The Blue Nile Falls is a waterfall on the Blue Nile river in Ethiopia. It is known as Tis Abay in Amharic, meaning “great smoke”. It is situated on the upper course of the river, about 30 km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The falls are one of Ethiopia’s best-known tourist attractions. Known locally as Tis- Isat Falls – ‘Smoke of Fire’ – the Blue Nile Falls is the most dramatic spectacle on either the White or the Blue Nile rivers. 400 meters (1,312 feet) wide when in flood, and dropping over a sheer chasm more than 45 meters (150 feet) deep, the falls throw up a continuous spray of water, which drenches on lookers up to a kilometer away. This misty deluge produces rainbows, shimmering across the gorge, and a small perennial rainforest of lush green vegetation, to the delight of the many monkeys and multicolored birds that inhabit the area.
The falls are estimated to be between 37 and 45 meters high, consisting of four streams that originally varied from a trickle in the dry season to over 400 meters wide in the rainy season. Regulation of Lake Tana now reduces the variation somewhat, and since 2003 a hydro-electric station has taken much of the flow out of the falls except during the rainy season. The Blue Nile Falls isolate the ecology of Lake Tana from the ecology of the rest of the Nile, and this isolation has played a role in the evolution of the endemic fauna of the lake.
A short distance downstream from the falls sits the first stone bridge constructed in Ethiopia, built at the command of Emperor Susenyos in 1626. According to Manuel de Almeida, stone for making lime had been found nearby along the tributary Alata, and a craftsman who had come from India with Afonso Mendes, the Orthodox Patriarch of Ethiopia, supervised the construction.
What to Expect
The Blue Nile looks like a sluggish beast as it meanders out of Lake Tana, but not far out of Bahir Dar you’ll see the Nile in a very different mood. The river pours over the side of a sheer 42m-high chasm and explodes into a melange of mists and rainbows (best at 10 am) before continuing on its tumultuous path to Khartoum, where it finally gets to kiss the White Nile.
The catch to this impressive scene is that hydroelectric projects upstream have stolen most of the energy from Tis Abay, the ‘Nile that Smokes’. Though far smaller than its natural 400m-wide flow, the three-pronged waterfall is still jaw-droppingly huge in August and September. From around January or February until March it’s now known as ‘Blue Nile Shower’ and it’s not really worth a visit. The in-between time is still beautiful enough that most people enjoy the trip (though note that one of the hydro plants only operates on standby and if it’s turned on during this time the waterfall gets turned off). You may want to ask fellow travelers who’ve recently been to the falls about the flow, as tourist-industry operators won’t always give you a straight answer.
The ticket office is at the very end of the road through the town of Tis Abay. The road to the falls starts 50m west of here and it’s 1.5km to the start of a rocky footpath that leads down to a 17th-century Portuguese bridge (which was the first bridge to span the Blue Nile) along the so-called eastern route. From here the trail climbs up through a small village and a gauntlet of children selling souvenirs to reach the main viewpoints. Some people backtrack from here, but the better option is to take the suspension bridge over the narrow Alta River and walk down to the base of the falls. In the dry season you can swim at the bottom and walk behind the watery curtain. You can complete a circuit by using a path above the falls and crossing the river by motorboat. The boat service usually operates 7am to 6pm, but when the river runs too fast the boats can’t cross. Look for crocs during dry-season mornings. The entire walk is about 5km and takes about 2½ hours with lots of gawping time. As it’s not very steep, less energetic or mobile people may want to approach and return from the falls along this western route.
The falls are located 28km southeast of Bahir Dar down a bad dirt road; the first 10km were being sealed at the time of writing. Buses from Bahir Dar leave about hourly for Tis Abay village (Birr15, one hour). The last bus back usually leaves about 4.30pm, but to be safe, plan to return around 3.30pm. You don’t need to pay anyone to hold a seat for you. If you miss the bus, hitching back isn’t tough, though it will probably be expensive.
The journey to the Blue Nile Falls is certainly a little adventure! First, you will have to get yourself to Bahir Dar. There are buses that run direct from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar every morning which are comfortable and will get you there in about 10 hours – locals will say the journey is 6 hours, but it’s definitely not less than 10! There is also a flight from Addis to Bahir Dar 5x per day that takes 1 hour (read our blog post to learn how to get 50% off domestic flights with Ethiopian Airlines).
To reach the falls, which is about 35 kilometers (22 miles) away from Bahir Dar, drive south from Bahir Dar for about half an hour, and stop at Tis-Isat village. Here travelers will quickly find themselves surrounded by a retinue of sometimes overzealous youthful guides who, for a small fee, will show the way and point out several places of historic interest in route.
The Blue Nile Falls is a waterfall located in the northwest of Ethiopia near the city of Bahir Dar. Known in Amharic as Tis Abay (the Great Smoke), it is one of the country’s top natural attractions and the most dramatic event on the Blue Nile’s journey from its source at nearby Lake Tana to its confluence with the White Nile in Khartoum, Sudan. Historically the falls could reach up to 1,300 feet (400 meters) in width but today, hydroelectric projects further upstream have curtailed much of its natural energy.
After leaving the village the footpath meanders first beside open and fertile fields, then drops into a deep rift that is spanned by an ancient, fortified bridge built in the seventeenth century by Portuguese adventurers and still in use. After a thirty-minute walk, a stiff climb up a grassy hillside is rewarded magnificent view of the falls, breaking the smooth edge of the rolling thundering cataract of foaming water.
Fill out the form below to tell us what you're looking for
Register now! We will send you best offers for your trip.