There are several land routes to Lalibela, but unless you have your own vehicle, none is entirely straightforward. Furthermore, no public transport connects Lalibela to the other main stops along the northern historic circuit (Bahir Dar, Gondar, Aksum and Mekele), and there is also a paucity of direct transport from Addis Ababa. As a result, unless you opt to fly, your choice of route to Lalibela and back will be an important consideration in the overall structure of your Ethiopian itinerary.
The main springboard for Lalibela is Gashena, a strategic small town 65km to the south along a fair dirt road scheduled to be fully asphalted by 2016. Gashena lies at the junction with the “China Road”, a recently asphalted strip that connects Werota (185km to the west) and Weldiya (110km to the east).
Coming via the China Road from the east, a few direct buses connect Weldiya and Lalibela daily, but you may still need to change vehicles at Gashena. Coming from Bahir Dar or Gondar, you need to catch a bus along the China Road towards Weldiya, then hop off at Gashena to change vehicles. Be warned that however you get to Gashena, transport to Lalibela tends to peter out after 3pm, which may enforce late arrivals to overnight at one of the uniformly dismal local hotels around the junction.
Approaching from Addis Ababa, the direct minibuses that once ran to Lalibela (a 24hr ride) ceased operating in 2014 due to government restrictions. Should the service resume, it invariably entails an overnight stop, often in the middle of nowhere, so it makes greater sense to take a bus as far as Dessie or Weldiya, overnight there, then head onwards to Lalibela the next day.
Coming from Tigrai, most people follow the main road south from Mekele to Weldiya, then continue to Lalibela via Gashena. An underutilized alternative is a partially paved back route connecting Adwa (22km from Aksum) to Lalibela via Abi Aday, Sekota and Bilbilla.