December 2015 trip report

Simon writes:

I am just back from 2 1/2 weeks in Ethiopia using your 6th edition (I bought it just before 7 came out &#X02639) It is very good, thank you.

I am a geriatric backpacker at 60, usually travelling around southern Africa in my own Landy for the past 15 winters. This was my first trip to Ethiopia, prompted by the start of direct flights to Dublin, Ireland.

As a general comment I found no evidence of the ‘hassle’ and ‘overcharging’ you frequently refer to in the guide. Was I lucky, or have things improved?

A few detailed points:-

Addis Ababa:-

I used the new metro in Addis to get from the Autobus Terra to Piazza, a handy trip for backpackers. It seems very safe with police in every carriage.The trains are lovely, but the signage is not too good yet!  You buy your ticket in the orange kiosk just by the exit of the bus station, cross the busy road and climb the steps on the far side to get to the correct platform.  On arrival at ‘Menelik Square’ you take the steps at the front of the platform to the surface, then do an about turn and walk 300M to arrive at Menelik Square itself. You have the ‘Fire Department’ marked incorrectly on pp146, it should be on the south side of Gal Hailu Kebede. To go from Menelik to Autobus Terra take the entrance near Gyorgis church.

Tesfa Trekking:-

I arranged everything on arrival in Lalibela. I did the 3 day western Meket trip alone and was charged $260 which is probably high as there wasn’t a group. I travelled to Gashena by bus with the guide which was crowded but fine. It was good having the guide to sort things out and it is recommended for ‘local colour’. I was travelling on to Bahir Dar, but for those returning to Lalibela it may be better to arrange private pick up at the end of the trek as apparently finding public transport back to Lalibela is not so easy. I really enjoyed it.

Is it ‘good value’? We should be careful not to go soft in the head at the thought of ‘community involvement’. Getting a similar standard of lodging and food in any town would be a fraction of the cost. I was keen to point out to them that they could easily improve things with a little effort.

 

Lake Tana Ferry:-

I travelled from North to South, which still leaves Gorgora on Thursday, but I believe the departure from Bahir Dar has changed.

The road from Gondar to Gorgora is being rebuilt and minibus traffic has stopped. The bus was very full and took 3 1/2 hrs. The repairs are expected to be finished by end of 2016.

Gorgora Port Hotel is still as bad as when you described it! Apparently there is another place to stay in the village about 15mins away which is better. (Note from PB – Simon will be referring to Kim & Tim listed in the 7th edition)

Arrival at Konzula:- Apparently there are now 2 ‘hotels’ in town. I am not sure which one I found, but it wasn’t the Hilton! There seemed no need for a ‘mad dash’ and the 10min walk is actually on the flat! It does not feel so remote anymore. There is a bank and lots of mobile phone shops!

Blue Nile Falls:-

Your description of the way to the falls is a bit wrong. The ticket office is right by the gates to the hydro plant. You don’t need a guide despite what they suggest. I was a little hassled but not too bad. The map shows the correct position of the side road about 100m back up from the ticket office. You just follow this ‘road’, keeping left at a junction before dropping down to the left AFTER the church. A quick look on Google earth will help your description. After crossing the suspension bridge, beware the tea lady selling the most expensive drinks in Ethiopia! It is then about 5mins walk to the motor boat to cross back to the town.

Debra Libanos:-

The entrance fee for the church included the museum (and I got a guided tour!) so was reasonable value I thought. You now get a ‘guide’ to go up the pretty steep steps to the cave, but as it is a holy shrine it is good to have one to avoid upsetting pilgrims.

The walk back up to the main road is not that steep! ( a climb of 160M according to my GPS)

There is a  hotel about 300M down the road from the junction with lovely views over the gorge. It is a bit basic but half the price of the Ethio-German Park next door!

I hope some of this may be of help!

 

2015 trip report

Ian and Les write:

Going South:

  • One night on Lake Langano at Bishangari Lodge was memorable both from the point of view of location and birds. However, one has to suffer the 30 minute journey from the main road, much of it on a track, to get there. It was worth the suffering.
  • Then the drive from Lake Langano to Bale Mountain National Park, up over the Sanetti Plateau and down to Bale Mountain Lodge was probably the best one day road trip I have taken. Your description of it was apt. A bonus for me were the pipits and larks on the farmed plateau between Shashemene and Goba.
  • We decided to splurge on a 3 night stay at Bale Mountain Lodge even though it was way over what we would normally pay for accommodation. It was helped a discount Guy Levene offered us. He was not there by we met Yvonne on the last night and she said you were there 3 weeks previously. It was worth the money both because of the location, between the plateau and the dry lowlands, and for the warmth and care provided by the people who work there.
  • We did a day trip down to the area around Dola Mena and I could not believe how prolific the birdlife it there. I am not a top birder by any means but we must have seen 50 species there in 4 hours of which 14 were ‘lifers’ for me. And camels to boot. That said, I can understand it when Yvonne said that some people come back from this trip disappointed as it is the birding which makes it really special.

Going North, we took a tourist package as we only had three days for this part of our trip and chose to go to Bahir Dar.

  • We selected the Abay Minch Hotel, partly based on the Bradt Guide advice. But were very disappointed not to be on the lake and your description needs to be amended as the wording something like ‘in a quiet corner of the lake’ is misleading. So we decided to move – with Abey Minch not giving us a refund – and stayed at the Lake Tana Blue Nile Resort. It is such a great location, particularly for birding, and we really liked the atmosphere there. The food was better than we expected and Les and I decided they only needed to do one thing: fix the bathrooms.
  • The Deset Lodge, on the bay opposite the Lake Tana resort hotel is a great place for evening drinks and dinner. We went there with people staying in Bahir Dar who are in the know.
  • We took a day trip on Lake Tana to the monasteries with the one on Dek Island being the highlight: beautiful, quiet and spiritual.
  • The trip to see the Blue Nile Falls trickle was disappointing and I would not recommend it. We knew there was no water but were not prepared for the horrible bumpy 37 km journey there and the pressure to buy curios every step of the way. Also the birding was disappointing.

Back in Addis and the Akaki Wetlands

  • While I was working for the first week in Addis I stayed at the Ghion Hotel, which was just OK, made worthwhile by the setting. But on passing through on the way back we wanted the feel of smart Bole Road and stayed in the KZ hotel which was nice and good value.
  • Based on what you had written about the Akaki Wetlands, we took a half day trip out there. But, as I presume you have found yourself, the wetlands are gone. It seems as if they have been drained for agriculture and/or for the construction of the freeway, railway and pipeline between the town and what must have been the wetlands. In some ways this is a metaphor for what is happening in Ethiopia: development at an unbelievable pace with the wilderness paying a price for this.

Important news from Bahir Dar

Two brief but important updates from Bahir Dar:

The first is that the venerable Ghion Hotel, for years the most popular backpacker hangout in town, has been forced to closed its doors. The story, so far as we can ascertain, is that the government (which still owns the property) has kicked out the current lessor and will put the hotel out to tender soon. Assuming it does reopen at some point, it’s anybody’s guess whether the rather tired-looking rooms will be renovated, and what they will cost.

The second is that the weekly ferry to Gorogora has changed its schedule. It now leaves from the marine authority jetty in Bahir Dar at around 06.00 every Monday, usually arriving at Gorgora between 16.00 and 18.00 on Tuesday. It then starts the return trip at 06.00 on Thursday, arriving in Bahir Dar on Friday afternoon.

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.

 

Bahir Dar & Lake Tana updates

Former Bradt commissioning editor Tricia Hayne has kindly sent me the following feedback:

 

Page 191                  Bahir Dar/getting there and away/by road The drive from Gondar by minibus takes about three hours, with tickets at 65 birr (US$3.50) one way.  Accidents – by bus and minibus – are frequent.

 

Page 196                  Ghion Hotel Currently US$22 for a double room with lake view.  Presumably the prices here are back to front – I think the back view are slightly cheaper.

 

Page 197                  Lakeshore Resort Prices here are on a par with the Ghion Hotel, but the food is a cut above, the views unfettered by barbed wire, and the service exemplary. Oh, and it’s spotlessly clean!

 

Page 198                  Balageru Cultural Club You can eat here, too – our kitfo (cooked), doro wat, spinach and cheese with injera was excellent, and so was the tej. Go with someone who speaks Amharic if you can; it makes all the difference to understanding the spontaneous lyrics.

 

Page 203                  Southern monasteries There’s now a universal fee of 100 birr (US$5) for each of these monasteries, including Debre Maryam.

 

Kibran Gebriel, home to 87 monks, is indeed not open to women, but we were allowed to sit on the island by the jetty; there’s also a small ‘museum’ that women can visit, but at 100 birr (US$5) it seemed overpriced and the Ethiopian women I was with said it wasn’t worth it.

 

Conversely, the adjacent island nunnery of Entos Eyesu Monastery (also 100 birr/US$5 pp) welcomes both male and female visitors.  Some 25 or so nuns live here, and the walls of their 200-year-old church is adorned with depictions of Bible scenes painted in joyfully bright colours.

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:

Lalibela

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 this.watch 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 air.you 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 3pm.one 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!

 

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.