Alternative routes to Lalibela, Bale Mountains & Guassa

Jacky and Yolande write:

An alternative road from Addis-Ababa to Lalibela :

This route is certainly the most beautiful to join Addis-Ababa to Lalibela but not the shorter in time. We travelled it from Magdala Hills to the South on 2009 and now on November 2015 from the South to the North. It crossed many beautiful landscapes far from the tourism rush, the first time, we met no tourist, the second, it was the same. There are 610 km including detours of 5 to 10 km and about 20 hours with many stops to take photos and to contemplate. We drove during 2 days but it seems to be better to take 3. There is petrol in Mukatori, Fetera, Alem-Ketema, Worelu, Tanta, Gashena ….. and anywhere near the residents but the price is a little bit higher !

The first day : Addis-Ababa to Mukatori by the main road (km 78), to Katcha (km 102), to Robi (km 114), to Lemi (km 120) via splendid Jemma valley, bridge on the Jemma river (km 134), Fetera (km 162), Alem-Ketema (km 178), Wenchit and Bisolo Rivers at the foot of the sumptuous Amba Weremo (km 194), Meragna (km 225), Degolo (km 263) and Worelu (km293) where we stay in the good and clean Gumitt Hotel (160 birrs for a double or twin and 90 for a single with toilets en suite).

The second day : Worelu to Segnogebeya (km 308), to Kabe at the foot of the marvellous Yewel Mountains (km 326), to Guguftu (km 326) where we join the road to Mekane-Selam on the left, to Segnogimba (km 350) then Tulawilia (km 367) where you turn right to Tenta (km 415) near for a visit of Magdala Hills, to Beshilo (km 445), to Wengel-Tena (km 473), Jita River (km 498), to Changoma (km 504) where you have to turn right, to Kone (km 537) and Gashena (km 549), then you follow the North road under construction to Lalibela (km 610).


An alternative road from Bale Mountains to Addis-Ababa :

After 5 days (October 25th) in the Bale Mountains NP, we decided to set out the 4×4 day excursion from Robe to the Wabe Shebelle Gorge as described in the Bradt, before our return to Adama via Asela, the day after. The first km on the Dinsho road are asphalted but afterwards, it began very difficult because the heavy rains. The panorama over the escarpment is just 1 or 2 km North of Gasera, it is a fantastic view on a large valley and a deep gorge. The descent is difficult and in bad condition because of the rainy season but very sumptuous during 16 km from the top to the bridge over the river. In this place, it is possible to walk along the Wabe Shebelle upstream or downstream. The people, Oromo and Somali, living in this area not accustomed to the tourism, are friendly and disinterested. They told us that the road to Adama is opened but they didn’t know the distance and the difficulties! So, we decided to set out this route. Gasera is at 55 km, the bridge at 71 km, the other side after a long and very beautiful ascent is at 107 km (we saw geladas in the cliffs 3 times). Then, we drive on a plateau with the Arsi Mountains in the distance on the left crossing Indetu (km 114), Sedika (km 136), Gena (km 153), Robi (km 170), Bulale (km 187), Diksis (km 195), Aribgebeya (km 213), Huruta (km 229), Dera on the Asela asphalt road (km 248) and Adama center (km 276). The drive was 9 hours with many stops on the two slopes of the gorge and 6 from the river, including a puncture in the descent and a repairing in Robi (1 hour for these operations). The landscape after Indetu was not really interesting, except some sections around valleys above all near the Kalata and Wadicha rivers near Huruta. There is not tyre-repair or station before Robi (km 170).


Leaving Guassa Plateau :

After an interesting stay in Guassa Plateau, we’d like to follow our trip but we didn’t want back to the same way to Termabir. On the Bradt (6th edition) page 171 and on certain maps, there is a road from Mehal-Meda to Dessie, certainly via Worelu in the North direction and to Alem-Ketema in the West direction. Before our departure, I couldn’t find them on Google earth or Tracks 4 Africa and even on place with the local people thinking it is not possible by car. The first don’t exist and the second is only a project for the future, there are only improbable tracks for the farmers and their livestock for these directions. But it exists an interesting new gravel tracks (under construction in 2009 and now just open on October to the traffic) to join the main asphalt road in the town of Ataya North of Efeson. The surface is not easy, above all in the beginning after heavy rains, so it is necessary to have a 4×4 and drive carefully.

On the way between Guassa Community Lodge and Mehale-Meda, there is a branching cross-road on the right side, just near a small hill with a hut on the top and a piece of water at the foot. On October 12th, there is a fence but the guard opened it for us. At the beginning the road is narrow with an impressive and long descent (the views are very magnificent) crossing the villages of Kilkil, Segnogebeya, Zengadamidir and so on. No tourists in this area so the farmers are very very friendly and the children only surprised to meet white people, a real joy to travel in Ethiopia like in the past. There are 2 hours and a half to 3 hours including stops and 43 km from the high and impressive cliffs of Guassa Plateau to Ataya on the asphalt road.


Changing Ethiopian Birr to US dollars

Nicola Carroll writes:

I wanted to write and let other travellers know that changing Ethiopian Birr back to US dollars in Addis is currently an absolute nightmare and was in my experience impossible through official channels. I spent two days trying to change money and public banks, private banks, all the major hotels, fx exchange at the airport and other branches all refused to sell me dollars, kenyan schillings or indeed any foreign currency. As Ethiopian Birr is not a convertible currency and cannot be changed outside of the country, in my experience this effectively meant foreign exchange in Addis was one way only. The black market rate quoted to me was 25 Birr to the Dollar so in the end, I approached other travellers in the arrivals hall of Bole International Airport and changed US$300 that way. While this may not affect all travellers (e.g. those who are carefully winding down their funds of local currency by spending toward the end of their trip), it was a problem for me as I was travelling on to Hargeisa, Somaliland where there were no reliable working ATMs and I needed to bring hard currency into Somaliland with me.. While I was aware that Ethiopia was experiencing a high rate of inflation, I did not anticipate that FX would be such a problem on a par with Zimbabwe! Banks and businesses in Addis seem to be hoarding dollars to counteract inflation and I was told that a lot of money can be made by hotels, etc selling dollars to local businessmen.

Bale Mountains Feb 2015 trip report

Jo writes:
Having just returned from a trip to the Bale Mountains (February 2015) with a couple of friends, I want everyone to be able to get there – it’s just fantastic! So…here’s what we did!
We went by public transport from Addis which is perfectly possible…you just need to allow time. We left Bole at 7am on a Sunday, caught a bus to Meskel Square where we got a bus to Kality. We had to wait a long time at Kality for a bus to Shashemene to fill up, so didn’t leave until 9.15 and unfortunately picked a slow bus that stopped for 30mins in Ziway. Made it to Shashemene around 2pm and got straight on a bus to Dinsho – arrived at 4.30pm. Total cost, c. 200 Birr per person. Ask the Dinsho bus to let you off at the park headquarters – this means going through the town of Dinsho, and start heading up the hill out of town. You’ll quickly see a sign on your right for the National Park. Get off here, and walk up the road to the right. As you turn the corner you’ll see the HQ Office. We paid 890 Birr to the Park HQ for three days in the park with one tent. 
We stayed the night at Dinsho Lodge which is like a Bunkhouse. Basic but a fine base before you start trekking. It’s $20 for a dorm room – this doesn’t include breakfast which I think they should change. The power was off while we were there (freezing showers and no light, power or heating) and they’d claimed to have run out of fire wood to make a fire, so we asked for breakfast and dinner (tibs and shiro) to be free. After some negotiating, they agreed. 
Our guide was called Awol – would highly recommend him. He met us at the Park HQ when we arrived, talked us through everything, organised a pan and stove so we could cook while camping as well as the horses, horse men and water for the trek. He met us 9 am the next morning ready to trek and did a fantastic three day route (Monday am – Wednesday 2pm) which we loved. Scenery is spectacular. It’s very cold at night, so wrap up warm, and the camp sites don’t have facilities other than a long drop toilet. Awol was very knowledgeable and made the trek good fun. We took our own food for the three days. Horses carry everything apart from your day pack. Our trek ended back in Dinsho town where we could get a bus to Robe.
We flew back to Addis from Robe-Goba airport on the Wednesday afternoon (c.50 mins to get there from Dinsho by bus and then bhajaj), but think we were on the last flight for a couple of years as the airport closes to be tarmacked – it’s a runway in a field at the moment! Alternatives could be to head on to Robe or Goba for a night at the end of your trek, where you can then travel onwards or back to Addis. The trek (excluding transport there and back and tips) for three of us was c.4300 Birr. This included 18 litres of water and hiring the pan and stove.
Would recommend everyone goes if you can – it was beautifully peaceful, we didn’t see another tourist the whole length of the trek and saw Ethiopian wolves, eagles, hyena, nyala, warthogs, kestrels, buzzards and beautiful scenery.

New upmarket lodges in Gondar and Bale Mountains

Simon writes:

My wife and I are just back from Ethiopia. Your guide was invaluable both in planning our trip and while we were there – packed with interesting information of all sorts, and pleasantly unafraid to express an opinion.

We stayed in two new places (Mayleko Lodge in Gondar and Bale Mountain Lodge just south of the Sanetti Plateau) and I thought it might be helpful to give you some feedback about both.

Mayleko Lodge opened earlier this year. The rooms, in individual traditional style cabins with their own verandas, are very spacious and stylish. Warm-hued stone floors, bamboo ceilings and traditional wooden furniture provide lots of Ethiopian character. The enormous bed was very comfortable. The bathroom, with its walk-in shower, was the best we saw on our trip. We went to Mayleko after two days trekking with TESFA, and then again after two nights in the Simiens (including camping). The luxury the Mayleko offers was exactly what was needed after rougher conditions. The Mayleko’s food was good, and relatively good value for an upmarket place (for example the wine was priced much lower than in other locations). The swimming pool was a pleasure in the heat of the day, and all the staff were exceptionally helpful and welcoming. The location on the edge of Gondar is just a few minutes from the airport so very convenient if you are flying back to Addis.
Bale Mountain Lodge opened this year, providing for the first time a comfortable base to explore two of the most unique habitats in Ethiopia – the extraordinary Sanetti Plateau with its Abyssinian wolves, endemic birds, giant lobelias and mole rats, and the Harena cloud forest in which the lodge is located. The spacious high ceilinged central lodge building with its two tier fireplaces is a welcoming place with great views of the mountains. The bedrooms are housed in separate huts from many of which you cannot see the others – just the beautiful views. They are very comfortable, with tons of room, large beds and walk-in showers. The food is excellent and for people who drink like I do, the all-in price is extremely appealing. The English owners Guy and Yvonne Levene have invested immense effort in developing the lodge (including designing and building a spectacular small scale in-river hydro-electric plant which is a tourist attraction in itself) and are warm and solicitous hosts. The lodge has been designed to have a minimal environmental impact, and provides a base for scientific researchers (including James, the resident Kenyan naturalist, who is one of the most knowledgeable ornithologists and most expert bird ringers that I have met). It also has an important positive impact on the local economy, employing and training local people, and running education scholarship schemes.

Your list of books about and/or set in Ethiopia was really useful guidance for filling up my Kindle before we went. The one you missed is Flashman on the March, the last in George MacDonald Fraser’s series when Flashman gets involved in Napier’s expedition. Like all the series, it is completely politically incorrect but great fun – and I have to say that most of the fiction set in Ethiopia I found rather disappointing.

Thank you for such a brilliant guidebook – it really made a difference to our trip to a spectacular country.

Gondar hotels

Elena, Teresa & Jaime write

We are a group of three travelling in the north area of Ethiopia!! We arrived yesterday night at Gondar & started looking for a good hotel to spend the night! We visited the Hibret Hotel (in the Bradt guide), but they treat to cheat as asking for 600 birr for a small twin dirty room! Afterwards we visited the Merkuriaw Alemaya Hotel, it still has very good prices (120\150 birr), not so good looking nor so clean, but not bad for the price.

Finally, by chance, we found the Michael Hotel (near to the L-Shape hotel). This hotel really merits your attention!!! Is really really clean, good looking, with white clean sheets and a well equipped bathroom with hot water and hydromassage shower and this twin room cost on ly 300 birr!!!! As we are three we are paying 350 birr for sharing the room, also because one of the beds is big enough. The staff is really friendly and they have free WiFi in all the floors!!

Our experience was so good, that we decided to Michael Hotel to your readers!

The latest on domestic flights

I’ve been trying to seek clarity on the situation with domestic fares since Ethiopian Airlines announced a 40% reduction in May (see

So far as I can ascertain it, the full fare for most domestic flights, for instance booked through the website, remains about the same as it was before, typically around US$130 per leg.

However, it seems this fare has been vastly reduced (by more than 50%) to passengers who have booked their international flight to Addis Ababa with Ethiopia Airlines. In this case, the fare is typically around US$55-60 per leg!

So far as I understand it, to take advantage of this massive discount, you must first book, pay and be ticketed fir your international flights. With that ticket number, you or any operator can then book the domestic flights at any Ethiopian Airlines ticket office.

Of course, what happens in theory and in practice aren’t always quite the same thing, so feedback from anybody who tries this would be much appreciated!