Ethiopia’s most visited tourist destination, we expected Lalibela to be a pretty developed place. Wrong again! We were taken aback by the squalor and slum like dwellings that line the road up to the “city center”. Only the two mile road that connects the hotels down the hill up to the “town center” is paved with large cobble stones. Everywhere else, only muddy trails! Between the wooden shacks, you find a few stalls selling textiles and men sewing raggedy clothes on ancient Singer machines. Children enjoy chasing each other around the ditches running along the road.
Lalibela’s center fits on a small plateau: some small businesses, a bank, an Ethiopian airline office and the absolute highlight, the popular Seven Olive Restaurant.
Despite the rain, we hiked up there on our last evening – without a reservation! When you least expect it, it happens. A friendly British couple allowed our small group to squeeze onto their table. What a pleasant evening it became! The scenic view from the hill, the tasteful interior decoration, the excellent food and service and most important, amusing, widely-travelled company. The British recounted their trips to then exotic Thailand in the 1960s. An Israeli remembered his first trip to Ethiopia in the mid – 1990s, when tourism was widely unknown. Story after story, till the place closed down…
The wide range of hotels in Lalibela is impressive, from rock bottom to the top-notch Roha Hotel. A room for a hefty 125 USD leaves nothing left to be desired, except that this was not our price range. After two nights in the austere older rooms of the Hotel Lal, we tried the newer ones. Lighter, but colder and even there bathroom doors did not close, electric plugs hung loose and closets came without boards to put your clothes. Maintenance does not rank high, whereas expanding is. A huge restaurant is under construction, as well as a spa with sauna and swimming pool waiting for tour groups large and small from every corner of the world.