Bahir Dar is the third largest city in Ethiopia, after Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, and has a population of 201,450. It is the capital of the Amhara region, inhabited by the Amhara people, the country's ethnically and geographically second largest group. The Ethiopian official language is Amharic.
Bahir Dar is a clean and well-maintained city by African city standards. It got somewhat popular with national tourists as also the lake and easy climate had made it even the emperor's choice for his summer residence. The result are numerous places to play pool, enjoy draft beer in garden style bars and have fresh fruit juices and the choice from big menus in plenty of cafés and restaurants.
Giorgis Road is the main road in north-south direction featuring plenty of shopping and restaurant opportunitities. The bus station and markets lie in side roads to this one and anything close to it will allow you to explore the city by foot. Even the basic accommodations have neat, but basic services.
- Bahar Dar Ginbot Haya International Airport (IATA: BJR). Ethiopian Airlines operates scheduled flights from Addis Ababa and Lalibela. Flights to Lalibela connect to Gondar and Aksum in the north.
The city is connected by daily buses to/from Addis Ababa and Gondar. Many private minibuses also run to/from Gondar and Addis Ababa. They often do not leave from the bus station but are instead arranged through your hotel or by local touts (who will find you before you find them!). The minibuses are more expensive but faster, especially to Addis Ababa. Try Selam bus or Sky bus for a more comfortable (and potentially safer) ride.
To get to Bahir Dar from Lalibela by bus, take a dawn bus to Gashina (about two hours south of Lalibela) and change there to the Woldia - Bahir Dar bus, which passes through Gashina around 10am. To get from Bahir Dar to Lalibela, take the 6am Bahir Dar - Woldia bus and catch the last Lalibela bus at Gashena, which passes through around 3pm.
See the Get out section for a two day government boat ride to Gorgora or vice-versa.
Bajajs (three wheel rick-shaws) are the most common form of transportation in the city. 20 Birr will get you most places you want to go in the town center. There are also blue minibuses, but few still exist as means to get around town. Bajajs are inexpensive and cost no-more than two birr per line of road and ten birr for a private charter.
Being a relatively flat city with wide streets, Bahir Dar is an excellent city for cycling, and bikes can be rented at various locations in the city. Look for one of those many bike repair places, they rent out a decent bike for about 20 ETB per hour. Cheaper if more distant from the center. More modern bikes can be rented in the port area from a tour organisation service for about 50 ETB.
- 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 50 birr to enter the falls. You can find official guide services near the entrance, 90 birr as of March 16 . Guide services are facultative but it's a good way to support the local community. 1 hour very bumpy bus drive from town centre or a 2-3hour bumpy bike ride.
- 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 is 950birrs for the 1/2day trip. It's the official price for a boat, without guide services and without entrances. You decide what you want to see. There are also long trip for the churches far (3hours drive to reach them). The prices are much higher (3 times more).
You can also try to share a tour via tout. Ask in this case how much people are on the boat and what's included in the price. Visiting 2-3 churches is more than enough, each monastery has a separate overpriced charge of 100 birr per person. Ura is the most famous one but also the most touristic, with uge painting. 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. According to the reglementation (it changes), you have to take one near the church or not. But the official prices are written somewhere, even if the guide will not say it. It's about (2015) 100birrs for 2 people. Don't forget that it's a good way to support the local people and assure them a revenu in the villages. (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. It is a rather small and ordinary italian built house with the lion of Juda in front of it. It lies at the end of an alley inside a park on top of a hill south east of the city. It provides a beautiful, picturesque scene of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana and Bahar Dar. Neither the palace nor the park could be entered as of March16, but the <2h excursion is still worth it. By bike cross the Blue Nil bridge in the east and pass the Martyr Memorial. Surround it by taking two rights and you will get to a perfect asphalt street. This is the old official entrance alley featuring flowering trees for 2,5km (and buna places). About half way back you can lower to the green riverside, try to spot some hippos and take a rowed ferry (2birr) back to the city side, might not operate subject to the boys' motivation.
- Lake Tana is not the source of the Blue Nile, it's before. The Blue Nile goes out of the lake up to Tis Abay (waterfall). If you take a boat trip ask the 'driver' to take you to the place where the river flows out of the lake. It is very atmospheric, and probably the best place to spot hippos. You can also reach this place by bike leaving the city east and after the bridge taking a left on a cobble stone road. It changes into a dirt road, that you follow for about 1,5km leaving you in a lush green area with plenty of birds and cattle grasing.
- Every evening local boatsmen feed the pelicans in front of the lakeside "promenade" just before sunset. Reach this by following Giorgis St all the way through, it's close to the harbour. There is also a swimming restaurant. The whole setting is a nice opportunity to get lost between national tourists.
- Cycling Almost everyone rides bicycle to get around.
Bahir Dar has a big and colorful market that is open every day. Saturday is the biggest day. Sunday has very few activities. While the part closer to the main road has heaps of imported cloth digging deeper will offer you a lot of local fabrics, grains, spices and even stalls dedicated to organic honey.
The local specialty is small footstools covered in goat hide. Find them along the road that runs from Ghion hotel to the main highway. They can apparently be "unstuffed" for travel.
The road in front of the bus station has many tailors.
- Lakeshore Resort, located along the lake near Summerland Hotel has good food and amazing views of the lake.
- Desset Lodge is a new restaurant that has OK food but a beautiful view of the lake. Highly recommended to enjoy a beer here while watching the sun set.
- Azewa Hotel has some of the best fish goulash in the country and is inexpensive.
- Tana Restaurant serves fabulous fish dishes for little money.
- Al-Hanan Muslim Restaurant near the Dalot Pension, serves huge and tasty mutton dishes, even during Lent. Also a good place for an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The owners are exceedingly nice and don't charge tourists extra.
- There are many cultural night clubs throughout the city center.
- There are a few western music clubs with Dream House and a bar above Friendship Cafe the most popular.
- New restaurant on the shore, Castel Wine House, serves delicious wines with a fine lake view. Try the Acacia Dry Red. Also serves some of the best tegabino in Ethiopia.
Prices are changing quickly...
- Koriftu Resort is a nice getaway after roughing it around Ethiopia. One of the nicest resorts in Ethiopia with a complimentary massage for every night stay. Good (but expensive) restaurant and a nice pool. Many of the (few) expats living in Bahir Dar congregate here on the weekend to swim and relax during the day.
- Dalot Pension, near the bus station, singles from Birr 80, modern, clean and convenient, best value in town
- Tana Pension, rooms from USD 2.50, the food is marvellous.
- Bahir Dar hotel, (Behind the Telecomm building which is located across the street of Ghion Hotel). An ethiopian hotel with fairly bad rooms, but a very nice courtyard which serves good food. The staff is very friendly and do speak english. 80-150 birr. edit
- Like many other cities in Ethiopia, Bahir Dar is generally safe and free of violent crimes.
- You may encounter some hustlers around the shore of Lake Tana to get you rent a boat they may get a kick-back for. The boats on Lake Tana that take you to visit the monasteries have fixed rates. Make sure the self appointed "brokers" won't get you charged a jacked up fee for the boats.
- Malaria is known to exist here but is uncommon.
There are some internet cafes.
- Internet Cafe in Ghion Hotel, Phone: 00251 918 766005 (Hanna)
- To get internet Cafe in other part of town, Phone: 00251 918 645319 (Maru)
- Gondar can be reached easily by minibus in 2-3 hours, 50birr.
- If you are feeling adventurous hop on the government ferry and cargo ship "Yetananesh" leaving for its two day tour up north to Gorgora. It has four stops in between, each of which will allow you to dive a little into offbeaten island or coastline villages, buy some mangos, have a buna and hop back on for the next track. In Gunzula you stay overnight, locals will guide you to a basic-being-too-much-said hotel. The 1964 Bremen (Germany) built ship was once split into seven pieces to be transported to Lake Tana, but is big enough to give you a safe feeling. It leaves every Sunday morning (6am) at Bahar Dar and Thursday (6am) in Gorgora. 278 ETB for foreigners as of March16. In Gorgora stay a bit in the local backpacker retreat or head up directly to Gondar by minibus.