone stolen by a group of men in a bajaj, clearly they were working together with the driver. He only realised after.
– Tea and coffee in local places almost always comes automatically with sugar already in the drink, although some places more used to foreigners will put sugar aside.
– In hotels, if you like hot showers, one of the 1st things you should do is turn the boiler on as it often takes some time for the water to heat up.
– Cappuccinos don’t have coffee – it is hot milk with a little cocoa powder
SHASHEMENE AND HAWASSA
I enjoyed Hawassa, it is a nice, clean town, and the lake is beautiful.
Paradise hotel – Great location near to the minibus station, good for early starts. It is a nice place but the bar next door is very (very) loud, but otherwise is good value for money
Hawassa to Shashemene and back
10 birr, 20-30min
NOTE – in Shashemene there are 2 bus stations. The minibus from Hawassa goes to the Old bus station
The rainy season is not the best time to go – we were there in mid-August & it rained every afternoon.
Shashemene to Dinsho/Robe and back
100 birr in minibus – if you go to Dinsho, you still must pay the price for Robe. It takes 2h30 from Shashamane – Dinsho.
The buses between Shashamane and Robe arrive and leave from the New bus station.
This is where the Bale Park forest office is, and also where you can get guides. It is at the end of the town (Robe side). It is possible to stay in the Dinsho lodge, but we did not do this as we had heard that it wasn’t great and that it was expensive. From the outside it looks okay so maybe things have changed.
Tuesday is a market day
Dinsho – Robe
11 birr in minibus, 20-30min (15 birr on market day)
We decided to stay in Robe instead of Dinsho as a point de depart for the Bale Mountains.
Public transport between Dinsho & Robe is easy, although we once had difficulty getting a minibus back to Robe at 4pm, although that may be due to the market that there was in Dinsho. It can sometimes be easier picking up a minibus on the side of the road instead of from the bus station in Dinsho.
Thursday is a market day in Robe.
- Abdama hotel – 300/night for 2 single beds (they call it a double). It is fairly clean & comfortable, but shower isn’t great (there is hot water, but not much water comes out of showerhead at a time) & they don’t give much toilet paper. Note: They lock the gate so if you must leave before 7am someone must come and open for you. Good location near the bus station.
- Hanni café is nice, as is the Harar bar and restaurant opposite which seems popular for tibs BUT be careful in Robe asking for tibs, as you may be presented instead with a plate of chips!
The park management advise against using public transport for the Sanetti plateau, and from experience, I will agree with them, unless you have time or plan it well! Getting there was easy however returning was a problem.
From Robe you must go to Goba (5 birr, minibus, 15 min). Sometimes there can be very long queues so if you are continuing to Sanetti, then it is best to leave early (I would suggest about 7am, as we were there at 9am it was far too late).
From Goba, take a bus direction Dolo Mena, and get off at Sanetti campsite (your guide will know it; 60 birr in a public bus, about 1.5hrs; we had 50birr for luggage). It is standard to pay the price of the whole trip to Dolo Mena. Try to leave as early as possible, it took a long time for our bus to fill up, but I don’t think it was the 1st bus that left.
For the return from Sanetti to Robe/Goba – you must wait on the side of the road and wait for a passing bus/truck/car that is willing to take you. We waited all afternoon once and had nothing, and were forced to spend an extra night on the plateau. The afternoon is a bad time for getting transport here although you may get lucky. It is easier to get transport in the morning, we ended up getting picked up by a truck (we were 3 people, 2 travellers and 1 guide).
NORTHERN CIRCUIT (MEKELE-WOLDIA-LALIBELA-BAHIR DAR)
Diana hotel – Near the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. Decent place, but price variable (100birr for a man & woman to share, 150birr for two of the same sex to share). The shower & toilet are shared, but are clean enough.The manager Tesfay is friendly and helpful and can help you out with problems.
Merkeb hotel – We paid 130birr (although according to another couple we met, they paid 100….maybe it was because we were 2 females).Cleanish but I prefered the Diana hotel, which is better for a very similar price, however you can’t beat Merkeb’s location next to the bus station (for southerly destinations), and close to Selam bus stop, particularly useful for early travellers.
Mekele to Hawzen & back (via Wukro)
Take bajaj in Mekele to the Lachi bus station & can get a minibus from there
To return: it is difficult to get a minibus back after 3pm
Good base for visiting rock hewn churches (of which Abuna Yemata & Debre Maryam Korkor are definately worth visiting, particularly if you also enjoy hiking a bit, the views are wonderful!). It is also possible to arrange longer hiking trips over several days (or even weeks I think) to less accessible churches.
Gheralta lodge – it is by far the nicest place to stay, and worth it (1300birr/ night for a room with 3 single beds, private bathroom, and includes a great breakfast)
Vision hotel – Recently opened (end of August 2014) and is nice and clean, the manager is friendly and speaks good English. No running water, but this was a problem in the whole village at that particular moment (130birr / room/ night with private bathroom). I am sceptical about how long the hotel will stay in good condition as some material in the bathroom seems a little flimsy.
Mekele – Woldia (Weldiya)
I ended up having to take several minibuses to get here, although I think it is possible to get bigger buses directly if you arrive in time at the bus station (big bus leaves at 6am)
Mekele – Mohia: 45birr, about 2hrs
Mohia – Alamata: 20birr, about 1hr
Alamata – Woldia: about30birr, about 2hrs
Woldia is quite a nice but plain small town – I enjoyed climbing one of the hills for a very nice view of the town, although I would have preferred to have headed straight onto Lalibela (unfortunately I missed the last buses)
Jordanos hotel – Clean, nice. Didn’t have hot water but think I was just unlucky with a broken boiler.
Woldia – Lalibela and Lalibela – Bahir Dar
Woldia – Gashena then Gashena – Lalibela
Buses between these destinations tend to overcharge farenji. On my return trip Gashena – Lalibela I was asked to pay 70 birr, the locals paid 40. On my trip from Gashena to Bahir Dar, I was asked to pay 200birr, negotiated this to 150 birr, however the locals only paid 80birr.
Bahir Dar & the Blue Nile Falls
I had heard that a lot of people were disappointed with the Blue Nile Falls because of lack of water (due to a hydropower plant) however I went in mid September at the end of the rainy season and thought that they were really superb.
Minibuses around Addis
Prices are more expensive later at night. It is difficult to get the minibuses after 9.30pm. They don’t tend to overcharge farenji. For some idea of prices:
Stadium – Haya Hulet: 4 birr
Haya Hulet – Arat Kilo: 4 birr
Stadium – Global (Kira direction): 6 birr
Arat Kilo – Bole: 3 birr
Arat Kilo – Shiro Meda: 3 birr
Arat Kilo – Piazza: 1.5 birr
Arat Kilo – Meganegna: 3 birr
Arat Kilo – Stadium: 3 birr
Stadium – Kaliti bus station: 10 birr
Many people like this place, I did not. I found the lakes very dirty, with lots of rubbish, except if you are in a lodge or restaurant on the side of the lake, and my travel partner and I got harassed quite a bit.
Kaliti bus station to Bishoftu: 12-15 birr
– Try to leave in the morning. Often I found buses would leave at 6am, and you would have to arrive earlier to take tickets.
– Make sure you aren’t in a hurry, the buses can sometimes take quite some time to fill up (Often they fill up fairly quickly, but it isn’t always the case)
– Often they will charge you more for luggage (but not always)
Liza D writes:
I went to Bale mountains, for the 3rd time, and was shocked to see that the Dinsho lodge has been leased out to a private company that is now charging 55 dollars for a single and 75 dollars for a double and 20 dollars for a bunk bed in a dorm, with all the rooms sharing 2 toilets that don’t work properly, and two showers that look just as bad as they did a year ago when it was less than 5 dollars a night for the bed. They have changed the beds and cleaned up the place a little bit, but these are by far the most ridiculous farenji prices in all of Ethiopia. They also charge people an additional 400 birr a day if they want to use the kitchen.
Park entrance fees are still as before and same for all the other parks: 50 for foreign residents and 90 for foreign tourists.
Price for the guides has gone up, 200 for walk around the HQ (which I believe is totally overpriced – similar walk at Shala/Abyata park is 70 birr for the guide.), 250 for a full day and 300 for a full day if the guide has to sleep elsewhere than his home.
I’ve used the same guide as before, Muzeyen Turke, and I highly recommend him, he is extremely knowledgeable about the wolves as he used to work as a wolf monitor. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
I know you don’t do guide recommendations anymore, so feel free to delete this part.
We also visited the new Bale mountain lodge in Harenna forest. We had coffee with the owners and got a tour of the whole place. It is really nice, and will be even more so after the rainy season, when the vegetation covers the areas that have got bare soil due to construction that finished recently. The place will have 15 rooms in the end, including a tree house-room. Prices are 220 dollars per person all inclusive (room, full board, all drinks including alcohol, and a guide). There is also a resident rate of 150 dollars per person.
The place also has 3 rooms that accessible for people in wheel chairs.
They have a website http://www.balemountainlodge.com
We stayed a hotel in Robe called Abadama. Twin rooms cost 300 birr and a queen size bed rooms cost 200 birr. There is no discount for residents, only for Ethiopian nationals (250/150 respectively if I am not mistaken). Rooms are fine, sheets were clean, there is hot water, though the shower is either boiling hot or cold, no in between.
They have a restaurant that serves decent food, including breakfast, but not before 7 am. They are super stingy with toilet paper in the rooms, you will get very little extra if you ask, so maybe travel with your own extra roll, which can be purchased cheaply in the local shops.
On the way back we stopped at Abiata-Shala national park to see the flamingos. Entrance fees same as Bale mountains, except car was 5 birr more expensive, as they decided that even though I was a resident, traveling with my car, the fact that I had a farenji in my car, it meant I needed to pay farenji car fees (20 birr instead of 15 – really small, but I didn’t like the principle).
Thanks to Michael Pinet for this wonderfully detailed and informative trip report:
We have read and studied the Bradt guide again and again to prepare our 2011 and 2014 trips to Ethiopia and it was the only guide we took with us. We like its thoroughness, accuracy and personal touch. However here is some updated detailed information I would have liked to find either in the latest edition or on the internet. I have also added some impressions about our own experience. I hope it will be valuable to people planning a visit to Ethiopia.
Goba is no longer the hub of the Bale area, Robe is. This the place where minibuses leave for and arrive from Shashemene. Bekele Mola hotel (250 birrs for 2 people in a single room with hot shower) is still fairly good value with its bungalows. As usual in Ethiopia, the bathroom is in poor condition.
The organization of a trek in the Bale mountains is not done through the park headquarters, dealing with civil servants , as in the Simiens but through the Nyala Guide Association next to it. So you need to be very clear and check twice what you really want as English is often misunderstood and they are keen to charge you for extra days, etc. The price are as follows :
– guide 300 birrs per day
– horse 120 birrs per day
– horse handler 170 birrs per day
– cook 400 birrs per day
– tent + sleeping bags 400 birrs per night (rented by a guide’s friend!), expensive but quite
– entrance fee 90 birrs per day / per person
– camping fee 40 birrs per night
If you do not walk back to your starting point, Dinsho, then you have to pay extra days for the horses and handlers. Logical. The same with the guide or cook unless they use your car or minibus to go back.
For a 5-day trek for 2 people you will need to add 1500 birrs (same amount in the Simiens 2 years ago) for the food which the cook will buy (you feed the whole group, of course as in the Simiens but you can tell the cook what you want to eat). He will also supply the cooking equipment.
You might need a car or minibus to pick you up at Sanetti Campsite, at the end of your trek to take you back to Robe, Goba or Dinsho. We paid 1900 birrs (a guide’s friend again). Expensive as usual, but it is the same all over Ethiopia and when you take into account the poor conditions of the roads it is acceptable.
We did the usual 5-day trek
– Dinsho – Sodota campsite (22k / 3100m to 3500m)
– Sodota – Keyrensa campsite (20k / 3750m)
– Keyrensa – Rafu campsite (17k + 4k to visit spectacular lava flow / 3990m)
– Rafu – Garba Guracha campsite (18k / 3950m)
– Garba Guracha – Mt Batu (4200m) – Sanetti campsite where a hired minibus picked us up
That was absolutely great! Not breathtaking as the Simiens was, due to the tracks often along the escarpment, but majestic because of the huge scopes of land and varied landscapes. No problem whatsoever with altitude, etc. and we are both over 65. Contrary to the Simiens there is no water at the campsites and there is a cold northerly wind (you can’t keep a T-shirt on as you would in the Simiens, you need warmer clothes and a woolly hat, especially the last 3 days!). The cook, Idris, was competent and nice and so was the guide, Awol.
They all expect tips as they would in Ethiopia. A day’s fee is the norm as I read in Bradt’s guide when we did the Simiens, so a day’s fee it was and they were pleased.
Wabe Shebelle hotel in Goba is nice, clean, with pleasant grounds (454birrs for a single room for 2, breakfast included).
Shalla hotel : good quality, clean, nice. 250birrs for a single room for 2 people. Not far from bus station
Midroc Zewed Village hotel (called Old Zewed Village now) is just as mentioned in Bradt guide. It is a haven of green, quiet and relaxing, thriving with wild life . We spent our late afternoons sitting by the lake and watching cormorants, Egyptian geese, egrets and kingfishers endlessly . The bungalows are roomy with still decent bathrooms. The manager told us he was planning to pull everything down and rebuild it. Let’s hope he will keep its unique atmosphere. A bungalow with a double bed is 414 birrs, breakfast included. The fish market is not to be missed and neither is the superb walk along the lake, full of life. Had a good meal at the Pinna hotel as mentioned in guide.
Be careful with the freshly appointed civil servant called Astbeha at the Tigrai tourist commission in Wukro. He blatantly overcharged us and is unknowledgable . He offered to be our guide for 275 birrs a day, which we found reasonable , yet it turned out to be the fee per person! (Our fault, I assume for not making things clear at the beginning!). However he proved to have no knowledge whatsoever about the churches we visited and made us miss the opportunity to visit Debre Tsion through lack of information.
It is important to know that you need a guide from the Gheralda Guide Association in Hawzien to visit the churches nearest Hawzien, namely Mariam Korkor and Abuna guebre Mikael as far as we were concerned. We were pleased to get rid of our “guide” for a proper one .
We used Wukro as a base for our 3 day visit and used a minibus (1500 birrs a day) with a competent, nice, responsible driver (Sishay Degu 09 14 49 07 06). Here again it sounds expensive yet the distances are important and the roads are just tracks most of the time. What’s more the driver accompanied us in all the visits and was a good help in discouraging the usual kids and teens .
Day 1 : Mikael Imba and Medhane Alem Adi Kasho
Day2 : Abreha We Atsbeha and Yohannis Maikudi (Debre Tsion could have been done!)
Day3 : Maryam Korkor and Abuna Gebre Mikael
Each church charges 150birrs per person and a receipt is given . Most of the priests do not ask for a tip and all have been very pleasant, sharing some injera and wot with us on two occasions.
Tigrai is not to be missed for the churches of course but also for the landscape and the walks which can be just as good as the churches themselves (the walk to Mariam Korkor in particuliar).
Lwam hotel is clean and pleasant (300birrs for a single room for 2)
Wenchi crater from Ambo
Abebech Matafaria hotel in Ambo is clean, very nice with welcoming grounds (285birrs for a single room for 2 with a good hot shower)
We paid 1100 birrs for a minibus to take us to Wenchi crater and back, a 1.5 hour drive each way on a bumpy track, leaving at 8.30 and coming back at 4.30. A good price negotiated through the hotel receptionist. It should have been 1500 birrs.
Did a superb 5-hour walk down to the lake, across to the island of Deber by boat , then to Immogil point by boat again , then along the Dawala hot spring valley with its watermills, back up to the park headquarters.
– car park fee :30 birrs
– entrance fee : 50 birrs per person
– guide : 200 birrs
– boat : 50 birrs per person
– horse and handler = 50 birrs (we hired them to contribute to the local economy but we didn’t
really need them and hardly used them )
A very scenic place with a nice and clean village and friendly people.
2 hours by minibus from Addis from Asco bus station or Mercato .
– No maps or guide available anymore (Bale mountains national park, Wenchi crater, Tigrai
– Dallas hotel in Mekele is dirty, smelly, not worth the 200birrs for a single room for 2. And we are
not fussy people in the least! The small Moringa hotel next door is much better with friendly staff
yet more expensive (300 birrs)
– Sky buses are still efficient with friendly staff in their ticket offices but the buses are deteriorating
fast and drivers do not seem as cautious as they were. We saw a huge difference in 2 years’ time
and not for the better (cockroaches in one, worn out clutch and creaking gears in another)!
Terence Baker writes:
1. The biggest talking point in Ethiopia is the huge hike in entrance to Lalibela. I noticed that no one seems to pay people if they are taking their photos any more, and the shoe carriers have disappeared. See my report for GoNOMAD magazine (http://www.gonoma.net/component/content/article/21-features/4818-ethiopia-s-rock-hewn-churches) and please note my comments on the wonderful Lalibela Hudad accommodation option and the “Library Club” scam as you come down from Asheton Maryam;
2. The Cafeteria Ali Bal in Harar is now a bathroom fixtures shop; The Zubeyda Guest House in Harar is cool and interesting but certainly not spotless;
3. The only place in the whole country where the children seemed spiteful, for some maybe threatening, was by Lake Ziway where the hippo boats leave from. I almost clocked one for throwing a stone at the Woodland kingfisher I was looking at through binoculars.
4. We were very lucky to see Ethiopian wolf on the Bale Mountains, and more so to see a Bale monkey (which I photographed) beside the road. It was very misty as we drove down from the Sanetti Plateau towards the Harena Forest, which might have forced this rare monkey farther down.
Terence Baker writes:
I thought your readers might be interested in my tale of getting to Harar from the Bale Mountains via the Wabe Shebelle gorge and river via the Sof Omar Caves and the tomb of Sheikh Hussein.
Breaking it into usable parts, rather than giving you an essay on my adventures:
i) From Robe/Goba – the road just a few miles east of Robe turns to dust, all the way to Sof Omar. There, someone on the side of the road flagged down my car (I was travelling with the excellent Zawdu Hailu from T Jazz Ethiopia (contact via British Addis Ababa resident Jerome Aubrey at email@example.com)) and demanded payment to the caves. It was not so expensive, but the “government fee” we knew did not exist other than in their pockets; throughout Ethiopia we heard about “government fees” and “association-fixed prices,” even if there never could be produced receipts or forms, which I always though associations loved. This is tiring when the “guide” produced does not speak English, but there you go. Sof Omar is a good site for Bristle-headed starling, Red-billed hornbill and Vervet monkey, and on the way there I saw White stork and Black-backed jackal.
ii) I used Hungarian company Gizi’s map of Ethiopia (www.gizimap.hu), which is detailed, but the only road that it looked possible to use to go north of Sof Omar was not the yellow one that goes between Ginir and Gure, but the thin red one that does go to those two towns but not directly, via Delo and Jara, where it was possible to eat lunch.
iii) Sheikh Hussein is a highlight. Basically, it consists of one tomb (as you know), with whitewash, inscribed Arabic sentences from the Quran painted black, low roofs and a large outer wall. Again, a few costs seemed to be plucked out of thin air. We paid 200 birr each for entry, 100 birr for a non-English speaking guide and 150 birr for a guard to stay up and look after us (which he did) when we slept in the one-storey government hut 200 metres south of the tomb. You need to bring your own sleeping bags and mats, but if was okay. Larger groups – when they come, which is rarely – can sleep in a school, with much the same arrangements but higher costs, one assumes. The children here were so excited to see us that they forgot they were twirling cut-throat razors as they came to see us. The only restaurant is at the far side of the village, has no name and has no cooking facilities apart from an open fire. Spaghetti with spicy meat sauce cost 35p, I calculated, and there is a small shop opposite that sold Harar beer and bottled water, which we bought so that our cook could cook with it. The tour of the tomb was wonderful, even if everything had to be translated. Several old men sat around outside, looking like Hollywood central casting characters for mujahedeen rebels; everyone was stoned on qat, and several bent over to eat pieces of grey gravel on the tomb floor. At the “restaurant” we met a couple of government officials from Addis Ababa who were there to look at the possibilities of providing electricity, gas and main-lines water to the village (there is none), and they said the extra “government” costs were fictitious. Still, none of that mattered, as costs are low, and the experience – sitting on low benches while bearded Muslims slowly got off their boxes on qat and hyenas moaned in the distance – memorable. Bring a torch!
iv) The road north of Sheikh Hussein is not to be done in the rainy season. We were there in early April, and Zawdu said he would not have wanted to drive that route much after that month – actually, he said ever again if he did not have another vehicle with him in a convoy. The road is fine. Gravel. But for about 150 kilometres between Sheikh Hussein and Micheta, we saw only two boys shepherding camels. There is nothing. It is beautiful, and standing beside the Wabe Shebelle river, which flows into Somalia, and driving along the sides and across the stunning Wabe Shebelle canyon is every bit as wonderful as my trips to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Waimea Canyon in Kauai. But suffer a breakdown, and help is probably three days away. The road is a little narrow in places, large rocks testament to landslides. I was very happy I got through unscathed, but I could see the dangers of taking that route. It was the only place in Ethiopia where I did not see at least one person somewhere. No villages, no nothing, just a Salt’s dik-dik that was not shy in the least.
v) The road remains dust after it starts to become populated at Micheta. The towns of Mechara, Gelemso and Bedesa are very busy, and this was the most we heard the shouts of “you!” and “farangi!” on our trip. Perhaps because fewer people come that way. When you reach Asbe Teferi, the road becomes asphalt.
Awassa: The food in the restaurant of Lewy hotel was excellent (including free Wi-Fi), I stayed in Midre Genet Hotel (80 Birr) = ok. The reservation by phone of the Gebre Kristos Hotel (200 Birr) did not work, next day nobody knew about the phone call and no room was available …
– Goba: Yilma Hotel: The very well English speaking owner (manager) was very helpful to his guests. So he arranged a one day trip to NP Bale Mountains und the forest for a fair price. (Because of a bad leg I cannot do 3 day trekking …), The price for a single/double room was 80 Birr.
– Bale Mountains: There is a possibility to stay overnight without tent at a place called the Harena Forest Hotel & Cultural Centre. You can leave the regular bus from Goba (with the slight problem to get further…)