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!

 

Alternative routes to Lalibela, Bale Mountains & Guassa

Jacky and Yolande write:

An alternative road from Addis-Ababa to Lalibela :

This route is certainly the most beautiful to join Addis-Ababa to Lalibela but not the shorter in time. We travelled it from Magdala Hills to the South on 2009 and now on November 2015 from the South to the North. It crossed many beautiful landscapes far from the tourism rush, the first time, we met no tourist, the second, it was the same. There are 610 km including detours of 5 to 10 km and about 20 hours with many stops to take photos and to contemplate. We drove during 2 days but it seems to be better to take 3. There is petrol in Mukatori, Fetera, Alem-Ketema, Worelu, Tanta, Gashena ….. and anywhere near the residents but the price is a little bit higher !

The first day : Addis-Ababa to Mukatori by the main road (km 78), to Katcha (km 102), to Robi (km 114), to Lemi (km 120) via splendid Jemma valley, bridge on the Jemma river (km 134), Fetera (km 162), Alem-Ketema (km 178), Wenchit and Bisolo Rivers at the foot of the sumptuous Amba Weremo (km 194), Meragna (km 225), Degolo (km 263) and Worelu (km293) where we stay in the good and clean Gumitt Hotel (160 birrs for a double or twin and 90 for a single with toilets en suite).

The second day : Worelu to Segnogebeya (km 308), to Kabe at the foot of the marvellous Yewel Mountains (km 326), to Guguftu (km 326) where we join the road to Mekane-Selam on the left, to Segnogimba (km 350) then Tulawilia (km 367) where you turn right to Tenta (km 415) near for a visit of Magdala Hills, to Beshilo (km 445), to Wengel-Tena (km 473), Jita River (km 498), to Changoma (km 504) where you have to turn right, to Kone (km 537) and Gashena (km 549), then you follow the North road under construction to Lalibela (km 610).

 

An alternative road from Bale Mountains to Addis-Ababa :

After 5 days (October 25th) in the Bale Mountains NP, we decided to set out the 4×4 day excursion from Robe to the Wabe Shebelle Gorge as described in the Bradt, before our return to Adama via Asela, the day after. The first km on the Dinsho road are asphalted but afterwards, it began very difficult because the heavy rains. The panorama over the escarpment is just 1 or 2 km North of Gasera, it is a fantastic view on a large valley and a deep gorge. The descent is difficult and in bad condition because of the rainy season but very sumptuous during 16 km from the top to the bridge over the river. In this place, it is possible to walk along the Wabe Shebelle upstream or downstream. The people, Oromo and Somali, living in this area not accustomed to the tourism, are friendly and disinterested. They told us that the road to Adama is opened but they didn’t know the distance and the difficulties! So, we decided to set out this route. Gasera is at 55 km, the bridge at 71 km, the other side after a long and very beautiful ascent is at 107 km (we saw geladas in the cliffs 3 times). Then, we drive on a plateau with the Arsi Mountains in the distance on the left crossing Indetu (km 114), Sedika (km 136), Gena (km 153), Robi (km 170), Bulale (km 187), Diksis (km 195), Aribgebeya (km 213), Huruta (km 229), Dera on the Asela asphalt road (km 248) and Adama center (km 276). The drive was 9 hours with many stops on the two slopes of the gorge (3 hours as far as the river, then 6 hours from the river), including a puncture in the descent and a repairing in Robi (1 hour for these operations). The landscape after Indetu was not really interesting, except some sections around valleys above all near the Kalata and Wadicha rivers near Huruta. There is not tyre-repair or station before Robi (km 170).

 

Leaving Guassa Plateau :

After an interesting stay in Guassa Plateau, we’d like to follow our trip but we didn’t want back to the same way to Termabir. On the Bradt (6th edition) page 171 and on certain maps, there is a road from Mehal-Meda to Dessie, certainly via Worelu in the North direction and to Alem-Ketema in the West direction. Before our departure, I couldn’t find them on Google earth or Tracks 4 Africa and even on place with the local people thinking it is not possible by car. The first don’t exist and the second is only a project for the future, there are only improbable tracks for the farmers and their livestock for these directions. But it exists an interesting new gravel tracks (under construction in 2009 and now just open on October to the traffic) to join the main asphalt road in the town of Ataya North of Efeson. The surface is not easy, above all in the beginning after heavy rains, so it is necessary to have a 4×4 and drive carefully.

On the way between Guassa Community Lodge and Mehale-Meda, there is a branching cross-road on the right side, just near a small hill with a hut on the top and a piece of water at the foot. On October 12th, there is a fence but the guard opened it for us. At the beginning the road is narrow with an impressive and long descent (the views are very magnificent) crossing the villages of Kilkil, Segnogebeya, Zengadamidir and so on. No tourists in this area so the farmers are very very friendly and the children only surprised to meet white people, a real joy to travel in Ethiopia like in the past. There are 2 hours and a half to 3 hours including stops and 43 km from the high and impressive cliffs of Guassa Plateau to Ataya on the asphalt road.

 

Tesfa Community Guides, Lalibela

In October 2014 we (2 ladies) did an unforgettable trekking in the Wollo Region around Lalibela with Tesfa Community Guides. Look at the website for more information: www.tesfacommunityguides.com!

In 12 days we walked from Gashena back to Lalibela through a stunning landscape. If you expect luxury and comfort, this is not the trip to do. But if you don’t mind basic accommodation (tukuls) without running water and electricity around the campsite and toilet outside, this is the way to see the real Ethiopian mountain life of the farmers. We did the total trek (including climbing the Abuna Yoseph), but there are several opportunities to adapt the length of the trek to your wishes.

Our guide Misgan was great. He is from the mountains himself and knows all about the farmers life, Ethiopian culture and flora and fauna. His English is very good!

You can also contact directly to him:
e-mail: misganmebrie@yahoo.com
mobile: 251(0)911095387

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!

Trip report December/January 2014/15

Franka writes:

I would like to share some advise and news from Ethiopia where I spent a couple of weeks between December and January 2015.

Addis Ababa
I would not recommend the Itegue Taitu hotel. The single room was quite dirty and with no hot water.

Gondar
I would recommend Michael Hotel. It is clean, there is a wifi free, hot water and a fair price (300 birr for a room with twin bed)
I would not recommend the tour operator “Siemen_Trekking”, especially to a single traveller women.
Generally speaking, Gondar was the only place in ethiopia, where I didn’t feel safe.

Mekele
I would not recommend the Atse Yohannis Hotel. I spent there two nights, in two different room, and both where not so clean, very old structure. I also had a reservation but they completely ignore it and I had some problem in finding an available room.

ETT Tour Operator is good, altought we had a problem with the car (air conditioning) while we were travelling towards Erta Ale. Be sure the driver will check the air conditioning system before leaving Mekele and always ask for the newest model of jeep (there are more then one).

Lalibela
We had a reservation at Alef Paradise. Altought the reservation was reconfirmed the day before our arrival, when there, there was no room available. Had to change place, stayed in The Villa guesthouse. Very Good accommodation.

Lalibela Cultural Centre Museum

Jacke writes:

The Lalibela Cultural Centre, across from the Lal Hotel and beside the Tukul Village, is a fascinating and well-presented exhibition, outlining the development and aspects of the church complex. It also has a terrific exhibition of sacred and ethnographic material, much better exhibited than the ‘official’ church museum in the compound. I’ve seen many small museums in Ethiopia over the years, and this is one of the three best (the others are Melke Kunture and Konso). Entrance costs birr 30.

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: aregaabebaw@yahoo.com + 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.