Lake Tana Ethiopia - A Hidden Gem To Uncover

By Jenna Jolie

Ethiopia has a rich and diverse cultural heritage, boasting impressive nines UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is more than any other African nation. With a history dating back to ancient times, the country has preserved its cultural and historical landmarks, including the world's fourth-holiest Islamic city and the oldest continuously occupied town south of the Sahara. Beyond these, we can find various breathtaking natural wonders in Ethiopia, such as the Simien and Bale Mountains and the Danakil Depression's volcanic landscapes, with unique biodiversity adding to its allure. Lake Tana, Ethiopia, is among the top-rated attractions in the country that offers a laid-back getaway for all types of travelers.

Lake Tana At A Glance: All You Need To Know About This Treasure

Where is Tana lake in Ethiopia?

Located in the Amhara Region in the northwestern Ethiopian Highlands, Lake Tana covers an area of more than 3,500 square kilometers, making it the largest lake in the country. The lake is situated at an altitude of 1,788 meters above sea level and has a maximum depth of 15 meters. It is also the primary source of the Blue Nile, which flows for over 5,200 kilometers through Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.

Tana lake in Ethiopia

Tana lake in Ethiopia

Why Lake Tana is important?

Lake Tana is important because it is the largest national freshwater body, accounting for 50% of the total inland waters of the country. The Lake Tana biosphere reserve is the Blue Nile's main source, providing important fish resources, and is home to up to 67 different species of fish, 70% of which are endemic. The diverse flora and fauna that have contributed to its designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve will surely leave you in awe when visiting this lake. Flamingos and hippos are easily observed in their natural habitat, with ancient monasteries awaiting discovery on the islands dotted around the lake.

One of Africa's biggest networks of wetlands can be found surrounding the lake, where massive bird migrations take place annually. Lake Tana itself also sees large populations of Great White Pelicans migrate every year. Located towards the lake's northeast lies the Simen Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These rugged mountain peaks and deep gorges are the habitats of various rare animals, such as Gelada baboons and Walia ibex, a species of goat.

How to get to Lake Tana?

Bahir Dar is situated 484 km northwest of Addis Ababa and 175 km south of Gondar. Ethiopian Airlines offers daily flights to and from Bahir Dar, connecting it to Addis Ababa, Lalibela, and Aksum. The airport is situated 5km west of the town center and easily accessible by taxi.

Discover Lake Tana Monasteries

Lake Tana is renowned for its historic island monasteries, which can be reached by taking a brief boat ride from the lake's shores. They offer a glimpse into a past era where tourists will be taken to land lost of time. Although there are many island monasteries, only eight are accessible to the public. Tourists can explore these monasteries on a half-day or full-day trip. Here are some of the most well-known Lake Tana monasteries recommended for you:

Ura Kidane Meret

The Ura Kidane Meret monastery, situated on the Zeghe Peninsula, is considered one of the most stunning monasteries on Lake Tana. This sanctuary can be reached by boat, drawing Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia and visitors from worldwide throughout the year. While the monastery's exterior may not be the most appealing, its maqdas (inner sanctuary) is beautifully painted, with a significant collection of crosses and crowns dating from the 14th to 20th centuries. Outside the monastery's entrance lies the Zeghie Satekela Museum, displaying a range of household items in a 300-year-old house.

Ura Kidane Meret monastery in Ethiopia

Ura Kidane Meret monastery in Ethiopia

Narga Selassie

Narga Selassie is an Orthodox Tewahedo church on the western shores of Dek Island, the largest island of Lake Tana in northern Ethiopia. The name Narga Selassie signifies "Trinity of the Rest", with "Rest" referring to the location's peacefulness and the shade it provides. Like its name, Narga Selassie is a serene and atmospheric place; nevertheless, it is often overlooked by visitors. Constructed in the mid-18th century, the church exhibits Gonderian influences, and its original paintings include a portrait of Mentewab. Additionally, a bas-relief of James Bruce smoking his pipe can be found at the main entrance. It takes approximately three hours by boat and a two-minute walk from the landing to reach Narga Selassie.

Dega Estefanos

Dega Estefanos is a revered men-only monastery located on one of Lake Tana's sacred islands in Ethiopia. This historic monastery was reconstructed in the mid-19th century and houses a remarkable selection of treasures, including a 16th-century painting of the Madonna. However, what makes it truly unique is the preserved remains of five former Ethiopian emperors, including the body of Zara Yaqob, one of the most significant Ethiopian rulers. The monastery's founder is believed to have been a saint who arrived on the island in 1268 on a stone boat. It takes 2.5 hours to reach the monastery from Bahir Dar, a port on the south shore of Lake Tana, 45 minutes from Narga Selassie, and a 30-minute walk up a steep trail.

Essential Travel Guide for Visiting Lake Tana

The best time to visit Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Lake Tana has a tropical savanna climate (with dry winter) in accordance with the Köppen-Geiger classification. The average temperature is 27°C (ranging from 23°C in August to 30°C in March). Tourists can refer to some information about Lake Tana's climate to arrange their trips properly:

  • The rainiest months are September, August, and July. It is advisable to avoid visiting Lake Tana during the rainy season to ensure a more pleasant and enjoyable experience.
  • January, February, March, April and May are the warmest months. January and February are dry months in Lake Tana
  • The coldest months are September, October, November, and December

The best time to visit Lake Tana monastery, Ethiopia

The best time to visit Lake Tana monastery, Ethiopia

Essential items to bring during a Lake Tana trip

When packing for a trip to Lake Tana, there are several essential items that tourists should not forget.

  • A sturdy pair of walking shoes or hiking boots is a must, as there are several trails to explore around the lake.
  • Insect repellent and sunscreen are necessary to protect oneself from the hot and humid weather and to prevent insect bites. A good quality camera or binoculars would also be useful for capturing the stunning sceneries and observing the abundant birdlife surrounding the lake.
  • A valid passport and Ethiopian visa. These documents are must-have items when traveling abroad, and Lake Tana is no exception. From the arrival date in Ethiopia, your passport must have a validity of at least 06 months. Regarding the Ethiopia visa, tourists can obtain it online. The Government of Ethiopia issues an electronic visa system for certain countries. Citizens of eligible countries can apply for an Ethiopian tourist e visa to enter the country for tourism or other non-business-related purposes. Depending on how long they wish to remain in Ethiopia, they can choose between a tourist evisa of 30 days or 90 days.

With its crystal-clear waters and diverse aquatic life, it’s worth a trip to Lake Tana, Ethiopia, for a laid-back holiday. If you have any questions about the Ethiopia eVisa, you can contact Ethiopia Immigration Services right away. We are available 24/7 to help.