Trekking through the villages and valleys surrounding Lalibela is a wonderful experience that mixes astounding scenery, historical riches and a fascinating insight into the life of Ethiopian highlanders. You’ll likely meet gelada monkeys and there’s a small chance of Ethiopian wolves in the highest reaches. Plus there’s a good variety of birdlife, from lammergeyers to bee-eaters. The treks were originally set up by a now-defunct NGO called TESFA (www.community-tourism-ethiopia.com) and many people refer to trekking here as ‘tesfa trekking’. Responsibility has now passed to the Frankfurt Zoological Society – visit www.abuneyosephtourism.org.
Treks are typically three to five days long and routes can be designed based on time, fitness, churches, chances of animal encounters, or whatever you want. The Lasha area northwest of Lalibela, home to Abuna Yosef, Ethiopia’s third-highest peak (4300m), and the part of the Meket Plateau to the southeast offer rugged treks with some heavy-duty climbs. Further away, the part of the Meket Plateau west of Gashena has low gradients and the walking is fairly easy.
There are 11 community-run lodges (and an additional seven lunch stops) near villages, each consisting of traditional yet comfortable mud-and-stone tukuls and loos with views. Most have showers.
Information & Booking
Bookings can be made through Addis Ababa–based Tesfa Tours, under an agreement with the local communities, or via www.abuneyosephtourism.org. It’s best to book as far in advance as possible, especially at peak seasons: October, December and early January. At other times of the year you can usually just show up and head out the next day, but maybe not on the route you had in mind. Make arrangements locally with the guides in Lalibela through the Lasta Lalibela Community Tourism Guiding Enterprise.
The treks, including guides, pack mules, accommodation, meals, tea and coffee (beer, soft drinks and water are sold at each lodge), cost Birr1493.5 per person per 24 hours. Any transport to and from trailheads, if necessary, costs extra. Solo trekkers pay an additional Birr250 per night and there’s a Birr60 fee per group per night if booking less than three days in advance. There are discounts for children.
Though a few of the community lodges are open year-round, during the heaviest rains from mid-July to late-September most are closed and you won’t likely have much fun anyway. During this time it would be better to head to the drier Tigray region.
Lalibela-based company Highland Trekking and some of the licensed church guides, such as Girma Derbie or Zenebe Minale, can also lead trekking trips at slightly lower prices because they have their guests sleep in villages (it’s not as romantic as it sounds and many people don’t enjoy the rough, hectic conditions; others love it, though) or use tents instead of the community lodges. This may be your only option if you book late during the high season.