Not far from Lake Tana, there are waterfalls in Ethiopia provide a fantastic opportunity to see the Nile in all its glory before it snakes north to the Egyptian desert.
The Blue Nile Falls is a waterfall on the Blue Nile river in Ethiopia. It is known as “Tis Issat” in the local Amharic language, meaning “smoking water”. It is situated on the upper course of the river, about 30km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The falls are considered one of Ethiopia’s best known tourist attractions – and now I have visited I can see why!
My journey to the falls was not an easy one. The drive is slow and bumpy, and often it seemed as though walking may have even been quicker. Many beggars, most of whom were children, were striding alongside the 4WD and asking for money. I had encountered things like this in India, and learn that you just have to ignore the kids. Chances are, they are working for a local ‘godfather’-type of man who will keep all the money for himself anyway. It’s not easy to ignore them, but ignore you must. After a 2hr 30mins drive to the falls, we were greeted with our first sight of the falls. Admission to get closer costs 30 Ethiopian Birrs per person, which is actually very, very cheap.
The falls are each around 40m high, consisting of four streams that originally varied from a trickle in the dry season to over 400m wide in the rainy season. Regulation of Lake Tana now reduces the variation somewhat, and since 2003 a hydro-electric station has taken much of the flow out of the falls – except during the rainy season. I think I was visiting during the dry season (well, it certainly wasn’t wet season) and the guides were keen to let me know that the power of the Blue Nile Falls is often much stronger than what I was seeing, although it all seemed powerful enough for me anyway! I would think this place is actually quite dangerous in the wet season, as there are no real pathways, and you have to walk over the mud to get around, which would be very slippery. Proper hiking footwear is required at all times, but especially during wet season, I would imagine.
These falls are linked to Lake Tana, and because of the fall, the ecology of Lake Tana cannot be found anywhere else in the Nile River (so no crocodiles in the lake at least!). One thing you will surely see though are vultures. Those birds are HUGE! Many of them were just sitting in the trees, waiting for a meal, rather than circling overhead like vultures usually do. Cows and goats are also very common around the Blue Nile Falls (and all over Ethiopia, actually), and you will probably encounter them on the roads leading up to the falls! As an aside, it is interesting to note that a short distance downstream from the falls is the location of the first stone bridge constructed in Ethiopia, which was built in 1626. This was a nugget of information that I found helpful, although I didn’t visit it personally.
When you’re in and around Bahir Dar, you must make the [slow] journey to the Blue Nile Falls. Most people will take in Lake Tana as well in the same trip. Along with the rock-hewn castles of Lalibela, this area of Ethiopia is a prime destination for tourists from all over the world – regardless of the weather!
For more information and some amazing photos on the Blue Nile Falls, check out this article from Routes of the World.