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 May 2013, most hotels will agree to pick you up for an extra 70birr. 70 birrs for a minibus to/from Lalibela was confirmed December 2013. 100 birr per person as of June 2017. The drive takes around an hour.
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).
- 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 September 2017, entry ticket is USD 50 or 1012 Birr to visit and you are required to show passport or give them your passport number. The entry is valid for 5 days and at each site, the guard may ask you to show passport number matching your entry ticket.
There are 11 churches, assembled in three groups:
- The Northern Group: Bet 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 Bet Maryam (possibly the oldest of the churches), Bet 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: Bet Giyorgis, a cross-shaped church entirely carved out of a giant rock, said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church. This is the most prominently featured church on the Lalibela postcards.
- The Eastern Group: Bet Amanuel (possibly the former royal chapel), Bet Merkorios (which may be a former prison), Bet Abba Libanos and Bet Gabriel-Rufael (possibly a former royal palace), linked to a holy bakery. The best way to access this group is to enter via Bet Gabriel-Rufael, then via a dark trench next to the church you will access Bet Merkorios, Amanuel and Abba Libanos.
- Note the the entry cost (USD50) is completely outrageous by the Ethiopian standards, and represents well over the monthly income of many ordinary locals. The money goes directly to the church and no further control is exercised over its spending. This is coupled with repeated disrespectful public discussions how 'ferenji' should be charged more and more and they will still come and pay. While the churches are certainly imposing, it's everyone's own choice whether to put up with this attitude, or to boycott visiting the churches until more respect to visitors is shown, and the cost of visit is brought in accord with some reasonable norms. There many much more responsible ways to spend your money in Ethiopia.
- Licenced guides are available from the tourist office or ticket office in Lalibela for 600 birr per day per person (but in reality the price is negotiable). 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 8:00 AM to noon, and then from 2:00 to 5:00 PM. Various sites advise arriving at 6:00 AM to experience the beginning of morning mass, which is a worthwhile experience. However, independent travelers (those not with a tour group) should be aware that the ticket office may not be open then and there may be some trouble arranging payment and entry with various official security officers and official and unofficial guides. Additionally, you will likely find yourself surrounded immediately and persistently with men advertising themselves as guides and making a disruptive fuss.
- Farther afield is the monastery of Ashetam Maryam. Starting near the middle of the town, this church is a 1.5hr hike up the mountain where you will pass many locals walking to the market. Near the top you will find a hilltop farming village, where many of the locals will offer to sell you coffee or souvenirs. The hike itself is beautiful and worth doing, but the church is not worth the entry fee (350birr). The ticketing booth has been moved further down the mountain, just past the end of the village (July 2018), and you will need to pay the entry fee to the church in order to continue your ascent for the last few minutes and view the exterior of the monastery.
- Yimrehane Kristos church (entry 200 Birr November 2014), which predates Lalibela churches, built in the Aksumite fashion but within a cave is worth a visit despite having very limited local transportation options. A car from Lalibela town should cost around USD 80 or 1600 Birr. Again the prices are negotiable.
- 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. edit
- 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 protected]; telephone numbers: (home) 011-251-33-3360317; cell phone 011-251-91-1556205). edit
- Brewery Tour, . 2. A new tour that takes you to three (3) local home breweries (tellabet). Learn about locally made traditional beers (tella) and get to drink three of them in these local breweries. A great thing to do after you finish the churches. Tours run daily at 5PM. $20. edit
There is an ATM at Dashen Bank that gives birr currency. It accepts among others Visa, mastercard, Maestro. Usually seems to give 4.000 birr max.
The souvenir shops in Lalibela are overpriced. Wooden sculpture art will sell for ETB 300, which you can get for ETB100 at the airport, or even less from the souvenir street in Addis Ababa. The shops have fixed pricing.
Surprisingly, the airport is not a bad place to buy souvenirs - save your money for either here or Addis Ababa.
- 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. Apart from the Ethiopian and European dishes you findon many menu's, the Shepherd's Pie is a welcome and very delicious change of diet. 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. Alternatively, have a sundowner with/before supper, as both sunups as sundowns are to be enjoyed in this magnificantly placed restaurant. The wi-fi internet is an extra perk for those social media addicts wanting to share their photo's of the views with those less fortunate at home. edit
- John Cafe, (up the hill at the city center). right in the centre of town, oppposite of the small park, is John Cafe, in a row of simple looking small shaded tables outside. It serves excellent breakfast: order the full breakfast (40 Birr) andhave Fench tOast with honey and eggs in the style you favor. Traditional coffee is brewn next to your table and lovely. They may suggest a choice for dinner later in the day, but won't nag you to eat it here. Service is very friendly and extremely polite:, a welcome change from the hassling that you will encounter everywhere in the streets. edit
- 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. edit
- Old Abyssinia, (Situated a bit further down the road from Roha Hotel), ☎ +251 91 389 2419. This restaurant offers a great view of the valley and amazingly great traditional Ethiopian food! Lovely terrace and traditional dancing with coffee ceremony. You can email the owner, Malcolm, for reservations: [email protected] edit
- Xo Lalibla, Getar gay (infront of lal Hotel), ☎ +251911052024. 7-10. XO Lalibela restaurant has an Ethiopian and European dishes and all your classics it also has a home grown fully organic garden were all the fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown and you find that it has a unique view of the of the mountains and Saturday market and at night has an out door cultural band with traditional dancers with a bonfire to keep you warm . The Food is reasonably priced, the view is in-cre-di-ble! The wi-fi internet, museum, cultural center and a family sized guestroom are an extra perks. 15. edit
- Torpedo Tejbet (Honey Wine) (Askalech Tejbet (Honey Wine), Central city (Accross the police station), . 1800-0200. Newly re-built Bar and Restaurant. Serve Tej (honey wine) various potency, beer, and other soft drinks while watching authentic Azmari singing. Azmaris are famous for their sense of humor and the perceptiveness of the songs they improvise about their customers, or about social and political subjects. Varies. edit
(Prices on Wikitravel may be out of date)
- Asheten Hotel, near the bus station, rates from Birr 200 (although you should be able to negotiate it down), nice and quiet place with hot showers. Has a nice quiet garden terrace where you can relax. As most places in Lalibela, no Wi-Fi. In December 2013, the double room was 300 Birr.
- Seven Olives Hotel, right next to the bus station, Birr 500. Nice grounds, with hot showers and a good restaurant. On the leafy garden terrace you can enjoy a drink while watching birds whn it's quiet. Wi-fi internet is available and relatively fast.
- Tukul Village Lodge. Close to the church complexes, internet and shops across street, a 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. Expect many children outside waiting for you to ask for money. edit
- Panoramic View Hotel, (10min walk North East from town center), ☎ +251 33 336 0270, . Very modern, upmarket hotel with fantastic views. Restaurant, bar, WiFi and complimentary breakfast, and a vast array of services. Single - $55USD, Double - $69, Twin Room - $69, Triple Room - $85, Suite Room - $120. $55-120USD. edit
- 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. edit
- 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: [email protected] US $1.75. edit
- Lalibela Hudad, ☎ +251 911029052, . An Eco Lodge in the mountains above Lalibela, 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, it's the perfect place to spend a few days in a mountain paradise. $72. edit
- A Top 12 (Top Twelve Hotel), (ten minutes walking from the center to the north), ☎ +251 911 930 217, . Large rooms and clean bath rooms. Working, consistent hot water September 2017. Beautiful views of the valley below, plus room service for some food items. Breakfast is tasty with made to order egg dishes. Free WIFI. May say they can't process credit cards despite their website stating they accept cards. Pickup from airport available. edit
- Red Rock Lalibela Hotel, Lalibela centre (on top of the ridge), ☎ +251 911 068 344, . Opened in September 2013. New comfortable singles and doubles, all rooms with private bathroom, many with balcony. Just 5 minutes to the Lalibela churches. Friendly manager and staff. 20 - 35 USD. (12.03941,39.04237) edit
- Jourdan Hotel, 7 minutes walking distance from the church complexe. Near the bus station The boss is very friendly, and his assistant Mr George is very helpful 150 Birr. edit
- Maribela Hotel. On a scenic cliff, next door to the Top 12 Hotel and just up the road from the Mountain View Hotel. Nicely appointed hotel, and rooms feature comfortable balconies with wonderful views of the valley below. Breakfast includes both continental and local foods. The design of the hotel is sheek and modern. edit
- 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. 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.
The Ethiopian Airlines office is opposite of the Seven Olives' entry on the main road, centre town.
A minibus to the airport should cost 100 Birr (december 2013) and can be arranged by your hotel.