Just a half hour flight from the capital Addis Ababa you will find the fast growing city of Hawassa (Āwasa). One of the best known tourist hotspots in southern Ethiopia. If you like nature and animals, this city is the ideal place to visit. It may be a city, but nature is not lacking. The city is right at the Hawassa lake and in the middle of the city you will find Tabor Mountain. This entire city actually feels a bit like a zoo. You will find hundreds of birds, hippos and many different types of monkeys. In the evenings you have to be careful, because hyenas also feel at home here.
This is the place where you are guaranteed to spot wild hippos. The lake is not extremely large and a good place for the hippos. There is also the well-known hippo “corner”. This is the place where hippos graze during the day and every boat trip will take you there. The costs for a boat trip are around € 20. This is for the boat and you can share this price with everyone on board. The trip takes approximately 1.5 hours. You can not only enjoy the hippos but also the nature.
You could actually say that the city was built around this mountain. From the city you can easily walk up the mountain independently. Prepare for some locals (children) who will follow you all the way but will not bother you. We shared our bananas and they were very happy with that. It’s a nice hike up that is easy to do for everyone. You can reach the top in 30 minutes. On the top of Tabor Mountain, you will find a church. From above you have a great view of both the city and the lake.
Cycling in Hawassa
Like Bahir Dar, Hawassa is also flat and therefore good for cycling. There is a route of around 2.5 hours that takes you around the lake. You can also choose to explore the city by bicycle yourself. Generally, it is easy to do, but watch out for taxis and tuk-tuks. You can rent bicycles at the various tourist hotels and cost around €2 per part of the day.
The fish market
A really typical fish market in Ethiopia. The entrance fee is 20 Birr per person. Here you can see how they catch the fish in the lake from the shore. How they clean the caught fish and you can eat freshly caught fish at different local tents. Skip the fish soup, which they offer everywhere, but this is literally the whole fish that is processed in it.
Spotting wild animals in the park in Hawassa
At the edge of the city, right on the lake is a park that you can visit for 10 Birr. It actually feels like you’re in a zoo. The park is full of giant birds, cows, sheep, goats and lots of different monkeys. You can have fun for a while. The monkeys are not yet used to tourists so they will not steal your things. This is also the place to start your boat trip and it is right next to the entrance of the fish market. Close to the boats some locals have trained some monkeys to sit on your shoulder and eat cookies. Which you can take a picture with.
Several lodges and hotels have been built around the lake that are really beautiful. They all have an extensive garden where you can sit on the water. Most of these places also have a swimming pool that you can use for a small price. At the lodges the monkeys are used to stealing your stuff (soft drinks and sugar), so be careful. It can be quite busy on weekends because all locals come to relax here.
Visit a church
Ethiopia is a very religious country. You can find several churches in every city or town you visit. This is no different in Hawassa. Here they have a church that is definitely worth a visit. The opening times are always different, so just drop by. You will find this church next to the big roundabout in the city center.
Where to sleep in Hawassa
I stayed at a couple’s home through Airbnb. They have built an extra house in the back garden with its own shower and toilet. The man is an Italian and the woman an Ethiopian. I was allowed to eat for free every evening and we were picked up from the bus station. This is the only offer in Hawassa on the Airbnb site so you can easily find it.
There are also various hotels and lodges. Certainly, the lodges charge a fairly high price. High Life is recommended. This hotel is fairly new, located right on the lake and within walking distance of the park and the fish market. They also have an outside terrace here and you can eat well and cheaply there. A hiking trail along the lake starts from here. The costs for this hotel start at 300 Birr per room per night.
The most famous hotel is Haile resort. This hotel is mega large, luxurious and from the back you have a view of the lake and you can spot the hippos with ease. They have a swimming pool, tennis courts and a fitness that you can use as a guest. Very luxurious for Ethiopia and the room rate starts around 1000 birr per night.
How to get to Hawassa?
As mentioned before, you can choose for a flight with Ethiopian airlines. These fly twice a day to Hawassa. The costs for this are quite high. You will pay around €75 for your one-way ticket. You can also opt for a bus. These depart several times a day from the Meskel square in Addis. You can buy a ticket at various ticket offices around Meskel square. The costs are €5 per person. I can definitely recommend this. The buses are luxurious, you get a lunch package and a bottle of water. The trip lasts approximately 6 hours and you drive past the most beautiful landscapes.
Be sure to also visit Yergalem, a small town surrounded by stunning nature about 40 kilometers from Hawassa. Read more in my article about Yergalem