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 is popular with national tourists for its lake and comfortable climate. It has become part of the northern tourist loop for its access to historic monasteries and as a jumping off point for Blue Nile Falls and Gondar. Due to the bustling tourism industry, the city has numerous pool halls, bars, fresh juice shops, and restaurants.
Giorgis Road is the main road in the north-south direction, featuring plenty of shopping and restaurants. The bus station and markets lie on side roads. The city is easy to get around by foot, bicycle, or cheap bajaj (tuk tuk).
- Bahar Dar Belay Zeleke International Airport (IATA: BJR). Ethiopian Airlines operates scheduled flights from Addis Ababa, as well as flights to Aksum and Lalibela. Note: If you have an Ethiopian Airlines ticket for your international segment, you can receive discounted airfare for domestic Ethiopian Airlines flights. Addis to Bajir Dar can be found as cheaply as $60USD per person one way (perhaps less, as of November 2018).
Bahar Dar airport is 10KM west of the city. Many upscale hotels offer shuttle services from the airport. Pickup can be arranged if you have pre-booked accommodation but may be overpriced. At the airport, taxis will ask 200 birr to get into town, which is a bad price. Two options: first, haggle with the taxis. Since the airport has few flights a day, they may be willing to take you into town, knowing no other fares are coming for a while. Using this option, we paid 100 birr to get into town. Second: by walking 1-2KM toward town, you may be able to find a tuk tuk/bajaj for as low as 80 birr.
The city is connected by daily buses to/from Addis Ababa and Gondar. Many private minibuses also run to/from Gondar and Addis Ababa. Many busses leave from the "new bus station" on the south side of the city near the national stadium. Some private busses do not leave from the bus station, but are instead arranged through your hotel or by local touts. 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. Ask your hotel for newer information.
Look at the "See" section for details on the public boat to Zege peninsula.
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. Beware: bajaj drivers will often quote much higher (40-50 birr) and you must haggle.
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.
As soon as you arrive in Bahir Dar, people will flock to you and suggest a tour of the lake and a trip to the water falls. Even in your hotel there will be an agent or some sort of guy who can offer you a great trip and the best price. It is recommended to connect with a guide before arriving.
- The Blue Nile Falls or Tis Abay (in Amharic) is about 35 km from Bahir Dar. It is a very nice sight – smaller than Victoria Falls, but amazingly scenic. Some of the water is diverted to a hydro-power dam, but it is definitely worth seeing except perhaps at peak dry season. From Bahir Dar, you can take a bus to the village of Tis Abay for 15 birr per person per direction, leaving from the new bus station near the stadium. Say "Tis Abay" to find a ticket. Busses start at 7AM and fill up quickly, with much shoving. The bus takes 1.5 hours and is very bumpy (or you can do a 2-3hour bumpy bike ride). At Tis Abay town (Tissisot on Google maps), you must pay 50 birr to enter, or 20 for foreign students. From the town, it is a 30-minute walk to the falls with amazing views, or a quick 20-birr boat ride. You can walk one way and take the boat back for a cohesive loop trek. Busses run back to Bahir Dar until 5PM, also 15 birr. 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. You can also arrange for a tour to the falls through your hotel for about 200 birr per person, (plus the boat price, plus entry). You can find official guide services near the entrance, 100 birr (Feb2018). Guide services are unnecessary, but you might want a photo of the map in the tourist office.
Try if possible not to visit on a Saturday as this is market day. The first part of the walk goes through the town and there are hundreds of people out and about. If you opt to take the boat back, you will be followed by lot of kids trying to help you across a very small section of water and then demand that you give them money. They can be quite pushy!
Note: children, beggars, and guides may try to follow you on the walk. Just smile and give them a firm no, and they'll leave you alone.
If you want to stay at Blue Nile Falls, there is an accommodation option at the top of the falls. Blue Nile Camping offers affordable tent camping (either your own tent for 100 birr or their tent for 200 birr), or huts from 450-550. They also sell affordable tea, coffee, tej, and beer. Chill place and worth a visit. You can hang out on a hammock overlooking the falls. There's also pretty amazing wildlife watching to be done.
- Bahir Dar is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana. On the shores and islands of the lake there are some historic churches and monasteries. These are a major draw for tourists to Bahir Dar, and the tourism industry is well organized and sometimes pushy.
Zege Peninsula, on the southwest shores of Lake Tana, is home to a number of monasteries, including the more famous Ura Kidane Mehret. Women are allowed to enter this monastery, and entry is 150 birr per person. The murals here are well preserved and beautiful, and admission includes a small museum with old books and paintings. While many tour companies (and your hotel) will offer a package tour of 5+ monasteries for 300 birr and upwards, Zege and its monasteries can be reached by public boat for 59 birr one way (Nov 2018). The boat leaves at 7AM from the Marine Authority. Arrive 30 minutes early to buy a ticket. The boat stops first near the monastery (20 minute trail walk), then proceeds on to the town of Afaf, often marked on maps as Zege/Zeghie. A tour guide is not needed: there are decent signs, and the shops along the way will point you the right direction. From Ura Kidane, you can walk 40 minutes to Afaf or other monasteries. From Afaf, you can catch an evening boat back to Bahir Dar, or take a minibus. Minibuses leave when they're full, last bus around 4PM. We paid 50 birr each with some haggling.
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 950 Birrs for the 1/2 day trip. It's the official price for a boat, without guide services and without entrance fees (100-150 per monastery). You decide what you want to see. There are also long trips to the churches far away (3 hours by boat to reach them). The prices are much higher (3 times more).
You can also try to share a tour via a tout. Ask in this case how many people are on the boat and what's included in the price. Asking price for a shared 1/2 day tour is 400 birr but can be haggled down. Visiting 2-3 churches is more than enough, and each monastery has a separate charge of 100-150 Birr per foreigner. Ask if any of the monasteries have an event going on, to make a visit more worthwhile.
Debra Mariam monastery, near the city, can be reached almost entirely on foot. The last bit requires a boat ride, which is cheap for locals but may be very expensive for tourists (100+ birr).
Note: The tourism industry in Bahir Dar is somewhat controversial. Many people find themselves hassled into buying overpriced tours, and some people don't enjoy the churches and monasteries. Taking a self-guided trip (e.g. the public boat to Zege) may satisfy your desire to see churches without being very expensive. Supporting touts and pushy guides reinforces a negative tourism culture and should be avoided.
- 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.
- The Blue Nile flows out of Lake Tana, up toward Tis Abay (Blue Nile Falls). 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 grazing.
- 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.
- Ethiopian Dancing There's a great place approximately across the street from the Kuriftu resort. Believe that it's called the Checheho Cultural Dance Club. Looks a bit shady from the outside, but absolutely worth visiting. Great time.
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.
- Wawi pizzeria fast food including big burgers comes close to an Ethiopian style McD.
- Misrak is a local restaurant with good Ethiopian and Western options. They serve meat even on fasting days (Wed/Fri).
- Lakeshore Resort, located along the lake near Summerland Hotel has good food and amazing views of the lake.
- Desset Lodge 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.
- Blue Nile Resort has a beautiful lakeside setting and does nice steak.
- Piassa, in the center of town, has affordable traditional Ethiopian food and is well frequented by locals. Dinner for 2 with 3 dishes and beer was <200 birr.
- 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.
Some people in Bahir Dar go to bed early and wake up early (5-6AM). Low budget accommodation may be loud after 6AM. Check-out time is often at 8AM. Check your hotel for running water or hot water before you pay.
There are a great number of low budget pensions around the bus terminal. To name just a few: Romaha pension (150 Birr single with shared bathroom; 200 Birr single with attached bathroom; perhaps less if you go there without a tout; no wifi), Golden Pension (120 Birr single shared bathroom; no wifi), Edget Pension (120 Birr: single shared bathroom; 175 Birr single with attached bathroom supposedly including a hot shower, but I hardly managed to get one; often there is no water at all; very unfriendly staff; wifi) Info Feb2018
Manuhie Backpackers Lodge offers clean, cheap rooms on the west of town. 450 birr per night for a medium bed with bathroom and hot shower. Rooms have a good mosquito net but lack ventilation. Many tourists stay at Manuhie and its a good place to meet people. The owner is knowledgeable and friendly, but some have reported finding him pushy.
Other rather old information:
- 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.
- Rahnile Hotel, (Just off the main street that runs along the lake and very close to St. George Church.). Rooms are clean and comfortable, hotel restaurant good and the breakfast was also good. Can be slightly noisy in the evening. 30USD per night. edit
- 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
- Bahir Dar Backpackers Hostel, Abafasilo Road, ☎ +251968596794, . Opened on Dec 2019, so everything is clean and tidy. It accommodates mostly backpackers, which makes it easy to find travel partners and good people to hang with. They have Dormitory rooms for $5 a bed, and also private rooms in the range of $10 to $15- all with shared bathrooms. There's also a common area, fully equipped kitchen to cook in, and WiFi. Lots of travelling information is available around the hostel, so its a nice place to plan your next step. Walking distance from great restaurants and Tana lake, where it's nice to walk around. 5. 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.
There's a (slow) internet cafe in the German Protection Building opposite the church.
- Gondar can be reached easily by mini-bus in about 3 hours, 70 birr (Feb2018). Mini-buses leave once they are full - beware of touts that try to charge you extra for backpack/luggage, it is included in the price unless you have more than one big piece and a small hand bag. Observe locals that often carry more. Most if not all buses to Gondar actually go to a bus terminal at Azezo 12 km from Gondar. From the terminal there are public minibuses (white and blue) to the center of Gondar called piassa. 7 Birr from Azezo bus station; 5 Birr from Azezo market which is rather close to the bus station. Info Feb2018.
- 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.