Hawassa can rightly be referred to as one of the up coming towns in Ethiopia. Situated 275 km southwest of Addis, it has of late become a very popular weekend destination for visitors from the capital and elsewhere.
Editor’s Note (8/4/2015): A lot has happened in Hawassa over the past 5 years to the point that it can legitimately claim to be on the way to becoming Ethiopia’s second city. There are a number of new hotels. restaurants and entertainment options but the quaint and laid back city still hasn’t lost its character. With the completion of the Expressway which currently runs from Addis to Modjo (and then Adama), the 3 hour trip to Hawassa is sure to become an even more popular weekend jaunt than it already was.
Hawassa can rightly be referred to as one of the up coming towns in Ethiopia. Situated 275 km southwest of Addis, just south of Lake Ziway and Langano and of course located by the lake from which its name is derived, it has of late become a very popular weekend destination for visitors from the capital and elsewhere.
Driving to Hawassa demands a significant amount of caution as the highway leading there is known to be the scene of more traffic accidents than any other major roadway in Ethiopia. This is primarily due to the large number of midsize Isuzu trucks transporting khat or other goods on the moderately busy route. The carnage caused by these trucks is so great that locals have taken to referring to them as Al Qaeda’s.
Hawassa is a town of about 125,000 and growing fast. The pace of construction here is clearly on the upswing if not quite at the level of Addis and visitors from just a few years ago will be pleasantly surprised at the 24 km worth of newly paved roads that have transformed many of the formerly red clay roads into pleasantly drivable thoroughfares. Several new hotels have sprung up with yet more in the works. Currently, Tadele’s Enjory Hotel can claim to be the top dog with modern amenities including free WiFi in its lobby.
Lewi Hotel (whose owner is currently planning another upscale model close by) and Pina round out the top tier of accommodation in the city while the previously government owned Wabi Shebelle on the lake is the most picturesque spot to stay at, situated right on the lake although it could definitely use a refresh (or a tear down and rebuild) quite soon.
Given its recent purchase by Midroc Ethiopia, precisely such a fate may be its near future. Looking ahead, Haile Gebreselassie’s massive convention center which is nearing completion, looks set to supplant all of the above in the quest for the best hotel in Hawassa, complete with fantastic views of Lake Hawassa from virtually any spot on the property.
Editor’s Note: Haile’s Resort has long since been completed as has Lewi #2 on the shores of the lake. In addition, South Star, Oasis as well as the Gezaheng & Elfenesh Hotels are all additional choices for visitors.
Invasion of the Bajajs
Getting around Hawassa is a piece of cake whether you’re driving yourself or choose to take one of hundreds if not thousands of the Indian made bajajs that in recent years, have become the predominant form of transport in the city. The ride can be adventurous but the payoff is being able to take in the sights and sounds of the city without having to worry about navigating through the dozens of other bajajs not to mention the large numbers of pedestrians milling about the city.
The other popular form of transport in the city are bicycles although their use (and to an even larger extent, that of horse drawn garees) has dropped off noticeably since the introduction of the now ubiquitous bajajs. But you will still see many locals zipping down the street on their bikes be they young, old, male or female.
They call Lake Hawassa Ye’Fikir Hayk (Lake of Love) for a reason. More often than not, you will find many couples enjoying a romantic moment on its shores along with many others walking along a boardwalk or chilling by the lake playing cards, bathed in the warm glow of a beautiful sunset on the horizon. Take a boat ride onto the lake if you want to enjoy the cool breeze blowing off its waters. Although we’re not experts on this topic, Hawassa must be a birdwatcher’s paradise judging from the variety of exotic looking species you can casually spot all around. One of the more curious sights around the lake are the large number of marabou storks around it (locally known as Aba Koda) frequently perched on fragile branches on their impossibly spindly legs.
Going further into town, a quick walk down the main thoroughfare in front of the Sidamo Entertainment Hall will give you a good feel for the town and its teeming populace. Shopping ‘malls’ and stalls line the street and darting bajajs are everywhere. At the top of the street is the imposing St. Gabriel church which took 25 years to build and almost seems to be looking over the entire town from its vantage point. You could take a tour through the entertainment district but perhaps a quick stop for a bite to eat is in order first.
Somehow, the food in Hawassa seems to taste better whatever you have and wherever you may have it. The entire area is known for superb beef and one of the best places to sample some is Lewi Hotel’s Mediterranean-esque, open air restaurant which serves up an absolutely fabulous Chikina Tibs along with a great rendition of a dish you will commonly find at many restaurants there, the Alicha Teferisho (or Alicha Fresh for short). The latter is basically a dish of mild fitfit and a boiled egg blanketed with an injera and a juicy looking chop poking out from the center. Fantastic!
Such a meal will no doubt leave you well prepared for a night on the town and happily, once you arrive in the entertainment district of the town, you won’t have to walk too far to go from one hotspot to the next. Note of warning, if you’re not to used to Hawassa’s clubs and the general heat the area serves up, carry a handkerchief with you at all times. In fact, maybe a gym towel might be better. Feben is a cozy bar with a barely lit interior but serving up a thumping mix of music that its patrons seem to appreciate very much. Yugovia may be one of the highlights of the area with a live band turning out hearty renditions of Ethiopian classics as well as modern tunes to another very appreciative crowd. Other options include Hotel Ply which tends to stray on the risqué side as well as National and Inferno which we hear can be relied on for a jolly old time most of the time.
Leaving laid back Hawassa can be hard. So before you head out, give the Lake of Love a lingering goodbye while relaxing in front of Shebelle #2 as you watch various birds fly around and monkeys playfully swinging through the trees. If you want to share your beer with your distant cousin, you will find them to be eager recipients but there’s no telling what ‘swinging under the influence” may result in for the monkey. And you’ve got a drive ahead of you as well, so we advise moderation for both human and non human primate alike.