Chillin’ with a bottle of red wine, late afternoon on the first day. Bliss.

Taking the Boat Across Lake Tana – Ethiopia

Am I going to miss it?

There in the opening light on a track shaded by lakeside trees an engine revs and I – run.

But upon reaching the wharf: Fu*k, the ferry’s departed!

It’s 30 meters away.

But luckily, a guy sees me, and it returns – just for me!

dawn ferry from gorgora for the boat trip across lake-tana in ethiopia
Ferry returns for me; lucky break in Gorgora.

I couldn’t wait another week for the next sailing from Gorgora to Bahir Dar.

And so, the 2-day boat journey to the southern shores of Lake Tana – Ethiopia’s largest lake – was on.

The plan is: when I reach the south, I’ll visit the source of the Blue Nile River and the connected waterfalls.

For some months earlier, I’d traveled to the Mediterranean to watch the Nile flow into the sea, and then followed the Nile upriver while traveling Egypt, and later into Sudan, where in Khartoum, the different colored waters of the Blue and White Nile converge.

Crossing the ‘copper waters’ of Ethiopia’s Lake Tana

An ancient Greek dramatist once named Lake Tana “the copper-tinted lake”.


The waters changing color with the weather and seasons.

Red soil running with the rain gives the lake a copper tan. But other times, the waters are blue.

Another link from Lake Tana to Egypt is the ancient design of the local canoes. These tankwa are made from papyrus and used by Tana’s fishermen today.

The boat across Lake Tana stops overnight night in Konzula

In Konzula, I had a $2 room the size of a single bed

It was fine.

And it was the only place with power that intense, stormy night.

kids in kozula boat across lake tana trip ethiopia
Kids outside the bar where I stayed the night in Kozula.

But no food served. Beer was my dinner. So I drank bottles with an English-speaking local; hey, my shout.

Starving the next day, I ate a single banana for breakfast.

boat across lake tana ethiopia by public ferry
On the boat crossing Lake Tana: Relaxing with a bottle of red wine, late afternoon on the first day. Bliss!

Stopping at Dek Island on the boat across Lake Tana

The second day on the Lake Tana ferry saw a lengthy delay of many hours at the village of Gurer, on Dek Island.

Wandering Dek Island, crowds of kids followed me along a mud path from the jetty to the village.

Meantime hopeful locals sold mangoes. And only mangoes.

Gurer village market on Dek Island, Lake Tana.

For hours, porters lugged heavy crates on their backs to cram the deck – with stacks of mangoes. No room anywhere. More passengers boarded and the ferry stuffed-full for the final stage.

map of lake tana boat trip
Map of the route across Lake Tana from Gorgora to Bahir Dar. [ Map adapted from my Ethiopia e-book by Bradt. Excellent resource; buy it. ]

TRAVEL TIPS for taking the boat across Lake Tana

TIMETABLE: Departures are usually 6.30 – 7 am.

The ferry from Gorgora to Bahir Dar leaves on Thursdays.

In the other direction: The boat from Bahir Dar to Gorgora goes on Sundays.

The Konzula overnight-stay departure is 6 am.

Arrival in either direction is sometime in late afternoon.


COSTS: Foreigners pay $US15 (for 2 full days of lake travel). Buy ticket at Lake Transport offices; easy to locate. A bed in Konzula is $2.50 (50 birr).

TAKE FOOD: (buy in Gonder as virtually nothing is available in Gorgora or at shore stops).

WATER is available on route but take some as the ferry kiosk is limited to tea, coffee, bread, Pepsi, and single cigarettes.

MORE INFO: Have a torch for the Konzula early-morning-return to the jetty, which is a one kilometer walk in darkness.


Expect constant attention as the only foreigner on board. You may even feel like a caged animal. For time-out, adopt sunglasses, a bottle and mindless gaze, and/or use headphones.

ACCOMMODATION IN GORGORA: Stay at the dated government hotel for a bit of surreal atmosphere. Better still if you have days to kill, stay at the Tim and Kim Village. It’s a backpacker resort of solar-powered thatch-and-stone cottages with bar and restaurant located on the shores of Lake Tana.

Crossing Lake Tana by boat is a classic backpacking trip. Enjoy!

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