North Trip – A review

On a six day trip we visited the historical north of Ethiopia.

Motivation

Since we are not experienced Ethiopia travellers we decided to keep it simple and go for the classic route to the north. Three destinations we visited for its historical sites (Gonder, Axum, Lalibela), one just for its relaxing ambiente (Bahar Dar). I point this out since this review then also should be read through this eyes, some of this places offer also other tourist opportunities (.e.g hiking) but we did not consider those and hence they are not part of the review.

I general my impression is that one can find in all Ethiopia something exciting – maybe when I do a rating, it is rather how easy it was to find and how it did meet our interests than how ”good” a place actually is.

I use the Swiss grading scheme that goes from 1 to 6 where 6 is the best:

  • 6 (very good)
  • 5 (good)
  • 4 (sufficient)
  • 3 (insufficient)
  • 2 (poor)
  • 1 (very poor)

Plan

  • Day 1: Flight Addis Abeba – Bahar Dar
  • Day 2: Bahar Dar
  • Day 3: Bus travel Bahar Dar – Gonder
  • Day 4: Flight Gonder – Axum
  • Day 5: Flight Axum – Lalibela
  • Day 6: Flight Lalibela – Addis Abeba

Preparation

-3- We booked the flights 3 days ahead at the office at Hilton Hotel (no waiting queue, way better than the normal Ethiopian Airline office at Churchill Road.

  • The price was ~200$ per person
  • The flights were reliable and in time!
  • Be 2h before flight at the airport and use the time there for eating breakfast and writing postcards
  • BUT: our booking did not work!! We reservations that were not valid – so we ended up waiting in Addis at check-in hoping that some people of the fully booked flight would not arrive. Two of us finally could go (going there to Blue Nile falls and organizing a hotel), the other waited in Addis for the evening Flight (and could sort out the ticket thing and visit Entoto). Hence the bad grade for the flights.

Quick Overview over things we spent money for

General

  • Hotel: I guess that we paid normally two much, but since we were on a really tight schedule, we had to trade of between getting fast the accommodation organized and getting a good deal by visiting multiple places but losing time.
    At every place, many hotels advertised already at the airport. Normally one could use a hotels shuttle service (which was mostly anyway the same for all hotels) and pay for it if one did not chose to stay in their hotel.
    Since it was totally off season, all the hotels had plenty of free rooms left.
  • Airports: In generally are around 15 minutes driving out of the city, except of Lalibela were it is an 45 minutes drive. Be ready to show your passport multiple times when arriving at the airport. Each offers (overpriced) postcards and some breakfast opportunity. Due to this two reasons it is not a problem to be there the two hours in advance as recommended. Since there is just one hotel bus this is mostly also the only possibility.
  • Postcard: Are sold at airport for 10-20 Birr and stamps for 6-10 Birr. At the main post in Addis a postcard is 5 Birr and a stamp also 5 Birr or sometimes even a bit less.

Bahar Dar (5.5)

Bahar Dar is a small city in the south of lake Tana. I especially appreciated the relaxed athmosphere (not allays being shouted ‘you, you!, money ‘ like in addis), the clean air, bicycles all over the place,

  • Hotel: Blue Nile Hotel (5): 600 Birr two bed room, with break fast and shuttle service airport hotel. Clean, Ok, service.
  • Boat tour half day from Ghion hotel (5): 600 Birr for four persons: Pene Zeningula Monasteries (one of them, the other one was burnt down), Hippos in the Blue Nile Outlet. ~4h
  • Pene Zeningula Monasteries (4.5): 100 Birr entrance fee per person per Monasteries – here I really felt ripped off. To me as a non painting gifted person and also not really familiar with orthodox church history and architecture, it was a bit the same like the other monasteries I have seen so far (George and the dragon, etc). To me it made the impression that the whole village community lives (not as according to our guide from coffee) from people visiting these places. The guide was 75 Birr and quite keen on getting the next tourists done (he did not want to show us other paths than the normal 200m tourist route with tons of children selling stuff). The best of all was the included museum – which was basically a window with a bible, three crowns and a monk showing the bible.
  • Mango Lounge: Nice place for a drink if you like to be observed by 100 Ethiopians drinking a coffee :-).

Bus Bahar Dar – Gondor (5.5)

With lonely planet the bus station is easy to find. Buses drive as soon as the bus is full (We had to wait ~1h). We took the big Bus which was supposed to be a bit slower, but for the 3h ride this was quite ok. Priests sell blessings for a save travel for 10 Birr per Person. The tickets we bought within the Bus for 75 Birr per person (suddenly he wanted additional five Birr each – I do not know why.) The Bus ride is all paved road and hence quite comfortable – if you do not make the mistake to seat like we did on the last seat where they squeeze in seven persons! Surely an experience.

Gondor (5.25)

  • Hotel: Bekaffa: (4.5) 45$ for a three bed and one one bed room, without breakfast adn airport shuttle. Not very clean, shower only cold. Central. Very amusing, traditional dancing/live music place in the basement.
  • Airport Taxi 150 Birr
  • Sights: We just visited the main site within the city. The official guide whom we paid additional to the entry fee was excellent, he showed us (in a professional English) additional stuff even after sunset when the sight was already officially closed.

Since we arrived quite late (2pm) and had to leave early in the morning, we did not get to see much of the city. The evening in the hotel basement was beside the castle a real highlight.

The castles are indeed quite interesting, especially in an African context. The former capital city lays a bit on the hill; during the rainy season it is quite green and rather cold.

Axum (5.75)

Laying in the Tigray area this ancient city and site is different from the Gondor or Lalibela. Although the lowest of the three, it is by far the driest and rockiest. It has a lot to offer from a historical point of view and people are aware of this. They have calculated that till today archeologist have discovered just 10% of all the sights. It is that right now a lot of activity is going on and indeed a lot of interesting discoveries are made, but if the number is true only the future will show.

Lailibela (6)

  • Mulgeta (Guide): 0910647965
  • Muchaw (Guide): 0913638635

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