Lalibela is a rural town of 15,000 people in a stunning setting at an elevation of 2,600 m (8,500 ft) in the midst of the Lasta mountains in the eastern highlands of Northern Ethiopia. Its unique and remarkable monolithic churches hewn from living rock, most built more than 900 years ago, are one of Ethiopia's leading attractions and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.
Family owned and run and it shows in the spotlessly clean bedrooms and common areas and the attention to detail which means that (almost) everything works – a rare treat in Ethiopia! Two stories high with a nice little lawn to enjoy the afternoon coffee ceremony; spectacular views from the twin sunloungers of each private balcony. Shower rooms are up to European standards and each bedroom is beautifully furnished with locally themed and sourced furniture and furnishings but without TV or phone. 200 station satellite TV in the reception/restaurant area. Free Wi-Fi throughout. Car park is guarded 24 hours. 20kW standby generator, laundry service, weekly barbecue. Worth a visit – even if it is full and you can not sleep in one of its 12 ''en suite'' rooms – because of two features: A) Its modern Ethiopian renaissance architecture and interior design that ranks amongst the best in the whole country – no chipped marble and faux Louis XIV curlicues here. B) A right up-to-date Polish wall map of Ethiopia and surrounding countries (so modern it even shows the border crossing with the new country of South Sudan) and showing relief and all major features of interest to the traveller such as filling stations and ATMs together with an accompanying wall poster (in English with photographs) listing the major tourist sights and features. <br />
Whimsical looking (<abbr title="Catalan architect famous for his esoteric style">Gaudi</abbr> meets Mad Max) restaurant that was planned by a Scots woman, Susan, and her Ethiopian business partner, Habtamu, and opened in October 2011. It has a gob-smacking location on a little hillock standing on a rock promontory to give in-cre-di-ble 360 degree views and is surrounded by rock gardens and flowers (''Ben'' means hill in Scots Gaelic and ''Abeba'' means flowers in Amharic). The menu is one of the most imaginative in Ethiopia (you should try the tuna pate drizzled in lemon juice with tiny home-made oatcakes and their savoury home-made bread is delicious) and reasonably priced. Get up early and go to ''Ben Abeba'' for breakfast to see the sun rise over the valleys. This is a terrific spot for watching brightly coloured weaver birds investigating the variegated seed sources in this restaurant's garden and you are on the same level as soaring birds such as lammergeier, falcons and eagles.
Modern architecture (using local red rhyolitic tuff cladding of volcanic origin) provides great views for each and every small room from their balconies perched one above the other, 3 stories high. 30 cramped rooms with no TV or phone, but satellite TV in the well stocked bar. All bedrooms have a hip bath with a shower above, desk and 2 chairs. No Wi-Fi in the bedrooms but free in the common areas and attractive terrace. Car park for 20 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. 20 kW standby generator, laundry service. Restaurant with the usual unimaginative, boring and misspelt ''faranji'' menu of spaghetti carbonara (without bacon!), omelettes, "steaks" (but not as anyone in Argentina would recognise) and French fries.
Located on a 10 hectare ''amba'' (mesa) at an elevation of 3,300 m, several km from Lalibela. There is a road part way there; access the rest of the way is by foot or mule. Accommodation is in tukuls spread out over the ''amba'', each with its separate tukul outhouse. There is no running water. With luck you will spend the evening around a campfire with locals who will sing, dance and give you a traditional leg wash and massage from the knees to the toes. Night temperatures are cool at this elevation, so take extra layers for round the campfire, but there will probably be a sweater provided in your tukul.
Kababush Sisay 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 USD6.25 and USD4.25 respectively). She is best reached through her brother Befekadu Sisay at the contact info shown above.
The oldest hotel in Lalibela, founded in 1967 and badly in need of a freshening makeover, this dilapidated property is owned by the diocesan office. Rooms are noisily close, clean, small and dark, with twins, double and triple beds and small en suite ablutions with hot showers. Substantially over-priced at 680 birr for single occupancy, dbl/twin 910 birr, triple 1280 birr. Cash only. However, it has the best hygiene of the central hotels and has a peaceful garden with mature trees and one of the best restaurants in town.
Treks up on the Abune Yosef massif north-east of Lalibela, lasting up to 6 days. Can be done for shorter periods, down to a half day. Multi-day treks have the option of homestays in villages or camping in a tent. Hike the mountains, visit churches and monasteries, and experience life with the villagers. You might get to try milking cows or making injera. The trek operators are known for paying fair wages to their workers and contributing solar lights, seeds, and other useful things to the community.
63 small, cramped rooms with a tiny TV and DDI phone currently receiving 2 channels: Ethiopian TV and BBC World News. Well stocked bar. All bedrooms have a wash handbasin in one corner and a separate ablutions with WC and a hip bath with a shower above, desk and chairs. Hot water is provided from a centralised boiler. Wi-Fi in both the bedrooms and the common areas and attractive restaurant seating 73. Large car park for more than 20 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. 80 kW standby generator.
Opened in Sep 2012. 35 ''en suite'' rooms without TV or phone or a closet to hang your clothes but satellite TV in the cave-like gloom of the reception area. Perhaps they did not install u-bends in the plumbing, as after using the shower and going off to breakfast, one may come back to a sewer smell in the bathroom. Free Wi-Fi throughout. Car park for 12 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. Brand new bus can carry groups of up to 20 people. Restaurant, laundry service, no standby generator.
Probably the only hotel in Lalibela which charges the same price for foreigners and Ethiopians. There is no bargaining even on major holidays. Prices during Christmas and other holidays are the same. 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. It seems to have lost its hotel license as of 2016.
A nondescript, 3 stories high, modern hotel sharing a spectacular view with the others in this location. 18 ''en suite'' rooms without TV or phone or a closet to hang your clothes but satellite TV in the reception area. Free Wi-Fi throughout. Car park for 12 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. No standby generator, laundry service. Dismal restaurant with an even more dismal menu and kitchen.
7 Jan (in the Gregorian calendar used by most of the world), Ethiopian Christmas or "Ledet"; 19 Jan , Epiphany or "Timkat" are two of the most festive. Lalibela in particular gets packed during these times, so best to plan in advance. September 11 is the Ethiopian New Year, [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enkutatash Enkutatash].
Internet and shops across street, a newish place with very nice, spacious "tukul" (round, native style with thatched roofs) and ''en suite'' shower rooms with better views from their private balconies than most other hotels in this area. Restaurant and 20kW standby generator.
''Tej'', ''azmari'' music and dancing. Don't be put off by the unprepossessing access way – inside it is attractively decorated and has a great atmosphere, with good singers and dancers performing on the floor. The toilets, which are separate, are grotty though.
Although the women who runs this stayed in France for several years she never learned to cook a ''crêpe'' properly. However, she is probably just the person to teach you how to make ''injera'' with a fine and tasty ''wat'' over an open fire.
A modern, airy building (opened by the United Kingdom's Princess Anne on 9 Oct 2002!) with a small stock of books in Amharic and an even smaller stock (many of them textbooks) in English.
Scruffy dive closest to the church complexes on the west side of Getergie Rd. Has satellite TV in the dirty bar. Is getting renovated and may have only a small sample of rooms.
Lovely local bar/restaurant run by an old lady with a scenic view over the valley in the back. You may have to dance. There are a few cheap rooms available.
Good food and terrific mixed fruit juices. A handy place for refreshments when you've walked back up the hill from the churches.
Nice, clean and luxurious rooms. It is newly build and has a bathtub and TV. There is an excellent restaurant attached.
Lalibela is a great little town to visit. Its complex of churches chiselled from pink volcanic rock have been called the "eighth wonder of the world". In addition, the wonderful year-round climate and exhilarating mountain views, combined with some of the finest lodgings outside of the capital, are reason to spend a few days soaking up the fine vistas. Lalibela's relative isolation and small size means you will get to understand more intimately and thoroughly the innate piety and hard lives of the rural poor.
To the north of Lalibela, Dewosach, where much of the decorating and illumination of holy books was done in the time of King Lalibela, rises more than another 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above Lalibela to 3,670 m (12,040 ft) while the much nearer and slightly lower Asheten with its distinctive flat top lies to the east. Asheten means smell in Amharic and this mesa was named during the reign of King Lalibela's nephew, King Neakutoleab, who burned frankincense while building Saint Mary's church on its summit – visiting monks said they found it by following the smell.
This is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy. Like much of the world, women here bear an unfair workload. You may wince when you see little girls of five and six bent double and almost hidden from view by the immense load of firewood on their backs while their elder brothers play outside table tennis. Sanitation and public cleanliness is a bit haphazard so there are more flies here than in Tigray to the north.
To the south of the north-west complex of churches you can still see some older dwellings built in the style peculiar to Lalibela, neat round two storey dwellings built out of stone with conical, thatched roofs, but most other buildings are either wattle and daub structures or improvised buildings with corrugated roofs patched with thatch. There could hardly be more of a contrast with the ancient craftsmanship of the ecclesiastical buildings – which must surely be unique in all the world for having been built from the top down rather than from the ground up.
NOTE: Guides in Ethiopia are licensed in different ways for different areas / sites by the Ethiopian government. The guides for the rock hewn churches are specialised-licensed for the 11 churches in town. The federally licensed tour guides can operate all around Ethiopia but cannot take you into the churches in Lalibela town.