The Blue Nile Falls or Tis Abay (in Amharic) is about 35 km from Bahir Dar. The water is no longer diverted to a hydro-power dam. It is a very nice sight – smaller than Victoria Falls, but amazingly scenic. You can take a bus to the village of Tis Abay, from which it is a 30-minute walk to the falls. You take a big trip in the countryside to reach the falls. If you take the bus, ignore anyone in the village who insists that the last bus back to Bahir Dar will be full and wants you to pay them to hold a seat, or that the last bus has already left but they can offer you an amazingly expensive taxi ride.
Bahir Dar is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana. On the islands of the lake there are some of the world’s oldest churches and monasteries. In some of these monasteries, women are not allowed to enter. Be cautious and aware of the traditions and rules of the Ethiopian Orthodox church when you visit. (Note: These churches are definitely unique to Ethiopia, but they tend to be expensive and the tours are overrated. Bahir Dar grew around a Jesuit settlement, founded in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, from which time the Pedro Páez building dates. One of Emperor Haile Selassie’s palaces is located near the city, and the Emperor considered moving the national capital to the town. The palace is an impressive architectural work of its time. Facing Lake Tana it provides a beautiful, picturesque scene of the Blue Nile.
Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile from where it starts its long journey to Khartoum and on to the Mediterranean. The 37 islands that are scattered about the surface of the Lake shelter fascinating churches and monastries, some of which have histories dating back to the 13th Century. However, it should be noted that most of the religious houses are not open to women. The most interesting islands are: Birgida Mariam, Dega Estefanous, Dek, Narga, Tana Cherkos, Mitsele Fasiledes, Kebran and Debre Maryam. Kebran Gabriel is the principal monastery which can be visited by male tourists from Bahar Dar with its impressive Cathedral-like Building first built at the end of the 17th Century.
Dega Estephanos, which is also closed to women, is on an island in the lake, and is reached by a very steep and winding path. Although the church is relatively new (only one hundred years old), it houses a Madonna painted in the 15th century. However, the treasury of the monastery is a prime attraction with the remains of several emperors, as well as their robes and jewels. On the banks of the lake are many more religious houses such as Ura KidaneMehret and Narga Selassie, many of which are open to women. Near Gorgora, at the northern end of the lake, the Susneyos palace is a forerunner of the magnificent palaces and castles of Gonder, and dates from the reign of Emperor Susneyos.
In the same area the medieval church of Debre Sina Mariam is particularly important. A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in Bahir Dar. Along the lakeshore bird life, both local and migratory visitors, make this an ideal place for birdwatchers. Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasilidasis land, which is especially famous as an important wetland. The whole of the lakeTana region and the Blue Nile Gorge have a wide variety of birds both endemic and visitors. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to rain forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.