Highland Trekking, Lalibela

Daniel Melese of Highland Eco Trekking Tours writes:

I operate a small trekking company in Lalibela. We offer homestay tours in the highland above Lalibela, where our customers get deep into the highlander community, see their way of life, even take part on their daily activity, like: farm on the field, cooking, baking Injera, preparing coffee ceremony, milking cows…
We also have guest huts built on Abune Yosef, 20 minute away from the village of Tigu Keble. We give our customers chance to stay with their guest host families, or in their own tukuls (huts), or in a tent.
Our office is located on the top hill of 7 olives hotel. Contacts are 251 912130831 or +49 17680355053 or info@highlandtrekking.com, www.highlandtrekking.com

December 2015 trip report

Simon writes:

I am just back from 2 1/2 weeks in Ethiopia using your 6th edition (I bought it just before 7 came out &#X02639) It is very good, thank you.

I am a geriatric backpacker at 60, usually travelling around southern Africa in my own Landy for the past 15 winters. This was my first trip to Ethiopia, prompted by the start of direct flights to Dublin, Ireland.

As a general comment I found no evidence of the ‘hassle’ and ‘overcharging’ you frequently refer to in the guide. Was I lucky, or have things improved?

A few detailed points:-

Addis Ababa:-

I used the new metro in Addis to get from the Autobus Terra to Piazza, a handy trip for backpackers. It seems very safe with police in every carriage.The trains are lovely, but the signage is not too good yet!  You buy your ticket in the orange kiosk just by the exit of the bus station, cross the busy road and climb the steps on the far side to get to the correct platform.  On arrival at ‘Menelik Square’ you take the steps at the front of the platform to the surface, then do an about turn and walk 300M to arrive at Menelik Square itself. You have the ‘Fire Department’ marked incorrectly on pp146, it should be on the south side of Gal Hailu Kebede. To go from Menelik to Autobus Terra take the entrance near Gyorgis church.

Tesfa Trekking:-

I arranged everything on arrival in Lalibela. I did the 3 day western Meket trip alone and was charged $260 which is probably high as there wasn’t a group. I travelled to Gashena by bus with the guide which was crowded but fine. It was good having the guide to sort things out and it is recommended for ‘local colour’. I was travelling on to Bahir Dar, but for those returning to Lalibela it may be better to arrange private pick up at the end of the trek as apparently finding public transport back to Lalibela is not so easy. I really enjoyed it.

Is it ‘good value’? We should be careful not to go soft in the head at the thought of ‘community involvement’. Getting a similar standard of lodging and food in any town would be a fraction of the cost. I was keen to point out to them that they could easily improve things with a little effort.

 

Lake Tana Ferry:-

I travelled from North to South, which still leaves Gorgora on Thursday, but I believe the departure from Bahir Dar has changed.

The road from Gondar to Gorgora is being rebuilt and minibus traffic has stopped. The bus was very full and took 3 1/2 hrs. The repairs are expected to be finished by end of 2016.

Gorgora Port Hotel is still as bad as when you described it! Apparently there is another place to stay in the village about 15mins away which is better. (Note from PB – Simon will be referring to Kim & Tim listed in the 7th edition)

Arrival at Konzula:- Apparently there are now 2 ‘hotels’ in town. I am not sure which one I found, but it wasn’t the Hilton! There seemed no need for a ‘mad dash’ and the 10min walk is actually on the flat! It does not feel so remote anymore. There is a bank and lots of mobile phone shops!

Blue Nile Falls:-

Your description of the way to the falls is a bit wrong. The ticket office is right by the gates to the hydro plant. You don’t need a guide despite what they suggest. I was a little hassled but not too bad. The map shows the correct position of the side road about 100m back up from the ticket office. You just follow this ‘road’, keeping left at a junction before dropping down to the left AFTER the church. A quick look on Google earth will help your description. After crossing the suspension bridge, beware the tea lady selling the most expensive drinks in Ethiopia! It is then about 5mins walk to the motor boat to cross back to the town.

Debra Libanos:-

The entrance fee for the church included the museum (and I got a guided tour!) so was reasonable value I thought. You now get a ‘guide’ to go up the pretty steep steps to the cave, but as it is a holy shrine it is good to have one to avoid upsetting pilgrims.

The walk back up to the main road is not that steep! ( a climb of 160M according to my GPS)

There is a  hotel about 300M down the road from the junction with lovely views over the gorge. It is a bit basic but half the price of the Ethio-German Park next door!

I hope some of this may be of help!

 

Tesfa Community Guides, Lalibela

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

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

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

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

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.

Trip report Jan-Feb 2014

Thanks to Michael Pinet for this wonderfully detailed and informative trip report:

We have read and studied the Bradt guide again and again to prepare our 2011 and 2014 trips to Ethiopia and it was the only guide we took with us. We like its thoroughness, accuracy and personal touch. However here is some updated detailed information I would have liked to find either in the latest edition or on the internet. I have also added some impressions about our own experience. I hope it will be valuable to people planning a visit to Ethiopia.

Bale trek
Goba is no longer the hub of the Bale area, Robe is. This the place where minibuses leave for and arrive from Shashemene. Bekele Mola hotel (250 birrs for 2 people in a single room with hot shower) is still fairly good value with its bungalows. As usual in Ethiopia, the bathroom is in poor condition.
The organization of a trek in the Bale mountains is not done through the park headquarters, dealing with civil servants , as in the Simiens but through the Nyala Guide Association next to it. So you need to be very clear and check twice what you really want as English is often misunderstood and they are keen to charge you for extra days, etc. The price are as follows :
– guide 300 birrs per day
– horse 120 birrs per day
– horse handler 170 birrs per day
– cook 400 birrs per day
– tent + sleeping bags 400 birrs per night (rented by a guide’s friend!), expensive but quite
decent equipment
– entrance fee 90 birrs per day / per person
– camping fee 40 birrs per night
If you do not walk back to your starting point, Dinsho, then you have to pay extra days for the horses and handlers. Logical. The same with the guide or cook unless they use your car or minibus to go back.
For a 5-day trek for 2 people you will need to add 1500 birrs (same amount in the Simiens 2 years ago) for the food which the cook will buy (you feed the whole group, of course as in the Simiens but you can tell the cook what you want to eat). He will also supply the cooking equipment.
You might need a car or minibus to pick you up at Sanetti Campsite, at the end of your trek to take you back to Robe, Goba or Dinsho. We paid 1900 birrs (a guide’s friend again). Expensive as usual, but it is the same all over Ethiopia and when you take into account the poor conditions of the roads it is acceptable.
We did the usual 5-day trek
– Dinsho – Sodota campsite (22k / 3100m to 3500m)
– Sodota – Keyrensa campsite (20k / 3750m)
– Keyrensa – Rafu campsite (17k + 4k to visit spectacular lava flow / 3990m)
– Rafu – Garba Guracha campsite (18k / 3950m)
– Garba Guracha – Mt Batu (4200m) – Sanetti campsite where a hired minibus picked us up
That was absolutely great! Not breathtaking as the Simiens was, due to the tracks often along the escarpment, but majestic because of the huge scopes of land and varied landscapes. No problem whatsoever with altitude, etc. and we are both over 65. Contrary to the Simiens there is no water at the campsites and there is a cold northerly wind (you can’t keep a T-shirt on as you would in the Simiens, you need warmer clothes and a woolly hat, especially the last 3 days!). The cook, Idris, was competent and nice and so was the guide, Awol.
They all expect tips as they would in Ethiopia. A day’s fee is the norm as I read in Bradt’s guide when we did the Simiens, so a day’s fee it was and they were pleased.
Wabe Shebelle hotel in Goba is nice, clean, with pleasant grounds (454birrs for a single room for 2, breakfast included).

Shashemene
Shalla hotel : good quality, clean, nice. 250birrs for a single room for 2 people. Not far from bus station

Hawassa
Midroc Zewed Village hotel (called Old Zewed Village now) is just as mentioned in Bradt guide. It is a haven of green, quiet and relaxing, thriving with wild life . We spent our late afternoons sitting by the lake and watching cormorants, Egyptian geese, egrets and kingfishers endlessly . The bungalows are roomy with still decent bathrooms. The manager told us he was planning to pull everything down and rebuild it. Let’s hope he will keep its unique atmosphere. A bungalow with a double bed is 414 birrs, breakfast included. The fish market is not to be missed and neither is the superb walk along the lake, full of life. Had a good meal at the Pinna hotel as mentioned in guide.

Tigrai
Be careful with the freshly appointed civil servant called Astbeha at the Tigrai tourist commission in Wukro. He blatantly overcharged us and is unknowledgable . He offered to be our guide for 275 birrs a day, which we found reasonable , yet it turned out to be the fee per person! (Our fault, I assume for not making things clear at the beginning!). However he proved to have no knowledge whatsoever about the churches we visited and made us miss the opportunity to visit Debre Tsion through lack of information.
It is important to know that you need a guide from the Gheralda Guide Association in Hawzien to visit the churches nearest Hawzien, namely Mariam Korkor and Abuna guebre Mikael as far as we were concerned. We were pleased to get rid of our “guide” for a proper one .
We used Wukro as a base for our 3 day visit and used a minibus (1500 birrs a day) with a competent, nice, responsible driver (Sishay Degu 09 14 49 07 06). Here again it sounds expensive yet the distances are important and the roads are just tracks most of the time. What’s more the driver accompanied us in all the visits and was a good help in discouraging the usual kids and teens .
Day 1 : Mikael Imba and Medhane Alem Adi Kasho
Day2 : Abreha We Atsbeha and Yohannis Maikudi (Debre Tsion could have been done!)
Day3 : Maryam Korkor and Abuna Gebre Mikael
Each church charges 150birrs per person and a receipt is given . Most of the priests do not ask for a tip and all have been very pleasant, sharing some injera and wot with us on two occasions.
Tigrai is not to be missed for the churches of course but also for the landscape and the walks which can be just as good as the churches themselves (the walk to Mariam Korkor in particuliar).
Lwam hotel is clean and pleasant (300birrs for a single room for 2)

Wenchi crater from Ambo
Abebech Matafaria hotel in Ambo is clean, very nice with welcoming grounds (285birrs for a single room for 2 with a good hot shower)
We paid 1100 birrs for a minibus to take us to Wenchi crater and back, a 1.5 hour drive each way on a bumpy track, leaving at 8.30 and coming back at 4.30. A good price negotiated through the hotel receptionist. It should have been 1500 birrs.
Did a superb 5-hour walk down to the lake, across to the island of Deber by boat , then to Immogil point by boat again , then along the Dawala hot spring valley with its watermills, back up to the park headquarters.
– car park fee :30 birrs
– entrance fee : 50 birrs per person
– guide : 200 birrs
– boat : 50 birrs per person
– horse and handler = 50 birrs (we hired them to contribute to the local economy but we didn’t
really need them and hardly used them )
A very scenic place with a nice and clean village and friendly people.
2 hours by minibus from Addis from Asco bus station or Mercato .

Some frustrations
– No maps or guide available anymore (Bale mountains national park, Wenchi crater, Tigrai
churches)!

– Dallas hotel in Mekele is dirty, smelly, not worth the 200birrs for a single room for 2. And we are
not fussy people in the least! The small Moringa hotel next door is much better with friendly staff
yet more expensive (300 birrs)

Sky buses are still efficient with friendly staff in their ticket offices but the buses are deteriorating
fast and drivers do not seem as cautious as they were. We saw a huge difference in 2 years’ time
and not for the better (cockroaches in one, worn out clutch and creaking gears in another)!

Simien mountains guide recommendation & general tips

Andy Parker writes:

I had a fantastic experience with Mulualem Gelaye of Ethiopia Simien Tours when visiting Ethiopia in January this year. I was short on time and only had 4 days to work with, and decided to see what tour companies could offer me rather than my original plan of getting to Debark and trying to organise everything myself. I don’t doubt that it’s possible to organise a great trip after arriving locally for less money than I paid, but I am really pleased I organised my trip in advance. The time it would have taken to get everything set up would have cut out some of the ‘must sees’ on my Simiens list.

As it was I shopped around and approached a couple of companies that sounded good, and haggled about itineraries, extras and price. I can’t advise strongly enough how much it pays to shop around and negotiate over times, routes etc, The price range offered by different companies for similar service was large. In the end I chose to go with http://www.ethiopiasimientours.com/ as Mulu was super helpful getting the exact itinerary that I wanted for a good price. He has organised Simien visits for the BBC and National Geographic among others, so it is no surprise how professional this company was.

Some specific notes for prospective Simien visitors:
– It gets COLD in the night. The sleeping bag provided for me was a bit thin and was often too cold to sleep, even with all my clothes on. This was the only downside of an amazing trip, so not a major gripe.
– I didn’t know that there were basic cold water showers at Gich and Chenek and this was a nice surprise
– I hired a horse for riding on for the 4 days of walking as I had a calf injury and wasn’t sure how it would hold up. In the end the calf was okay but it was great to have the horse for breaking up the larger uphill climbs at 3700m when I had not acclimatised to the altitude.
– For those with limited time to spend in the Simiens you can still have a great adventure by getting driven in and staying for a single night There might be better options. but from what I saw I would v strongly recommend getting a driver to take you to the Chenek campsite It is deep into the national park so the scenery is incredible, you get the fun of a night’s camping, and there were loads of geladas and walia ibex wandering around.

Simien Mountains with Ethiopia Eco Tour and Trek

John Steinberger writes:

My son and I recently took a trip to Ethiopia. We were in Ethiopia for approximately 2 weeks from April 28, 2013 to May 11 2013. Part of the trip involved a trek to the Simien Mountains. Our trip was organized by Ethiopia Eco Tour and Trek run by Addis Yimer. Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: Gondar – Debark – Sankaber Camp (3,200m)

Day 2: Sankaber (3,200m) – Geech Camp (3,600m)

Day 3: Geech-Imetgogo-Seha vally-Kedadit-Geech

Day 4: Geech (3600m) – Innatye (4070m) – Chenek (3,600m)

Day 5 .Climb up to Ras Bahiut which is about 4370masl and back to chenek

Day 6: Drive back to Gondar:

We enjoyed the Simien Mountains immensely. We hiked for 5 days. We would hike for about 7 hours a day. We saw lots of the native animals including the baboons, ibex and the Ethiopian wolf. We saw interesting villages along the way and encountered various herders. The people were very friendly. We booked our trip with Ethiopia Eco Tour and Trek which is owned by Addis Yimer. He selected our guide and cook who were both excellent. Our guide pointed out various landmarks, informed us of the customs and practices of the villagers we encountered, pointed out the different vegetation and animals in the region. Our cook took a lot of pride in his cooking and each dish he made was excellent. Mr. Yimer went the extra mile in helping us have a good trip. Our luggage didn’t arrive when we landed in Addis. We started the hike without our luggage. Mr. Yimer was able to secure our luggage and had it driven up to our campsite.

If you are planning a trip to Ethiopia, I would highly recommend Ethiopia Eco Tour and Trek run by Addis Yimer. The web site is www.ethiopiaecotourandtrek.com. His email is addis_yimer@yahoo.com. The email for his web stie is info@ethiopiaecotourandtrek.com.