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.
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 most 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 the 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 a more strategical begging can be done.
- This rural town is known around the world for its monolithic churches, which were built during the reign of Lalibela, king of Ethiopia. They cost 350 Birr to visit. There 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. Unlicensed guides will approach you all over the village, but they often know very little about the churches and are best avoided.
- The churches are open from 9:00 to 13:00 hours, and then from 14:00 to 17:00 hours.
- Farther a field lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church (possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion but within a cave).
- 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 (Saturday?) - not much you would want to buy, some local weaving possibly, but 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 stays 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). She is best reached through her brother Befekadu Sisay (email: [email protected]; telephone numbers: (home) 011-251-33-3360317; cell phone 011-251-91-1556205).
There are no ATMs in Lalibela. If you need money the only option besides having an acquaintance send money via Western Union is to go to Mountain View Hotel. They will charge your visa plus a 10% surcharge and give you Birr.
- Ben Abeba, (perhaps 500 meters from the center). 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.
(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, 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 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. All rooms have balconies overlooking the valley. 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 Ethiopian. 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.
Children in Lalibela will ask you to buy schoolbooks. It is unclear whether this is a scam.