Bahir Dar is the busy capital of the Amhara Region on the shores of Lake Tana. The town has palm-fringed roads and a very pleasant atmosphere. It’s a nice place to roam around and explore the local market or the shoreline of Lake Tana. Bezawit Hill, with the palace of Emperor Haile Selassie, gives a nice view of the town. Bahir Dar is also an excellent base to explore the surrounding area.
Blue Nile Falls
About an hour’s drive southeast of Bahir Dar you arrive in the small village of Tis Isat which is translated as ‘smoking water’. You are now close to the spectacular Tis Abay or Blue Nile Falls. These waterfalls have been very small because of the nearby hydro-electrical plant but recently more often the water is following its original course to bring the falls back again. Especially from August till November, at the end and the first months after the rainy season, you can expect an impressive sight. Year-round it is a worthwhile visit with the authentic village of Tissisat and the Portuguese bridge near the Falls to explore. Different walks are available and it is a perfect place for birders as well. The best visit is in the morning while it is still cool and the sun gives perfect light from behind while admiring the falls.
The Source of the Blue Nile
Nearby Bahir Dar you’ll find the ‘Source of the Blue Nile’ or the place where the Blue Nile flows out of Lake Tana on its way the join the White Nile in Khartoum and to proceed as the Nile to Egypt. Geographically the source is at Gish Abay where 3 small springs feed the biggest river flowing into Lake Tana. These springs are considered holy by the orthodox church.
Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia and one of the larger lakes in Africa. It covers an area of almost 3700 km2. The lake is dotted with many, most very small, islands which were a safe harbor for treasuries belonging to the orthodox church during the Islamic uprising. The monasteries on these islands are well worth visiting but woman travelers are only welcome at a few of them. To reach the central islands means a full day trip out of Bahir Dar, but there are beautiful churches nearby. The adventurous traveler might consider crossing Lake Tana to Gorgora on the northern side of the lake. While on the lake you can visit some island monasteries on the way. In 2014 Lake Tana is designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a ‘learning place for sustainable development’.
You don’t have to go far from Bahir Dar to reach one of the most beautiful churches of Lake Tana. It’s about one hour by boat to reach the lush vegetation-covered Zeghe Peninsula and a short walk leads to the 16th-century Ura Kidane Mihret church. And the good thing is that women are allowed. If you have more time, the peninsula has more churches (women allowed) and it is a pleasant walk from one to another. You might find beautiful birds and monkeys on your way. Between Bahir Dar and Zeghe lies the Kibran Gabriel Monastery but unfortunately only men are allowed. Nearby the Source of the Blue Nile you find the Debre Maryam Church, accessible for men and women.