Some 25km southeast of Bahir Dar as the crow flies, the 400m-wide Blue Nile Falls – known locally as Tis Isat (“Smoking Water”) – are one of Ethiopia’s most compelling natural phenomena. Described by Scottish explorer James Bruce as “a magnificent sight, that ages, added to the greatest length of human life, would not efface or eradicate from my memory”, the falls consist of four separate streams that plunge up to 45m over a formation of solidified lava. Unfortunately, Ethiopia’s most famous waterfall has become a rather capricious phenomenon in recent years, thanks to the opening of a hydroelectric plant through which much of the river’s water is frequently diverted: at times the cascade is reduced to a mere trickle, though between late July and early October – the height of the rainy season – the falls remains reliably spectacular. Even when the water is low, however, the hike to the falls makes for a pleasant excursion, and can be particularly rewarding for birdwatchers.
Many people visit the waterfall as an organized day excursion from Bahir Dar, though it’s also very easy to visit independently, via the village of Tis Abay (“Smoke of the Nile”), which is connected to Bahir Dar by bus.