Arba Minch, which means “Forty Springs” is a cool college town on your way to Omo Valley. It’s to the west of two lakes, and comprised two sections – a northern and southern town, known as Sikela and Shecha, respectively. It’s worth taking a break and spending at least a day or two in this small city. Whether you want to visit a village, or hang out by the lake, or hit ups some night clubs, use this is a guide to Arba Minch Travel.
Dorze village is a great example of community based tourism. This tribe builds houses from tree leaves in the shape of an elephant head. You have the opportunity to spin cotton, watch “Dorze Pizza” being made from false banana plant, and see the men weaving. The entrance fee is 300 ETB ($12) per person but this includes dining on the false banana bread with honey and hot sauce and doing as many “schnapps” hard liquor shots as you want. You can get your photo taken in a real cheetah skin and enjoy singing and dancing.
If you like what you see, there are guesthouses – miniature versions of the elephant huts, or stay at the Dorze Lodge (book here). The village can be reached by public transportation but it’s easier to go by private transport. The village is at the top of a mountain northwest of Arba Minch.
Word of warning: I couldn’t stop itching after visiting the Dorze Village. When I got back to Arba Minch I discovered a terrible rash – hives – all over my body. It had to be from something I ingested – most likely the false banana. It took 3 days for the hives to totally disappear.
Nechisar National Park
Nechisar National Park takes up all much of the land east of Arba Minch and between the two lakes. It’s possible to do a safari to see larger animals such as zebra, kudu, and Swayne’s Hartebeest. Tours deep into the park require a guide and a 4×4 vehicle. It’s also possible to visit and soak in the springs but the road was too muddy when I visited.
Of the two lakes near Arba Minch, Lake Chamo is the blue and clean lake. Here you can take a 2-hour boat tour to the “Crocodile Market” which is home to Nile Crocodiles as long as 6 meters! This spot is also home to hippos, fish eagles, and pelicans. We rode in a power boat and tried to sneak up on some crocs – only to see our boat captain poke a huge croc with an oar and see a big splash! It’s amazing to see how the local fishermen paddle in tiny wooden floats amongst the crocs! You can buy super fresh fish from the fishermen and have it served as sushi when you get back to the dock.
Lake Abaya is the brown and dirty lake. The reddish-brown color is due to sediment. This lake isn’t known for tourism but there is a great marshy park next to the lake that’s a great place to hang-out. Sunday afternoon is a popular time to visit and you can chew khat (stimulant drug, in the form of leaves) and have a few drinks. Sunday is also a popular time for weddings. We were lucky to catch a Muslim wedding party before it started to rain. I witnessed the most colorful birds in Ethiopia at this park and had fun catching frogs that may or may not be poisonous.
There are some great night clubs in the Sikela part of town. My favorite was a cool cultural house just around the corner from the Kairo hotel. A more modern club that plays Ethiopian and international hits is Club One Night near the bus station.
Where I Stayed
For a budget stay, you can stay at Turuye Hotel, a new hotel just 2 blocks west of the Selam bus stop on the main road. This place has private hot showers and a good restaurant. 250 ETB ($10)
If you’d like to go upscale, you can’t beat the view at Paradise Lodge. We made a trip up there for drinks and wifi at the nicest hotel in town. They also run jeep tours to the national park. Support this blog by reserving Paradise Lodge at booking.com.