Bahir Dar, the laid-back city to the southern coast of Lake Tana is the third major city in Ethiopia and serves as a gateway to the only major lake of Ethiopia, Lake Tana and the famous Blue Nile Falls.
Two days in the laid-back city would let you have enough time to explore the insights of Bahir Dar.
Bahir Dar is well connected by daily bus service from Addis Ababa and Gondar. The distance of 563 kilometres from Addis Ababa is usually covered in 9 hours and 30 minutes and the ticket for a person would cost around 340 ETB. Its recommended booking a ride with Sky bus or Selam bus.
Ethiopian Airlines operates daily scheduled flights from Addis Ababa and Lalibela. If you fly into the country on Ethiopian Airlines, the airline would offer you discounted tickets on their domestic routes.
Where To Stay:
The area around Lake Tana is the centre of the city.
What To See:
Start your visit from the local market. This busier part of Bahir Dar is a place where you would witness things being brought in from the nearby farms and locals buying them. Bahir Dar market has shops selling everything from clothes, bags, fruits and vegetables to livestock animals and spices. This is not a touristy place, but its a place where you can witness the daily life of the people of Bahir Dar.
Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia is the source and from where the renowned Blue Nile starts its long journey to Khartoum (Sudan), and on to the Mediterranean. The islands and peninsulas of Lake Tana collectively house more than 20 monastic churches. These islands are inhabited by a variety of bird and fish species.
The tour covers a visit to the five major islands Debre Maryam, Entos Eyesu, Kibran, Azwa and Beter Maryam. There are impressive colourful murals all around the inner wall of these churches that depicts a summary of Biblical stories painted in a cartoon style
Motor Boats from the Lake Tana Pier sails every hour. The entire trip lasts for five to six hours and costs around 200 ETB per person. There is a 100 ETB entrance fees to visit each monastery.
Its recommended arranging the tour through the hotel as the touts in the shore would quote exorbitant rates for the trip.
Debre Maryam Monastery:
The island of Debre Maryam is located at the Blue Nile outlet. The monastery in the island was founded by Saint Tewodros Tselalesh in the 14th century. However, the monastery burnt down during the Zemene Mesafint and was later rebuilt by Emperor Tewodros in the 19th century.
The island is a home to 25 families who are priests and monks. The church compound houses all the 10 priests and their families.
Entos Eyesu Monastery:
This small monastery is nestled in an island covered with lush tropical vegetation. It has a separate entrances for male and female visitors. The walls inside are covered with brightly painted religious themes and Bible stories.
Kibran St.Gabrael Unity of Monastery:
Khebran Gabriel is a huge monastery, women are not allowed to visit inside the church. Its one of the oldest in the lake dating back to the 13th century.
The main building is round with a square internal sanctum. There were 12 pillars representing the apostles. The paintings here are quite older.
Azwa Mariam Monastery:
This wonderfully preserved monastery dates back several centuries and is still in use today. The paintings that envelope every surface are beautifully made in Byzantine style and tell stories from 88 books of the Bible in contrast to the western worlds 66 biblical books.
Bete Maryam was found in the 13th century and is the oldest monastery on Zege. The church has some excellent murals which suffered a water damage. Bete Maryam is a short walk away from the pier through lemon and coffee trees. Just uphill from Bete Maryam, Bete Giorgis is being rebuilt from scratch following a fire. Its small museum with an important collection of crowns is still open.
Nine kilometres south of the city centre is The Bezawit Hill. A former palace of Haile Selassie is nestled on the summit of the hill. The palace can’t be photographed and is not open to visitors. Viewpoints both in front and behind offer panoramic views over the lake, river and town. They’re great at sunset. No public transport comes near here. Its recommended to hire a tuk-tuk or as the Ethiopians say “Bajaj”, the ride to the summit would cost nothing more than 40 Birr.
Blue Nile Falls:
One of the prime attractions in Bahir Dar, Blue Nile falls could be reached from the centre of the city by a private bus or by joining an organized tour group. Its often recommended to hire a guide but if you have a detailed map it’s very simple to follow the trail.
The falls are located 28 kilometres southeast of Bahir Dar down a bad dirt road. Buses from Bahir Dar leaves every hour to Tis Abay village, an hour’s ride would cost 13ETB. The last bus to Bahir Dar from the village leaves at 4.30pm.
Gondar, the popular historic town is located 175 Kms to the north of Bahir Dar. Mini Busses operate on this route quite frequently and charge around 35 ETB per person.