I already did the Bahir Dar to Addis trip by plane last year. This year, I favored the bus for two reasons; the airfare was now at $200 one-way (last year it was just around $50) and I really wanted to see some of the pretty Ethiopian Highlands up close.
Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar is just about 370 miles and there are a number of bus companies competing for business. There is a mall next to the Addis Ababa Stadium (a city landmark) that features sales offices for almost all the companies except Selam.
I had already tried to call and had tried to book tickets online and my hotel had ‘made some efforts’ but I never got the impression that you can get tickets unless you show up in person. The stadium is just one block away from Addis’ unofficial city center of Meskel Square (though it really does not look like it is).
About half a dozen bus companies had the trip on offer for the following day and none seem to be sold out. Prices seemed to be the same, at ETB 350 for the one-way and the departure time was generally set at 5AM. Nobody had an answer when I asked if one company was better than the others.
A few people recommended Selam simply because it is the biggest operator of bus travel in Ethiopia. Their office is right next to the tourist information office at Meskel Square.
All I needed was my passport and a few minutes later my 350 ETB ticket was in my hands.
The early morning departure is not just bad for your sleeping habits but Addis has a huge taxi drama and the local minibuses barely run before sunrise (life in Ethiopia is from sunrise to sunset). I had pre-ordered a taxi which – of course – did not show up. Luckily enough, though, I found a taxi driver for the same price by hailing one in the street.
The bus exterior seemed in decent shape. The bus was Chinese-made and newish but the interior looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a decade and it smelled bad! Initially, the seat next to me was empty but just before departure (which was at 5.30AM) I got a raucous seat neighbor who would move violently for the next 10 hours.
I counted on sleeping on the bus but realized this was nearly impossible, as a) it was hard to find a comfortable position and b) the roads were a constant turning and twisting of hairpin curves and c) the sun came up at 6AM.
If you get motion sickness easily, DO NOT take this bus; for about 6 hours, the bus ride is like Crazy Serpentine up and down huge hills. It’s also stunningly pretty though and there’s some amazing scenery.
We had our first bathroom stop after 3 hours but there weren’t any bathrooms; we were free to do our business in the little brushland strip in front of us.
For the next two hours, we crossed the Ethiopian version of the Grand Canyon – a massive 6,000-foot sheer drop that we would go down and straight up. The road was paved but it was far from even and the bus shook like a smoothie maker.
Our bus felt more like a Toyota Hilux that was going through some punishing territory than a bus. I thought these two hours were a REAL ADVENTURE and the scenery was so stunning that it easily made up for spending ten hours on a smelly bus.
I felt that our driver was very professional and kept the perfect balance between fast and safe almost all the time. It’s a one-lane road (that’s not overly narrow) and there is plenty of oncoming traffic and slow lorries to overtake.
After this adventure, we stopped for lunch (Ethiopian food only, so I’m glad I like it) and for the remaining 4 hours, we sped along a rather new (sometimes perfectly new) road along the flat part toward Bahir Dar. Our driver then only had to deal with two trucks (there were literally no cars), donkeys and pedestrians.
The last three hours felt rather long and the scenery wasn’t changing as much anymore. With a bit of a delay, we arrived in Bahir Dar, right next to the local stadium (a big landmark again).