Lalibela: Things to Do in Famous Land of Rock-Hewn Churches

By Jenna Jolie

Lalibela, well known as the center of Ethiopia's rock-hewn cathedrals, is a town steeped in magic and mystery. Lalibela, a little rural community located amidst breathtaking highland terrain, is home to some of the world's best UNESCO rock-hewn churches.

St George's Stone Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia

St George's Stone Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia

What is Lalibela?

Lalibela is delightfully authentic, with no gift stores, souvenir sellers, or contrived cultural acts.

This is a genuinely breathing African village that leaves you feeling like you've gone back in time. It's dry, dusty, and full of donkeys, with some fantastic hilltop vistas.

Where is Lalibela?

Where is Lalibela located? Lalibela is a typical mountain community located 2630 meters above sea level. It is dedicated to 11 incredibly stunning monolithic churches that were cut out of the rock more than 800 years ago and have been utilized as active Christian shrines since then.

When was Lalibela built?

Their construction is credited to King Lalibela, who set out in the 12th century to establish a "New Jerusalem" after Muslim conquests ended Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Following the collapse of the Aksum Empire, Lalibela prospered.

How old are Lalibela churches?

The churches themselves date from the seventh to thirteenth centuries and are usually associated with the reign of Zagwe (Agaw) monarch Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (r. ca. 1181–1221). The arrangement and names of the principal structures in Lalibela are commonly considered symbolic portrayals of Jerusalem, particularly among the local clergy.

What is Lalibela famous for?

What makes Lalibela famous is the amazing architectural ensemble of a group of 11 churches made from monolithic stone and completely handcrafted.

These rock-hewn churches were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Still, I believe they should be recognized as the eighth World Wonder, particularly Bet Giyorgis, the most outstanding church of all, an excellently cross-shaped monolith built and carved in a 30-meter deep trench, frequently accompanied by a religious Christian atmosphere.

What are the 11 churches of Lalibela's name?

The Lalibela churches are placed on opposite sides of a small brook. Jordan, a seasonal brook, separates the northern side churches from the east. Saint George's Beite is situated on a steep rock terrace to the southwest of the churches.

  • Churches on the Jordan River's northern bank

1. Biete Maryam, ‘House of Mary’ -  It has a painted ceiling with scenes from the Bible.

2. Biete Meskel, ‘House of the Cross’

3. Biete Denagel, ‘House of Virgins’

4. Biete Medhane Alem, ‘House of the Saviour of the World’

5. Biete Golgotha Mikael, ‘House of Golgotha Mikael’

  • The Eastern Division:

6. Biete Amanuel, ‘House of Immanuel’

7. Biete Gabriel-Rufael, ‘House of the angels Gabriel, and Raphael’ - The location of the Lalibela Cross. It is said to be the world's largest monolithic church.

8. Biete Qeddus Mercoreus, ‘House of Saint Mercurius’ - Has reproductions of Christ's tomb, Adam's tomb, and the Nativity cradle.

9. Biete Lehem, ‘Bethlehem’

10. Biete Abba Libanos ‘House of Abbot Libanos’

  • Churches on the western side:

11. Biete Giorgis - With a cruciform design.

What to visit in Lalibela?

Top 8 Amazing Lalibela Activities 

1. Visit the Rock-Hewn Churches

A collection of eleven churches created out of nothing by a massive slab of stone thousands of years ago with rudimentary tools has been duly designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

They are extremely important to Ethiopian Orthodox Christians because they create a pilgrimage site with special spiritual and symbolic meaning, with a layout resembling Jerusalem's holy city. You're walking on the uneven stone terrain with the width of the green valley stretching on one side when you notice a massive pit excavated in the earth from afar.

As you go closer, you notice it's more than just a big pit. What you'll see will leave you speechless – a Church. Hard stone has been chiseled and sculpted.

Among the eleven churches, Biete Mariam (House of Mary) was the first to be built. The eleventh church, Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), is separated from the others and is the most popular. Biete Medhani Alem is the world's biggest monolithic church, with five aisles.

As you go around these cathedrals, you'll be struck by their holiness and creativity. You might easily spend a whole day visiting these churches. Hire a guide for a more complete experience.

Low angle view of the Rock-Hewn Church Bete Giyorgis in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Low-angle view of the Rock-Hewn Church Bete Giyorgis in Lalibela, Ethiopia

2. Go to Yemrehana Kristos.

A one-hour trip to a chapel constructed in a cave is an unforgettable experience. On your approach to Yemrehana Kristos, you'll pass through some interesting rural Ethiopian surroundings. Please keep in mind that this is not your typical Sunday church.

You begin by ascending a hundred stairs to a shrine dedicated to a saint and a king. This remarkable chapel is positioned in a natural lapse and contains mural paintings on its walls, arguably Ethiopia's earliest surviving mural paintings. The wooden quoins, door, and window frames are all in the Aksumite style.

Let Ethiopia Immigration Services cast some creepy shade- it has been stated that there are countless bones of monks in the cave behind the church, some of them are believed to be from the period of Yemrehana Kristos. Many bones have been discovered wrapped in reed mats.

Another creepypasta for you to fantasize about: some of the skulls still have hair. Stories and tales from the past weave their way through the walls of this cathedral.

3. Go to Ben Abeba for supper.

This is an absolute must-see if you visit Lalibela. With its unusual shape, Ben Abeba may appear to be a tourist trap, but trust us when we say it isn't.

After a hard day of flinging your head back every five seconds to marvel at those towering church roofs, you may have great Ethiopian food with the sun setting on your shoulder at this restaurant.

Ethiopian meals will have you smacking your lips and licking your fingers. Ethiopians are not afraid of spices, which helps Indians feel quite at home. A spicy Doro wat (Ethiopia's National Chicken Dish) roll with injera and a tomato Salata is a treat.

You must try Derek tibs, kitfo, and enkula firfir before leaving. There is seldom a day when they have to turn down clients due to a lack of vacancies. So it's better to set aside some time to make bookings.

4. Participate in a traditional coffee ceremony.

You can't leave Ethiopia without enjoying a cup of Ethiopian coffee or bringing hundreds with you. Experiencing fresh Ethiopian coffee in a traditional coffee ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The event is holy to Ethiopians since they are the ones who gave the world coffee. This rite is mostly carried out by the women of the house, who are clad in pristine white robes. They begin by scattering scented grass and flowers on the floor, followed by the burning of incense to fend off evil spirits and create a peaceful atmosphere.

Coffee is pounded with a mortar and pestle in a Jebena, a traditional Ethiopian kettle. The scent of coffee wafts around the room, which, when inhaled, invigorates a person to the core.

Traditionally, each individual receives three portions. Each dish is said to change the human soul, and the last meal is said to bless the person. Coffee enthusiasts consider Ethiopian coffee to be the greatest in the world.

5. Go on a hike to Mount Abune Yoseph.

Ethiopian Wolf Abune Yoseph is Ethiopia's seventh-highest mountain. Begin your stroll early in the morning, with birds twittering above you, dew adorning the lush green foliage, and a pleasant wind to soothe your spirit.

Ethiopian wildlife may occasionally stop by for a brief encounter with you, and if you're lucky, the Ethiopian wolf may bless you with its presence.

On your journey up, feel your lips part into a grin as Ethiopian music waltzes into your ears. Join the Ethiopian villagers around campfires on occasion and attempt to sing along. It will be difficult, but once you reach the top, the breathtaking panorama before you will wash your tiredness away.

6. Pay a visit to the Danakil Depression

Though it is not for the faint of heart, you will not be disappointed if you visit the Danakil Depression. Because it is one of the lowest spots on the planet, the temperature remains high.

The Danakil Depression, home to the Etra Ale volcano, crater lakes, salt flats, and ferociously bubbling sulfur hot springs, has a daily temperature of 50 degrees.

Every year, travelers rush to see its unusual wonders. With the lava transforming into blue and yellow hot springs, the scene seemed to be suited for a science fiction film. Dallol's sulfur springs are brightly colored with neon green and yellow colors.

Although the blazing hot air, toxic fumes from the active volcano, and rotten sulfur stench may make it sound like the most inhospitable site in Ethiopia, spending a single day here would be an incredible adventure experience.

Dallol volcano Danakil Depression Ethiopia

Dallol volcano Danakil Depression Ethiopia

7. Hike to the Monastery of Na'akuto La'ab

The Na'akuto La'ab monastery, located in the hills outside of Lalibela, is built inside a natural cavern and is named for King Lalibela's successor.

There are gold-painted drums, crosses, an antique illustrated Bible, and a gigantic painting with ancient monarchs painted on it that are claimed to belong to Na'akuto La'ab.

Here's an unusual fact: holy water is reported to drop from the cave's roof and be gathered in old stone receptacles. The ambiance is calm and relaxing. It differs somewhat from the popular churches in the city center.

Tegegne Yirdaw, the shop's proprietor, is a local celebrity and a skilled artist. Shop for beautifully painted scenes of Ethiopia and some of the nicest mementos ever! This is the ideal approach to packaging your vacation as neatly as a Christmas present.

A visit to Lalibela may alter your viewpoint on a variety of issues. If you cover these points, your trip will be nothing short of unforgettable. What was your favorite thing to do in Lalibela? Another Jerusalem awaits your arrival. Will you hurry up?

Today, visitors can easily look through the outstanding news about this land to decide to come here and travel right away. Ethiopia Immigration Services will lend you a hand to get Ethiopia e-visa quick and easy extraction with just a few simple steps through the online application. Access it now and don't miss it!