Blue Nile Falls are Ethiopia’s ‘Smoky Water’ Incarnate

Blue Nile Falls are located on the famous river Nile in the northern region of Ethiopia.  This natural spectacle is known locally as Tisisat falls in Amharic (an afro-asiatic language). ‘Tissiat’ means ‘smoky water’ or the ‘Nile that smokes.’  It is situated about 30 km downstream from the town of Bahar Dar and Lake Tana. Blue Nile Falls are  one of Ethiopia’s famous travel places.

The Blue Nile falls have been visited historically by many famous travelers, including the Scottish explorer James Bruce, a famous travel writer who spent more than twelve years in North Africa and Ethiopia. The smoky waterfalls have also been visited by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

James Bruce, in his search for the source of the Nile, came upon the Blue Nile Falls in the year 1770 A.D. and described them in the following beautifully quoted words –

The river fell in one sheet of water, without any interval, above half an English mile in breadth, with a force and a noise that was truly terrible, and which stunned and made me, for a time, perfectly dizzy. The smoky water creates fume, or haze, covered the fall all around, and hung over the course of the stream both above and below, marking its track, though the water was not seen. It was a most magnificent sight, which ages, added to the greatest length of human life, would not deface or eradicate from my memory.”

Blue Nile Falls

A trip to Blue Nile Falls should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Photography by Oliver Howard

Blue Nile Falls: An Overview

Location Ethiopia
Region Amhara
Topography waterfall
Best time to visit November to june
Mode of Transport By Taxi

(from Bahardar to Tis Abay)

By walking and by boat

(To the waterfall )

Accommodation  Hotels in Bahar dar
Timing for Visit 9AM to 4PM
Entry Fee 50 Bir per adult. Children under 10 are permitted free of cost; Local guide – 100 Bir per adult. Boating – 20 bir per adult
Temperature Min- 17 degree Celsius

Max- 26 degree Celsius

Alternate Name Smoky Water
How to reach Blue Nile Falls By Air: From Addis Ababa to Bahar Dar

By Bus: From Addis Ababa to Bahar Dar

From Bahar Dar to Tis Abay town, distance is 30 km.Travellers can go by self-drive/rental cab or by bus

Travel Time


1.5 hours from Bahar Dar
Total cost of the trip The cost per person, inclusive of travel, accommodation, food and entry fee of all the tourist attractions, will come around 3-4k when in a group. For solo travelers, the cost might increase a bit because you alone will have to bear the accommodation charges, cab charges and guide charges also.

What Exactly are the Blue Nile Falls of Ethiopia ?

The Blue Nile Falls or the Smoky Water falls, as they are popularly known as are waterfalls comprising of many streams on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. The falls are about 45 meters high, consisting of four streams that differed from a stream in the dry season to more than 400 meters wide in the rainy season. 

Blue Nile Falls are located in the Ethiopian highlands on a fog cleared palisade transfixed by the 150-foot-high smoke of fire, popularly known as the Blue Nile Falls. They are the most wonderful display of falling water anybody has ever seen.

It’s only a few minutes’ drive from the lake side town of Bahar Dar, across the Blue Nile Bridge, to the spot where the famous Blue Nile River flows out of Lake Tana. The Blue Nile Falls are nearly 30 kilometres south of the Bahar Dar city, and closest to Tis Abay town, a market settlement of the people of Amhara region who reside in this area.

Blue Nile Falls

Blue Nile Falls have a smoky brown effect. Photography by Andy Clapperton

Why are Blue Nile Falls Known as ‘Smoky Water Falls?’

The Smoky Water Falls should be visited during the month of September for a breath capturing view. The water droplets coming from the stream consistently make the visitors wet up to half kilometer away. But its a nice feeling.

Though first time travelers will anticipate a blue colour of the falls (owing to the name), they are actually brown in colour. Reason being that during summer the rains erode huge amount of fertile soil from the highlands. At this time the Blue Nile falls are energized with high speed down streams and the water becomes dark brown in color. 

Blue Nile Falls

The rain erodes huge amounts of soil from highlands thus giving the original blue hue a brown colour. Photography by Joke Deprez

What Do the Smoky Water Falls have in Store for you?

On the way to the Blue Nile Falls,  the travelers can find the colorful fields of sorghum and Teff as these are the principal food crops of Ethiopia.

This steamy downpour produces frequent rainbows that change and shine over the chasm, and an unending forest of lush green vegetation sparkles, much to the joy of the many monkeys and colored birds that occupy the region. The piece of perennial rain forest which is around the Blue Nile falls provides the beautiful natural environment for a variety of bird species.

Here you can find 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 areas nearby to the Blue Water falls are also splendid travel regions to look at, especially for endemic flora that has provided a homely environment for bird life.

Blue Nile Falls

Bee Eater spotted around Blue Nile Falls. Photography by Jules Link

Reasons to Visit  Blue Nile Falls Include Nature, Wildlife and 

The Blue Nile falls are more energizing from June to September due to rainy season. The Smoky Water Falls consist of four separate streams and after meeting together these convert into huge mass of water 400m wide as they thunder continuous from a height of 45m.

It is one of East Africa’s most amazing waterfall. Rainbows often bow over the shower at their base near the main view, which was once home to hippopotamus and Nile crocodile.

In one word, one can describe them as spectacular.Another thing is that one can experience the thrilling glimpse of the Blue Nile Falls from very near as the guide takes travelers to witness them in full flow.

Blue Nile Falls

Various crop fields can be witnessed on the way to Blue Nile Falls. Photography by Lesley

Travel Tips for First Time Visitors to Blue Nile Falls

A good pair of shoes is recommended for walking to reach the Blue Nile falls. IThey will prove comfortable as the road is hilly and muddy.
Drink plenty of water before visiting the Blue Nile Falls. This will help you stay hydrated.
Keep a set of extra clothes and towel. One can get drenched by going very close to the Blue Nile falls.
Keep umbrella in rainy season as there is no place to take shelter
Lastly, don’t forget your camera to capture the outstanding pictures of nature.

Suspension Bridge Near Blue Nile Falls

Leaving the Tis Abay town, the path drops into a profound basaltic rift crossed by an old fortified stone bridge, constructed in the sixteenth century by Portuguese travelers. After walking for 15 minutes a solid ascend a green hillside is then compensated by outstanding perspective of the Blue Nile Falls.

To visit this site the traveler has to take a local authorized guide. He will accompany you with walking to the falls. In between this short period of walk the traveler will get the chance of boating in the Blue Nile River for 5 minutes to reach the destination.

There is a Suspension Bridge near the Falls on which travelers can walk for enjoyment. This feeling may be amazing for many people but some get really scared to walk on it.

Blue Nile Falls

The Suspension Bridge scares a few visitors while excites others. Photography by Augustin G

Accommodation Options Near Blue Nile Falls

While the major waterfalls of the world like Victoria, Niagara, Iguazu are all packed with hotels and tourist boutiques, the Blue Nile Falls don’t have any close accommodation places. Also, the Blue Nile Falls are accessible only in day time.

So, most of the visitors make day trip to the Smoky Water of Tis Abay town. As the destination of Blue Nile falls is 30 km away from Bahar Dar city, there are ample accommodation options available in Bahar Dar. It is not only clean and beautiful but travel friendly as well.

The travelers experience a pleasant feeling to stay on the banks of Lake Tana. Some rooms are also available in the nearby village of Tis Abay . In Bahar Dar, one can find many budget friendly hotels.

Blue Nile Falls

There are ample accommodation options available in Bahar Dar. Photography by Indira Palasubramanium

What to Eat ?

While in Ethiopia, make sure to taste Ethiopian meal at least once. Hot spicy stew called shiro accompanied by injera (traditional large spongy pancake prepared out of teff flour and water) are some of the top recommendations

Teff is the main crop cultivated in the country and is grown on the Ethiopian highlands. There are other varieties of food like chicken, lamb, beef, lentils, vegetables, and ground split peas stewed with hot spice called berbere.

Blue Nile Falls

A traditional Ethiopian meal. Photography by Debbie

 The Blue Nile Falls are Shrinking in Recent Times: Sad Story

 On the Nile river, a new $63 million, 450 megawatt hydro power generating station called Tis Abay II has been constructed. It diverts the water on weekdays, except Sundays and holidays when the necessity of power is lower. More than 90 percent of energy consumed in Ethiopia is produced from biomass fuels and is mainly used for cooking.

The use of these fuels has brought about huge deforestation and soil erosion. Only 4 percent of the population use electricity. However, Ethiopia, which sits on high plateau, has many rivers and valleys rushing off all sides, offering gigantic hydropower potential. But the main motivation to trade-off the Blue Nile Falls, one of the best natural wonders of the world, is to take advantage of cheaper energy and faster.

Due to the Tis Abay hydro power project, in the seasons other than rainy season, the width of the Blue Nile Falls decreases and thus the magnificent spectacle which is an emblem for Ethiopia.

Blue Nile Falls

A wooden straw hut of a displaced native on the way to Blue Nile Falls. Photography by Va Bene

Before constructing the hydro power project, the Ethiopian government employed consulting firms from Britain and France for study. According to the study concluded the Tis Abay II hydro power project would not be harmful for the environment like other big dams, and it would be cost-effectively very attractive for venture. This was the first time when the diversion project had been put into full effect. But after the construction of this project, the flow of streams has been decreased and the tourists were finding that what they had come to see had vanished due to artificial legerdemain.

This country proudly showcases the earlier photos of the Blue Nile Falls in the paper currency note and it can also be found on the walls of offices and restaurants of the country. But now, 90 percent of the water is diverted for the power project making the falls bald and narrow. This is sad.

As the younger generation, we 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 saved and witnessed by all travelers.

Blue Nile Falls

The Blue Nile Falls are shrinking in recent times. We should protect them. Photography by Tasha Toole


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. Her articles have been published in several websites like www.womennow.in, Ayushveda.com , www.vaidyaa.com and many more. She also works as a freelance HR personnel. Pragna especially loves talking to people, locals and travelers alike and wants to learn more about them. She writes different types of articles related to travel, health, beauty and technical articles also. She wants to encourage other travelers to experience different cultures, cuisines and meet new people to find everyone with a unique story.