Trip report (useful South Omo info) Jan-Mar 2016

Bryan & Judy Pready write

First part (days 1 to 16, to Gonder) pre­booked through Tesfa Tours http://www.tesfatours.com/ ; after that independent travel, mainly using local buses.

A selection of our photos can be seen here:­

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B1pd3zAKtirpZGJ6S2tTVjNrLVE&usp=sharing

12 17 Jan Axum Ye Yared Zema Hotel: Stellae
13 18 Jan Axum Ye Yared Zema Hotel. Stellae and church.
14 19 Jan Gondar Flight to Gondar: Fasil Lodge; visited castle. Procession in afternoon. Tesfa guide: Tamerat
15 20 Jan Gondar Fasil Lodge; Timket celebrations from very early morning
16 21 Jan Gondar Fasil Lodge; planning our own itinerary
17 22 Jan Bahir Dahr Minibus to Bahir Dahr. Blue Nile Hotel, booked via

Booking.com (USD35 inc breakfast).

18 23 Jan Bahir Dahr Blue Nile Hotel: Boat trip to islands, peninsula and monasteries.
19 24 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe; (USD45 inc breakfast) This B&B only has 3 rooms and is often fully booked. Quiet residential area. Originally was holiday home of Swiss­Ethiopian family, who live in Lausanne. Bookings by email are handled by them in Switzerland and the B&B is run by family members who live in Bahir Dahr. Attractive garden with lots of birds. Excellent breakfasts.
20 25 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe: Blue Nile Falls
21 26 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe. Walked to Derg Memorial, saw hippos in river near bridge. In Bahir Dahr, we enjoyed several good fish meals at the Lakeshore Resort. Good food, excellent location and pleasant service.
22 27 Jan Lalibela Minibus (ETB300 each), then shared 4×4 (ETB300), to Lalibela. Lalibela Hotel booked via Booking.com (USD37 inc breakfast)
23 28 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; rock churches
24 29 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; more rock churches
25 30 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; mule ride to St Mary’s Church (arranged through hotel) Manager of Lalibela Hotel, Indie, was very helpful with advice, arranging mule ride, and helping to get a very good deal for our Danakil trip.
26 31 Jan Makele Private transfer to Makele, arranged through ETT as part of Danakil package. Yohannes Hotel  ETT Manager in Makele, Abeba, is very efficient, pleasant and helpful.

 

27 1 Feb Erte Ale ETT Tour: Makele ­­ Dodom ­­ Erte Ale volcano (camp) Large group with only one guide and an assistant. Not impressed with guide on trek to volcano; he went off quite fast, leaving lots of stragglers behind. On the other hand, drivers and police escort were pleasant and helpful. Volcano was impressive ­­ well worth it.
28 2 Feb Abaala Dodom ­­ Abaala (ETT guesthouse)
29 3 Feb Hamdela Abaala ­­ Behthale ­­ Hamedela (camp): Salt lake at sunset.
30 4 Feb Makele Ragad (Asebo) mine ­­ Dallol, Lake Assal (Absolutely stunning landscapes; can’t imagine there is anywhere else on earth quite like this) ­­ Makele, Yohannes Hotel
32 5 Feb Addis Free transfer to airport by ETT. Flight to Addis; Zeist Lodge. Aladin Restaurant ­­ went because we could walk there from Zeist Lodge but not impressed.
32 6 Feb Addis Zeist Lodge: La Mandoline Restaurant ­­ certainly the best restaurant we visited in Ethiopia. Decided to visit again.
33 7 Feb Addis Zeist Lodge Booked bus to Bale Robe for following day from Mercato, assisted by taxi driver, without whom we’d have never found the right place to buy the ticket.
34 8 Feb Bale Robe Early morning bus to Bale Robe. Got on wrong bus at Mercato but then helped by another passenger to find the right one; not easy in complete darkness. Bekele Molla Hotel. Moved after 1 night. Hotel very run down. Broken furniture, no running water, smelly bathroom. (ETB 250, breakfast not included)
35 9 Feb Bale Robe Siko Mendo Hotel. Clean, modern 3­storey hotel, hot water shower. Dusty because of airport construction traffic using dirt road in front of hotel. (ETB 400, including breakfast.)  Walking tour with guide from National Park HQ, Abubakar Adem mountain nyala, reedbuck and warthog. No alcohol at hotel so went to restaurant near roundabout where we received a warm welcome, good traditional food and cold beer.
36 10

Feb

Bale Robe Siko Mende Hotel. Tour with minibus and NP guide, Abubeker Adem, to Sanetti Plateau and beyond. Ethiopian wolves and colobus monkeys.
37 11

Feb

Hawassa Minibus and bus, via Shashemene to Hawassa, Lake View Hotel. First night in first floor room above bar. Very noisy until late so moved to second floor on other side of hotel; much quieter. Large, comfortable rooms with pleasant balconies.

 

38 12

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel Explored along lakeside
39 13

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel: Fish market (ETB 40 entrance, ETB 100 guide, separate receipts issued by fishermen’s and

guides’ associations)

40 14

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel: Eating:­ Dolce Vita didn’t impress, most items on the menu weren’t available. Venezia: went

twice, first time good but the second time the boss messed up our order and then tried to blame the kitchen staff! “What a Burger” ­­ good new burger place, run by a young Ethiopian who has lived in the USA. New Italian

ice cream place, also started serving pasta on the day we left, diagonally across from Dolce Vita.

41 15

Feb

Dilla Bus to Dilla: Delight Hotel
42 16

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Prehistoric rock carvings and villages, Wechemo district, tour by bus and on foot with local guide, Abrahalign Mengesha, from Gedeo Zone tourism office.
43 17

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Quiet day, after minor injury previous evening for which I received treatment at Unity Medium Clinic, a short walk from the hotel.
44 18

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Stellae; tour by bus and on foot with

Abrahalign Mengesha.

45 19

Feb

Yabello Bus to Yabello. Tried Green Hotel (now “Pension”) but only rooms with shared showers and toilet so went across road to Yabello Hawi Hotel (ETB300 en­suite with

“instant” shower) Evening meals at Yabello Motel.

46 20

Feb

Yabello Yabello Hawi Hotel
47 21

Feb

Konso Bus to Konso. Not easy to find, doesn’t go from bus station. Were told it left every day at 8 a.m. so went at

7:30. Bus eventually came at 9:15 and finally left Yabello at 11:15. New Konso Edget Hotel (No restaurant; ate at Konso Edget Hotel. No internet cafe and no WiFi, used internet cafe at Konso Development Association)

48 22

Feb

Konso New Konso Edget Hotel: Museum, local market and visit to Konso village without official guide. We were invited in and guided round by a local man who teaches physics in a local secondary school, a really good experience.

 

49 23

Feb

Konso New Konso Edget Hotel. Tour to local villages by bajaj with guide from Konso Tourism Office but wasn’t as good as yesterday’s unofficial guide.
50 24

Feb

Arbore Tour by minibus to south, with local guide Bereket Tekel. Walked to see fishing. Camped in village (tent, mattresses and bedding hired from community) Camping ETB200 per person, plus ETB100 for guard.
51 25

Feb

Turmi Mango community camp site (Tent and bedding provided by guide) Camping ETB150 per person. Hamer village visit on foot from camp site with local guide, Oïta, at sunset.  Excellent visit; relaxed; welcomed into homes.
52 26

Feb

Turmi Omerate in morning by minibus. Visited Sambura village (Dasenach). Expensive for very short visit! (ETB 1300 in total) and not very interesting. Afternoon; tried to see bull­jumping in village near Turmi. Saw preliminaries but ceremony rained off by heavy thunderstorm. Mango community camp site. Had to wade across river which had been completely dry when we left.  Used double bedroom, with en­suite shower because our tent had been flattened by the thunderstorm! Very impressed with Mango ­­ it’s well looked after and the people there are extremely

helpful and welcoming.

53 27

Feb

Konso Original plan had been to go to Jinka but we decided to spend the morning drying out our clothes and around the the camp site before returning to Konso. Kanta Lodge (No power or water at New Edget Hotel)
54 28

Feb

Arba Minch Zebib Pension Recommended by our guide, Bereket Tekel. An excellent choice. Weather was warm, so we chose a room in the block facing the courtyard, which had a window at the front and door onto a small balcony at the back, rather than in the block behind, where rooms only have a door and window at the front. (BTB700) Lunch at Tourist Hotel ­ pleasant gardens, including tame dik­dik, cold draught beer. Evening meal at Swayne’s Lodge ­­ not good, fish cooked to cinder.
55 29

Feb

Arba Minch Zebib Pension Boat tour full day (ETB2500 for two, inc NP entry, boat, guide, bajaj, scout)  Hippos, crocs, zebra, gazelles, baboons, fish eagles, pelicans, goliath heron. Evening to Paradise Lodge by bajaj (road tarmaced all the way now) in search of working ATM. Place very quiet, beautiful views from restaurant terrace.

 

56 1 Mar Arba Minch Zebib Pension Dorze by bus (ETB20) Met by local guide, Freo (he’d been tipped off by phone that two farangi were coming!) who made sure that we got off at the right place. Very interesting tour, especially seeing how false banana is prepared and eaten, Bajaj to market at Chencha. Late lunch back at Tourist Hotel. Better evening meal at Swaynes, possibly because they had a group staying..
57 2 Mar Arba Minch Zebib Pension Sunrise then breakfast at Swaynes, while watching a family of baboons and three warthogs. Bekele Mola for lunch and dinner, which has better terrace, food and service than Swayne’s. More popular with locals.
58 3 Mar Ziway 6 a.m. bus to Shashemene, then minibus. Haile Resort
59 4 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Lake trip to island. Interesting village but church closed because priest away for bishop’s funeral.
60 5 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Good lunch, with bottle of Rift Valley Merlot at the winery restaurant.
61 6 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Another lazy day, sorting travel and bookings, and another lunch at the winery restaurant.
62 7 Mar Addis Minibus to Addis; left without being full! Long delay because of accident involving 3 trucks. Ye­Afoli International Hotel New hotel (opened late in 2015). Went here on recommendation of Zeist Lodge, because they were full. Good value; booked USD75 room though Booking.com and were upgraded to a larger USD100 room. Good location ­­ nearer to Bole Road than Zeist Lodge. Large, comfortable, well­equipped room and bathroom. Only place in Ethiopia where we saw kettle, cups and teabags provided,
63 8 Mar Harar Free transfer from hotel to Selam bus to Harar. Winta

Hotel (Tried to book Harar Ras Hotel by phone but was

told it was full) Further from walled town but very pleasant atmosphere at this family­run hotel. The Manager, Daniel Berhe, is very helpful. Excellent breakfasts; most evening meals at Harar Ras

64 9 Mar Harar Winta Hotel Tour of walled city on foot with local guide, Solomon. Feeding Hyenas after sunset.
65 10

Mar

Harar Winta Hotel Trip in Peugeot 404 taxi to camel market at

Babile, “valley of marvels” and Koromi village.

66 11

Mar

Harar Winta Hotel Explored more of old town. Offered beers on house by Daniel when he saw us playing Scrabble downstairs.

 

67 12

Mar

Addis Selam bus to Addis. Lunch stop: thought we’d ordered pasta but got roast chicken and chips. Really excellent! Shame we didn’t have time to properly relax and enjoy it! Ye­Afoli International Hotel  Same room, at same price as previous visit. La Mandoline restaurant for birthday treat.
68 13

Mar

Addis Ye­Afoli International Hotel Cathedral museum (good), then went to Ethnographic Museum but was closed for refurbishment; not sure for how long.
69 14

Mar

Addis Ye­Afoli International Hotel Red Martyrs Museum, interesting ­­ reminded us of Cambodia, then shopping for gifts. Hotel restaurant is good ­­ appears to be used by locals as well as hotel guests. Talked to hotel owner, who is also its architect about the hotel and some of the ideas he’s got from working in other countries.
70 15

Mar

Free transfer from hotel to airport. Return flight to London

Notes

Buses

We used local buses and minibuses most of the time. Information in the Bradt guide is generally accurate and helpful, though it was useful to check out the detail the day before, and to buy tickets, where possible for early morning departures, which tend to leave soon after dawn. Later in the day, they generally wait until they are full before leaving. Unlike in some other countries, there never seemed to be any competition between buses going to the same destination; one would fill up and leave, and then another would take over. Some towns (e.g. Shashemene) have more than one bus station, and, in one place, Yabello, the bus didn’t leave from the “bus station” that is marked on the map in the Bradt guide (a yard next to the stadium).

Because buses only leave when they are full it is often extremely difficult to board a bus anywhere along its route. Buses are not allowed to carry standing passengers, a rule that is enforced by traffic police who lurk along the main roads. It is noticeable that buses do pile on extra passengers once they turn off onto side roads where the drivers know that there is little chance of being caught.

Road accidents are common, though we didn’t see any involving buses. We did see the aftermath of a head­on collision between a minibus and a truck, which must have been fatal for the front seat passengers of the minibus.

Bus stations are usually very large yards which appear disorganised but the buses or minibuses for each destination gather in the same spot. We found it useful to check this out the day before, when we weren’t burdened with our bags. Young men often hang around bus stations, offering their services as porters, guides and “seat bookers”. We usually declined their offers but, once or twice we did use them to track down a ticket office or help us find the right bus.

Local guides

We used a lot of local guides along the way, starting with the young lad who showed the the area around Gheralta Lodge. He was the son of two of the Lodge staff and knew the area and its people very well. Just the sort of guide we like ­­ not necessarily an expert but someone who is interested in local wildlife, able to introduce you to local people, show you how they live, point out interesting sights and respond to your questions.

Most of the guides that we found were good. Some were able to organise longer trips and transport. The best of these was Bereket Tekel who we used for our trip to the south from Konso. He came to find us at our hotel, having been tipped of by the receptionist, and we must admit that we were, at first, quite wary. There’s no mention in the Bradt guide of being able to arrange such a trip from Konso and the lack of an internet connection there meant we had no other way of checking out what he was telling us.

Having mulled it over for a couple of days while we visited the villages around Konso, we accepted his proposal and are very glad we did. We had an enjoyable time travelling by minibus, and walking and camping in the villages. Bereket, the driver, Yaziallam, and his assistant, Tesfalla, made a great team and the local guide in Turmi from the Hamar community, OÏta, was also excellent.

Finding local guides isn’t usually a problem, though deciding whether to use them can be. In some places, you have no option, and in these places you don’t have a choice either, you take whoever’s turn it is. This was the case in Omorate, where we had our worst

experience. The guy showed no real interest, he just wanted to do it as quickly as possible. He didn’t respond to any of our questions. The whole thing was very expensive but I doubt if much of the money went to either the villagers or the boatmen. We expressed our concerns to Bereket but he obviously felt powerless to do anything about it.

Museums

Of the museums that we visited, we enjoyed:

●   The Ethnological Museum in Addis. We’d hoped to go back for a second visit but we were told it was closed for refurbishment.

●   The National Museum in Addis ­­ basement is excellent, rest is hardly worth looking at.

●   Red Terror Museum in Addis ­­ brought back memories of Phnom Penh and the

Khmer Rouge.

●   The Cathedral Museum in Addis ­­ perhaps the best display of church artifacts that we saw.

●   The museum in Lalibela which is part of the the community centre, just along the road from the Lalibela Hotel. Two large rooms, the first about the churches, based on recent archeological work. The second is a very good ethnological museum. It’s unfortunate that this museum appears to get few visitors; it really is worth visiting.

●   The museum at Ura Kidane Mehret monastery on the Zege peninsula in Lake Tana

has a very good display of church artifacts.

●   Konso museum, across the road from the Kanta Lodge. Again, this museum doesn’t appear to be on the main tourist trail; plenty stay at the Kanta Lodge but I didn’t see anyone walking across there or even being brought over in their 4x4s.

Finally, the one we wouldn’t recommend is the church museum in Axum. Dismal. Dusty objects behind dirty glass, including a lot of ancient books but you can only look at their covers. And it’s more expensive and most other museums.

ATMs and money

Ethiopia has a good network of ATMs. The only town where we didn’t see one was Yabello but we weren’t really looking. Biggest network is Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) followed by Dashen Bank, both of which allow you to withdraw ETB4,000. For some others e.g. NIB, Awash, the limit is ETB2,000. Some banks, e.g. Abyssinia, don’t accept foreign cards.

Machines can be found outside some of the major (usually expensive!) hotels and afew tourist attractions, e.g. Lalibela churches, Addis Ethnological Museum.

You can withdraw money from bank branches using a foreign card. Dashen charges a fee of 2.5% for this service but at CBE it’s free. Two advantages of withdrawing money in branches are that you can take out a larger amount (up to the limit set by your own bank) and you can ask for the money in smaller denominations than the ETB100 notes that you usually get from ATMs. We did this in Konso before heading off to the South.

You can’t rely on ATMs working all the time so it is wise to always have enough money for the next few days. Occasionally bank branches may also be out of action because of power cuts or problems with phone connections. There appear to be times, at the end of each month, when CBE branches are besieged by large numbers of students and government employees trying to withdraw money.

About Us

We are in our late sixties. This is the fifth long winter trip that we’ve done since we retired. The previous ones were in Indochina, India and Latin America.

New French restaurant in Mekele

Louis Guilbaud writes:
I am a French citizen, married with an Ethiopian woman, and living in Mekele. We recently opened an upmarket restaurant called Le Montmartre, offering French and Ethiopian food. The restaurant is located in front of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia main branch, just upside of the Cooperative Bank of Oromia. For more details, email montmartre.mekele@gmail.com, or call +251 (0)969136374/947940839

 

Edition 6 updates

Maarten has sent me the following updates & comments, based on edition 6, so page numbers related to that edition and many of his comments are already incorporated in the 7th edition.

Addis Ababa

Sleeping

Taitu burned down halfway through 2014 and got rebuild. The top floor rooms are much nicer than before. The other rooms though are of generally low quality, and even though cheap not good value for money. Better option in Piaza area is for sure Baro (take the rooms in the front, not in the main building) with a nice little sitting place and fair prices. The neigboring Ankober guest house, next to Baro, is quite overpriced with clean rooms at 600Birr, but with good working Wifi. Small bathrooms with only cold water, pretty noisy hallway all through the night. Across from Baro lies Wutma hotel (small rooms, good option if Baro is fully booked), fair place for breakfast as well.

 

Toronto guest house is not so good located and slightly overpriced. But, clean rooms, excellent service.

 

Addis guest house; excellent service, clean big rooms. Fairly priced. Great pick when you need a little more luxury and are tired of the shoestring options.

 

Eating

Best breakfast and cake (even though ‘cake’ sounds more tempting then can ever be held true wherever in Ethiopia) are available in Oslo cafe on Dej Joto, where you`ll find the best fetira I had in the country (thin cripsy pancakes served with honey or egg, or even both).

 

Beergarden Inn around Edna Mole in Bole area serves excellent though pricy homebrewn bears and fair food. Excellent place if you are eager to watch European soccer matches.

 

China bar actually better then the description in the guide suggested. Ate there several times, fair portions, very fresh food with loads of fresh vegetables.

 

Gati thai disappeared, after many telephone attempts I was told the closed the restaurant.

 

Castelli piazza is very popular, but to my taste highly overrated. Ate there several times, the food is overpriced. The pasta is good, very good indeed. All the meat and fish dishes were poorly cooked. Drinks are expensive. Lovely environment. Definitely not worth all the credit it is getting.

 

Kaldi`s coffee is a nice string of coffee places scattered around Addis. One is on Churchill road with the crossing with Zambia Road. Another is right next to La Parisiene on Ghana Street close to Edna Mall. Excellent coffee`s, Ice cream, good sandwiches.

 

Jewel of India restaurant has moved; it is now at a road parallel to Bole Road, first to the left from Bole road coming to Meskel Flower road. Excellent food, fair prices.

Tomoca gets a lot of credit, and it`s completely all correct. The place to go for the best coffee. Epic!

 

A lovely hideaway is the back garden of the Hilton hotel. Quiet, excellent food (at high prices though). Great place to get away from all the hectic life in Addis.

 

Dashen restaurant has ceased to exist.

 

Not in the guide, definitely should be high ranked for eating farengi food is Island Breeze restaurant. It is situated across from Arada Zone telecom between Arbeynoch and Cunningham (map p146).

 

Shopping

To the left of the Edna Mall is the best supermarket I came across in the whole of Ethiopia. Wide selection of products. Another great supermarket, which also has a wide range of stationary, furniture, cooking utensils, is on Bole road, on the right when going to the airport, just over the river. This whole building has a good collection of shops for practical things.

 

Curio shopping is definitely good at Churchill avenue as mentioned in the guide, but very overpriced. If you have little time to do souvenir shopping, this is definitely the best pick because you will find the full range of available curio. At a fraction of the price you will find the same things at Mercato, and usually sellers are fair and open to negotiation.

 

In the stadium area there are plenty of youngsters trying to steal your stuff. This area is notorious for it, so be aware. Especially around Ambassador theatre, several reports of people ‘accidently’ bumping into tourists, after which their smart phones had disappeared.

The shops around the stadium sell excellent leatherware at good prices.

 

Bookworld on map p. 146 is situated more east, opposite Enrico pastry.

 

Mekele

Hotel Atse Yohannis offers great value for money. Furthermore, it is close to the bus station, and close to the office of Ethio tours and travel, the best agency I came across.

 

Axumite restaurant is populated by horrible staff that is unwilling to service you at all. Furthermore, the food is horrible (tried 2 times, both times very disappointing). Do not go here.

 

Lovely market in Mekele, nice to see the herbs and of course the salt slabs coming in from Dalol/Danakil depression.

 

Hawassa

Circle of life Hotel

Quite a beat-down place. Private doubles 350Birr, more beat-down for 250Birr (also self-contained). The garden makes up for a lot though –you won`t find a more lush environment on ‘the strip’ of Hawassa- as does its lakeside location. Nice food at decent prices, of which most unfortunately is always out of stock. Recently changed management (3 times during the last year) but now serious improvements are being made (WIFI much better quality, rooms much cleaner and maintained), bad staff fired.

New telephone number 0462201318

 

Haile Resort

Easily the most beautiful pick in Hawassa. Pricy, but not overpriced. Beautiful rooms, clean. Spa facilities, shopping and swimming pool, all also available for persons not sleeping over against fair rates (e.g. day at the poolside including showers, soap, towels, 100 Birr). Beautiful bird-viewing and more amenities in the making. Great food.

 

Lakeview hotel

Very good pick. The name does not really offer what you expect, since the view is mostly on a gated piece of dirty land bordering the lake. But the hotel is excellent value (950Birr per 2p room with private luxurious bath room, excellent bed, DSTV). Very good restaurant, very friendly staff. A definite downside is the bad reservation system; you can call in advance, but it happened several times to me that the reservation was non-existent upon arrival. Also once the staff told me they only make reservations one day ahead for single room reservations, since the high rate of no-shows.

 

Eating

The Dolce Vita restaurant is highly overpraised. Around the corner, in the same street as the Lakeview, crossing the road heading to Lewi Resort, is the way much better Italian restaurant Venezia. Funny owner who likes to try his own liquor collection a bit too much, but he`s a very generous and serviceable chap, cooking himself. By far the best pasta`s (and more original than the vegetable or Bolognese you get served everywhere) and drinks. Always serving dishes outside of the meny.

 

On the same street as Dolce Vita is Tropical Burger. Great place, excellent prices, fast service.

 

Lakeside fresh fish is best at the restaurant that has a boat terrace extending into the lake. Here they also serve a very tasty fresh fish soup.

 

Lakeside

At the lakeside many youngsters rent out their motorcycles at fair prices (about 500Birr for a full day including fuel). Hawassa makes a good city from which you can make beautiful trips (e.g. Wondo Genet at 40min motorcycle ride, beautiful road with great sight seeing possibilities).

 

The lakeside has a bad reputation when it comes to youngsters trying to take your money and phone, mind your stuff.

 

 

Shops

The mall opposite to Time Cafe has a good Internet cafe with Wifi available. The bottom floor of the mall has a good supermarket. This is the same mall as where Sky Bus has its office to buy your bus tickets.

 

Shashemene

Even though the description in the guide is fair when it comes to the ambiance in Sashamane lacking, I would say the market in Sashamane is definitely worth a visit, albeit not a special detour. Best place to eat farengi food is for sure Haile hotel (double rooms, self-contained, at 595Birr including breakfast, which is a very fair price. Telephone number 0461101007 / 0930108484 / 0930108485). The banana art gallery is a nice place to find a unique type of art at fair prices. The hustling Rastafarians surrounding the place are quite a hassle though, so you should be prepared for this.

 

Bahir Dar

Blue Nile hotel; decent prices, clean place. In the middle of the red light district though, where in every bar surrounding it you`re being served by prostitutes.

Blue nile falls back and forth, public, choose the right time

 

Tickets for the Selam bus can be bought at the office at the roundabout close to Protection House. The buses leave in front of Ethio Star hotel.

Excellent place to eat is indeed Desset Lodge. Has the most spectacular views of the lake with fair amounts of pelicans surrounding the place.

 

Gondar

A nice place to witness Ethiopian dancing and music is located next to Tana Snack (guide p 218 D3). Many Ethiopians visiting the place.

 

Butajira- Hosaina road

Beautiful to do, fresh tarmac roads that cover most of the track, so very safe. The mentioned sightseeing places in the guide are not all worth it though. The Lake Ara Shetan is fantasticly beautiful, though we had quite some trouble with locals not happy with visiting tourists (rocks, unwanted harassment).

Asano Dengai (p 443) is wholly unimpressive and not worth the visit and trouble to find it. It is indeed decapitated, its single, it`s about 80cm high. Quite unremarkable stele to us.

 

Hosaina

The Canal my House Café & Pension does no longer offer rooms. Edget is a popular pick for farengi`s and was offering rooms to visiting travelling companies when we were visiting here, so we mostly saw farengi`s in stead of any Ethiopians in the place. Yabsera Hotel was beat down, dirty, with no warm water and bad beds. We changed rooms, but the quality was the same. Definitely a place to not visit. Lemme international hotel is indeed mostly visited by aid workers and tour groups, unclear why exactly. The restaurant is quite poor and service there was quite bad during several visits.

 

 

Ajaro Falls

At a vast 120Birr (per person) to enter the sightseeing place, the Ajaro Falls are relatively expensive to visit. That said, they are fantastically beautiful and definitely worth a detour. Very impressive, if you can stand the hassle of locals wanting to guide you, even though the road is signposted very clearly and guiding is definitely not needed.

 

Sodo-Sashamane road

Has recently undergone massive reconstruction, is now a fairly comfortable and more safe road than before; the pot-hole rate is very low currently.

 

Arba Minch

Soma Lodge changed owners, and is now a bit run-down. But, it has the best views over the valley between the lakes, better even then at Swayne`s hotel. No restaurant still, but good breakfast and excellent, serviceable staff. The restaurant of Swayne`s is very good at fair prices and at walking distance.

 

Ethio tours and travel

You pay slightly more for the trip to Danakil (600USD, others about 550USD. Negotiable price though!) but everything but drinks is included. Excellent food, good drivers, good guides. Other agencies I heard about got bad reviews in terms of arrangements and food and accommodation quality. Furthermore we used them for a tailored trip from Mekele to Debark and into the Simien Mountains. The private vehicle trip to Debark set us back 250USD for 2 persons excluding overnight stay.

(Tel. 00251936010968 / 00251936011309 / 00251930071417)

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.

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detailed updates for Abi Aday, Mekele & Tigrai

Thanks to Forrest Copeland fir the following useful updates:

 

•The road between Mekele and Adwa (via Abi Aday and Tembien) is now paved.  There are still a few small stretches that are under construction, but the project should be finished by the end of 2014. It’s nicccccce.
•My 5th edition refers to Awri dancing.  The name should be: Awrs. As stated it’s known all over Tigray and represents serious Tembien pride!
•The town description could be revised:  Abi Aday literally means ‘Big Town’, and although not quite the metropolis this might suggest, it is a reasonably substantial and seemingly quite rapidly expanding settlement, set in a dusty valley below an impressive cliff.  The town is generally divided into three parts.  Kebele 01 is the oldest section of town and holds the old market, tej bets, and the newly paved road to Mylomin.  Kebele 02 is the center of town and contains the bus station, the large new market, banks, many restaurants, bars, and cheap pensions.  Kebele 03, also known as Adigdi, is a rapidly expanding suburb on the way to Adwa.  Starting at the crest of the hill, where you’ll find the hospital, Ras Alula Hotel, and the Mylomin Botanical Garden Lodge, Adigdi continues for 1 kilometer to the College of Teacher’s Education.  Besides offering a base from which to explore Mylomin, a lushly vegetated oasis nestled below sheer sandstone cliffs along the river Tonkwah.  Visitors can take outdoor showers and enjoy food and drink in the cool shade at the day lodge.
Getting there and away: This is still accurate except that the road is now paved with beautiful new asphalt.   Using public transportation, it will take you about 3 hours to get to either Adwa or Mekele from Abi Aday.  By private car, less than 2 hours. Mini-buses and large buses run to both destinations multiple times per day approximately every 2 hours.
Where to Stay:  These are still good recommendations.  Prices have of course increased.  I would add the Mylomin Botanical Garden Lodge in the Moderate category.   Description could be: Located near the Hospital and Ras Alula hotel, this secluded and overgrown compound offers about a half a dozen individual huts that can be rented for the night.  Each cozy and well furnished hut contains a private bathroom, but running water is hit or miss.  The English speaking staff can help arrange tours and car rentals to the surrounding churches.
Where to Eat: The best places for Ethiopian food are Elsa’s Restaurant located near the main traffic circle, or Azeb’s Restaurant located opposite to the bus station.  Both the Mylomin Day Lodge and the overnight lodge offer full menus that include some ferenji food. Abi Adi has a few juice shops and one of them, opposite to the Wegagen Bank, has an unexpectedly articulate and helpful English speaking owner.   Abi Adi is famous for its honey and tej; the best place to try it is in the shade of coffee trees along the river Tonkwah opposite to the Mylomin Day Lodge.
•The information for the Abba Yohanni and Gebriel Wukien Churches is still good.  I haven’t visited the other two.  I paid 150 birr each for these two churches.  There was no mention of TTC guides or permits, in fact the only reference I’ve heard of this system is in your book.  The going rate for a other rock hewn churces is 150 birr each.  This includes: Abunna Yemata (Hawzien), Abraha we Atsbha (near Wukro), and all the churches in the Teka Tesfai cluster.  Those are the ones I’ve visited in the last 6 months.  It’s too bad, as you noted, because it’s really too expensive for some of the less spectacular churches.

Mekele now has two main bus stations.  The original bus station is for south bound buses while the new bus station is for north bound buses (and Abi Aday/Tembien).  It’s a pain in the ass for travelers.  They are connected by contract bajaj service or by line taxi (3.50birr one way).  The new bus station is north of town, on the main road towards Wukro, past the Awash Resort and Hilltop Hotel.  It’s probably 5km from the city center.
Mekele has expanded hugely in it’s upper market food and lodging offerings since I arrived here 1.5 years ago.  I’m not sure how to get you more information about the new spots since mapping is so difficult here in Ethiopia and addresses don’t really exist.  A list of good new restaurants includes: Beef M&N, Sabisa, Karibu, XO Cafe, Omna.  All these places offer pizza and other ferenji food 60 to 130 birr dinner prices.  When you’re in Mekele you could ask around for some of these places.  Also the newest and fanciest hotel in town is called Planet Hotel, located near the Hiwalti war monument and the new (under construction) stadium.  It’s gym, spa, swimming pool, and restaurant puts the former best hotel (Axum Hotel), to shame.  But it’s really expensive.