Lalibela is a small mountain village in northern Ethiopia within the Tigray region. What it lacks in size, it makes up for its religious presence. During the 8th and 9th centuries, Christianity spread in Tigray, and Lalibela was the epicenter of religion in Tigray at the time.
Churches were built directly into the rock, with intricate carvings and caves used as places of prayer. Devout Christians come here daily for prayer and Sunday is an incredible sight to see.
Surrounding the villages are lush green mountains and rolling hills. On one side of the village are trails leading up to Abuna Yosef, one of the tallest mountains in Ethiopia standing at 4,260 meters high. The hike up to Abuna Yosef is an incredibly rich cultural experience. Nearly the entire route up is passing by small mountain villages. The interaction with locals and children along the trail makes this a unique hike.
An overnight stay with a local family in traditional mud huts (and possibly some entertainment), made this one of our favorite activities in Ethiopia.
Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.
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Guide to Lalibela
Best Time to Visit Lalibela
The best time to visit Lalibela is between October and January during the dry season. January 7 (Ethiopian Christmas) and January 19 (Epiphany) are the two most festive days of the year. Lalibela gets packed, so make sure to plan. Stay over the weekend and check out the Saturday market followed by early morning (6 am) mass on Sunday.
Where to Stay in Lalibela
Budget Stay: Top Twelve Hotel has great rooms with Wi-Fi and hot water, and the hotel has a restaurant and bar.
Mid-Range Stay: Zagwe Hotel has single and double rooms with a balcony, free Wi-Fi, a bar, and a terrace.
Where to Eat in Lalibela
Unique Restaurant is a local favorite with meals for 40 to 60 Birr. Come for sunset drinks at Ben Abeba followed by a meal for 40 to 100 Birr ($1.50 – $4 USD).
Two clusters of churches are located in Lalibela, all within walking distance of each other. Eleven total churches are connected by tunnels and small alleyways carved through the stone.
The impressive Saint George Church is the epicenter of this devout village. It is one of the most important monasteries in Ethiopia and a major pilgrimage site.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, these churches are best visited in the early morning. Hear the chants and congregation of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox worship.
Entry to the churches cost 1,104 Birr ($50) for a 5-day ticket. No single-day tickets are available and tickets are non-transferable. Although ticket prices are very expensive, seeing the churches is a highlight in Ethiopia.
Community Hike to Abuna Yosef
Aside from the importance of the 11 UNESCO churches, hiking to Abuna Yosef draws tourists to Lalibela. The first day of the hike up the mountains ends at one of the small villages. There are excellent opportunities to immerse in the local traditions and culture.
The second day is a long hike up to the summit of Abuna Yosef, Ethiopia’s sixth tallest peak. The panoramic views of the lush green valleys are impressive. The third day is a hike down the mountain back to Lalibela. Not only are the mountains beautiful, but this hike also adds a wonderful cultural experience.
It is a challenging hike due to the altitude. The peak stands at nearly 4,300 meters and there is a lot of elevation gain in only two days.
Costs are negotiable and can range from $20 to $60 per person per day for the three-day hike. Booking ahead will cost more, so wait to book in Lalibela for the best price. There is an extra fee of 300 Birr before the Abuna Yosef summit.
Booking a Guide
Several tour groups can organize hikes. At the time of writing and for an excellent guide with great prices ($25/per person per day), contact Damena (Dave) at +251 92 077 4790 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him Timon and Yana say hello!
- 1st Day: 8 miles, 4.5 hours
- 2nd Day: 14 miles, 6.75 hours
- 3rd Day: 8.2 miles, 4 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate to hard depending on fitness level
What to Bring on the Hike
- Sleeping bag
- Hiking shoes
- Warm clothing (nights get very cold)
- Light waterproof jacket