2 Days Crossing Lake Tana by Boat

Gorgora to Bahir Dar - 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!

public ferry boat across lake tana ethiopia
Ferry returns for me: a lucky break in Gorgora on the shores of Lake Tana.

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”.

birds-on-rock seem from boat across lake tana ethiopia
Scenes from the boat across Lake Tana in Ethiopia.

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. They make these ‘tankwa’ from papyrus and they’re still used by Tana’s fishermen today.

The boat across Lake Tana stops overnight night in Konzul

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.

aboard the top deck of the boat across lake tana ethiopia
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 Market on Dek Island stop-over on Lake Tana boat trip in Ethiopia
A stop-over on the Lake Tana ferry: Gurer village market on Dek Island.

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.

Route map of lake tana public ferry trip in ethiopia
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

Departures are between 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 in late afternoon.

clouds-over calm waters crossing lake tana in ethiopia

COSTS: Foreigners pay $US15 (for 2 full days of lake travel). Buy a ticket at Lake Transport offices, which is 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 has only 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.

copper colored water on lake tana ferry ride ethiopia
Boat across Lake Tana – Ethiopia.

Expect constant attention as the only foreigner on board.

You may even feel like a caged animal.

For time-out, adopt sunglasses, a bottle of booze and mindless gaze, and use headphones.


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 on the shores of Lake Tana.

Travels in Ethiopia – 2013

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