Gondar (also spelled Gonder) is a royal and ancient historical city of Ethiopia. It was the home of many emperors and princesses who led the country from the 12th century to the last decade of the 20th century, including Emperor Suseneos, Emperor Fasiledes, Empress Mentwab, Iyasu I, Tewodros II and Empress Taitu.
There is a mid-sized airport in Gondar. Ethiopian Airlines has daily flights from Addis – usually leaving Addis around 7am. Flights are also available to/from Axum, Lalibela, and Bahir Dar. Ethiopian Airlines flights are frequently cancelled or rescheduled at short notice, so allow plenty of time if travelling for an international connection.
- There is a bus service to/from Addis Ababa, a trip that takes two days. Minibuses are available that make the trip in one day. These are more expensive and are usually booked through your hotel.
- Several buses a day run to/from Bahir Dar. Minibuses also run on this route.
- To get to Axum, take the dawn bus to Shire and change there. You can usually get through in a day. To get from Axum, you must take an afternoon bus to Shire, spend the night there, and take the dawn bus to Gondar. The road between Gondar and Shire is one of the most spectacular in Ethiopia.
- It also takes two days to get to/from Lalibela by bus. Coming from Lalibela, you take one of the dawn buses to Gashena and change there to the Bahir Dar bus going west. You can either get off the bus at Nefas Mewcha and take the dawn bus to Gondar the next day, or you can ride it all the way to Bahir Dar and head north to Gondar the next morning. To travel to Lalibela, the bus to Gashena from Gondar usually stops for the night in Nefas Mewcha. There are two afternoon buses from Gashena to Lalibela.
- There are two buses a day to/from Debark for people heading to the Simien Mountains. These leave somewhere around 6am and 9am in both directions.
- The blue and white minibuses run through the city efficiently. There are also some horse drawn taxis called garis. Both are inexpensive.
- You also can contract a small blue colored taxi for a day or several days during your visit.
- Gondar Castle or Fasil Ghebbi, dubbed the Ethiopian Camelot, is not a single castle, but a complex of castles and palaces. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Once you pay 50 Birr, which includes a guide, you can explore all of the buildings that make up the castle.
- Fasilides Castle. Built in 1640 as the home of King Fasilides.
- Iyasu Palace. This was the home of Iyasu I, the son of Yohannes I. An earthquake and bombings by the British destroyed its once ornate and lavish interior, but the structure itself remains mostly intact and is the largest in the area.
- Mentwabs Palace (Kusquwam).
- Fasilides Bath. Separate from the castle, it once served as the bath for King Fasilides. Today it is used as a baptismal during Timket.
- Debre Birhan Selassie Church. A short way out of town, it seems more like a fortress than a church at first glance. This is because the local churches were once vulnerable to attacks by the Sudanese. There are twelve towers guarding this church, each representing one of the twelve apostles. The church itself was built at the end of the 17th century. It is worth a visit to see its amazing ceiling with intricately painted angels. There are also other religious images on the walls. Churches like this were once quite common in the area, but this is the only one to survive the Sudanese attacks, making it even more of a treasure. 25 Birr but a student reduction is possible.
Gorgora is a beautiful small town on the northern shore of Lake Tana about 70 km from Gondar. It has some interesting relics from its brief time as Ethiopia's capital, and the lack of tourists adds to their charm. It is also good for birdwatching. There is an early morning bus from Gondar (20 Birr) and occasional minibuses.
- Church of Debre Sina. The inside of this 17th century thatched-roof church is breathtaking, with every wall adorned with biblical paintings.
- Monasteries. There are a number of monasteries on the northern part of Lake Tana. Boat hire is best arranged by visiting the Gorgora Port Hotel.
- Timkat festival: 19 January 2014, - Christian celebration with re-enactments of Baptism and dancing. (date needs updating)
Dashen Bank has two locations with ATMs that accept Visa cards, one of them at the university.
Injera is the common and indigenous food in Gondar. Bread and other foreign foods can be found in hotels and restaurants.
- Roman Hotel, not too expensive and excellent value, try their tibbs wate. They serve meat even during Lent.
- Four Sisters, behind the public library (200m from the exit of Fasil's Castle). 7am-11pm. A beautiful restaurant with great service and amazing tej. If you want atmosphere along with great food (faranji and Ethiopian) this is the place to go. Has Ethiopian music and dancing at night.
- Master Chef Restaurant, a new restaurant with extremely good food, both Ethiopian and Italian dishes. Same price level as Four Sisters. Good service and friendly people. Same road as Four Sisters, but closer to the enclosure, opposite Belegez Pension.
The pure Tej (without sugar - only from honey), Tela (Korefe, Tiru) are the local famous drinks. They are also common throughout Ethiopia, particularly in the Amhara region, although there is some sugar. Factory beers of all kinds are found. It is very common to get Dashen Beer, as Dashen Brewery is in Gondar.
A number of options are available. Prices start at 20 Birr for very basic rooms.
- Meat house is a bar, brothel, butcher, restaurant and hotel with a charming atmosphere for only 20 Birr a night.
- Roman Hotel, from Birr 60 (single self-contained), no water, excellent food, meat during Lent
- Circle Hotel, birr 92, right in the centre of the town, check your room carefully for working bathroom fixtures and cleanliness before agreeing to take it.
- Gorgora Port Hotel. Has a relaxed sleepy feel about it. The three bedroom cottages right by the lakeside are highly recommended (300Birr). There are also rooms in the main building s/d 150-190 Birr. +251 584670003
- L-Shape Hotel Reasonable hotel with average but overpriced restaurant serving mostly Western food. 280 birr for a double room with electrical hot shower (September 2013). Free wifi, but very unstable (even for Ethiopian standards).
- Taye Hotel. New hotel in the city center, just around the corner from the Palace. Still with kinks to work out, but the most upscale option available in Gondar.
- Goha Hotel. Former Ghion (government) hotel, so it's old. Has excellent views, as it's located on a hill overlooking the city.
Many travellers go to Gondar to visit the Simien Mountains, about a 3 hour bus ride north of the city. Treks in the mountains can be arranged in Gondar, and you will be approached by many touts offering a wide variety of treks. The advantage of using their services is they may be able to put you in a group of other travellers, which will cut costs, and they can arrange for private transportation to and from the park. Tell the touts immediately upon arrival in the city that you are looking for a group and they will try to find other tourists. The disadvantage of booking with a tout instead of an agency is that they may put you on a ride to Debark instead of Sankebar (an hour further into the mountains). Make sure you double check with the driver before getting in the car. They can also arrange to drive you to a campsite and pick you up from another, which is useful if you are short of time.
It is also straightforward to arrange everything yourself, and definitely cheaper if you aren't splitting the costs with anyone. Debark is the staging point for all treks in the Simien Mountains and can be reached by bus from Gondar. On arrival in Debark, go to the park office in the south end of town (which you will pass on your way in). They will arrange for permits and the mandatory scout, and can find an official guide, cook, mules, and a muleman if desired. They also have gear for rent, although it is low quality stuff.
Unfortunately, a lot of people will hassle you in Debark. If you are planning to hire a guide, make that one of your first tasks when you arrive since your guide will get rid of unwanted people following you around and can help you sort out any last minute details or concerns. Do not hire an unofficial guide off the street -- travellers frequently complain about their experience with unofficial guides!
There is food suitable for trekking available in Debark, but it is cheaper to buy it in advance in Gondar where there is a much better selection. The scout, guide, and muleman will likely expect you to feed them, so bring along extra.
The best hotel in Debark is the Simien Park Hotel, south of the bus station. There are a few other decent places nearby if the Simien Park Hotel is full.
There is a road running from Debark into the park and several trucks run down it each day, but tourists are prohibited from using them. As a tourist, the only way into the park is to hire a 4WD or walk. Although shorter treks are possible, a 5-day trek from Debark to Sankabar Camp to Geech Camp to Chenek Camp and back to Debark via Sankabar (skipping Geech) is about as short as you can get without missing some of the main sights. You need 9 days to trek to Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia, and back without transport.
Well organised, if expensive, trips to the Simien Mountains can be arranged in Gondar through Seyoum at Explore Abbysinia Travel. His office is underneath the Circle Hotel, facing away from the main road. He can also organise very good value guided tours of Gondar, which is worth doing as a guide is effective at warding off unofficial guides and other hassles.
Daytrips to the Simien Mountains from Gondar can also be arranged, but you won't have time to do much other than step out of your 4WD for a few minutes to snap some pictures.