Mekele is the capital of Tigre and one of the largest towns in Ethiopia. It is the smartest and arguably the most rapidly developing town in the country. Mekele is a likeable place, with good facilities and the welcoming air that is so typical of Tigre, and although it lacks bona fide tourist attractions, it would be just about the perfect place to break for a day between long bus trips or rest up after a few days hiking in Gheralta.
Mekele owes its historical importance to the Emperor Yohannes IV, who made it his capital in the late 19th century.
How to get there
You can fly to Mekele from Addis Ababa, Axum, Gondar, Lalibela and Bahar Dar.
By road you can travel between Addis Ababa and Mekele in under two days. Early morning buses run daily in both directions between Mekele and Adigrat, Axum and Asmara (in Eritrea) to the north, and Woldia and Dessie to the south.
Where to stay
The Axum Hotel has very comfortable rooms with satellite television and hot water for US$ 28/32 single/double. The government Abreha Castle Hotel is set in a 19th century stone castle on a hill overlooking the town. It’s an attractive hotel, with a well-positioned bar and decent restaurant. Rooms cpst US$ 12/12 single/double.
Dropping a bit in price, the Seti Hotel has comfortable self-contained doubles with hot water for US$ 8.
The Queen of Sheba Hotel has very clean doubles using spotless communal showers for US$ 3.
Where to eat
The Yordannis Restaurant at the southern send of the Alula Road serves both Ethiopian and Italian dishes in small tukuls (huts), with most dishes falling in the Birr 10-20 range. The Rendezvous Restaurant has been for some years the outstanding local eatery. It does the standard Ethiopian fare boosted by outstanding roast lamb.
For pastry shops, Dehab Pastry and Lateria Café are recommended.
What to see and do
Certainly worth a look is the large market, where you are most likely to see camel-borne salt-traders recently arrived from the Danakil Desert on Monday, the main market day.
The Yohannes IV Museum is sited in the castle that two Frenchmen built for the emperor in 1873. It’s dominated by rather esoteric displays of royal paraphernalia, but the combination of the rooftop view and the photographic display of various rock-hewn churches justifies the nominal entrance fee.
Mekele is lively at night, when the streets ring with the Tigrean music that emanates from the bars.
The small village of Chelekot, 17 km south of Mekele, is known for its attractive green setting, and for the Selasie Chelekot Church, a circular construction that is one of the most beautiful churches in the country, and which is also rich in church treasures. There’s no public transport to Chelekot, but it’s a recommended excursion if you have your own vehicle.
The Tigre Tourist Bureau is well worth visiting for information and advice on sites in Tigre.
Where to go from there
Buses can be taken from Mekele to Axum, Adigrat (see the Axum section), and Asmara in the north and Woldia and Dessie in the south (see the Lalibela section).
There are a number of places that you may consider visiting if you are journeying from Mekele to Woldia, including the Maychew area which is wonderfully green and hilly and has enormous potential for off-the-beaten-track hiking and rambling.
A shorter distance away from Mekele is Wukro, and there is transport between the two towns throughout the day. Wukro has its own fine rock-hewn church, Wukro Chirkos, which is the single most accessible rock-hewn church in Tigre, and is one of the most impressive. Travellers bussing through Wukro are advised to visit it, even if they visit no other (see the section on ‘The Rock-Hewn Churches in Eastern Tigre’).
Source: Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide – third edition by Philip Briggs http://www.bradt-travelguides.com