Blue Nile Gorge is about 200km away from Addis Ababa and makes for a good day trip. The Gorge is sometimes described as the the largest canyon in Africa – competing with the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Having not yet seen Fish River Canyon it is hard to tell – but definitely Blue Nile Gorge is a stunningly beautiful geological formation. We visited at the end of September in 2017 around Meskel time. Yellow meskel flowers were everywhere around the gorge making it extra beautiful in all the post-rainy- season greenery.
Out of Addis we took the road heading north towards Bahir Dar via the Blue Nile Gorge bridge. Once we passed heavy traffic out of Addis and its suburbs the road went through picturesque hilly highlands. In late September the fields were green with meskel flowers blossoming everywhere.
We went on Saturday leaving Addis early at about 6am. There were people everywhere walking along the road to the nearest markets with their cattle, chickens and other stuff to trade.
As the road nears the Gorge it starts to zigzag to reach the bottom of the spectacular canyon. Still all along the road there were people walking with cattle, women carrying wood (in Ethiopia it is generally a woman’s or girl’s job to collect and bring wood and water), trucks taking villagers to the market and baboons roaming around the edges of the road.
Blue Nile emerges from Lake Tana and then goes through this striking canyon for nearly 400km most of it over 1,500m deep. Amazingly it is only in 2004 that a group of explorers rafted the entire length of Blue Nile from its source to Mediterranean sea for the first time. The views of the river were breathtaking as we approached down the steep walls of the Gorge. There are two bridges across the Blue Nile – the newer one built by Japan and the older one built by Italians. The Italian bridge is now only used by pedestrians. When we visited we were the only tourists. There was not much of infrastructure – say a cafe where one could enjoy a lunch or coffee taking in stunning views would be nice. We crossed the bridge and headed a little bit further up the road to get the view of the bridges and a panorama of the gorge and its surroundings.
On the way back as the fog had cleared we got more stunning views of the top of the plateau and the Gorge snaking through it. All the hills and cliffs were covered in bright yellow meskel flowers.
Heading back we saw more familiar road scenery with people now mostly returning from the markets.
We wanted to stop by Debre Libanos – a famous monastery about 100km out of Addis Ababa half way between the Gorge and the city. It is located near the bottom of a striking canyon carved by a Nile tributary river. The road zigzags down towards the monastery with nice views of the canyon. We saw a group of gelada monkeys. They were keeping away and you could not get too close to them unlike the ones we saw in Simien Mountains. We got to the Debre Libanos church but did not get to do the walk around as some nice person came with a rock and tried to scratch our car with it while we were trying to figure out where to park. We decided against trying to park and leaving the car and headed away. We stopped for a (very) late lunch at Ethio-German park hotel with superb views of the canyon.
It was definitely a nice day trip from Addis Ababa even if with quite a bit of driving. Many travel agencies offer the trip which makes it easier and probably better for Debre Libanos visit. It can also be a part of a longer overland trip to lake Tana as the road to Bahir Dar crosses the gorge.