Castles, waterfalls, and planes. Oh my: Traveling around Gondar & Bahir Dar

I would just like to state, for the record, how happy I am we decided to fly from Lalibela to Gondar. I mean, I’m glad we bused to Lalibela, because we got to see some incredible sights, but those two full days of travel, even separated by a day in Kombolcha, were a beating. But the Gondar flight took less than 30 minutes and couldn’t have been better.

We spent day one in Gondar, relaxing and eating with the volunteers who live there. Day two was all about the castles.


These castles date back to the 17th century, and the royal enclosure is called Fasil Ghebbi. But my trivia ends there – we didn’t do as much research on these castles as we did on the churches in Lalibela. And once again, we were too cheap to hire a guide – still happy about that decision. We spent a leisurely morning wandering through the enclosure.

Some of the castles seemed pretty intact, like the one above. Others had sustained serious damage in a 1704 earthquake. And a few – like the one below – were open to the sky above and the earth below.


Walking through the grounds was just so peaceful and relaxing (very unlike the actual city of Gondar, which has a population of about half a million). One of my favourite scenes of the day was the following picture…pretty sure this is the most pleasant looking shint bet (bathroom) I’ve seen in Ethiopia.


After the castles, we took a break for lunch and then headed down to Fasilida’s Pool. The pool itself is only filled with water on special occasions and holidays, but it was still a lovely sight. The pool was surround by high walls, and above those, even more walls. But tree roots had broken through these upper walls, creating the image you see below. I’ll reveal my nerdy side for a moment and admit that I felt like I was stepping into Middle Earth. Seriously, I was expecting Merry and Pippin to come out riding on a tree at any moment.


The following day we had planned to make our way to Debre Birhan Selassie Church, but got sidetracked at the beer garden instead. No complaints, I saved some money and got to spend the day catching up with one of my Peace Corps besties.

The next morning found us on a minibus to Bahir Dar and a miracle happened – we made it there in two short hours. Which meant we spent the afternoon relaxing by Lake Tana (the largest lake in Ethiopia) and resting up for our hike to the Blue Nile Falls the next day.

Our final full day up north started out well enough. We made it to the bus station and found a bus headed to Tis Abay – the closest town to the waterfall. What we didn’t know was that the drive would take almost an hour and a half on an unpaved road. And they packed our bus so full I almost had strangers sitting in my lap. Apparently, there had been a death in Tis Abay, and everyone was headed there for the funeral.

We finally arrived and made our way to the ticket office. Ten birr later and we were on our way to the falls. The first bridge we crossed was pretty picturesque…


The hike lasted about half an hour and then suddenly, we were there – the Blue Nile Falls. Despite not being very blue, they were still incredible to behold. And the mist they created was much appreciated to help combat the heat of the day. This was the third time on the trip that we refused a guide, and we definitely got the most harassment here as a result. But the falls were really simple to find – no guide required!


We had a picnic for lunch before setting off for even more bridges and screaming children. Though one looked at Chandler and began counting in Spanish – making me laugh far too hard and hindering my ability to get mad. It was another hellish hour and half back to Bahir Dar, but I’m still glad we made the trek out there. We flew back to the capital the final morning and our trip was over. It was certainly one incredible check we made in our checklist.


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