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Lake Tana: The African Wonder with 37 Floating Islands

Lake Tana is the largest Lake of the African nation of Ethiopia and is the source of the longest river in the world – Nile. A boat ride across Lake Tana is something that travelers should most certainly pursue. The various islands on the lake plus the monasteries on its shores are worth seeing.

A lot of travelers feel that Blue Nile Falls are the only attraction of Lake Tana.  But that is incorrect. There are 37 dotted islands on the surface of Ethiopia’s largest water body and the number varies depending on the level of the lake. Out of 37 islands, 20 of these islands have churches and monasteries carrying the historical and cultural aspects of Ethiopia. Travelers can get glimpses of many paintings decorated in the churches during their visit.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE SMOKY BLUE NILE FALLS IN ETHIOPIA

Lake Tana and its Floating Islands: An Overview

Location Amhara
Country Ethiopia
Accessibility Throughout the year
Best time to visit October
Day temperature 17 degree to 26 degree Celsius
Mode of Transportation  Boat ride
Availability of Accommodation  Hotels in Bahir Dar
Boating fee  2500 Bir
Total cost of the Trip  2500 to 3000 Bir
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Lake Tana is the largest Lake of the African nation of Ethiopia and is the source of the river Nle. Photography by Betty Alex

How to Reach the Islands on Lake Tana ?

Travelers can visit the islands on Lake Tana and peninsulas by hiring a boat from either of the following –

Port of Bahir Dar This is the southern shore of Lake Tana
Port of Gorgora This is the northern shore of Lake Tana

 You need a half day to travel and to stroll past the islands. On your our ride you will be able to catch glimpses of fishermen catching fishes, Hippos bathing in water and eagles flying high above the lake.

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A fisherman rowing his boat near the shores of Lake Tana. Photography by Martin Mihaylov

Interesting Places Around Lake Tana

There are many historic churches and monasteries found on the islands of Lake Tana. These monasteries have remained hidden for centuries, protecting their resources. The visitors can find the hidden treasures of these beautiful islands by having a short boat trip from Bahir Dar.


Major Islands on Lake Tana (Also Famous for Coffee)

Birgida Maryam
Debre
Dek
Tana Cherkos
Narga
Mitsele Fasilidas
Kebran
Dega
Estefanos

In addition to the islands, the peninsulas of Gorgora, Mandaba, and Zeghe are also famous for their coffee. The island churches, monasteries and a boat cruise on Lake Tana are some interesting aspects of travel in this region.

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A coffee plant outside one of the monasteries. Photography by Geerth Jan

Are the Islands of Lake Tana Prohibited for Women ?

Most of the islands are prohibited for women. Though they are allowed to land on the banks of the islands but are not allowed to continue further. However, women travelers can visit churches on the Zeghe peninsula, church of Ura Kidane Mehret, and Narga Selassie. 

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Gate of a monastery that prohibits women. This tradition comes across as regressive in this age. Photography by Raquel S Arman

Monastic Churches on the Islands of Lake Tana

The scattered islands and peninsulas of Lake Tana collectively house more than twenty monastic churches. These serve as the custodians of both religious and royal treasures such as crowns of royality, ancient bible scripts, historical art, relics, etc.

The most important monastic churches in the region are –

Debre Maryam One of the newest monastery. Ancient manuscripts can be accessed here.
Kebran Gabriel One of the grandest monasteries. It has now been shut down for visitors.
Daga Estefanos It is built on a hill and the only way to reach here is by a short trek.
Tana Cherkos A small island monastery whose shores are covered with a forest strip that is the habitat  to majestic fish eagles.
Narga Selassi One of the most beautiful of all monasteries of the region.
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A priest with his cross at the Kebran Gabriel monastery. Photography by Magnus Gommers

 

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Beautiful murals at Narga Selassi monastery. Photography by Marisa Ho

 

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A massive 15th century illuminated manuscript written on goatskin at Kibran Gabriel monastery

Zege Peninsula

Located on the southern side of Lake Tana, the Zege Peninsula is home to some ancient but ravishing monasteries. Also, the region has a thick lush forest. Most of the travelers take a day trip here but if you want, do stay overnight. There are a few lodges in Afaf village at the west end of the Zege peninsula.

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Frescoes on the walls of Ura Kidane Mehret on Zege Peninsula. Photography by Hejmick

Monasteries on Zege Peninsula

Bete Maryam Oldest monastery on the peninsula comprising attractive murals.
Ura Kidane Mehret The Zege Satekela Museum is located inside this monastery.
Azuwa Maryam Different but attractive roof top of this monastery makes it interesting to visitors.
Bete Selassie & Tekla Haimanot These are 2 monasteries with beautiful frescoes inside painted by the same artist.

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Ura Kidane Mehret from outside. Photography by Emad Aljumah

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Ura Kidane Mehret from inside. Photography by Monste Pujadas

 

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Native artists of the region make sure to use paint from flowers inside monasteries. Photography by Federica Tarquini

Wildlife in and Around Lake Tana & Zege Peninsula

Lake Tana mostly known for its monasteries and islands also offers some divers wildlife. Your boat ride will make sure that you have a glimpse of various animals and birds. Hippopotamuses are one of the most attractive species of the region.

On moving a little further inside the forest on the islands, you will be able to see black and white Coloured monkeys. The long Nile Monitors are also inhabitants of these forests. Other animals easily observable in the region are hyenas, prickly Crested Porcupine and Duikers.

The Zege Peninsula which carries the major remaining tract of natural forest on Lake Tana harbors monkeys and different wild birds. Majority of the monastic islands remain extremely undisturbed in ecological terms.

The rarely spotted African Rock Python which is Africa’s largest snake is also native to the forests of Lake Tana. It lives in swampy areas along the shores of Lake Tana and can grow up to seven metres in length.
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A hippopotamus spotted on Lake Tana. Photography by Dake Weng

 

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The Great White Pelican at Lake Tana. Photography by Annamaria

 

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Prickly Crested Porcupine. Photography by Paul Rushworth

 

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African Rock Python. Photography by Kiah Hall

Accommodation Options Near Lake Tana

Usually, travelers stay in the hotels in Bahir Dar city – the edge of Lake Tana. Bahir Dar is a beautiful and clean city. Here you can find many affordable hotels. These are located right on the banks of Lake Tana.

The lake side hotels have beautiful sightseeing and the travelers can enjoy fantastic lake views, good ambience and pleasant weather. Most of the lake side hotels have their own boats and they offer good package of boat services to visit the islands in lake Tana.

The hotels having boat service are Blue Nile Resorts, Grand Resorts and Spa, Kuriftu Hotel and Spa. You can stay in affordable hotels like Jacaranda Hotel, Addis Amba Hotel, Ranile hotel, Tana Hotel.  

You need to negotiate to hire a boat and a good English speaking guide.  Travelers can be benefited by hiring a boat in groups. Generally, the boat costs up to 3000 Birr for 2 hours.

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Kuriftu Hotel and Spa. Picture credits: Kuriftu Hotel and Spa

 

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A view of Lake Tana from a room at Kuriftu Hotel and Spa. Photography by Mauro Demony

 

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Fresh watermelon and its juice for breakfast at Photography by Steven Roelofsen

Important Things to Carry on your Trip to Lake Tana

 Take woolen clothes and also an extra pair of clothing. Besides these you should take drinking water and some snacks with you. The trip is generally of half day but you will need these things.

Lake Tana is a place where ancient culture meets the modern era. Abrupt in secrecy and legend, the old churches of Lake Tana appear as quiet retreats for their monastic inhabitants and visiting travelers alike. Plan a trip to this African paradise soon and experience the antiquity.

Happy wayfaring 🙂

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pragna Mohapatra is a freelance writer based in Bhubaneswar. She is a post graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication from Utkal University and MBA(HR) from IGNOU. Her articles have been published in several websites like www.womennow.inAyushveda.com , www.vaidyaa.com and many more. She also works as a freelance HR personnel. Pragna especially loves talking to people, locals and travelers alike and wants to learn more about them. She writes different types of articles related to travel, health, beauty and technical articles also. She wants to encourage other travelers to experience different cultures, cuisines and meet new people to find everyone with a unique story.

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