This famous town, rich in history has many rock-hewn churches. Built directly into stone, these impressive structures connect via tunnels. Devout Christians come here everyday to pray. The surrounding mountains tower over this friendly village. There are excellent treks in the area which spend the night (or two) in a traditional community and get a rich cultural experience. The quaint village of Lalibela is a highlight of Ethiopia.
When to Go
The best time to visit Lalibela is between October and January during the dry season. January 7 (Ethiopian Christmas) and January 19 (Epiphany) are the two most festive days of the year. Lalibela gets packed, so make sure to plan. Stay over the weekend and check out the Saturday market followed by early morning (6am) mass on Sunday.
Where to Stay
Ashiton Hotel has good rooms with wifi and hot water for 300 / 400 Birr single/double.
Where to Eat
Unique Restaurant is a locals favorite (40 – 60 Birr). Come for sunset drinks at Ben Abeba followed by a meal (40 – 100 Birr).
Rock Hewn Churches
Two clusters of churches are located in Lalibela, all within walking distance of each other. Elevan total churches connect by tunnels and small alleyways carved through stone. The impressive Saint George Church is the epicenter of this devout village. It is one of the most important monasteries in Ethiopia and a major pilgrimage site. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, these churches are best visited in the early morning. Hear the chants and congregation of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox worship.
Entry to the churches cost 1,104 Birr ($50) for a 5 day ticket. No single day tickets are available and tickets are non-transferable. Although ticket prices are very expensive seeing the churches is a highlight in Ethiopia.
Community Hike to Abuna Yosef
Aside from the importance of the 11 UNESCO churches, hiking to Abuna Yosef draws tourists to Lalibela. The first day of the hike up the mountains ends at one of the small villages. There are excellent opportunities to immerse in the local traditions and culture. The second day is a long hike up to the summit of Abuna Yosef, Ethiopia’s third tallest peak. The panoramic views of the lush green valleys are impressive. The third day is a hike down the mountain back to Lalibela. Not only are the mountains beautiful, this hike adds a wonderful cultural experience.
Costs are negotiable and can range from $20 to $60 per person per day for the three-day hike. Booking ahead will cost more, so wait to book in Lalibela for the best price. There is an extra fee of 300 Birr before Abuna Yosef summit.
Booking a Guide
Several tour groups can organize hikes. For an excellent guide and great prices ($25) contact Damena (Dave) at +251 92 077 4790 or [email protected]. Tell him Timon and Yana say hello!
Day One: 8 miles, 4.5 hours
Day Two: 14 miles, 6.75 hours
Day Three: 8.2 miles, 4 hours
What to Bring on the Hike
Light waterproof jacket
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Visited in October 2016.