Bahir Dar and Lake Tana: What to See and How to Get There

bahir dar lake tana

Bahir Dar is the third biggest city in Ethiopia and it lies on the southern shore of Lake Tana, the country’s biggest lake. It is the capital of the Amhara region and it has a population of around 250,000.

It is an established tourist destination which is often referred to as the “Ethiopian Riviera”. It is a well-maintained, visitor-friendly location which offers affordable accomodation, fantastic restaurants, and numerous points of interest.

Some of the highlights include the various naturally-beautiful wonders which surround the city. The Blue Nile is one of the main highlights, and in particular, its stunning waterfall. The falls are located 28 km southeast of the city and are a must see for anyone visiting Bahir Dar.

Is Bahir Dar safe? Ethiopia is generally a very safe country to visit. There is always crime in every city, but in Bahir Dar it is very low compared to the capital and other cities in neighbouring countries. Read more about Ethiopia safety and security.

This guide will explain the best experiences Bahir Dar and its surrounding area have to offer visitors. We will also explain the best ways to reach the city.

The Best Things to See and Do Around Bahir Dar

Here is a just a handful of the best points of interest Bahir Dar has to offer visitors including the Blue Nile Falls, Lake Tana, and some local cultural activities and places to see.

Lake Tana

The largest lake in Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile and it is truly spectacular. The lake is approximately 84 km long and 66 km wide. Its azure waters, lush shoreline, and diverse range of birdlife make the views and scenery unforgettable. In 2015, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve recognized the lake for its natural importance.

Where is Lake Tana located? The lake is located at an altitude of 1788 meters on the north central plateau of Amhara. Bahir Dar lies on its southern shore.

How many islands are in Lake Tana? In total there are 37 islands in the vast lake. They can be reached by boat and there are a number of monasteries in and around the lake.

The Blue Nile Falls

Known locally as ‘Tis Islat’ (meaning ‘great smoke)’, the jaw-dropping waterfall is a 400-meter-wide waterfall during the rainy season. Though it gushes water all year round, it does so less furiously outside of the wetter months. The falls have isolated the ecology of Lake Tana from the rest of the Nile, and this has played a pivotal role in the evolution of the area’s wildlife.

Ancient Monasteries

Bahir Dar has 37 monasteries which date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. They are well-structured and the interiors are decorated with religious imagery including pictures of Christian martyrs and Bible stories. There are numerous guided tours which you can book, a guide can take you between the monasteries and provide insightful information.

Bahir Dar Market

The Market is not a very touristic place but what it offers is an insight into genuine Bahir Dar day-to-day life. You can find literally anything at the market including clothes, spices, livestock, and a mouthwatering range of food. The best day to experience the hustle-and-bustle is on a Saturday (market day) when buyers and sellers pour in from neighboring villages.

Che Che Ido

Che Che Ido opens every evening and has a stage for local musicians to play Ethiopian music. There is no entry fee but donations to the players are appreciated and deserved. The bar stocks a wide variety of drinks including Ethiopian beers. The crowd is young, lively and welcoming. If you want you can get involved in the dancing and even get onto the stage!

Getting to Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar is one of Ethiopia’s largest cities and is well-connected. There are a number of transport options available to visitors.

Bahir Dar by Plane

Bahir Dar Ginbot Haya Airport is situated 8 km west of the city center. There are regular flights from the country’s main airport, Addis Ababa, which are run by Ethiopian Airlines. There are also domestic flights to and from various other places including Lalibela, Gondar, and Axum.

Bahir Dar by Car

Tourists are allowed to use an international driving licence to drive their own vehicle for 3 months. To drive a local vehicle or to drive for a longer period than 3 months it is necessary to get an Ethiopian driving licence.

Bahir Dar is 555 km north-east from Addis Ababa by road (national highway 3). From Gondar it is 170 km south via road 3. It is just over 310 km east of Lalibela if you go through Woleta.

Bahir Dar By Bus

The city is connected by daily buses (and private minibuses) which run from Addis Ababa, Lalibela, and Gondar. They often do not leave from the bus station but run from hotels and are organized through tourist agencies. Minibuses are more expensive than buses but are much faster.

Do you need a visa to get to Bahir Dar?

Most probably. Only visitors with passports issued by Dijbouti and Kenya can enter Ethiopia without a visa. Thankfully, getting a visa for Ethiopia is simple and fast.

The online Ethiopia eVisa application only takes a few minutes to complete, applicants just need to answer some questions before paying the visa fee. Find out more about the eVisa requirements.