Blue Nile Falls mark the ‘favorite destinations’ list of most who visit Ethiopia. Located about 30 kilometers from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana, these falls have met with famous explorers in the past.
The 42 meters high Blue Nile falls are locally known are tis-isat, meaning smoky water or the Nile that smokes. Of youthful guides, foaming water, lush greens, and abundant wildlife, these falls make for a wonderful day trip from Bahir Dar.
The Blue Nile falls have been visited historically by many famous travelers. These include Scottish explorer James Bruce – a famous travel writer, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. So, it’s now time for you to venture out and enjoy a fun-filled day at Tis Abay.
Blue Nile Ethiopia: An Overview
One of Ethiopia’s most dramatic attractions, these smoky falls make for a must-visit when in the country. If I were to talk about the reasons to visit this site, I could go on and on forever. There are certain things you need to know about the Blue Nile Falls in Ethiopia before I head onto the details. Here are those important facts:
Amhara Region, Ethiopia
The currency used in Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB). The conversion rates in terms of three currencies: Ethiopian Birr (ETB), American Dollar (USD), and Indian Rupee (INR) back when I traveled to Ethiopia were as follows:
1 USD = 29.2 ETB
1 ETB = 2.44 INR (INR was my home currency)
I’ve made mention of the Indian Rupee because India is my home country.
Throughout the year
|Best time to visit
Take a flight or a bus to Bahir Dar – a town 30 kilometers from Tis Abay
|Highlight of the trip
Exploring the falls
The Blue Nile falls is one of nature’s most beautiful miracles. Additionally, the beauty of the falls is coupled with warm hosts, an adventurous journey, and affordability. I couldn’t have asked for more.
What Exactly are the Blue Nile Falls of Ethiopia?
The Blue Nile Falls or the Smoky Waterfalls, as they are popularly known, are waterfalls comprising of many streams on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. They are about 45 meters high, consisting of 4 streams that diverge from a single stream in the dry season.
These falls mix up with the White Nile in Sudan, thus forming the (disputed) longest river in the world.
Although first-time travelers anticipate a blue color to the falls (owing to the name), in reality, they’re brown. If you haven’t guessed the reason yet, let me enlighten you.
During summer, the rains erode a huge amount of fertile soil from the highlands. At this time, the Blue Nile falls are energized and flow with great speed, contributing to its brown color.
The Nile That Smokes: What’s with The Name?
Referring to its overtly dramatic visuals, it is often referred to as ‘smoky water’ locally. The continuous falling of water droplets produce a smoky effect that most find difficult to get over.
Hiking Up: Of Boat Rides and Steep Ascends
Once you have purchased your ticket, you’ll be all set to hike up to the falls. At the ticket office, you could also get a guide to accompany you on your trip. The cost of a guide is 350-400 birr (12-13.5 USD) for a group of 4-6 people.
While you may or may not choose to go for one, you totally should if your budget allows it. The Blue Nile falls have a number of interesting stories to tell, and local guides know them best.
For reaching the falls from the entrance, you have these two options:
Route 1: The Shorter and Easier Route
Popularly known as the western route, this shorter route involves a boat ride followed by a 10-minute walk.
Tip: Keep the ticket handy at all points, you may be asked for it.
The boat ride costs 20 Birr (0.6 USD) per person and is available from 7 am to 6 pm. However, on days that the river flow is too strong, boats cannot cross.
If you choose this route, you will reach above the waterfalls.
Route 2: The Longer Route
This route is rather interesting and is also referred to as the ‘eastern route.’ The path to this route lies about 50 meters west to the ticket office. A rocky track will lead you to the 17th-century Portuguese bridge, which was also the first bridge on the Blue Nile. Here, you will come across travelers stopping by for photographs, and villagers going about their daily life.
From the bridge, keep left and hike up to a small village which lands you on the hillside opposite the falls. The viewpoints here are great for clicking pictures. Thereon, take the narrow suspension bridge over the Alata River, and get to the base of the falls.
The best choice would be to complete the circuit by choosing both paths – one for reaching and the other for returning from the Blue Nile Falls.
What Else Do the Smoky Falls Have to Offer?
So, why did I love my trip to the Blue Nile falls? Was it all about the grandeur of the falls? Was it the adrenaline? The hospitality? The affordability?
To be honest, it was a lot of things. In addition to gaping at the falls or taking a dip in its natural pool, there’s a host of sights to treat yourself to.
Crops and Farms
On the way to the Blue Nile Falls, travelers can find colorful fields of sorghum (a cereal crop) and Teff. It’s a pleasant sight for the eyes, and I could simply not get enough of it.
The steamy downpour from the Blue Nile Falls produces frequent rainbows that change and shine over the chasm. It’s breath-taking.
In an unending forest, lush green vegetation sparkles, much to the joy of the many monkeys and colored birds occupying the region.
The rainforests are home to birds like ibis, ground hornbill, yellow-fronted parrot, speedy blue-breasted bee-eater and northern crowned crane. All of these species are local inhabitants.
The longer route to the falls will expose you to small villages and the local life of Ethiopians. Chances are that you’ll attract a great deal of attention from them – children especially. Ladies cooking injera on open fires, kids playing around in mud, and men in traditional attires add life to these villages.
If you’re interested, you can spend some time in these villages. Mostly, locals would be more than willing to speak to you and have you around.
Can I Spend A Night by the Blue Nile Falls?
While major waterfalls of the world like Victoria, Niagara, Iguazu are all packed with hotels and tourist boutiques, the Blue Nile Falls are a little different. However, just because there aren’t many options doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy a night stay by the falls.
|The only pre-requisite is to be prepared for the basics, and not demand luxury. Additionally, since options are few, staying the night by the Blue Nile falls might turn out to be an expensive affair.|
- Blue Nile Camping opens up its tents and huts for stay to travelers all round the year. It is known to have a hospitable staff, a perfect location, and some great food preparations.
- Alternatively, you can set up your own tent at the campsite right next to the falls. This would cost you roughly 100 birr (3.4 USD) per person. The campsite is as basic as you could imagine it to be, but it comes with basic necessities – a clean-ish toilet, a bucket shower, a common area where you can meet and greet with fellow travelers, and basic food options.
In case this doesn’t float your boat, you can always make your way back to Bahir Dar in the evening, and choose from one of the many budget options there. 2 recommendations are Manuhie Backpackers Lodge and Flamingo Guest House.
While I’d advise everyone to experience the camping life in Ethiopia, I understand that this might not be for everyone. Additionally, staying around Laka Tana (in Bahir Dar) and its rich biodiversity is just as incredible.
When Hunger Strikes
Surprisingly, despite being a popular tourist destination, not a lot of restaurants and eateries can be found in this area. One option for when hunger strikes, is to go to the campsite near the falls.
Also, you will occasionally come across locals selling foods, souvenirs, and walking sticks. Do not hesitate to buy from them and contribute to their income stream.
Tip: Only entertain them if you really intend on buying something. Otherwise, they might get pushy and that’s the last thing you want.
Teff is one of the main crops cultivated in Ethiopia and especially in the Amhara region. If you’re lucky, you might just find local delicacies made from teff here. Keep an eye out for a spicy stew called Shiro accompanied by Injera (a traditional large spongy pancake prepared out of teff flour and water).
There are other varieties of food like chicken, lamb, beef, lentils, vegetables, and ground split peas stewed with a hot spice called berbere.
However, just to be safe, it would be highly advised for you to carry some energy-inducing snacks. Chocolates, biscuits, energy bars, and juices can go a long way in keeping you energized on hikes.
Travel Tips for First Time Visitors to Blue Nile Falls
Although Ethiopia is an easy country to explore as a traveler, some handy tips will do no harm.
|Clothing – Dressing appropriately is one of the key fundamentals of a good trip. Stick to wearing full pants and thin cotton t-shirts or shirts.|
|Shoes – A good pair of shoes is recommended especially if you’re going to choose the longer route to get to the falls. Note that the paths get slippery and muddy during rainy season, and strong hiking or rubber boots are a must.|
|Hydration – Drink plenty of water. The sun can be quite strong, and you do not want to end up feeling giddy and sick. Make it a point to always carry a bottle of water with you.|
|Rains – The rains can never be predicted, and it would be best to carry an umbrella or a windcheater irrespective of the month you’re visiting in.|
|Swimming – Whether or not you’re allowed to swim in the natural pool formed at the base of the falls, will be decided by the water situation at any given point. However, if you’re a swimming freak, do carry a swimsuit with you.|
|Research – Before making your way here, do your research. Ask locals, tour operators, or tour guides about the water levels at the falls.|
|Extra set of clothes – Carry an extra set of clothes. You’re definitely going to be greeted by splashes of water from the falls, and it’s difficult to not get drenched. Furthermore, that’s not even something you’d want to do.|
|Backpack essentials – In addition to the above-mentioned things, throw in a sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses, a hat, an insect repellent, a first-aid kit, and a portable charger.|
When going to the Blue Nile falls, it is necessary to be well-prepared. This is not only because the terrain demands it, but because there’s no second chance. You’ll hardly find shops or convenience stores you can pick up essentials from. So, do yourself a favor and don’t let it come to that.
Budget Talks: Breaking It Down
Here’s is the final overview of costs involved in visiting the Ethiopian falls. Note that what ensues are per person costs.
|Transport by local bus to and from the falls
30 birr (1 USD)
|Entry Fee to Blue Nile Falls
50 birr (1.7 USD)
|Video camera fee
50 birr (1.7 USD)
|Local guide (optional)
80-100 birr (2.7 USD-3.4 USD) per person (considering you are part of a group)
|Boat ride (optional)
20 birr (0.6 USD) each way
100-150 birr (3.4-5.1 USD) per meal
100-300 birr (3.4-10.2 USD)per night
200 birr (6.8 USD)
See? These world-famous falls make for a budget-friendly destination. Really, when it comes to visiting Ethiopia, money is the last thing that should be holding you back.
Best time to visit Blue Nile Falls
The best time to visit Blue Nile Falls would be when the water is at its fullest.
Monsoons in this region roughly last from mid-May to September. A dry period kicks in around the months of January to March. So, the best time to visit the Blue Nile Falls is during the months of August to October. This is when the falls come gushing down in full force, creating the smoky effect.
It would not be too wise to go at the start of the rainy season (June-July), because although it’s raining, Lake Tana (the source of the falls) is still only filling up.
Unfortunately, the best time to visit Ethiopia as a country is during the dry months. So, there’s a high chance you would have to visit the falls in its shoulder season. While the falls might still be worth visiting, it really depends on the rainfall scene in the current and preceding year.
As an advice, try getting in touch with a tour operator or a local guide who can educate you about water levels.
Temperatures in the Region
Average temperatures in Bahir Dar do not vary much over the course of the year. However, they generally fluctuate a fair amount on any given day.
Temperatures in the day hover around 25 to 30°C, whereas they drop to as low as 8 to 15 °C in the night.
How to reach Blue Nile Falls?
The Blue Nile falls are located in the Amhara region, about 600 kilometers northwest of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Commuting in Ethiopia has been made easy, comfortable, and affordable due to the high influx of tourists every year.
From Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar
To explore the Blue Nile falls, you’ll have to make your way to Bahir Dar – the Amhara region’s capital. There are 2 ways of doing this:
Selam Bus and Skybus Ethiopia are the 2 popular and reliable luxury bus operators in the country. They have air conditioning, comfortable seating, and are pretty reliable in terms of punctuality and safety. If I had to recommend one, I’d suggest you to go with Selam Bus. Based on reviews, and personal experience, they seem to be much more credible.
Although they claim to have online bookings, this seems to be next to impossible (at least for foreigners). So, head to their head office in Addis Ababa to get your ticket – it is right next to the tourist information center in Meskel Square.
Tip: Do book tickets a day in advance to avoid chances of not getting a ticket, or getting an uncomfortable seat.
The bus leaves at 5AM every day, and costs about 350 ETB. If all goes well (which generally should be the case), you should make it to Bahir Dar in about 10 hours.
Bahir Dar also has an international airport by the name ‘Ginbot Haya.’ So, you can board a flight from wherever you are. The fares would depend on where you’re coming from, when you’re booking, and at what time of the year. However, it would certainly be much more expensive than the bus.
As an advice, I would suggest you to take the bus. The scenery along the way is absolutely gorgeous, and you get a real feel of Ethiopian landscapes and Ethiopian life.
Tip: If you find bus rides to be uncomfortable, consider booking 2 seats. This would still be cheaper and better than boarding a flight.
From Bahir Dar to Blue Nile Falls
Tis Abay town lies south from Bahir Dar and is a small settlement of the Amhara people. Alternate names are Tissisat or Tis Isat.
To get to Tis Abay, you can hop on to a private mini bus. However, this will set you back 200 birr (6.8 USD) per person. If you want to go ahead with the budget-friendly option, opt for the (very) local bus.
Make your way to Adisu bus station in Bahir Dar – literally anyone in town will be able to guide you there. Although the bus departs every one hour, the general norm is for it to leave once it has reached maximum capacity.
Expect: A crowded bus with your personal space boundaries being tested.
However, with tickets costing just 15 birr (0.5 USD) per person, you simply cannot ask for too much. The journey takes your through muddy roads, potholes when you least expect them, and scenic views. The bus covers a distance of about 30 kilometers over a period of 1.5 hours.
Returning to Tis Abay town
The last bus leaves at around 4.30 pm. So, plan your day accordingly.
Note: Some locals will charge you 15 Birr or less to hold a seat while you wait for the bus to arrive at the stop. These people walk up to the exit of the village (the second last stop), where the bus stops to drop some passengers. They get into the bus here and when the bus finally deboards at the last stop, they have a seat saved for you.
The Blue Nile Falls are Shrinking: A Sad Story
On the Nile river, a new $63 million, 450-megawatt hydro-power generating station called Tis Abay II has been constructed.
Before constructing the hydro-power project, the Ethiopian government employed consulting firms from Britain and France for study. According to the study, Tis Abay II hydro-power project would not be harmful to the environment like other big dams. Furthermore, it would be cost-effective, and help a large number of locals.
|Sadly, since the project has been launched, the flow of streams has decreased. Tourists often find that what they expected to see has vanished due to human interference.|
Ethiopia proudly showcases old photographers of the Blue Nile Falls on its paper currency note, and it can also be found on the walls of offices, restaurants, and homes.
However, it’s a shame that 90 percent of the water is now diverted for the power project, making the falls bald and narrow.
So, I would urge you all to visit the Blue Nile falls before the situation worsens. However, if and when you do, please be considerate, and co-operate with the environment.
Travelling to Blue Nile Falls made me realize that we as the younger generation, should preserve nature’s resources and allow nature’s bounty to be enjoyed by the next generation as well. Blue Nile Falls are Ethiopia’s pride. They deserve to be preserved and witnessed by travelers from future generations.
Happy Wayfaring 🙂
About The Author
|Pragna Mohapatra is a freelance writer based in Bhubaneswar. She is a post graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication from Utkal University and MBA(HR) from IGNOU. She writes different types of articles related to travel, health,and beauty. Her articles have been published in several websites like Women Now and Ayushveda Pragna loves talking to people, locals and travelers alike and wants to learn more about them. She wants to encourage other travelers to experience different cultures, cuisines and meet new people.|