What can I find around Lalibela?
With the rock churches taking centre stage, it can be all-too-easy to whizz past Lalibela in a day or two, never to return, having left so much undiscovered. If you've got a little extra time to play with, head up into the hills surrounding the town.
Beyond the rock-hewn churches in the centre of town, the surrounding highlands offer some extraordinary experiences. Some can be enjoyed in an afternoon drive from the centre, while others involve a couple of nights trekking through the mountains.
Churches and Monasteries
Sitting at 4,260 metres above sea level, Abuna Yoseph is the 6th highest peak in Ethiopia, and the 19th highest in Africa. It's a challenging but rewarding hike that offers stunning views of the Northern highlands and Goha Mountains.
Hudad Lodge & Local Hikes
Locally run, Hudad Lodge is perched on the edge of an escarpment outside Lalibela. A short drive takes you to the trailhead, and a moderate hike of 2-3 hours brings you to the lodge. The views on the trail and at the lodge are staggering, and it's the perfect way to spend a final night in Lalibela before continuing your onward journey.
Community trekking is among our favourite experiences on offer in Ethiopia. The community trekking sites just outside Lalibela were first set up in 2004, and their meditative walks and jaw-dropping views have been delighting travellers ever since.
Close to the small town of Bilbilla, 30km from Lalibela, you will find a cluster of churches, the most impressive of which is Yemrehanna Kristos. The main, built-up church is the best example of Axumite architecture in the area, built using layers of wood and granite layered with gypsum. It is said to have been built on olive wood poles above a fresh-water lake, but the inspection hatch makes this difficult to verify.
Although academically interesting, it is the atmosphere of the place that lingers in the memory. Priests appear as silhouettes in the gloom, partially obscured by the smoke from burning incense and the bones of 10,740 pilgrims wait, exposed, to be discovered afresh by each visitor.
The monastery of Asheton Maryam is carved out of a cleft in the cliff face on the western slopes of Mount Abune Yoseph.
Thought to have been founded by King Nakuta La’ab, the construction is relatively rough compared to the churches in town, but there are some interesting wall paintings and relics to be seen.
Asheton Maryam can be visited as the focus of a day hike from Lalibela, which takes five to six hours. Alternatively, you can be driven on the new road much closer making the hike just 10 minutes, but enabling you to include a visit as part of a longer trek up onto the escarpment to stay at Hudad Lodge.
Nakuta La’ab Monastery
Named after Lalibela’s nephew (the details of whose reign are also disputed), Na’akuto La’ab Monastery is located just 7km from Lalibela.
It is a relatively simple church built around a cave which in turn holds several spring-fed holy pools. Treasures, including paintings, crosses and illuminated bibles are available to see, the latter reputedly owned by Nakuta La’ab.
We recommend visiting this site in the afternoon as it is one of the best sites from which to witness the sunset.
Hudad Lodge & Local Hikes
Just outside Lalibela, accessed by a two-hour hike, sits the wonderful Hudad Lodge. The lodge is itself is basic and unassuming - a standard tukul design, stone walls and flooring, and thatched roofing. The appeal of this lodge is its location as it’s perched atop the rolling hills of Lalibela and offers extraordinary views of valleys and canyons, and as sun sets the sky comes alive with stars.
Once experienced, never forgotten. Hudad is run as a community guesthouse and so is deliberately simple. Therein lies the joy. Built on the rim of the escarpment, 3,300 metres above sea level, four circular stone and thatch tukuls can take up to four guests.
Each tukul has an external stone and thatch earth closet toilet. Water is provided for simple washing, but is not on-tap. The food is wholesome, tasty and traditional, served either to take advantage of the spectacular views or snug against the mountain winds.
It's possible to add Hudad Lodge as a short, one night extension to your stay in Lalibela, but if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the towns, and spend some time relaxing and reflecting in rural Ethiopia, you should consider pairing Hudad Lodge with a homestay in a local village near the lodge.
Community trekking in Ethiopia began in Lalibela, with the first community guesthouse established at Wollo, just outside Lalibela, in 2004.
The community trekking in Lalibela represents one of our personal favourite experiences in the country. Meditative walks through rural Ethiopia conclude at the simple stone and thatch guesthouses perched on the escarpment edge.
The cost of each community trek is broken down into three parts: 25% administration costs, 25% guiding costs and 55% to the local host communities.
The easiest way to get a taste of the highlands on foot is to trek from Lalibela or from Asheton Maryam to Hudad Lodge. You can base yourself there for a night or two, walking out towards Mount Abuna Yoseph - at 4,284 metres a substantial challenge - or traverse the escarpment on a 35km trek to Yimrehanna Kristos. If you want to experience the view, but don’t want to walk, most of the way is now accessible by vehicle, but the last 30 minutes or so must be on foot (or by mule).
Include the Lalibela highlands in these trips
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Ready to plan your Ethiopia adventure?
We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.
Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.
We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.