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.

South Omo & Lalibela trip report

Eric R writes:

I’m from Seattle, Washington and just came back from a 2 week trip to the Omo Valley and a 2 day side trip to Lalibela in the https://bradtethiopiaupdate.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php#north of Ethiopia.

Here are my recommendations for South Omo:

1) In the Omo Valley, the roads are poor south of Arba Minch. Be prepared for a lot of road dust, animals on the road, and slow travel. 2) Malaria is very real here. Bring malaria pills and take a mosquito net. Not all hotels have mosquito nets. 3) Don’t expect great accommodations in any of the towns south of Arba Minch. However, the Kanta Lodge in Konso was very good and the Buska Lodge in Turmi was also decent. Other hotels were dumps. 4) Food is very cheap here. $3-5 for a good dinner. Buy your local guide a meal, if you can afford it. Most local guides are very poor. 5) Bring something to give back to the locals. Polaroid images, pens, etc… I made animal balloons for the local kids. They loved it. Balloons are easy to carry and fun to give out. 6) Electricity is out often. WiFi internet connections are very poor. Cell coverage is better if you need internet connectivity. 7) I used a guide from Addis Ababa for my trip. Got his name from a fellow photographer, Eric Lafforgue, who lives in Toulouse, France. My guide, Solomon Berhanu, speaks many of the languages of the tribes in the Omo Valley, including the language of the Mursi. That made the trip very rewarding as I was able to interact with the local tribes through Solomon. I had no aggressive problems with any of the tribes, including the Mursi. You can Google Solomon’s name on Youtube and see a video of him explaining Bull Jumping by the Hamar Tribe. 8) Expect to pay fees in the Omo Valley. These people are dirt poor. That’s how they make some money. Don’t complain, just enjoy the experience. If you don’t want to pay the fees, don’t visit.

 

Lalibela is worth a visit. But I do have an issue with where the $50 entrance fee goes. I’m not convinced the money goes back to the local community. The churches belong to the local people of Lalibela and the people of Ethiopia, not the fee collectors at the churches. If you visit Lalibela, ask your guide and the fee collectors where the money goes. At $50 per person, they collect enough money to help the local people– who desperately need it. With enough people asking, we all can make a difference in the lives of the people in Lalibela.

Hudad Lodge, near Lalibela

Boundless Ethiopia Tours writes:

We are sending clients to Hudada Lodge on regular base and they are very satisfied by their service. When I visited the place myself I was impressed by the efforts of Mesfin, the owner, to establish this eco-lodge and how the surrounding local communities where appreciating him. Don’t expect luxury, accommodation is in rustic tukuls with toilet and shower facilities outside. There are 4 tukuls sleeping max 4 persons and one bigger family house which sleeps 6. Prices (BB) are USD 70/87/99/110 for 1/2/3/4 persons sharing a tukul. They are closed in July and August during rainy season.

 

It is situated in the mountains near Lalibela not far from the Asheton Maryam church. At a plateau at an altitude of 3,300 m with stunning views all around. Often gelada baboons roaming around and lammergeyers up in the sky. Only accessible on foot, about 2,5-3 hours hike from Lalibela or 1-1,5 hike hours when you drive up the new road leading to Asheton Maryam. Mules are available to take luggage, but it is easier to leave most of it in Lalibela. Hudad is closer to Lalibela than the first TESFA Medhane Alem tukul.

 

From Hudad you can go out on day hikes in the surrounding area. When we send clients there they often hike in about 6 hrs from Hudad to Yemrehane Kristos church, where a car is waiting to take them back to Lalibela. You can also plan a visit to Abuna Yosef Plateau in between, then it works better to stay one night near the plateau in accommodation provided by TESFA, Frankfurter Zoological Society or a local tukul.

 

Website is at lalibelahudad.com and you can reach Mesfin at +251 937 94 93 56. You will not always find him easily as he is also developing a same kind of lodge in the Gheralta range.

Detailed trip report Jul-Sep 2014

Charlotte writes:

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.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

Sky bus

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!

 

Selam bus

I took it from Bahir Dar – Addis, same comments as Sky bus.

 

Theft

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.

 

Other

– 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

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

 

 

BALE MOUNTAINS

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.

 

Dinsho 

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)

 

Robe

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!

 

Sanetti plateau

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)

Mekele

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)

40birr

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

 

Hawzen

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.

 

ADDIS ABABA

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

 

 

BISHOFTU

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

 

Public transport

– 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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.