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Gondar

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Gondar (also spelled Gonder) is a royal and ancient historical city of Ethiopia. The walled city of Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is part of the famous Ethiopia Historical Circuit. It was the home of many emperors and princesses who led the country from the 12th century to the last decade of the 20th century, including Emperor Suseneos, Emperor Fasiledes, Empress Mentwab, Iyasu I, Tewodros II and Empress Taitu. The region is the home of the highest mountain in Ethiopia, Ras Dashen, and the Simien Mountains National Park. The park can be accessed from the village of Debark (100 km NE of Gondar).

Get in[edit]

Gondar's 17th century royal castle

By air[edit]

There is a mid-sized airport in Gondar. Ethiopian airlines has daily flights to the city - usually leaving Addis around 0700. Flights are also available to/from Axum, Lalibela, and Bahir Dar. Ethiopian Airlines flights are frequently cancelled or rescheduled at short notice, so allow plenty of time if travelling for an international connection. Vans to the city should charge somewhere around 150 birr (2017 jun). Return trips to the airport from the hotels are arranged by most hotels at the same rate.

By bus[edit]

  • There is a bus service to/from Addis Ababa, a trip that takes two days. Minibuses are available that make the trip in one day. These are more expensive and are usually booked through your hotel.
  • Several buses a day run to/from Bahir Dar. Small buses parked inside the Bahirdar bus station on the right side leave to Gondar every hour in the morning (at 60th minute). Touts must be strictly not entertained. Approach the driver directly and secure a seat, the price is 70 Birr (January2018) including one piece luggage. Usually takes three to four hours for this journey through Ethiopian highlands. Minibuses (vans) also run on this route, but not safe or comfortable. From Gondar these buses depart from Azezo on a main junction 12 km southwest of Gondar. Public blue white minibus to get to Azezo from the center of Gondar costs 5 Birr.
  • To get to Axum, take the dawn bus to Shire and change there. You can usually get through in a day (11 hours). To get from Axum, you must take an afternoon bus to Shire, spend the night there, and take the dawn bus to Gondar. The road between Gondar and Shire is one of the most spectacular in Ethiopia.
  • It also takes two days to get to/from Lalibela by bus. Coming from Lalibela, you take one of the dawn buses to Gashena and change there to the Bahir Dar bus going west. You can either get off the bus at Nefas Mewcha and take the dawn bus to Gondar the next day, or you can ride it all the way to Bahir Dar and head north to Gondar the next morning. To travel to Lalibela, the bus to Gashena from Gondar usually stops for the night in Nefas Mewcha. There are two afternoon buses from Gashena to Lalibela.
  • There are two buses a day to/from Debark for people heading to the Simien Mountains. These leave somewhere around 6am and 9am in both directions.
  • To/from the Sudanese border at Metemma (distance 400 km) there are minibuses. Price: 80 Birr (one way). Jan2018 Warning: coming from the border the minibus may stop just 15 km away from Gondar (in my case on a dark road where there were no houses). The driver and his helpers then start a process of renegotiating the price or in other words try to extort more money from the passengers. I took my backpack and hitch hiked the last bit. (January 2018)

Get around[edit]

  • The blue and white minibuses run through the city efficiently. There are also some horse drawn taxis called garis. Both are inexpensive. 2 Birr inside the city. 4 Birr vicinity of the city (January 2018).
  • You also can contract a small blue colored taxi for a day or several days during your visit.

See[edit][add listing]

Debre Bihran Selassie: 17th-18th century wall paintings

Gondar Castle, dubbed the Ethiopian Camelot, is not a single castle, but instead is the name given to the entire complex of castles and palaces in the area. Once you pay 200 Birr (January 2018), which does not include a guide, you can explore all of the buildings inside the so-called royal enclosure. The ticket is also valid at the Fasilides bath.

  • Fasilides Castle. Built in 1640 as the home of King Fasilides. 200birr"".  edit
  • Iyasu Palace. This was the home of Iyasu I, the son of Yohannes I. An earthquake and bombings by the British destroyed its once ornate and lavish interior, but the structure itself remains mostly intact and is the largest in the area.  edit
  • Mentewab's Palace (Kusquam). 3 km west from the center. 100 Birr entrance fee. To get there take a blue/white minibus to Gondar Hospital (2 Birr) and walk up the hill or take a bajaj. There are lots of them (2 Birr per person if shared)  edit
  • Fasilides Bath. Included in your entrance fee to the Fasilides Castle (you must buy your ticket at the castle before coming here). Separate from the castle, it once served as the bath for King Fasilides. Today it is used as a baptismal during Timket (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timkat).  edit
  • Debre Birhan Selassie Church. A short way out of town, it seems more like a fortress than a church at first glance. This is because the local churches were once vulnerable to attacks by the Sudanese. There are twelve towers guarding this church, each representing one of the twelve apostles. A church was built at this location at the end of the 17th century and destroyed. The church you can see now, dates from the 1880s. It is worth a visit to see its amazing ceiling with intricately painted angels. There are also other religious images on the walls. Churches like this were once quite common in the area, but this is the only church to survive the Sudanese attacks, making it even more of a treasure. Entrance fee: 100 Birr (January 2018).  edit
  • Gorgora is a beautiful small town on the northern shore of Lake Tana about 70 km from Gondar. It has some interesting relics from its brief time as Ethiopia's capital, and the lack of tourists adds to its charm. It is also good for birdwatching and canoo with the local fishermen. There is an early morning bus from Gondar to Gorgora (20 Birr) and occasional minibuses.
  • Church of Debre Sina. The inside of this 17th century, thatched-roof church is breathtaking, with every wall adorned with biblical paintings.
  • Monasteries. There are a number of monasteries on the northern part of Lake Tana. Boat hire is best arranged by visiting the Gorgora Port Hotel.

Do[edit][add listing]

Gondar is located in a mountainous area ideal for some hiking. Walk up hill to the Goha hotel for a good view over the valley. Other options are to walk to Kusquam church or to Angereb dam and lake (access restricted, but possible). The village of Woleka is just 5 km away, an hour's walk along the main road, but with nice views of the surroundings.

Day Tour For those with very limited time, it is possible to see most of Gondar in a day tour. This will typically include an hour or two's walk in the Simien Mountains (check the get-out section) followed by a break for lunch, then a visit to all the old castles and churches. In one day up and down (200 km) to the Simien Mountains including a two hour walk.

Most tour companies charge anywhere from $50 to $140 USD per person, depending on the number of people. You can easily guide yourself around, it will only cost $15-30 USD.

Spa Leaving the main square north on the road leading up to the Landmark hotel brings you to a roundabout. Close are several Spas perfect if applied after a hard Simien Mountain tour. A fancy one offers Sauna or massage, 300 ETB each. One - more Ethiopian level - place has shower, steam bath and Sauna for 100 Birr altogether.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Eat[edit][add listing]

Injera (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Injera) is the common and indigenous food in Gondar. Bread and other foreign foods can be found in hotels and restaurants.

  • Landmark Hotel European restaurant European style dishes, reasonable value. You can sit inside and outside on a terrace overlooking Gondar.
  • Lshape Hotel, not too expensive and excellent value, try their tibbs wate (roasted lamb stew). They serve very delicious foods. You will also have a wide range of foreign dish preferences. http://www.lshapehotel.com
  • Taye Belay Hotel restaurant European and Ethiopian style dishes, excellent value. It looks like a very upmarket place, but prices are the same or cheaper than in some of the dingy local outlets.
  • Four sisters restaurant European and Ethiopian style dishes, reasonable value. Many tour groups go there.
  • Goha Hotel restaurant European and Ethiopian style dishes, medium price range (expensive by local standards e.g. 240 Birr for buffet dinner). You can sit inside and outside on a terrace overlooking Gondar. Pleasant ambiance.

Drink[edit][add listing]

The pure Tej (without sugar - only from honey), Tela (Korefe, Tiru) are the local famous drinks. They are also common throughout Ethiopia, particularly in the Amhara region, although there is some sugar. Factory beers of all kinds are found. It is very common to get Dashen Beer, as Dashen Brewery is in Gondar.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

There are a number of options. Prices start at 150 Birr for very basic rooms. Lower budget hotels like the Zoz Amba (300 Birr), Queen Taytu (150 Birr /180 Birr, but water supply is very problematic), Allianz (300 Birr), Genetics (300 Birr), Yohannes (15 USD) are all in the vicinity of the royal enclosure. (info Jan2018) Check the water supply system and (hot shower) boilers as often they do not not work, or only a couple of hours each day. Most of these places do have wifi. This is just a selection there are many more low budget places in town.

Other (medium range and higher) options

  • Hotel Michael, 0581110020. A new hotel, rooms with attached bathroom including hot shower, TV and high speed wifi from 250 Birr (Feb2018)  edit
  • Quara Hotel, (facing the piazza). Single occupancy 670 birr including breakfast. Basic hotel with ceramic floors and own washroom. No elevator, so be prepared to walk up 4 floors. Breakfast is plentiful. Staff is friendly. Sauna/steam room available for 100 birr and massages 250 birr (Jan 2015). Very conveniently located and an easy walk to everywhere. Free airport shuttle. 670 birr.  edit
  • Hotel Lammergeyer at the entry to Gondar 2.2 km from the center. Nice garden and restaurant. 25 USD single room. 30 USD kingsize room. Wifi in the lobby and garden. Email [email protected] Tel 0581 122903
  • Lshape Hotel in downtown Gondar. Wifi at every floor. Check out their site http://www.lshapehotel.com/
  • Taye Hotel. New hotel in the city center, just around the corner from the Palace. Still with kinks to work out, but the most upscale option available in Gondar. Comfortable and luxurious.  edit
  • Goha Hotel. Former Ghion (government) hotel has excellent views, as it's located on a hill overlooking the city. Luxurious abd comfortable. They have a pool and a restaurant.  edit
  • AG Gondar Hotel, Fasil Street Gondar, +251-581-260073 email: [email protected]. Lovely Hotel located centrally with beautiful views of the Surrounding mountains. The rooms and bathrooms are big, modern, and tidy. Great value for extra comfort and the staff are friendly!  edit

Stay Safe[edit]

In Gondar you may find young men posing as musicians who wish to take you to an 'authentic' night of Ethiopian music. Be wary of this, as the ruse is simply to take you to a place posing as a traditional tej bar where you will be the only patron and will be prodded into buying alcohol for all the Ethiopians present, as well as tipping the musicians who are playing only because you are there.

Get out[edit]

Boat trip to Bahar Dar Minibus your way to Gorgora and hop on the Yetananesh. Mixed cargo and passenger government boat with one overnight stay at Gunzula. 278 ETB for foreigners, leaves every Thursday morning at 6am. Good opportunity to stay at the lakeside backpacker and overlander paradise "Tims and Kim's Village".

Simien Mountains

Many travellers go to Gondar to visit the Simien Mountains, about a 3 hour bus ride 100 km northeast of the city. The park entrance is near the village of Debark where meanwhile there are a number of options for staying overnight.

To visit the park there are basically two options. One is to go to Debark yourself using local transport and contact the National Park office. They will be able to suggest different options (one day, two days or more). To go into the National Park a scout is mandatory. The other option is to go through an agent or agency in Gondar. This will add significantly to your cost (150 to 300 USD pp for a four day trek).

Option 2

In Gondar you will be approached by many touts offering a wide variety of treks. Keep in mind that using the services of touts will add to the cost of a tour. Contact agencies directly and make sure it is clear what is included in the price and what not, when they offer different options. You may be able to join a group which may cut the cost, but usually prices are determined by an assessment of your experience and bargaining skills. Usually they offer to organize anything you want, but all at steep not to say ripp off prices e.g. 250 US$ for four days with a group of 11 people!

There are many reports of people who did not get what they thought they paid for.

Other travelers report: Well organised, if expensive, trips to the Simien Mountains can be arranged in Gondar through Seyoum at Explore Abbysinia Travel. His office is underneath the Circle Hotel, facing away from the main road. He can also organise very good value guided tours of Gondar, which is worth doing as a guide is effective at warding off unofficial guides and other hassles. Daytrips to the Simien Mountains from Gondar can also be arranged, but you won't have time to do much other than step out of your 4WD for a few minutes to snap some pictures.

Option 1

It is also straightforward to arrange everything yourself, and definitely cheaper if you aren't splitting the costs with anyone. Debark is the staging point for all treks in the Simien Mountains and can be reached by bus from Gondar. On arrival in Debark, go to the park office in the south end of town (which you will pass on your way in). They will arrange for permits and the mandatory scout, and can find an official guide, cook, mules, and a muleman if desired. They also have gear for rent, although it is low quality stuff.

Unfortunately, a lot of people will hassle you in Debark. Do not hire an unofficial guide off the street -- travelers frequently complain about their experience with unofficial guides!

There is food suitable for trekking available in Debark, but it is cheaper to buy it in advance in Gondar where there is a much better selection. The scout, guide, and muleman will likely expect you to feed them, so bring along extra.

The best hotel in Debark is the Simien Park Hotel, south of the bus station. There are a few other decent places nearby if the Simien Park Hotel is full.

There is a road running from Debark into the park and several trucks run down it each day, but tourists are prohibited from using them. As a tourist, the only way into the park is to hire a 4WD or walk. Although shorter treks are possible, a 5-day trek from Debark to Sankabar Camp to Geech Camp to Chenek Camp and back to Debark via Sankabar (skipping Geech) is about as short as you can get without missing some of the main sights. You need 9 days to trek to Ras Dashen (4533m), the highest peak in Ethiopia, and back without transport.

Former village of Beta Israel near Woleka

Adjacent to the village of Woleka is a former settlement of Beta Israel, the jewish community in Ethiopia. The settlement is also known as the Falasha village. Falasha is a derogatory term meaning landless or wanderers. Nowadays there are no members of the Beta Israel left in this village. Official numbers indicate there are only a couple of thousand jews left in the whole country. Most were airlifted out in the 1990s after Israel recognized them as a genuine Jewish community.

Going to Woleka with a city taxi would cost about 100 birr return. It is worth walking there, taking about an hour (5 km) along the main road to Debark and Aksum. There are mainly three points of interest, the small manufacture where women are making clayware, the small synagogue (inoffical 10 birr entrance) and the cemetary a bit outside of the village (inoffical 50 birr entrance). The village itself is quite charming. Beware of scams and children following you during the whole stay in the village.

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