7th edition errata

I’ve picked up a few typos and the like in the 7th edition, as follows:

Addis Ababa map, p 159 – The road erroneously named ‘Guest House’ is actually New Haya Hulet Road, the name used in the text.

p. 177: Olmec head (not: Ormec)

Awra Amba p 249 – references to Debre Sina in the directions should read Debre Tabor.

Dessie map, p 305 – the walking route marked on the inset is arrowed in the opposite direction to the description in the text.

p.320: king Abgar (not Agbar) of Edessa


Makdala Hill to/from Dessie or Lalibela

Andreas writes:

From Dessie the trip to Makdala via Tenta should take six hours altogether.

To get to Tenta from Dessie, you must follow the road to Wegel Tena for about 70 km (not 95 km as indicated in the Bradt Guide). You pass the village of Kutaber (ca. 20 km northwest of Dessie) and then you descend in the valley of the Beshlo River. The 50 km stretch of road from Kutaber to the junction to Tenta is very scenic, but also in a very bad condition. In fact parts of the road and a bridge over the Beshlo are washed away, so you have to drive for some km in the river bed! You can handle this road in a 4×4 only during the dry season, and probably not at all in the rainy season. When I took this road alone in my Nissan Navara the 15th of April 2013, I didn’t meet a single car for ca. 70 km, so it is definitely not for the fainthearted!

After about 70 km, when the road leaves the river to ascend to Wegel Tena, you must turn left to Tenta. There is no sign, but the road to Tenta is clearly visible. This gravel road was recently completed and is in an excellent condition (comparable to the road from Gashena to Lalibela). After about 30 km you will reach Tenta. At the main square of Tenta (if you like to call it a square), signposted by the equestrian statue of Ras Mikael and the Tenta branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, you turn right and you will see a sign “Bon voyage to Makdala”. Follow this road for 17 km and you will arrive on Makdala Hill.

The road from Tenta to Makdala is was under construction in April 2013. The first part is already completed, the second part is still at least in some parts in a very bad condition, but you can handle it with a 4×4 without problems. Above all, you don’t need anymore a permission from the police station in Ajibar or a police escort!

At Makdala you will be asked a “negotiable” entrance fee. Originally I was asked 100 birr, but I negotiated it down to 50 birr.You can pitch a tent close to the so-called “lodge” and sleep there overnight, as I did. “Sebastopol”, the famous cannon, is not directly situated on Makdala Hill, but at the feet of another small pinnacle, called “Selassie” and separated from Makdala by a small saddle. Anyway you can reach it also by road and the locals, living on Makdala, are generally very helpful. And don’t forget to visit the local “tella-beth”, really a unique experience!

From Tenta you drive back to the Beshlo River on the new gravel road. After crossing the river over a new bridge, the road starts ascending to Wegel Tena. After ca. 30 km (from Tenta) you will reach the mentioned T-junction. Take the left turn to Wegel Tena (reccommended), which you will reach ascending after about 25 km. The right turn leads back to Dessie.

If you want to continue from Wegel Tema to Lalibela or Woldia, you must take the road to Gashena (74 km). This road is also under construction and some parts are in quite bad condition, too, but it is easily passable in a 4×4, and should not take more than 2.5 to 3 hours. When you reach the main road from Bahir Dar/Gonder to Woldia you can go straight on for another 64 km to Lalibela or turn right for another 112 km to Woldia.

Luxury bus services

We’ve just had news of two companies offering luxury coach services (or what passes for luxury in Ethiopia) along several major routers. In both cases the coach are meant to provide a compromise between expensive flights and rough local buses, and they are aimed at middle class Ethiopian as much as tourists, so not madly expensive.  Both have useful websites, if you want to explore further.  

Sky Bus started up in Dec 2008 and offers services from Addis Ababa to six major cities, namely Bahir Dar, Gonder, Jimma, Awassa, Harer and Dire Dawa.

Selam Bus runs services to Bahir Dar, Gonder, Jimma, Harer, Dire Dawa, Jijiga, Dessie and Mekele, and even has an online reservation system.

Any feedback from travellers who use these services will be greatly appreciated!

Comments on the northern historical circuit

We spent 3 weeks in Ethiopia, with a few days in Addis and 17 days travelling around the northern circuit in a 4 by 4 with local driver. We paid $135 per day (all inclusive) for a 12 year old, fairly hammered, but reliable vehicle, with a driver that spoke a little English. Badly fitting doors and windows meant that dust was a problem and face masks were needed on the gravel roads.

After the guidebook warnings about petty crime in Addis, we were initially careful, but then pleasantly surprised about how relaxed and safe it felt, even in the busy areas around the Piazza and the Mercato. We only heard about one case of pickpocketing and that was in the crush of people attending the Timkat ceremony in Gonder. Generally, the Ethiopians are so friendly and helpful that its a pleasure to wander about and relax in the many cafes. Up-country, we expected hassles from children asking for money etc., but whilst this does occur, it is not the big problem that the guidebook implies and can easily be deflected with a few firm words or jokes. Generally the children just seem to like to stand around you and stare.

There have been a few new hotels built in the tourist centres but the fairly poor standard of construction and the lack of active management and maintenance means that they are already deteriorating. There is also the problem of high charges but low standards for western food.
There was no piped water in the hotels in the upper part of Gonder during the Timkat period and we were told that it was because of the filling of the pool for the ceremony. However, the provision of a large tank in the yard of our hotel and the state of the toilets led me to believe that water shortages there are a regular occurrence.

Costs have risen in hotels but the big rises are in entrance fees to tourist sites, with the Lalibela churches now costing 200 Birr and the individual churches in Tigrai 50 Birr.

The Chinese are building new roads leading north from Addis towards Dessie and from Woldia to Gashena. Quite long sections are completed but the section from Addis to Debre Sina is at an early stage of construction and the long, rough diversions make for a slow and uncomfortable journey. The roads through Dessie and Kombolcha were in a terrible state, as they were being dug up for drains and road construction.

Following are some comments on the hotels we stayed in:

Ghion Hotel, Addis. Good value rooms and facilities ($55). The extensive gardens (more like a park) are good for quiet relaxation and the Olympic size pool is great. Food is quite good, except for the buffet breakfast that is expensive and very poor. However, good fresh juices, croissants and coffee can be had in the cafes near the entrance.

Shebel Hotel, Debre Markos. Basic, but adequate rooms and a friendly place. (105 Birr)

Papyrus Hotel, Bahir Dar. Good quality, clean, but expensive rooms and decent restaurant ($50). No ambiance and pool did not look clean or inviting. The Ghion Hotel, has nice shady gardens, overlooking the lake, but the place looks basic and run-down. Good place to relax with a drink.

Queen Taitu, Gonder. Newish, but basic construction, in need of maintenance and not too clean. On the hill above the town and there was no piped water at Timkat. ( $50 at Timkat, but negotiated to $40 in view of water situation) This was a hotel with an absent manager! Food was very limited and the Quara Hotel in the main square is a much better option.

Imet Gogo Hotel, Debark. New hotel with good, small rooms. ( 150 Birr) Nice bar and dining room with good food and friendly staff.

Simien Lodge Dormitory. Very expensive bunk in shared 4 bed room. ($31 each). Shared toilets and showers not very clean and, though advertised, there was no hot water, and its very cold up there! The solar panel for the hot water was missing! The food was expensive, the breakfast very poor and the service terrible. It seems to be a case of poor and absent management. Our request for a reduction on the cost of accommodation because of the lack of hot water was turned down because the manager was not there!

Exodus Hotel, Axum. New hotel with good quality rooms and comfortable bar and dining room. (175 Birr). Variable service and breakfast menu expensive and irrational. (Full breakfast 25 Birr, including drinks, continental 20 Birr excluding drinks) Again, no management around to sort out things.

Tourist Hotel, Hawzein New motel type place, with good small rooms and friendly owner. No restaurant at present, but one is planned. (100 Birr) Only basic food in the small restaurants in town. The Gheralta Lodge, run by an Italian, is a very attractive place and has lots of information about the nearby churches, but it is small and advance booking is probably necessary.

Hilltop Hotel, Mekele. Bungalow type rooms in surrounding gardens are large and comfortable but a little run-down. (190 Birr) The bar and dining room are pleasant with good views over the area and decent food.

Lal Hotel, Lalibela. The old ,bungalow type rooms in the garden are pleasant. ($36). The new Tukals are attractive inside but set at present in a building site! ($42). The bar and Restaurant are in attractive Tukals but the food was terrible and expensive. We took breakfast in the Tukal village, across the road, and ate in the Seven Olives for lunch and Lasta Hotel for dinner.

Qualiber Hotel, Dessie. Good clean rooms, but the most unfriendly staff we came across in Ethiopia! (150 Birr) Poor service and food.

The hotels we stayed in were not always the most expensive in a town but were generally of the upper quality. We had no problems with bed bugs or fleas and we had little need to use the spray we brought as a precaution.

David Miller, Feb 2009