On the road in the north
From Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar
The distance of 560 km from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar is completely paved and can be made in a long day. There is the possibility of a few short stops to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the delicious Ethiopian coffee.
The Blue Nile Gorge gives without a doubt the most attractive views. The 1400 meters descent to the river and thereafter the same distance up is spectacular.
For the traveler with more time an overnight in Debre Markos can be added which gives the possibility to visit Debre Libanos and nearby Ras Darge’s bridge on the first day. The next day it is a relatively short drive to reach Bahir Dar.
For those interested in geography, it might be interesting to visit the Mikael Monastery near the small village of Gish Abay. Here you find Abay Minch or the real source of the Blue Nile. From this source, the Gilgil Abay river begins. This is the largest tributary river of Lake Tana and thus geographically the beginning of the Blue Nile.
From Bahir Dar to Gondar
This is a short, two and half hour, a drive of 175 km on paved roads through a fertile region along the shores of Lake Tana. Along this road are always farmers active in the fields, plowing, harvesting, or threshing. Visitors are welcome to see their work up close. A small donation is appreciated.
A short detour (towards Lalibela) brings you to the Awramba community. This village is famous for the promotion of equality between men and women and to minimize the influence of religion
60 km before Gondar you find Guzara Castle, built in the same style later used in Gondar.
An interesting alternative to get from Bahir Dar to Gondar is to cross Lake Tana by boat to the northern lakeside town of Gorgora, visiting some monasteries on the islands on the way. This medieval town was a short-term capital of Ethiopia during the reign of Suysonos, the father of Fasilidas. You can visit his palace and a cathedral built by the Portuguese, both are however ruins now. The best Gorgora has to offer is the Monastery of Debre Maryam with beautifully preserved mural paintings. The town has a very pleasant place to stay at Tim and Kim’s Village.
From Gondar to Axum
The whole journey is best described as ‘valleys deep, mountains high’ very beautiful but slow. It is possible in a very long day to drive from Gondar to Axum, but almost every traveler interrupts the drive with a visit to the Simien Mountains. From Gondar to Debark (the gateway to Simien) is a distance of 100 km, and the road opens beautiful views of the Simien Mountains. Dabat is a nice village for a short stop.
The 40 km between Debark and Zarema is going to be the only remaining unpaved road on the ‘Historical Route’. From Zarema the route then continues up and down and the grand finale is the descent (from 1,450 m) to the river Tekeze (at 850 m above sea level) the last ascent to 1,650 m. For the first time since leaving Addis Ababa, we dip below 1,000 m and this is most evident by the appearance of the majestic Baobab tree that grows only below an altitude of 1,000 meter.
From Axum to Mekele: Tigray
The northern Tigray region is little visited, most travelers prefer to fly to Lalibela. It was once the heart of the mighty kingdom of Axum, now it is desolate and inhospitable, but breathtakingly beautiful. The main road is completely paved, if you are going to explore the rock-hewn churches you are traveling on gravel roads.
The direct distance from Axum to Mekele is about 250 km and takes 5 to 6 hours, leaving time to visit some of the sites along the route.
Mekele to Lalibela
The mountains and valleys are endless and this journey is no different. There are different routes, the shorter ones following more gravel roads which might be dusty and bumpy. The longest route is about 435 km, except 50 km completely paved, and takes a full day driving through beautiful scenery. The shorter route is not much faster.
Lalibela to Addis Ababa
The direct distance from Lalibela to Addis is 695 km and takes about 14 hours of straight driving. Because the distance is too far to cover in one day an overnight in Kombolcha (310 km from Lalibela, 385 km from Addis) is included. A possible detour from Kombolcha is to the market in Bati on Monday, where Amhara, Oromo, and Afar people meet. It is the biggest camel and cattle market in Ethiopia.
Although it is, again, beautiful scenery, many travelers choose to fly to save time.
Lalibela to Bahir Dar/ Gondar
This ‘China’ road is less covered by travelers, it is a good alternative to use when Axum is not in the itinerary. It also might come in handy to use as a shortcut to be at a certain festival in time. The complete road is paved, 310 km to Bahir Dar, and 360 km to Gondar, except 50 km near Lalibela. It is a full-day drive with a possible visit to the Awramba Community, see above.