Bahir Dar and Lake Tana
The Blue Nile Falls or Tis Abay (in Amharic) is about 35 km from Bahir Dar. The water is no longer diverted to a hydro-power dam. It is a very nice sight – smaller than Victoria Falls, but amazingly scenic. You can take a bus to the village of Tis Abay, from which it is a 30-minute walk to the falls. You take a big trip in the countryside to reach the falls. If you take the bus, ignore anyone in the village who insists that the last bus back to Bahir Dar will be full and wants you to pay them to hold a seat, or that the last bus has already left but they can offer you an amazingly expensive taxi ride. There are plenty of buses back to Bahir Dar, the last one leaves at 5PM or later, and the bus conductor will find a seat for you. You can also arrange for a tour to the falls through your hotel for about 200 birr per person, the boatman is 10 birr each way, entry tickets are 30 birr to enter the falls. No need for an overpriced local guide, just ask or pay one of the many children there to guide you for a small fee. 1 hour very bumpy drive from town centre.
Bahir Dar is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana. On the islands of the lake there are some of the world’s oldest churches and monasteries. There are plenty of boat tours available to the monasteries; these range from 2 to 12 hours in length and can be booked through your hotel or by one of the many touts in the city. In some of these monasteries, women are not allowed to enter. Be cautious and aware of the traditions and rules of the Ethiopian Orthodox church when you visit. A boat tour costs about 200 birr per person (find people to share), and will take you to 3-4 monasteries, 3 is more than enough, each monastery has a separate overpriced charge of 100 birr per person. Ask if any of have an event going on to make them more worthwhile. The ‘museums’ are nothing more than a one room shack. Guides can be helpful, but don’t feel you absolutely need them. (Note: These churches are definitely unique to Ethiopia, but they tend to be expensive and the tours are overrated. The boat trip on the lake is nice, but there are better examples of rural churches elsewhere in Ethiopia in a more pleasant and less touristy environment.)
Bahir Dar grew around a Jesuit settlement, founded in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, from which time the Pedro Páez building dates. One of Emperor Haile Selassie’s palaces is located near the city, and the Emperor considered moving the national capital to the town. The palace is an impressive architectural work of its time. Facing Lake Tana it provides a beautiful, picturesque scene of the Blue Nile.
Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile. The Blue Nile goes out of the lake up to Tis Abay (waterfall). If you are in Bahir Dar take a boat trip to the place where the river flows out of the lake. It is very atmospheric, and probably the best place to spot hippo