Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of Blue Nile. The city of Bahir Dar is a good base to explore the lake with its monasteries and to visit Blue Nile falls. A boat ride towards the marshes near the source of the Nile is good to see hippos and birds. It is possible to arrange your own boat from the hotel or to go on the one departing from the pier – a more crowded option. On the lake it is still possible to see fisherman in traditional papyrus boats usually accompanied by pelicans.
Hippos tend to hang around around the western shore where Blue Nile flows out of Lake Tana. You cant quite go on a boat from the lake to Blue Nile it seems as the area is shallow and covered in marsh. People live all around the lake. Having seen hippos mostly in national parks it is quite incredible to see hippos and all sorts of exotic birds right next to people’s houses or groups of people waiting for a boat to take them to town.
Bird life on the shores of the lake is spectacular. We are not exactly bird watchers but given the amazing diversity of bird life in Ethiopia combined with a rather sad situation in its mammal kingdom (cattle excluded), we have started developing interest in birds. Lake Tana does not seem to be part of the standard bird watcher circuit going mostly south of Addis Ababa along the Rift Valley lakes where it is more likely to see rare endemic species of interest to pro bird watchers. But for us newbie pretend birdwatchers with a greater interest in how large or colorful the bird is than how rare or endemic it is – Lake Tana was perfect. On the boat ride to see hippos we saw several African fish eagles – including in action catching fish, pelicans being fed by a fisherman, cormorants catching fish, and lots of Egyptian geese.
There is a nice path along the lakeshore about 2km long where you can find all sorts of birds. It is a very nice walk even if you are not keen on birds and we even saw some velvet monkeys along the path.
And after all the walking it is nice to stop at one of the cafes along the lake shore for a beverage and to enjoy the sunset. With Blue Nile falls, lake monasteries, birds, hippos and just chilled out lake side atmosphere Bahir Dar is excellent for a long weekend away from Addis or a 2-3 day stop on an Ethiopia trip.