*<eat name="Ben Abeba" alt="" address="" directions="perhaps 500 meters from the center" phone="" url="" hours="" price="" lat="" long="">A restaurant opened in the autumn of 2011 (so new you won't find it in many guides). A Scottish woman, Susan, and her Ethiopian partner have opened this place on the peak of a hill. The building looks very peculiar and is a sight in itself. Food is reasonably priced, and the view is in-cre-di-ble. Get up early and go to Ben Abeba for breakfast to see the sun rise over the valley.</eat>
*<eat name="Ben Abeba" alt="" address="" directions="from the center" phone="" url="" hours="" price="" lat="" long="">A restaurant opened in the autumn of 2011 (so new you won't find it in many guides). A Scottish woman, Susan, and her Ethiopian partner have opened this place on the peak of a hill. The building looks very peculiar and is a sight in itself. Food is reasonably priced, and the view is in-cre-di-ble. Get up early and go to Ben Abeba for breakfast to see the sun rise over the valley
Revision as of 18:14, 16 May 2013
Lalibela is a city in Ethiopia that is a centre of pilgrimage for much of the country. It has a population of 15,000.
Ethiopian Airlines has scheduled flights at least once a day to Lalibela Airport (ICAO code HALL, IATA: LLI). Flights are often overbooked: make sure you reconfirm your seat at least 1 day in advance and show up at the airport on time! Flights can also be rescheduled or cancelled at short notice because of weather or for operational reasons. The airport is mid-sized. For a tiny town like Lalibela, the airport seems over-sized. It is at least 30 minutes by shared taxi (40 birrs per person as of 2008) away from the town. As of May2013, most hotels will agree to pick you up for an extra 70birr.
There is a daily bus from Addis Ababa. It is a two-day journey with an overnight stop at Dessie. The bus passes through Woldia mid-morning and will pick up passengers from the bus station if it has room. Another bus runs daily from Woldia, leaving at dawn. Both the Woldia and Addis Ababa buses depart Lalibela at 6am.
It is usually possible to get to/from Bahir Dar by bus in one day by changing buses at the village of Gashena, approximately 1-2 hours from Lalibela depending on traffic and weather. If you are travelling to or from Gondar by bus, you will usually have to spend the night somewhere.
Coming from Aksum the best possible way would take about two nights with stopovers in Mekele and Woldia. However, if you are lucky you might be able to catch a shared taxi in Mekele which brings you along Highway 1 to Woldia where you the next day can catch a bus heading towards Bahir Dar with a stop at the Gashena Junction to Lalibela where you have to wait for another bus/car bringing you to Lalibela. This might take a few hours.
The road to Lalibela is fine until you get to the village of Gashena, the last 1-2 hours consists of a small and unreliable road which is partly made of tarmac and partly sand. From Bahir Dar the drive takes about 7-8 hours and from Gondar about 10-11 hours. It is possible to get private drivers in both Bahir Dar and Gondar, would cost about 100-200 $ depending on negotiations, location and driver.
You can rent minibuses to drive you around the city. They usually are found outside the airport. Unlike other bigger towns and cities in Ethiopia, there are NO blue and white minibuses that regularly run through this small town. There are a few horses pulling carts.
You can walk safely around town (although people may look at you strangely or with amusement). School children may try to befriend you, and follow you around, perhaps beg. As of 2010 and onwards the government has tried to forbid begging, the situation is at this point much better than before but some people can still beg or invite you to their homes where strategic begging can be done.
Walking is the best way to get around, as you can even get from the far Southern point (where the Tukul Village hotel is located) up to the far Northern point (Ben Abeba restaurant) in 25mins. Aside from children coming up to beg (see section below 'Stay Safe'), the roads are completely safe to walk on. At night, you just might want to bring a flashlight since roads are not well lit for passing cars to see you. All 11 churches are easily seen in one half day by foot (be sure to get a guide).
Inside a Lalibela church
This rural town is known around the world for its monolithic churches, which were built during the reign of Lalibela, king of Ethiopia. As of January 2013, they cost 910 Birr to visit. The dramatic price increase has caused something of a furor within town as many guides/shop keepers fear (rightly so) that visitors will be less likely to spend money on their services now. There is also a widespread belief that the upcharge is on account of corruption by the priests to pocket more money, since this extra money does not get back into the hands of the community. That being said, the $50pp entry fee I do believe is worth it as these churches are really extraordinary to see. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. There are 11 churches, assembled in three groups:
The Northern Group: Bete Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, probably a copy of St Mary of Zion in Aksum. It is linked to Bete Maryam (possibly the oldest of the churches), Bete Golgotha (known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela), the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam.
The Western Group: Bete Giyorgis, said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church.
The Eastern Group: Bete Amanuel (possibly the former royal chapel), Bete Merkorios (which may be a former prison), Bete Abba Libanos and Bete Gabriel-Rufael (possibly a former royal palace), linked to a holy bakery.
Licenced guides are available from the tourist office in Lalibela for 150 birr per day. These guides are well trained and have an excellent working knowledge of the churches and good relationships with the priests. Do not try to hack it yourself without a guide, the knowledge that they offer will make the experience that much more impressive for you. Unlicensed guides will approach you all over the village, but they often know very little about the churches and are best avoided. You can get an official guide from your hotel as well.
The churches are open from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, and then from 2:00 to 5:00 PM.
Farther afield is the monastery of Ashketon Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church (possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion but within a cave). This church is a 1.5hr hike up the mountain where you will pass many locals walking to the village (and will undoubtedly ask you for money along the way). The hike itself is beautiful and worth doing, but the church is not worth the entry fee (350birr).
Contrary to certain spurious myths, the great rock-hewn churches of Lalibela were not built with the help of the Knights Templar; rather, they were produced solely by medieval Ethiopian civilization. However, there is controversy as to when the churches were constructed. Some scholars believe that the churches were built well before Lalibela and that Lalibela simply named them after himself.
Visit the weekly market for a glimpse of local weaving and an invaluable insight into local life. Make sure you visit the donkey park.
Holidays. Jan 7th, Christmas or "Ledet", Jan 19, Epiphany or "Timkat" are two of the most festive. Lalibela in particular gets packed during these times, so best to plan in advance.
Ethiopia Cookery School. At Blu Lal Hotel Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives (TESFA)  offers an excellent multi-day hiking programme along an escarpment in the area south of Lalibela. You travel with a trained guide and stay overnight in huts in local villages. A percentage of the funds they raise stay in the local communities. The hikes range from 2 to 5 days.$20USD.
Kabebush Sisay, Medhane Alem church area (Ask at Tena Adam Clinic- accross street from church tour ticket office). Kababush Sisay, age 48, conducts one to two day cultural trekking tours to a rural area called Dugusach. Trekkers get spectacular views of high mountain areas and can participate in cultural events such as holidays, weddings, funerals and wakes while being personal guests of residents eating local food and staying in their grass huts. The price of the tour is 110 birr for the first person and 80 birr for each additional person (which is about US $6.25 and US $4.25 respectively). Ms. Sisay is best reached through her brother Befekadu Sisay (email: email@example.com; telephone numbers: (home) 011-251-33-3360317; cell phone 011-251-91-1556205).
HIGHLAND TREKKING (trekking in Lalibela), Lalibela (On the top hill of Seven Olives Hotel), ☎ +251 912130831/+251 925963332, .
There is an ATM at Dashen Bank that gives birr currency.
Ben Abeba, (15min walk from the center, towards the NW mountains). A restaurant opened in the autumn of 2011 (so new you won't find it in many guides). A Scottish woman, Susan, and her Ethiopian partner have opened this place on the peak of a hill. The building looks very peculiar and is a sight in itself. Food is reasonably priced, and the view is in-cre-di-ble. Get up early and go to Ben Abeba for breakfast to see the sun rise over the valley.
7 Olives, (up the hill at the city center). This restaurant is part of the hotel of the same name and well marked on most maps of the city. A good affordable place to stop for lunch in the middle of your tour of the churches. Delicious Ethiopian food with great vegetarian options.
(Notice that the value of the Birr has been dropping fast, so prices on Wikitravel should be taken with a grain of salt unless they are in USD)
Asheten Hotel, near the bus station, rates from Birr 100 (although you should be able to negotiate it down), nice and quiet place with hot showers.
Seven Olives Hotel, right next to the bus station, Birr 130. Nice grounds, with hot showers and a good restaurant.
Tukul Village Lodge. Close to the church complexes, internet and shops across street, a new lodge with very nice spacious "tukul" style rooms (a cone-shaped mud hut, usually with a thatched roof, found in eastern and northeastern Africa) that overlook the valley. With Mtn View Lodge, the only "upscale" option available.
Mountain View Hotel. On a hill about 10 min drive from church complexes. Very nice hotel, surrounded by glass walls. Incredible scenic views. All rooms have balconies overlooking the valley. The most upscale option available in Lalibela.
Roha hotel Double room is 77 USD, single is 64 USD.
Tena Adam Hotel, Werk Dingay (behind bus station), ☎ 011-251-33-3360317/011-251-91-1556205, . Only hotel in Lalibella which charges the same price for foreigners and Ethiopians. There is no bargaining even on major holidays. Prices during Christmas and other holidays are the same. The price is 30 birr which is less than two dollars. Rooms are comfortable with sturdy beds and blankets. The common bathroom is clean and can accommodate many guests at the same time for those using the toilet and cold shower. The owner is Befekadu Sisay, his email: firstname.lastname@example.orgUS $1.75.
Lalibela Hudad, ☎ +251 911029052, . The Lalibela Hudad is a luxury Eco Lodge situated in the mountains above Lalibela. The lodge is only accessible by hiking or taking a mule up the mountain, which is well worth the journey! Great for friends, couples, and families. Rooms are "tukul" style with comfortable beds. If you're looking for an incredible experience off the beaten path of Lalibela, the Hudad Hotel is the perfect place to spend a few days on your trip to Lalibela in a mountain paradise.$72.
Cope & Stay Safe
More than any other city in Ethiopia, you will encounter many children who will approach you and ask for money. The greeting of "Hello money" is a common one. A typical scam is to ask you to purchase a dictionary for their school, which the overpriced tourist shops just happen to carry for $50 each - this is a scam. It may pain you to ignore these kids (especially those who grew up in the West and remember the 1990's famine post-Derg). Many will tell stories about coming from the countryside and having to pay their own schooling, or not having shoes. While they are undoubtedly poor, these are lies to try to guilt you into giving them money that they can spend on buying a material good instead of life necessity. Children will tend to congregate outside of the Mountain View and Tukul Village hotels as they know that these are the nicer ones with provide more targets of tourists with money.
If a child tries one of these schemes on you, do not hesitate to politely tell them that you cannot give them any money since it will just encourage them to tell lies instead of growing up to be an honorable person. Ethiopia is a socialized state where almost all of the basic necessities of life are provided. For sure the children who approach you are poor, but do have free education, housing, clothing, and meals; typically they are looking just to make some extra money to buy a football jersey or some other material good to show off to their friends. The adults on the other hand are very kind and friendly, and frown on this shameless behavior from their own kids but cannot stop it.
After being denied money, children will typically ask for a donation of clothing with a very sad puppy-dog face (unless you are wearing a football jersey, they will ask straight up if they can have this - not out of need, but materialistic desire). There are conflicting opinions on whether to give even clothing: one faction believes that bringing your old clothing donations from home are a win-win, since going to a good cause. The other faction believes that this only encourages children to keep begging instead of leading an honest life, and they would only take your shirt and sell it in the Saturday market for money to buy a material good (football jerseys are especially the hot item among kids). One thing you can be sure to donate without any negative repercussion is food.