Bahar Dar & Tississat Falls

Bahar Dar is a large town on the southern shore of Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake. Palm-lined avenues and pretty lakeside vistas make Bahar Dar a decidedly attractive town and it is also the base for visits to Tis Abay and Lake Tana’s many monasteries.

With tourist amenities that are among the best in the country, Bahar Dar is an excellent place to settle in for a few days.

Bahir Dar Island

How to get there

Ethiopian Airlines flies to Bahar Dar from Addis Ababa, Gondar, Lalibela and Axum. At the airport you’ll have to get a taxi into town.

From Gondar to Bahar Dar the bus journey takes six hours. Buy your tickets a day in advance. From Addis to Bahar Dar the bus journey involves an overnight stop, usually at a small village. The Walia bus is reportedly the most comfortable and reliable.

Where to stay

The government Tana Hotel lies on the lake shore a couple of kilometres out of town. Its grounds are thickly wooded and home to a rich variety of birds. Self contained rooms cost $US 36/48 single/double. The private Ghion Hotel, which is more central, also has extremely attractive grounds and rooms varying between US$ 6-12.

There are numerous cheaper hotels in Bahar Dar. The Axum Hotel, behind the bus station, has self-contained doubles for Birr 35. The Tana Pension, which is situated above a pastry shop along the main north-south road near the bus station, has single rooms with large beds, balcony and access to good communal showers for Birr 20.

Where to eat

There is reasonable western food at all the tourist-class hotels.

The Ghion Hotel has a good, varied menu in a pleasant setting. Main courses are around Birr 10. The Enkutatash Restaurant, which lies behind the telecommunications building, does a wide variety of food at decent prices. Try the fish cutlet! For good Ethiopian food try the Tana Restaurant, above the Tana Pastry and below the Tana Pension.


What to see and do

To reach the source of the Blue Nile, which rises from Lake Tana on the outskirts of Bahar Dar, you can either walk or hire a bicycle, or take a local minibus to about 1km past the Blue Nile Springs Hotel, where a large bridge crosses the river. The wide river provides ideal conditions for hippos and crocodiles, both of which are occasionally seen from the bridge.

You can also visit a palace built for Haile Selassie on top of a hill. Although entrance to, and photography of, the palace are forbidden, the hill offers excellent views over the town and Lake Tana.

The market in Bahar Dar is also worth a visit, and a good place to buy furry injera baskets. Also try the pleasant walk to the fish market on the lake shore where you will also see a great many papyrus tankwa boats and often large numbers of pelicans.

Tississat Falls
About 30km after it exits Lake Tana, the Blue Nile plunges over a 45 m high rock face to form one of Africa’s most spectacular waterfalls, Tis Abay (‘Smoke of the Nile’). Tis Abay is impressive for the sheer volume of water that pours over it, particularly during the rainy season.

The most straightforward way of visiting the waterfall is to organise a half-day excursion with a reputable tour operator. It is also very easy to visit the waterfall independently. Buses run daily between Bahar Dar and the village of Tis Abay and the trip takes about an hour. Once at the village you’ll need to visit the ticket office. You’re not obliged to pay extra to hire a guide, but the alternative may be that a whole cluster of kids follow you asking for money. It’s a 30 minute walk from the village to the main viewpoint over the waterfall.

Most people visit Tis Abay as a day trip from Bahar Dar, but there are a couple of basic hotels in the village should you want to spend the night there. A more attractive option may be to camp by the waterfall. You can camp freely anywhere in the area, though you are advised to bring all your food with you from Bahar Dar. You might also want to organise a guard at the police station, which costs around US$ 5.

Where to go from Bahar Dar

You can catch a weekly ferry to Gorgora (near Gondar). Gorgora is dominated by the leafy Marine Authority compound, which birdwatchers will find rewarding to explore.

Zege is a picturesque village where you could easily spend a few cheap and relaxed days rusticating and exploring the surrounding the area. Further information can be found in the Lake Tana section.

If you wish to travel further afield there are flights from Bahar Dar to Addis, Gondar, Lalibela and Axum.

Source: Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide – third edition by Philip Briggs

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