Trip report Dec/Jan 2013/4

Matthew Birt writes:

I enjoyed reading and made good use of everyone else’s information, so I thought I ought to contribute:


Dec/Jan 2014

Travelled solo, independently using local transport


Bradt Guidebook excellent




Generally felt very safe and welcome

Quite a lot of hassle from kids, beggars, tourist touts, blokes in the street – quite consistent, but not that persistant and certainly not threatening in any way. Groups of kids are a right royal pain in the ____ .


Transport pretty good. People always really helpful – and I always got to where I was heading, even if I’m not sure how. Roads generally good and traffic free – all the driver has to worry about are the people standing in the middle of it and the aimlessly wandering livestock

Cheap tuk-tuks just about everywhere – seem to have replaced garis in most places

Mobile phone coverage generally good – cheap and quick to get sim (need photocopy of passport and photo)


Everything seemed very inexpensive – accomm, transport, food, etc

Easy to change cash in banks/airport

ATMs in a lot of places – Dashen and Commercial Bank worked for me


Forgotten how noisy Africa is, especially at night – or at least it was where I slept. Every night. My top tip – take the finest ear plugs money can buy. As well as eye drops (for the dust) and lip balm (for the sun).


Budget hotels – apart from in Harar – always provided towel, toilet paper and soap.


Weather – always sunny and hot during day – 25-30 C. No rain. In some towns, pretty cold early morning and night and required two fleeces (e.g. Debark, Debre Birhan, Abese Teferi)


Bole Airport


Arrived 2am, and stayed in there until morning flight to Axum. Felt safe, although pretty cold. Nowhere nice to sleep, try and get into domestic terminal departures asap where there are comfortable loungers.






Hotel reps waiting at airport with free transport

Africa House – fine – 175B en suite single

Thought Tsion Maryam complex at 200B a rip-off, considering much of it closed and under refurbishment

Really enjoyed walk out to Debre Liqanos Monastry




Africa Hotel – fine – 150B – adjacent restaurant good but noisy at night

Nice just to be in a normal town, without the tourist ‘nonsense’

Good to walk out of town into countryside to see ‘real’ Ethiopia




Bus from Shire didn’t leave until after 7, even though told to be there at 5. Awful road. Wonderful Simien scenery for 10 hours or so!

Simien Park Hotel – good – 250B en suite single

Unique Landscape next door also looked good, but slightly more expensive.

If not trekking, negotiate hard and get a number of quotes for your day trip into the national park – tourist touts, argh!!!




Queen Taitu Pension – 200B en suite single. Poor. No hot water, etc. Noisy.

Moved to  Belegez Pension, 200B, water still a problem, but quieter and nicer courtyard

Four Sisters Restaurant – great food and fantastic dancing. Before I left I didn’t think some contrived dance show for tourists would be a highlight of my trip. But it was. Go and see for yourself.


As solo, negotiated guide fee down to 100B (rather than 200) for castle complex


Kosoye also a highlight. Easy to get to (30-40 mins north of Gondar). Had a very nice breakfast at Befikir Ecolodge, which is visible from main road. Staff super friendly. Then great walk down into valley. Scout cost 100B, and worth every penny. Tough going.  Highly recommended.


Bahir Dar


Wudie Pension –  nice big room – 200B.

Ghion looked really run down to me, although good spot for meeting fellow tourists.

Tread carefully with the tourist touts in town. Both half day trips to the lake monastries and waterfall were shambolic and a rip-off. Average price paid seemed to be 200B/person, but I’m sure you can get for less. Get itinerary and any additional costs written down. You have been warned! Good for meeting other (equally hacked-off) tourists though!

Lucky with Blue Nile Falls – water was flowing – and another highlight.




There for Christmas, so very busy and accomm prices x2 or x3 normal rate

Hotel Lalibela, been refurbished and now rather swish. $45/double en suite

Private Roha – very basic, but felt safe – 400B/twin shared facilities

Recommend Unique Restarant opposite Asheton – cheap and good fun

Walk up to Asheton Maryam good, although hard


Used local guide  – Zewudu Melak – +251 (0) 913636414 – for churches – nice guy – only ‘guide’ I used that I can recommend


Lake Hayk


Logo Hayk Lodge (I think, maybe name changed, not sure)

This place could probably be very peaceful and relaxing, but not on Christmas Day with a huge party going on!

230B/hut ensuite for okayish room (150B if you’re Ethiopian!)


Debre Birhan


Akalu Hotel – reasonable place – 100B for ensuite

Really nice restaurant at Eva Hotel




Alaf Hotel – bit noisy and water issues – 170B en suite. Great view of lake




Buffet D’Auoache – 150B/room – pretty nice and peaceful place. Dusty, nondescript town though


Managed to find a ‘guide’ to get me into Awash National Park by asking around at hotels. Hired a good minibus and driver for 1000B for the day (6am-6pm). Really enjoyed the reserve, it’s not the Serengeti, but saw quite a lot of game. Waterfalls fab. Awash Falls Lodge looked nice and was a good spot for lunch


Abese Teferi


Kebsch Int Lodge – decent room – 150B en suite; good restaurant attached


Got 6am bus direct to Kuni, found ‘guide’ quickly albeit using sign language and pointing to pictures in my Bradt Guide and visited Kuni Muktar Mountain Nyala Sanctuary. Not sure about ‘30-45 mins walk to river’. I got taken 2 hours up a bloody mountain, then 2 hours back down it. Not my ideal start to the day at 7 am. Fantastic though. Saw plenty of (skittish) nyala, warthogs, reedbuck and hyena.




Everyone I met moaned about the hotels in this place – except for those in the cultural guesthouses. The only town where I found that hotels were full

Trawfik Sharif Hotel – bit grim – bucket shower – 150B

Tewodros – 160B ensuite – okayish – despite stinking communal bathrooms at entrance

Belayneh – only offering doubles for 300B and water issues

Heritage Plaza looked more run down and mismanaged than guidebook suggests

Harar Ras – looked best bet – been refurbished – cheapest room 230B – good restaurant serving absolutely wonderful pizzas

Fresh Touch Restaurant – good, but expensive (for Ethiopia)

Hyena feeding cost me 100B – the greatest concentration of tourists I saw in one place throughout my 4 weeks in the country


Addis Ababa


Almaz Pension – 200B shared bathroom – clean, friendly, quiet, safe

Yod Abyssinia – good fun, if expensive – don’t go alone, sit at the front and be of above average height, otherwise you are liable to get dragged up on stage to dance – much to the amusement of the local crowd. This can lead to embarrassing flashbacks.


Have a good trip.

Northern Circuit updates

Blue Nile Canyon

The road across the canyon is now fully paved, and there is a new bridge over the Nile – another project with the Japanese.

Bahir Dar

Someone told me that a new dam was to be inaugurated by the end of 2009 and that would eliminate the Blue Nile Falls altogether, but I was not able to verify that.

Guzara Castle

No evidence that there is any restoration work done there. It seems pretty deserted, with weeds growing around it.

Simien Mountains

For those on a budget it is recommended to stay in Debark upon arrival, and enter the park in the morning since every calendar day they should pay for a “guide” and an armed guard even if they do not intend to go for a hike.  I arrived in the park in the late afternoon and had to pay those fees for essentially no benefit.  Also, the guide and guard require two seats in your car so if you come with a fully occupied car, you may be in trouble. It is perfectly possible to do the Simiens in one day, driving all the way to Chenek (2 hours from Debark) and going for short walks.

p. 238 Gonder to Axum by road

Perhaps you may want to mention that, among other attractions, this scenic road passes the amazing Tekeze canyon just south of Shire.  The Tekeze is a major tributary of the Nile, and the canyon, with its red-earth slopes, is a sight to behold.  There is also a major dam built on the Tekeze (not seen from the road).

p. 258 Axum Stelae Field

The no-name Axum stele which was returned from Italy is referred to as the Axum Obelisk in some sources, such as the Unesco World Heritage Site list.  You may consider using the same terminology.

p. 262 Axum King Ezana’s park

The tablet in King Ezana’s park, protected inside a closed building, is bilingual – not trilingual as mentioned in your text.  The key to the building is held by a guard who sits in a small information booth across the road.  Near the booth there are remains of a large sixth century church which were excavated a few years ago.

p. 359 Lalibela tour practicalities

The entrance to the complex is now 300 Birr

p. 357 – Lalibela – the Alef Hotel

Paid the same price as the Asheton, $10, for a modern clean single with a shower – much less than the price mentioned in your text, and with no negotiations.

p. 324 – Hayk Istafanos

The entrance fee to the monastery is 100 Birr, which seems out of proportion.  You can not enter the monastery grounds without paying the fee.

p.  329 – where to stay in Kombolcha

The best hotel is Hikma Pension, with clean attractive rooms and a busy terrace restaurant.  They charge 140 Birr for a single with a shower, which seems steep for such a town. The Meron Hotel charges 90 Birr for a room with a cold shower, and is run down.

Ron Bennett

Gonder to Axum via Shire

After an exhausting 13 hours drive from Gonder with four breakdowns we finally reached Shire in the dark. We had to leave our bus in front of the bus station’s gate to get our luggage from the roof. Because there was a bunch of people hassling all passengers the driver decided to pass the gate. We walked after the bus and were stopped at the gate by an armed guard who didn’t want to let us in. One guy from the bus’ staff wanted to help us reaching our luggage was even beaten by the guard! Thanks to him we finally got our backpacks. There was much more hassle there, everybody asked for money (even for pointing out the direction to our hotel). So keep an keen eye on your belongings and be aware of lots of hassling. On the next day we wanted to go to Axum. We were told that all local busses were occupied so we tried to take a minibus. But the aggressive staff there wanted us to pay 60 USD per person before entering! So we refused and asked for a local bus again and – surprise- there were two seats for us for 50 Birr each (about 2,5 times of the regulare fare – not negotiable). During the ride we were told by other passengers that two locals had to leave the bus beacuse of us and the chance to earn more money. We felt very ashamed. If we would have known earlier we wouldn’t have taken this bus.

Michael & Nadine Bettzuege

Gonder to Axum via Shire

Get the bus ticket in advance (PM day before is fine). Gondar bus station at 5am is not a pretty sight nor is an enjoyable place. See above on how to get the best seat on the bus – very important for this bus ride. The baggage handlers may ask for Birr 10, but you give them Birr 1 per piece or nothing.
This is a very long and difficult bus ride particularly between Debark and Adi Arkay. The road is unpaved and winding and very often you’re only 15cm away from the edge of abyss. Allow for breakdowns and for breakdowns of other busses/trucks as you’d have to wait for those to get repaired before continuing your journey ie narrow road. It took us 14 hours to reach Shire and by that time we were exhausted. The landscapes are very beautiful, but this benefit is completely outweighed by the horrendous bus journey so my advice would be to take a plane if possible.

Shire – Axum
We stayed in Africa hotel in Shire (loud and infested by roaches, but otherwise OK) before proceeding to Axum the following day. The journey to Axum takes around 2 hours and the road is under re-construction – you’ll be 5-10cm up in the air regularly during this bus journey.

Goran Jovetic, London, UK