Lake Tana | Ethiopia Travel Tips & Reviews | Africa Point
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Lake Tana
Pelican, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
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Lake Tana

Snapshot

Descend from the Ethiopian highlands to the lush banks of Lake Tana. Spend days ambling along the palm-fringed shoreline and boat to the numerous islands in search of mysterious monasteries, filled with ecclesiastical art and ancient manuscripts. Explore the beauty of Lake Tana on a sunset cruise, as hippos grunt and feast in the surrounding grasslands, and return to the town of Bahir Dar for fresh fish and local coffee.

 

Best Time to Visit

Lake Tana is best visited between October and March, when days are driest.
 

How to Get There

The town of Bahir Dar, is 600km north of Addis Ababa. This takes 8 hours by private vehicle, or 1 hour by air.
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Tropical Lake Tana

Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia, covering roughly 3500 square kilometers. For those of you who seek a break from the dry and arid Ethiopian landscapes, this lake will be a much-welcomed tropical reprieve. 

 

The lake is best known for its mysterious collection of monasteries, located on dozens of tiny islands and peninsulas. With artifacts and architecture dating back to the 14th century, these churches document an era of Christian persecution and survival. Take a boat between the churches, and explore the religious art, ancient manuscripts and mummified remains that have been housed here for centuries. These churches are a wonderful compliment if you are also touring the churches of Lalibela and northern Ethiopia.  

 

In addition to the religious significance, this lake is a perfect place for relaxation and rejuvenation. Set out in the late afternoon in search of the source of the Blue Nile River. Located amidst a forest of mango, coffee and fig trees, this is the point where the Blue Nile begins its journey towards the Mediterranean Sea. Floating back towards Bahir Dar as the sunsets, watch the sky lighting up with vibrant colours in the moments before stars begin to emerge. 

 

 

Lake Tana Monastries and the Source of the Blue Nile 

Monastries

The beauty of Lake Tana is best appreciated when you set out onto the calm waters in a local boat. From here, you are perfectly situated to appreciate the vastness of the lake as it laps quietly on the lush tropical shoreline. Local fishing boats speckle the waters, given its richness with marine life. 

 

Dozens of tiny islands dot the horizon, nearly each of which houses an ancient monastery. These monasteries were built between the 13th and 17th centuries when the region was an important spiritual home for the Christian empire. The buildings house some of the earliest known manuscripts and pieces of ecclesiastical art, while the exteriors of the churches are covered in murals and paintings that detail the history and challenges of the period.

 

Spend a day boating between the 30 churches, observing libraries of ancient books, mummified remains of former emperors and sacrificial pillars. For those with an interest in religious history, a trip to Lake Tana will be both a peaceful, mysterious and enlightening experience. 

 

Source of the Blue Nile

Across the lake from the island that houses Debre Maryam church is the gateway to the Blue Nile Falls. Upon reaching shore, scramble quickly through a forest of mango, coffee and fig trees before you find yourself standing at the mouth of this famed river. Keep an eye out for hippos as you wander around the area – this is one of their favourite spots around the lake. 

 

Sunset Cruise

Set sail in the late afternoon on a pontoon boat stocked with cocktails. Float across the smooth waters of Lake Tana towards the mouth of the Blue Nile, where hippos will likely be emerging from the water in anticipation of their evening feast. As they grunt and bob in the shallow waters, watch as the African sky transforms with colour as the sun dips below the horizon. Slowly sip on a local St. George’s beer before boating back towards Bahir Dar as the stars emerge above. 

 

Other Activities

Bahir Dar’s central market is heralded as one of the best in the country. It is well worth wandering through the alleyways in search of unique crafts and souvenirs. Keep an eye out for traditional Ethiopian coffee pots, local ‘lunchboxes’, goat hide covered footstools and a seemingly infinite supply of blankets. 

 

As you wander between the palm tree boulevards in Bahir Dar, wander into a local coffee shop for a spectacular and locally harvested cup of Ethiopian coffee. If craving a bit more substance, be sure to sample either an avocado or a mango smoothie made fresh at the numerous sidewalk cafes. Unique varieties of fresh fish are also worth sampling, as it is pulled daily from the lake! 

 

 

Accommodation

There is plenty of accommodation for all budgets in Bahir Dar. There are also a number of independent restaurants and bars located throughout this mid-sized town. Tourist facilities in Bahir Dar are among the best in the country – and the town itself is very pleasant to wander throughout. 

 

Baring a foreign owned lodge just outside Gorgora and a single lodge in town, there are limited accommodation options in Gorgora. 

 

 

Hot to Get There

The main access point for Lake Tana is in the town of Bahir Dar, on the southernmost banks of the lake. This town is approximately 600km north of Addis Ababa, and can be reached either by road (8 hours) or by a flight with Ethiopian Airways (1 hour, run daily). 

 

It is also possible to explore Lake Tana from the town of Gorgora, 60km south of Gondar. Gorogra is connected to Bahir Dar by a weekly ferry service. 

 

 

Best Time to Visit

Lake Tana is a pleasant destination year round, though it is preferable to avoid the rainy months between July and August. These months are also among the coolest. 

 

The warmest and driest months occur between December and March, with temperatures hitting highs of 27 – 30 degrees Celsius. Lake Tana and Bahir Dar have a surprisingly tropical climate, given their location in Ethiopia. 


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