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Ethiopia–Why to Go NOW? 9. Reason: Grey hippos in the Blue Nile

Updated: Jan 19

A boat trip from the laid-back town Bahir Dar on Lake Tana takes you to colourfully painted monasteries. Enjoy hippos on the Blue Nile.

Safety note: I was in Ethiopia in 2019. There is currently a travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office. Please check before you book a trip.

Ethiopia hippo blue Nile sunset

Those who travel around Ethiopia will inevitably enjoy bumpy gravel roads ... a boat trip from the laid-back town Bahir Dar on the largest lake in the country is like a visit to a spa: clean air, soothing rippling, blue water and small islands with colourfully painted monasteries. The lake flows into the Blue Nile - standing by the waterfall or

watching the hippos at sunset is one of the moments when I pinch myself to check I'm not dreaming.

Beautiful monasteries on the islands of Lake Tana/Ethiopia.

Lake Tana was included into the world network of biosphere reserves in 2015. Over 20 monastic churches, many dating back at least to the 14th century, are to be found on the 37 islands and peninsulas of Lake Tana. We visited two monasteries: Azwa Mariam Monastery and Ura Kidane Mehret. Curiously, neither of them looks particularly special from the outside, more like unprepossessing round sheds.

Click on the first picture to start the photo gallery.

Murals: Comic Bible of Old

But once you enter, your breath will be taken away by the colourful murals. As the written word and reading was not common for most people, these large-scale paintings served as something like a “comic” for the locals to learn about the bible and the history of their saints. Once we were back on the boat we drove to where Lake Tana flows into the Blue Nile – here we saw Nile horses (that’s literally what hippos are called in German) bathing in the Nile in the warm golden light of sunset.

waterfall blue nile Ethiopia
The Blue Nile waterfalls
The next morning we set out to the last highlight of our trip: a visit to the Blue Nile waterfalls.

Now you may think that a sight like that, with so many tourists wanting to visit, would surely be connected by a nice concrete road to Bahir Dar, right? You’d be wrong. A bumpy dusty road needs to be traveled to reach it. The Blue Nile Falls are known locally as Tis Isat (‘smoking water’), deriving from the muddy water that is coloured by the fertile soil eroded from the Ethiopian highlands. Though the colour is actually more dark brown/black rather than blue. Further down, past the Blue Nile Falls (they are the second largest in Africa, by the way) the Blue Nile meets the White Nile from Lake Victoria in Khartoum. Since the opening of a Hydro Power Plant, the water gets diverted before it reaches the fall. From May to August – during the rainy season – it carries more than 50 times the volume which we were seeing in January– and we still thought it very worth while

waterfall blue nile Ethiopia  wibke helfrich wibkestravels

How to get there:

Ethiopian Airlines flies daily (at least from Frankfurt) directly to Addis Abeba. If you book with them, you get a discount on the inland flights, which you will probably need, as the roads are very bumpy and dusty …


We arranged everything through Lalibela Eco Trekking.

Molla Kassaw - the owner - organized our whole trip and everything worked perfectly. We didn't have a single guide, but always different local guides, who showed us their town/hike. That way we got to know a lot of different people, who knew their local attractions best.

You can watch a short Video here:

I didn't really film - I was too occupied to take pictures of all the beautiful things going on around me, but as I had the drone with me, and as I sometimes pressed the record button on my camera as well, I had a few (very shaky, sorry) clips, that I edited into a short clip. I hope you enjoy watching it …

You can read more Blogs of Ethiopia, which I wrote here:

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