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Ethiopia's Rock-Hewn Wonders: Exploring the Lalibela Churches

Since Africa is my favorite continent, I go through the Addis Ababa airport at least ten times a year, it was only fair that I took time out to explore the one place in this massive (commercialized) country that has been on my list: the Lalibela churches.

In November 2023, I got lost in the time capsule that is Lalibela, where ancient tales whisper through the carved stone walls.

Delving into Faith: A Look Inside the 11 Majestic Rock Churches of Lalibela

These spectacular rock-hewn wonders aren’t just buildings; they’re living legends etched into the soul of this mystical town. The history dates back to the 12th century, King Lalibela envisioned a ‘New Jerusalem’ and voila, his dream manifested into these awe-inspiring churches, sculpted with divine precision from solid rock. Each crevice tells a story, and each corner echoes with the footsteps of centuries. Let's dive in.


ITINERARY FOR TRAVEL TO LALIBELA

Day 1 Arrival to Addis Ababa in the evening, immigration and rest

Day 2 Take early morning flight to Lalibela. Explore half of the churches at dusk Day 3 More Lalibela Churches at dawn

Day 4 Discover Addis Ababa

TABLE OF CONTENTS
FLIGHTS + VISA

I took the Ethiopian from Djibouti, arrving late at night. I applied for the visa online, a single entry for 30 days, costs $80.

LANGUAGE

Ethiopia is home to over 80 ethnic groups, each with their own language. Like most of East Africa, you will find people speaking English in the city.


BEST TIME TO VISIT

Early November to February is the best time to visit East Africa, especially if you don't enjoy the rains.


CURRENCY

Dollar and cards are accepted in the city, exchange some local currency for souveniers.


HOW LONG TO SPEND IN LALIBELA

If Lalibela is your focus, then you should spend two at least full days to do it justice. As one of the most diverse countries in Africa, Ethiopia is a massive country filled with incredible nature and culture - you should spend at least 3 weeks if you wish to cover more of the country.


INTERNAL FLIGHTS

You will have to fly from Addis Ababa to Lalibela and back. I suggest booking flights at least two to three weeks in advance as these do fill up fast. Make sure you get yourself a window seat because the view flying into Lalibela as simply magical.


WHERE I STAYED

In Addis Ababa, I stayed at a small hotel close to the airport, since it was a short two night stay. In Lalibela, I stayed in Tukul Village Hotel. Due to the constant conflict in the region this past year, they have actually been closed. I was the only guest in all of Lalibela during my trip.


VEGETARIAN + VEGAN FOOD IN ETHIOPIA

By far one of the best places for vegetarian food in Africa. Injera is always vegan, so I had so many delightful tasty options throughout my short trip.


COSTS + LOCAL GUIDE

I contacted Extraordinary Ethiopia Tours for this short trip. The owner was my guide and he did a fabulous job. From keeping me adept with the ground situation and reassuring me about the ever-changing conflict, I was at ease and everything was handled with utmost care and comfort.

SOLO TRAVEL + SAFETY

In Addis, be aware of our surroundings. Like any busy city around the world, don't flash around fancy gadgets and jewelry. I hired a local driver from the city to take me around as I only had one day to go around this chaotic city.


Some practical information you should know about - you don’t technically need a guide for Lalibela but it’s always best to go with someone local since there is a lot of unrest and tension in this part of the world, you might need local guidance to manuever this. Remember that if the tension reaches the town of Lalibela, flights DO get canceled. There is nothing you can do about it, just be ready for disappointment. I just got very lucky with the timing. That said, if you get the chance you shouldn’t miss out on experiencing this beautiful destination.


HIGHLIGHTS
Lalibela

Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia are the ultimate portals to another era. These architectural wonders, carved with divine precision in the 12th century, stand as living testaments to faith, craftsmanship, and a touch of magic.

Bete Maryam, the House of Mary, rising straight from the earth like a petrified giant.

This was no ordinary church. It was a living tapestry carved into ochre rock, sunlight slanting through narrow windows to illuminate frescoes that whispered of saints and angels.

My fingers traced the cool contours of ancient symbols etched into the walls, each glyph a silent prayer whispering through millennia. Here, beneath the sun's embrace, I wasn't just a tourist; I was a pilgrim, following the dusty footsteps of faith laid a thousand years ago.

Ethiopia's 8th Wonder of the World: Unveiling the Magic of Lalibela's Churches

Descending into Bete Golgotha Mikael, the Church of Golgotha, was like stepping into a forgotten tomb. Cool air tickled my skin as cave walls swallowed the sunlight, their silence broken only by the flickering dance of candlelight.

Monks in flowing white robes materialized from the shadows, their voices filling the cavern with ancient hymns that sent shivers down my spine.

Carved both inside and out from solid rock, these sacred marvels defy architectural norms. Back in the 12th century, King Lalibela decided to go big – I mean really big – carving 11 medieval churches not just outside but inside the rock itself. Each nook and cranny is a piece of a puzzle that transports you to an era when craftsmanship met divine inspiration. Whether you’re captivated by history, spirituality, or the sheer awe of ancient craftsmanship, Lalibela delivers an experience like no other.


Addis Ababa

Spent my last day in the capital of Ethiopia drinking the iconic coffee and going around the capital city.


Places to see:

National Museum of Ethiopia | Holy Trinity Cathedral | Merkato Market | Bole Medhane Church


Bunna T'et: a Ceremony in Every Cup of Coffee

Did you know that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee?

It boasts a vibrant and deeply ingrained coffee culture that's an experience in itself. Forget quick morning jolts – brewing and sharing coffee here is a ritual, an art form. Each round, meticulously prepared with spices and sugar, holds a different meaning: happiness, prosperity, and blessings. Take the time to find a local cafe, sit for an hour and tw, share a drink with the friendly locals.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Stepping into the glowing ambiance of Lalibela, you can't help but feel a sense of awe and humility. These churches, chiseled from solid rock with meticulous precision, transcend the boundaries of time, bridging the gap between past and present.

The raw beauty of the rock-hewn marvels captivates not only the eyes but also the soul, inviting us to contemplate the connection between human ingenuity and spiritual devotion. As I bid farewell to the ancient stones that have witnessed centuries unfold, I leave with a deeper appreciation for the richness of Ethiopian culture. When you visit the Lalibela Churches you will become a part of the ongoing story of human faith, and endurance. Something that is much needed in these trying times.

Lalibela's Bete Maryam: A UNESCO World Heritage Site Hewn from Volcanic Tuff

Thanks for reading. Leave your questions and comments below.

Lots of love,

Anki


To explore more destinations, be sure to check out other blogs for additional insights.

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