Dream what others do not. Imagine what others have not. Do what others will not. Achieve what others could not.
– Matshona Dhliwayo
Lalibela churches in Ethiopia are truly one of the most exquisite places I’ve ever visited in my life – honestly like a dream. If you have never heard of these churches before; continue reading because I will provide you with some remarkable information about this incredible place!
Lalibela is a small town in the northern part of Ethiopia and it is especially known for the churches carved inside huge rocks. The history of the churches reaches back to the 12th century and it was named after King Lalibela who was the Emperor of that time in the region. King Lalibela is considered to be a remarkable man, a saint even, and he was the one to create these rock churches. The legend goes that King Lalibela was poisoned and he went asleep for three days. During that time, he saw a divine vision of holy churches and the layouts. After he woke up, he started the process to create these churches. He wanted to build a Holy Land, a New Jerusalem, for the people who couldn’t do a pilgrimage there. Also, he wanted to create a sacred city as powerful as Axum and it’s Ark of the Covenant. Altogether, there are 11 churches in Lalibela, all reachable on foot. To date, this place has stayed holy and is one of the most important places in Ethiopia for Christians, and even in the whole world.
A little bit of history is always good – especially when it comes to a place like this. But now, I’m going to tell you the nice-to-know tips about the churches.
How to get here:
The fastest (and the best) way to get to Lalibela is to fly with Ethiopian airlines. We did a package tour through a local family friend including accommodation, flights, and the tour – and it was super, to be honest. We actually left the trip planning quite the last notice since we weren’t sure if we would have the time to go at all. Of which I’m so glad we did! We considered and compared other options too but this was the most affordable and well organized of them all. The tour organizer was incredible – she did an amazing job booking everything for us so that we didn’t need to think of a single thing after arriving Lalibela. And after arriving at the airport, there was a driver waiting to take us to the city of Lalibela and the Tabor Hotel (which had an incredible view by the way!) The drive took about 40 minutes. If you want to know more and make your journey easier just contact me and I’ll give you the details on where to contact! (This is just a friendly return-of-favor, not affiliate related, by the way 😍)
- wear comfortable shoes; there are a lot of rocky steps. Also, the red color from the rocks will color the shoes a bit
- enter all the churches without shoes, you can leave them outside the entrance
- be respectful towards local monks since many of them live in there
- do take photos but without the flash
- chewing gum is not allowed to chew inside (I did this mistake, oops… but at least now for next time!)
- wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Also covering hair with a scarf is a good manner for women when going inside the churches. All the local men do this too by the way. (Also, the locals might provide you with some wisdom, advice and cultural knowledge regarding the churches if you get lucky!)
- I do recommend going with a local guide – you will get much more out of the visit and the history. In addition, they know the best times to visit
- some places are not allowed to be entered at all or are only allowed for local priests so that’s why a guide is also a good idea
Where to eat:
There are only a few restaurants in Lalibela but the ones we went to were absolutely great. We had lunch in a place called Kana Restaurant, just walking distance away from the hotel. We had an amazing dinner at the Ben Abeba restaurant, and I have to say that this place was just breathtaking – I highly recommend coming here to admire what Ethiopian nature is at its best.
The churches are so extraordinary that they cannot be restored even with modern technology. This is the reason why local people believe that the churches were built with the help of angels by night. I think this makes the site even more divine and empowers the sacred force of spirituality. I mean, imagine, all of it is done by hand with small tools. When you see it with your own eyes – it just takes your breath away. It made me think that there are a hidden plan and a force combining the universe – the force that King Lalibela was connected to.
If you want to know more about Ethiopia and places to see, get inspired and read my previous blog post about Addis Abeba here!