Ethiopian Rock Churches

Look inside Lalibela


Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, the incredible churches of Lalibela have been painstakingly carved top down into red volcanic rock as freestanding structures. The columns, carvings and masonry make nonsense of the idea that ancient Africa lacked a civilization as advanced as any in Europe. There are eleven rock churches attributed to the reign of King Lalibela, and legend states that the daily construction by his subjects was continued by the nightly work of angels. The rock churches are still linked by time-smoothed dark passageways, and slippery, eerie tunnels. Haunting, ancient, and mysterious, a visit to Lalibela is one for the bucket list.

Length of Trip : 2-3 Days

Cost : An entrance ticket to the complex costs about US$50, with additional fees for video cameras.

Best time to go : All year

Wheelchair friendly : No

Family friendly : Yes

Where to eat :
Some great views, along with traditional and European dishes at Old Abbysinia (down the road from the Roha hotel) and XO Lalibela in front of the Lal Hotel. I also enjoyed meals inside the Maribela Hotel. Ethiopian food - thick curries scooped up with spongy injera break - is among my favourites. Enjoy your tibs!

Official Site :
Lalibela on UNESCO's World Heritage list
Merit Tours
Combine your visit with the Timket Festival celebrations with World Expeditions

Where to Stay :
There are a number of good clean hotels in Lalibela. The highly-rated, "modest but charming" Maribela Hotel is large and spacious, with terrific views over the valley. Just a 10 minute walk to the churches is the friendly, family-run Red Rock Hotel, with free wifi and modest prices.

Getting There :
Ethiopian Airlines has regular, daily flights to Lalibela from Addis Ababa. The town is located about a half hour's drive from the airport, and most hotels will arrange a pick-up for a fee. It's easy to walk around town once you arrive, as well as to the landmarks themselves. The churches are open from 6:00 AM to noon, and then from 2:00 to 5:00 PM.

Note from Robin :
Many visitors (myself included) found the constant begging of locals to be a bit much. Typically kids or locals will befriend you with questions or strategic stories of woe. Kids will ask for money for textbooks, and have been known to lead you to bookstores so you can buy them yourself. Problem is, they swap them for cash as soon as you turn the corner. The government has tried to prohibit begging in recent years, but be aware that many friendly locals in Lalibela have a motive. That being said, a few dollars go a long way in this part of the world.