Gashena accommodation

Marjan writes:

If you are looking for a basic and cheap accomodation where you experience Ethiopian life in Gashena, the junction town for Lalibela, please contact deacon Arega Abebaw (e-mail: + mobile: phone 0921525636). He offers simple rooms with private toilet and shower for 150-200 birr. He lives with his family close to the Emanuel Church and the bus station to Gashena. He can offer daytrip to other rock hewn churches in the area around Lalibela. Deacon Arega is very friendly, speaks good English and knows a lot.

MIkael Imba (Tigrai), Gashena & Domestic flights

Sander writes:
The ‘Gashena ticket scam’ (p. 313) is still very much alive. We encountered almost exactly the same thing (unfortunately, we only read about it afterwards). A guy ripped us off for 400 Birr. Also, we found it extremely difficult to find transport in and out of lalibela. We came from Dessie/Woldia and upon our arrival in Gashena, we could hardly find a bus to lalibela (and once we did, we had to pay 400 Birr, whereas the normal price should be 100 for two persons). Also getting out of Lalibela was very difficult: we arrived at the bus station at 5.30 a.m. (advised by our hotel); there were four buses there (already fully packed) which all left without us (after having asked us two or three times the regular price). We ended up hitchhiking with a truck, paying way too much. Then we were stranded in Gashena again, where we had to wait almost 5 hours for a minibus to Bahir Dar, that also overcharged us at least 2 or 3 times. Finally we paid almost 1200 Birr for coming to lalibela from Addis and 1000 for getting from Lalibela to Bahir Dar. Maybe this is worth mentioning (it was by far our most difficult trip, which we did not expect, considering Lalibela is Ethiopia’s most touristic destination).
We went to the rock hewn churches in Tigrai. Considering the Mikael Imba church (p. 293-94), you already mentioned that the ‘treasurer’ was ‘neither co-operative nor friendly’. Well, things did not improve lately, to say the least. We had a really bad experience there. We were travelling with a Belgian couple. They decided to not enter the church, but my brother and I wanted to. The priest/treasurer however already wrote a ticket for 4 persons, which is 600 Birr nowadays (we tried to tell him that there would only be two people), and refused to change it. Eventually he got so upset that he refused to let anybody in. Things got out of hand (the guy started shouting at us and went up to our driver) and eventually he threatened to throw a big rock at the front window of our car (we were about to leave). We were quite upset and half the village was there to look at us. Finally we decided to pay him the 300 Birr (the fee for 2 persons) even though none of us had seen the church. We felt that paying was the only option of getting out of there without damage to our car. The treasurer/priest claimed that he would otherwise get into trouble because of the ticket he wrote. We didn’t understand exactly what he meant, but we even offered him to leave a note with our passport numbers and autograph, stating that we did not pay any money to him. Afterwards, we informed the police about the incident in the next village and they told us they would look into it. It is perhaps better to avoid this church all together, because the guy went completely mental.
About the Ethiopian Airlines ticket prices: prices for domestic flights are now MUCH lower if you fly with Ethiopian Airlines TO Ethiopia. For example, flying from Bahir Dar to Addis would be around 150 dollars (regular price). However if you have an international ticket through Ethiopian, it would cost you only 50 dollars. Many people we met did not know about this, as the ruling only came into being earlier this year. We flew with Turkish airlines, so no discount for us making it too expensive now for us to fly domestically.

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.

Feb 2013 trip report

John writes:

I could fill a book with all the positve aspects and good fruit juice places etc in Ethiopia!!! But a few negative experiences:


For low budget travellers to eat in Lalibela, go to the bottom of the town, walk past paradise hotel, continue uphill, before turnoff road to jerusalem hotel, past nobles gift shop on left is Hanna’s. She has she only been there 2 months & a internet place is to the right of her kiosk. Hanna basically caters for the local fratenity esp the street kids so if you want youngsters to practice ther english with you and eat great tastng homemade flatpan bread and scrambled eggs this is your breakfast stop befroe going uphill. Also, from midday, continue past the lal hotel to roha supermarket on the left side also, next to that is a white painted kiosk, selling souvenirs when open, behind that is Denke’s House. Denke is a bit of a local legend as she takes in street kids and feeds them as well. she does injera meals for 10 birr, does more assorted meals at the w/e due to more veggies from the market on saturday, if you have 2 boiled eggs on your plate its 15 birr more. she serves til the evening when all the food has gone.
Jordan’s Pension is the cheapest faranji place to stay at the top of the town, for 80 birr. It’s past the niteclub strip, past the blue lal hotel on the right, down a pathway, i got a room at the paradise hotel down at the bottom for 150 birr,rooms 1 to 6 being the cheapies

Gashena scam:

In feb i was with 2 other faranji going from gashena to bahir dar,we were approached by a guy with one third of his right nostril missing looks like a minor burn,he duly got us places on a mini bus to bahir dar for 150birr-later we found out it should be 100 birr,anyhow he took us to the minibus and we paid 150 each,no ticket issued of course,i wasnt particalary bothered about paying more at that time, but a little while later the ticket collecter lad tried to get another 150birr out of us,then i took umbridge to this and so did the other 2.basically what happens mr fixit gets you on the minibus takes the payment outside,and the driver,the ticket collecter,and mr fixit get 150 birr each,split it 3 ways and no ticket are issued,tana transport lose 300 birr without the companys knowledge. Its the law that all passengers must be given a ticket,the police enforce what other passengers are paying if you doubt the sincerity of some ticket collecters.

Lake Tana by boat

2 day boat trip to gorgora on lake tana from bahir dar.if you are approached when you dock in gorgora by a guy called saddam with an east africa flora and fauna guidebook be wary.turn left you arte at the government hotel within 2 minutes,to be honest he helped me get the cheapest room there for 60 birr opposite the tennis courts.later i went to the village main sterrt 3 mins away and he showed me the local eatery which i would have found anyway.i bought him a meal and a drink.he hovers round the hotel bar all the time.he was under the impression that since i met him off the boatthat i had employed him as guide,not so!he may well be a flora/fauna guide and know his stuff,but make it very clear to him you do not require his services,unless you do need a guide,basically when i got a morning bus out,i had to remonstrate to the crowd via an englsh speaking ethiopian,that he was a xxxxwit and a pest.and he appolished to the his village as he lost face.

Simien Mountains
Whatever any guide tells you in the park office,you do not buy food for your scout,muleman and guide if you choose one.theres a band of brothers thing going on at the campsites where where the fellow,guides/cooks look after thei fellow comrades,also dont buy more than 6 pieces of bread they go solid quickly in the mtn really dont need the added expense of a guide .

Yohannis Maikudi (Tigrai)

on 14th march faranji date i hitched a lift with an ethiopian/swiss couple in their own minibus to yohannis maikudi church,they also had their own ethiopian guide who was travelling with them,though not an official guide from a tour office.hoardes of school children descended on the minibus,running across fields,2 youths were employed one to watch the minibus another to escort us up the mtn,3 or 4 others came along to.we had tella nad injera after the priests had stopped fasting at priest apparently said to the youths ,be good to these people,they are good people.we were met by a mass of children at the minibus beng met down from the mtn.then it wa the old,you,you,you,give me money,give me money,bridgade kicked in.the two guides were paid but demanded more then,then everybody was demanding money,we made a hasty retreat,pushing them off to slam the sliding back passenger door,some body had apparently put a sharp in strument in the hatch door as john the owner couldnt open it with a key.the van was pelted with rocks and stones and youngsters ran across the fiels to cut us off,thankfully we made it,ive read jon girling’s accout that he sent to me.

Street kids in Addis Ababa

I buy off street kids everyday, to support a micro economy,but be wary of them in addis they bunch you and twice very nearly robbed me,once on an inside pocket and up by st georges chuch managed to unzip my day bag as well!


Independent travel in Ethiopia – the downsides

I found your book entertaining to read but It would seem that we visited a different country to the Ethiopia you write about. Have travelled a fair bit but Ethiopia is the one country I was happy to leave. We travelled independantly using public transport in both the South (more preferable) and the North. We were worn down by the begging, cheating and lieing which appear to be endemic the like of which we have never experienced in some 40 odd years of travelling. Additionally being mobbed by groups of up to about 20 youngsters selling cigarettes, tissues, etc. who refused to move away even when local people berated them can become alarming. It would seem that they were operated by Faginesque characters. Being spat on was unpleasant but I took it as local recompense for previous European colonialism.

I could drone on about beggars and their games and tactics but one comment would be that no one appeared to be short of food. A comment from a teacher we met seemed to sum things up when he commented that the Government did very well from begging so why not everyone else!

Virtually every bill we were given was significantly inflated, 4 times was the record for sending the bill back before we got one that was somewhere near the costs shown on the menu – which as you pointed out – were several times more than the menu written in Amharic.

Bus stations were typically hazardous and many times we had to wrestle our bags back from people who had picked them up or, made off with them and demanded money for their return. This typically occurred when police or security chose not to stop them entering bus stations or interfere when they were present.

As to the environment poaching and tree felling go on non stop. We did tell some park rangers of people felling trees but by the time they, their kalashnikovs and we got back to the area they had left with the firewood. Though the rangers did confiscate a machete. The rangers have a thankless and impossible task. Given the current rate of deforestation I doubt little will be left in perhaps 10 years.

Buses from Gonder to Lalibela. We were fortunate we bought tickets easily for the Woldia bus (number 1181) and got to Gashena in 6 hours to catch the Lalibela bus. Others we met were not so lucky and were sold tickets to Gashena but their buses terminated earlier leaving them to buy tickets on connecting buses. However at Gashena there is a scam run where local people ‘tell’ the ticket seller to charge vastly inflated prices to westerners, they then collect the additional cost from the ticket seller. We argued and the ticket seller accepted our offer. We then discovered the scam whilst talking to fellow passengers (who would say nothing whilst in Gashena). In Lalibela I complained to the Police who forced the ticket collecter to return the additional ‘charge’. The fare is 20 birr per person. Initially the ticket seller wanted 100 per person, my wife would only pay 100, the ticket seller then gave 60 birr to the gang. The police were not happy with returning our money but they were supported by fellow passengers.

It would seem that as the centre of UN activity and other charities people can acquire goods, services and cash easily (and we saw corruptly) and so people use this approach with visiting white people to get more.

I realise that our views will not be popular but I feel that you need to make the abrasive, tiring and threatening nature of travelling independantly in Ethiopia. For those travelling in groups in 4×4 convoys they are kept away from local people and local conditions and presumably have a much smoother time of it.

Will not be going back to Ethiopia and will not actively encourage others to visit the country.

GeoffB from Shrewsbury

Lalibela & buses there from Gonder


The lack of aggressive touts or children made it very relaxing. Also the shoe guards have disappeared. I liked the place a lot, beautiful scenery, crazy churches, friendly people, def one of the highlights of my trip.


We stayed at 7 Olives. They have raised the prices again, but it’s hard to compete with this place when it comes to atmosphere and location. I also got 20 % discount as result of a complete confusion (I wanted to say 20 dollars). They have forms for discounts, so maybe you just need to ask. Mola, one of the receptionists is really nice and helpful.


7 Olives and Blue Nile Restaurant. In Blue Nile we met Joseph, a great local guide, didn’t keep his number. Blue Nile is more basic, but also much cheaper than 7 Olives.


Gonder – Lalibela

We came by local bus from Gonder, changing in Gashena. The station in Gonder looked in the morning like riots were going on. Everyone is behind the fence and when they open it, the streetkids run fasted to occupy and sell the best seats. I luckily got in before as the only one, let in by a guy who wanted money once I was in the bus (which I never gave). The driver was and falling asleep, and chewing chat and drove full speed into a herd of sheep (and didn’t stop after to pay for the dead sheep). In Gashena they really try to rip you off, but I got so annoyed that we got the Ethipian price of 25 Birr. Same story when trying to get our luggage on the roof (we did put it ourselves on the roof, being really fed up with people asking 10 Birr for it, not wanting to put the price down). I think they mostly get away with it, the tourist being faced with ‘a wall’ that leaves not much space for arguing. Being with 3 assertive people helped a lot in this case.

Lalibela – Addis

We found a car that needed to drive back to Addis, obviously there is often some opportunity and ended up paying each 400 Birr (4 pers) for a brand new Landcruiser. 250 Birr of the total amount went to the touts (calling themselves ‘Brokers’). I gave the downpayment the day before to the receptionist of 7 Olives to make sure the money wouldn’t disappear. It is possible to do it in one day if the road construction is in a further stage.

Danny Jacqmot