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krisek Lalibela - A travel report by Krys
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Lalibela,  Ethiopia - flag Ethiopia
8226 readers

krisek's travel reports

Lalibela - an Ethiopian equivalent of Jerusalem

  17 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
When King Lalibela realised that Jerusalem was so far away, he decided to dedicate a piece of his land to become a holy land and built ten churches, one for each commandment.


Lalibela Church
Lalibela Church
No taxi service was available at the airport, which was 25 kilometres away from Lalibela. And it was all the way up the mountains. However, many hotels, and all the mid range ones, normally would send some form of transport and charge about £2. It took approximately 45 minutes to the town. That gave me only about an hour to visit some of the churches before they closed at noon for lunch.

Mine, and many other mid and almost upper range hotels, were located at the far end of the village - a long, uphill and exhausting hike from the churches. I think the distance was 2.5 kilometres. I had to leg it and be fast if I wanted to see anything that morning. When I got to the top I was properly knackered.

The entry fee doubled since the last update of my guidebook, six months before. And the guides were asking 200 birr (£11), which was 50 birr more than the book suggested. I only had 450 birr on me. Having read that Lalibela had no banking facilities, that stirred my blood a little. Yet, there was a bank in Lalibela indeed. So I could breathe much easier.

At the time of closure, I was standing inside the Church of St George, perhaps the most famous and definitely the most photographed one out of all ten (eleven) churches. There are in fact ten churches in Lalibela, one for each of the Ten Commandments. This is how the King Lalibela designed them. However, nowadays one of the churches is divided in two, hence both the local guides and the literature talk about eleven temples.

So, it was perfectly reasonable to visit all ten (eleven) churches in two hours. This meant that the cheeky guides charge 100 birr an hour, which was £5.43 - few pennies short of the UK's minimum hourly rate, the same that virtually all bartenders in the UK got!

Favourite spots:
St George Church
St George Church
Overall, Lalibela was one of the more striking historic places I had visited by that time. The rock-hewn temples surely defied reason, but the fact that they were located amongst breathtaking scenery made them truly unforgettable. The multiple table mountains looming in the far background and the 200 year old round rural houses in between complemented the churches beautifully. I had no words.

My understanding was that Lalibela was on the rise. More hotels, fortunately kept in a traditional architecture (round huts), were springing up and the main street was paved with cobble stones. The road from the airport was sealed and every souvenir shop offered an Internet service, and the bank had opened. Yet, few decent restaurants existed, namely - two. I overheard one tourist educating one of the guides how Lalibela could improve by bringing more eateries. I could not agree more. As I was thinking about dinner, I did not have many options. One, of course, was Roha Hotel, where I stayed.

What's really great:
Lalibela
Lalibela
Rock-hewn churches is what one comes to see. There is nothing else in Lalibela. It is a holy land, and although the mountains around are lovely, the UNESCO listed Simien Mountains, north-west of Lalibela are where people go. It is so unexpected. THe mountains the barren land around makes the sight of the churches so special. It is almost surreal. What a wonderful spot on the planet, what a gem of the African continent!

Locals in Lalibela were what I liked special. They developed this magnificent skill in welcoming visitors, who come in their hundreds to see this spectacular place. The Lalibelans remain chilled, do not nag anyone to buy anything, they do not beg. They are very friendly and easy to socialise with.

Sights:
St George Church
St George Church
There are in fact ten churches in Lalibela, one for each of the Ten Commandments. This is how the King Lalibela designed them. However, nowadays one of the churches is divided in two, hence both the local guides and the literature talk about eleven temples.

The midday sun created harsh light and I made it clear to my guide that I would want to come back to the Church of St George just before the site was closing for the night at 5pm. I loved that church and I wanted to try to take better pictures of it. It deserved it!

The EU, although with good intentions, was ruining the character of the site. Huge steel roofs were being constructed over the churches to protect them from the elements, particularly during the rainy season. The roofs were enormous and elevated with massive shiny steel legs rising directly from the base of the churches. The fate of the lovely Church of St George was apparently the same. That is going to be a crime!

Accommodations:
Lalibela
Lalibela
My understanding was that Lalibela was on the rise. More hotels, fortunately kept in a traditional architecture (round huts), were springing up and the main street was paved with cobble stones. The road from the airport was sealed and every souvenir shop offered an Internet service, and the bank had opened. Yet, few decent restaurants existed, namely - two. I overheard one tourist educating one of the guides how Lalibela could improve by bringing more eateries. I could not agree more. As I was thinking about dinner, I did not have many options. One, of course, was Roha Hotel, where I stayed. The other was Seven Olives Hotel, whose menu I liked actually, but the hotel was at the other end of the town - almost an hour away, uphill all the way! This did not thrill me at all. Yes, I am a lazy pig. Roha was not bad, and for about USD 40 a night, it was a great value. Really great value, actually.

Nightlife:
Lalibela
Lalibela
When time came to hit the town again, the quite edible spaghetti settled in my stomach. I did not go far and two boys, one named Jolly, asked me for my email. I was very impressed with his English, so I agreed. Later, the boys joined me for a few cokes and sprites at the Megabi Cafeteria. I also bought them cakes. They really did not want anything from me but just to talk. Within a few minutes there were six of them at my table. English of most of them was excellent. I did not have to repeat myself too many times. And they were only between 15 and 18 years old. We laughed a lot for the entire evening, but when I learnt that they had to go to college for 8am next day, I called it a night. It was a good evening.

Hangouts:
Lallibela traditional houses
Lallibela traditional houses
There are no typical hangouts in Lalibela. Travellers usually stay at the hotels and local tend to attend few cafeterias and internet cafes. The cafeterias are great to sit down, escape the sun, and meet a few Ethiopians, who always have something extremely interesting to say. They are 'the' source of information what else can be seen in the area. Apparently, there are other rock hewn 'copy-cat' churches in the vicinity.

But sitting by the Church of St George was the ultimate hangout for many (your ticket will be checked). There are always a few locals just sitting near the church soaking the incredible magnetism of the masterpiece. The view of the mountains and valleys from there is also breathtaking. A bottle of water, a few crackers, and what else does one need to chill in this place?

The nearby village boasting intriguing round houses is also a very special place to wander about and take a break from the awe of the rock churches.

Restaurants:
Hanging out at St George Church
Hanging out at St George Church
As mentioned earlier, there were few restaurants in Lalibela. I tried the restaurant at my hotel. I looked at the menu and protested. The set dinner combined a soup and fish. Having had that two nights before in the same chain of the hotels in Bahir Dar, and not particularly having liked it, I ordered something different. The chef was surprised but excited he was going to cook something else for me. I wanted pasta with spicy meaty sauce. He liked the idea very much, and I was impressed with the taste. I washed it down with a cold beer, and sprung out of the restaurant before a large German group of tourists flooded the place for their rather noisy Christmas Eve party.

Other recommendations:
Narrow passage
Narrow passage
People of Lalibela long for a closer contact with visitors. And I do not mean the tourist guides but the villagers and the general population. I realised that when I went on wandering in the evening and stepped into the Megabi Cafeteria. Everyone, who came in later, said hello and some shook my hand. My table was full of local guys chatting about life, the universe and everything and none of them wanted anything but to practice their English. I offered coca-colas, fantas, etc, but they did not want much. Just to talk and they did have about 1001 questions...

It was Christmas. Not for them. They had Christmas according to a different calendar, but they understood that I might have been in a slightly festive mood. As according to my calendar. Anyway, the lads eventually agreed that I bought them some sodas and a few pastries, as I felt really silly downing drink after a drink and they sitting at my table watching me like that. It might have been one of the best Christmas nights of mine.

Published on Sunday February 10th, 2008


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Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 04:23 PM rating by plancarpin

Very nice report and attached pics! I'm now counting my days to also visit Lalilbela

Tue, Nov 25 2008 - 05:01 AM rating by pesu

Really a much better Christmas night than a noisy party...;-)

Mon, Nov 24 2008 - 10:43 PM rating by gloriajames

wow..... i did not know that! thanks for sharing!

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 03:38 PM rating by alfonsovasco

so much o owe you! until I read your report i knew nothing about this place

Wed, Feb 27 2008 - 11:49 AM rating by frenchfrog

Fantastic report, smashing,. good info...

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 12:33 PM rating by rangutan

A gem of a report. The "ten churches" is mentioned very often, perhaps alternate using "the churches" and "the ten"? Nevertheless fantastic new information.

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 10:16 PM rating by mistybleu

This is my favourite of all your reports. I've always wanted to visit St George's church.

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 06:43 PM rating by adampl

A very interesting report on an unknown place. Hope to read more from you.

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 06:28 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Another of your amazing reports. Waiting for more!

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