Last weekend I had a fantastic trip down to Lalibela (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lalibela). It’s one of the main tourist attractions in Ethiopia and, in my opinion, was far more worthwhile visiting than Axum. Although a small city, it feels like a small village, with very few large concrete building common elsewhere. I guess this has a lot to do with it’s UNESCO World Heritage site status – only slight ruined by the huge covers that have been erected over some of the churches to stop them decaying further – I’m sure there are ways this could have been done to fit in better with the local surroundings.
If was only a flying visit for us, 6 of us drove down via Samre and Sekota, this is the cross country short cut, around 300km on unpaved roads against over 500km if you go the paved route. In the entire 7 hour journey we only saw one other vehicle on the road.
On Saturday morning we visited, with our excellent guide, the amazing 11 rock churches in the two main church complexes in the centre of Lalibela. Around 800 or 900 years old, the churches have been carved down into the rock, some consisting of only one solid piece of rock:
The priests here seemed much amiable to tourists, especially compared to some priests at the rock churches around Tigray and Mekelle.
In the afternoon, we took a trip on mules up to another church, Asheton Mariam, around 7km from town. Unfortunately they’d doubled the entrance fee a couple of days before (for the Ethiopian New Year), and we were all a little reluctant to pay 100 birr (approx 10USD) to get in, so actually we didn’t go inside. It may seem a little odd not spending this money but it soon mounts up when you’re visiting many churches, plus all of us had residence IDs, but no discount for that.
Then on Sunday we drove back – stopping off at Yemrehanna Kristos – around 45 km form Lalibela. It’s a church and palace built inside the mouth of a cave, further back in the cave are 1000’s of skeletons of pilgrims who came to the church to die and be buried – over the course of the last several hundred years. A little gruesome, with all the skeletons are just piled up at the back, only one or two having coffins.
The traffic was rather heavy on the trip home, must have been at least 10 other vehicles on the road. It gave me chance to really try out my GPS, so now I have the entire route from Mekelle to Lalibela to upload to OpenStreetMap, plus many villages and towns on the way – few of which we found the name for.
It was a great trip and I’d recommend anyone to go and visit. Being more of a tourist town than Other places, it is more expensive to eat, drink, sleep, but certainly worth the extra money 😉