The smallest of the three former capitals of Ethiopia, Lalibela is a charming highland town surrounded by mountainous country - but it's the collection of 12th century churches which draws the crowds.
Travel not recommended during the rainy season
Lalibela is often the highlight of any Ethiopia tour. This small hillside town is famous for its labyrinthine collection of ancient rock-hewn churches: truly fascinating to visit.
Lalibela is a charming highland town surrounded by mountainous country, including Mount Abune Yoseph. But it is the smallest of the three former capitals of Ethiopia. Its heyday was the 12th-13th century when 13 awe-inspiring rock-hewn churches were built. So these are the main drawcard, topped by the spectacular St Georges church on the outskirts of the town.
These tiny pink-tinged sandstone churches are partially submerged underground. You access them via tunnels and narrow gorges. Unlike many World Heritage sites, these hand-crafted churches are in constant use. Church ceremonies for white-robed pilgrims are a constant feature. Tourism plays second fiddle - as it should.
For now, Lalibela retains an air of highland rusticity and charm. Its visitors are mainly Ethiopians. But the allure of its churches will soon bring greater numbers of visitors from further afield. So we recommend an early visit.
As well as the 13 churches, the surrounding countryside is also very attractive. You can walk to several mountainside monasteries in the nearby hills. We recommend the walk to mountain-top Asheton Maryam monastery at almost 4,000 metres. This can be either a full day hike from Lalibela. Or a scenic drive followed by a stunning 20-30 minute ridge walk.
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