Crossing Lake Tana By Boat – Ethiopia

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I’m going to miss it!

Amid the lake shore trees I run as an engine growls in early morning light.

At the wharf: the ferry has departed – 20 meters away.

Luckily, a guy sees me on the wharf and the ship returns.


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 journey to the southern shores of Lake Tana – Ethiopia’s largest lake – was on.

When I reach the south, I’ll visit the source of the Blue Nile River and the connected waterfalls.

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

birds-on-rock-lake-tana-ethiopiaCrossing the copper waters of Lake Tana

Back in history, an ancient Greek dramatist 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.

papyrus-canoe-lake-tana-ethiopiaAnother 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.

I stayed the night in Konzula in a $2 room the size of a single bed.


Kids outside the bar where I stayed the night in Kozula.

It was the only place with power that intense, stormy night. No food served. Beer was dinner. I drank bottles with an English-speaking local; my shout.

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

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

I went for a wander on Dek Island, crowds of kids following me along the mud path from the jetty to the village. Hopeful locals sold mangoes. And only mangoes.


Gurer village market on Dek Island, Lake Tana.

Meantime – 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. ]

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

TRAVEL ADVICE for ferry across Lake Tana

TIMETABLE – CHECK: Departures usually 6.30 – 7 am. From Gorgora to Bahir Dar on Thursdays. Bahir Dar to Gorgora 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 local boat is a classic backpacking trip. Enjoy!



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