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.

Makdala Hill & Tenta

MAKDALA HILL : It’s not possible to obtain a letter of permission from the police station in Kombolcha. Nor at the Tourist Office in Dessie, which isn’t easy to find with the renovation of the roads and buildings. The man in charge of the office told us to go to Ajibar without a letter, and we asked him to inform the police authority of our coming. Once in Ajibar, the policemen had no instructions about the visit to the hill, but they accepted us after we made a phone-call to Dessie, and provided us with a police escort and a local “guide” from the municipality. The first was really interesting because he was born here and he knew very well the life of King Theodoros; the second, pseudo-guide, was zero, he came only because he was forced, and above all paid!

It is necessary to organize the trek in Tenta (12km from Ajibar) and park the car in the compound of the school. This hike is 17km long and 4 to 5 hours are necessary to go up on the hill, with a stop to drink Tella in the hamlet of Neguat Michael, near the church of the same name.  In the past, the road was passable by car but the Kezkazea river has swept away  a “bridge” and the road is impassable. Half a day is necessary to explore all the historic or scenic places on Makdala and Falla Giorgis Ambas, which are lovely and peaceful. It is possible to camp in the school of the village called Selange, or anywhere on the mountains. The big problem is the money, as in many parts of Ethiopia the prices have soared since the millennium. We paid each day Birr 150 for the policeman, Birr 100 for the “guide”, Birr 50 for a mule keeper, Birr 50 for a donkey or a mule and Birr 50 for entrance fee. After 6 weeks in Ethiopia, 5 hours of drive and 4 ½ hours under a hot sun, maybe, we didn’t bargain enough with the chief ?

In Ajibar, the Guesthouse and the Roman Hotel have clean and basic rooms with common cold shower, the toilet are dirtier in the evening than in the morning! The food in Roman was good. The price for local or tourist is the same: 20 Birrs.  

ROAD FROM TENTA TO MUKATORI: it is one of the most scenic and quiet roads we discovered in Ethiopia (no travelers during two days) and very interesting all the way. Our guide took it without problem after the rainy season; maybe, he is a perfect 4×4 driver? On November, the road was good, and we’d rate it C or D codes, comparable to the road between Abi-Addi and Sekota on your maps.

It’s 140km between Dessie and Tenta, and 107km from Tenta to Gashena. The junction of Guguftu is 40km from Dessie and 100 from Tenta. From here (Guguftu) to the South, you cross successively Kabe (km14), Chesa (km46), Woreilu (km50), Meragna (km124), Alem Ketema (km175), then, you have 50km to Lemi and 55 more to Mukatori. We have no timings because we stopped many many times to admire the landscapes: deep gorges of Degolo, Gebre Gouragha and Atimo rivers, then the valley of Dar river on the border of Wollo and Shoa (km102 from Guguftu), after, Meragna, 3 important and wonderful valleys: Wenchi river, Gara river at the foot of the fantastic Rema Amba and Wonchit River. After Alem-Ketema, you have the valley of Jemma river as you describe in the Bradt.

It is possible to stop in Woreilu, which has a basic hotel with clean rooms, personal chamber-pot and common cold shower; there is no discrimination in the price and everybody pays 20 Birrs, there is a pleasant restaurant called Wanza where we ate delicious roasted ribs and good spaghettis. Or in Meragna, where we found a comfortable, modern and surprising accommodation called Africa Hotel, we didn’t spend the night and we forgot to ask the tariffs. The cook is good and the manager very friendly. This small village should be a good stay to discover on foot the marvelous gorges of Wenchi river and far away Gara river (about 25km).

The malaria is certainly present in some low places during and after the rainy season; the rivers are between 1200 and 1600 meters. The road is from 1200 to 3300 meters in altitude.

Yolande and Jacky BOTTINI