Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Photo: Giustino (Flickr [1]) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Giustino (Flickr [1]) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Are you starting to feel more comfortable traveling around Africa? Finally? All it took was a few structured safaris, time in hot spot Cape Town, and those gorgeous beach resorts. Now you’re ready to really explore the continent. So where to begin?

Some of Africa’s largest cities–Lagos, Cairo, and Kinshasa–can be a bit intimidating on a good day or downright unsafe on a bad day. So start smaller. Focus on a place with plenty of historical sites and well-respected hotels. Somewhere like Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

Bahir Dar is located in the Amhara region of northwest Ethiopia. Situated along Lake Tana, the country’s third-largest city bills itself as the Ethiopian Riviera. While that may be a bit of a stretch, it’s a good base from which to begin exploring the area. The lakeside city has wide streets lined with palm trees, cafés with outdoor seating, and colorful flowers everywhere. Jump on a bajaj–a three-wheeled rickshaw–to explore the downtown area, which grew around an attempted (read: failed) Jesuit settlement.

Photo: Boston Partners
Photo: Boston Partners

The colorful market sells everything from aromatic spices to weapons. Not that you’ll need them here. Everyone is smiling and friendly; kids shyly follow you between stalls. Tankwas–woven papyrus boats that shouldn’t be able to hold as much weight as they do–and pelicans glide over Lake Tana, the country’s largest inland body of water. Join a boat tour. You’ll pass lots of small islands, some of the oldest monasteries in the world, and hippos where the Blue Nile River exits the lake. Men can visit cathedral-like Kebran Gabriel or Dega Estefanos, which houses jewels, robes, and the mummified remains of Ethiopian emperors. At least women can tour Ura Kidane Mehret, a monastery known for its colorful biblical frescoes.

Feeling comfortable? Continue on to Blue Nile Falls, where a trickle of water during the dry season becomes a 400-meter-wide waterfall in the wet season. Visit Fasilides castle, a palace where emperors lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. Follow Ethiopian Orthodox Christian pilgrims to Lalibela, a holy city whose churches were cut out of rocks. And watch walia ibex joust and gelada baboons play along the plateau of Simien Mountains National Park. Feel like someone is staring at you? It could be an Ethiopian wolf.

Then return to Kuriftu Resort and Spa, a lakeside resort with stone bungalows and lots of outdoor living space. Meet other guests during happy hour on the patio. Sample regional cuisine at the Waterfront Restaurant. And watch the sun set with a bottle of wine on a daybed on your room’s verandah. An outdoor fireplace will keep you warm as the temperature quickly drops.

Not as difficult as you expected, huh? Maybe you shouldn’t skip Addis Ababa as you leave Ethiopia after all.


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