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Bahir Dar: Ethiopia’s lakeside resort (Claire A Davies)

There is something special about Ethiopia’s lakeside resort city Bahir Dar. Travel blogger Claire A Davis shares her experience about it.

Bahir Dar _ streets _ Ethiopia
Bahir Dar Streets. Photo : Claire A Davies

Claire A Davies
December 29, 2019

Bahir Dar has always had a holiday kind of feel: a place where people gravitate seeking walks on the shores of Lake Tana or to sip freshly squeezed mango juice overlooking the wide, palm fringed boulevards.The heat and humidity give a tropical feeling to the town,a welcome contrast to the cold nights of Addis Ababa and the highlands.

Long a favourite place of many Ethiopians,the town has recently welcomed a new wave of lakeside resorts and spas making it even easier to relax. 

The original lakeside hotel, the Ghion,with its huge gardens is now closed, but with a new Radisson Blu hotel planned,the town is firmly on the tourist map.

You can do nothing except relax and drink coffee at the ambient Wude Coffee or along the lakeshore but there are plenty of things to do. 

Lakeside walks

Evenings are the best time for promenade along the shore of Lake Tana. The path is shaded by enormous Sycamore Figs with giant tree trunks to scramble over.  There is a good spot to see pelicans.

At the eastern end the Desset Lodge is one of the best places to try local fish by the lake with its large open gardens extending down to the waters and  shaded pagoda extending down to the waters.

Boat trips on Lake Tana

Most hotels will arrange an outing in a launch to see the lake’s wildlife.Early morning gives the best chance of spotting hippos as well as more pelicans, waders and majestic Fish Eagles.

The lake is a serene spot where fishermen still row back and forth in papyrus boats as if still in biblical scenes.Your boatman can show you the source of the Blue Nile a reedy backwater not impressive in itself but you can tick it off your bucket list.

Monastry Painting _ Ethiopia’s lakeside resort
Monastery painting Lake Tana. Photo : Claire A Davies

Monasteries on the lake

Lake Tana hosts a network of monasteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on its small islands.Originally created many centuries ago, the islands were chosen in order to hide away the religious treasures of the church. Nowadays, it’s easy to arrange boat trips to most of the island monasteries as well as those on the Zagwe Peninsula.

Note that some monasteries are not open to women.

The church also champions conservation on the islands which remain wooded peaceful spots.It’s possible to see monkeys in some places and there are nice walks even if churches aren’t your interest.

Some of the churches are like museums in their own right with ancient parchment and walls decorated with religious paintings.

One island is home to the mummified remains of several members ofEthiopia’s royal dynasty including Emperor Fasilidas, founder of Gondar.

Blue Nile Falls

The Blue Nile tumbles over cliffs in quadruple jets that throw off spray and creating shimmering rainbows in the mist. It’s the width of the falls at 400 metres that makes them impressive as well as the amount of spray thrown up in the air – locals call it Tis Isat or Tis Abay – meaning ‘The Water that Smokes.’ 

Unfortunately,the falls have been somewhat diminished in recent years by the diversion of water to hydroelectric plants.The current situation is now more of a trickle at times, however the water levels are still impressive during and after the rainy season and depending on whether the hydroelectric plants are ‘on.’

When in full tilt, it’s momentous sight to stand and listen to the roar of the water thundering into the pools and feel the spray on your face.

Where to stay

Spa hotels include the modern Unison Hotel or the Kuriftu Resort which has a pool and attractive lodges in a tropical garden setting.

B & B The Annex is a guesthouse with just 3 rooms individually decorated in traditional Ethiopian style.

Radisson Blu are opening a 125 room hotel in 2021.

 Getting there and away

Bahir Dar is an hour from Addis by plane (now several flights daily).

Otherwise go by road (8 hours) and see the 1 km deep Blue Nile Gorge

Follow the writer on twitter : @dispatchesfrom_1


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