Lake Ziway

Lake Ziway, known in the local language of Oromifa as Hara Dembel, is the largest lake in Ethiopia’s Central Rift Valley and is home to thriving bird populations, shy hippos, and tilapia fish – delicious served grilled with lime!

Five volcanic islands dot Lake Ziway’s surface, with hiking trails, forests, and ancient monasteries to discover. Tulu Gudo is the largest island and is famed for once acting as the hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant. The story goes that King Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the powerful relic to Ethiopia in the 4th century B.C. Hidden deep within the Saint Mary Zion Church’s sacred Holy of Holies in Aksum, the Ark rested peacefully until the 10th century when the violent campaigns of warrior-Queen Yodit Gudit threatened to destroy it. Queen Gudit, the then ruler of Aksum, was known for her destruction of Christian churches, and her crusade to exterminate the rulers of the Axumite dynasty. To protect the Ark, it was carried far south to the island now known as Tulu Gudo, where it remained for some 70 years before being safely returned to Aksum. Those that brought the Ark to Tulu Gudo became known as the Zay people, the guardians of the Ark. 

Lake Ziway holds adventures for both culture and nature lovers alike. Due to its important role in Ethiopian Christian history, Tulu Gudo’s Maryan Tsion monastery boasts a number of manuscripts dating back over 1,000 years, that are said to have accompanied the Ark on its journey to the island. For nature lovers, Lake Ziway offers a fantastic variety of aquatic and arboreal bird species on its islands, shoreline, and neighbouring forests. Highlights include the Sacred Ibis, Hammer Kop, and Long-tailed Starling as well as a host of endemic and near-endemic species including the Black-headed Forest Oriole, Abyssinian Catbird, Yellow Fronted Parrot, Black-winged Lovebird, Wattled Ibis,and Thick-billed Raven. 

Visitors can choose from three Lake Ziway Tours:

Bird Island & Hippo Tour: Visit the Tulu Simberoo where local birds nest and breed and journey across the golden lake to find the elusive hippos. Read more...

Lake Ziway Short Boat Tour: View amazing bird life, learn about the area’s Zay people and history on Debra Sina Island and hopefully glimpse a shy hippo.  Read more…

Short Tulu Gudo Island Adventure: Hike through a traditional Tulu Gudo village, learning about the unique Zay culture along the way. A visit to Maryam Tsion Monastery will reveal ancient relics and the surprising story of the island. Read more… 

Long Tulu Gudo Island Adventure: Spend a whole day exploring Tulu Gudo Island! Hike to the original resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, learn about the island’s unique nature, and see ancient relics at the Maryam Tsion Monastery. Read more…

Artisans in the Lake Ziway area are another great attraction. Read more about Lake Ziway artisans and where to buy their crafts!

All Lake Ziway tour bookings can be made through the Hara Dembel Boat Owners Association. 

Tours on Lake Ziway are offered through a partnership between the Hara Dembel Boat Owners Association and the Tulu Gudo Tourism Cooperative. The Boat Owners’ Association benefits its 11 members and reinvests 5% of its profits into community development. The Tulu Gudo Tourism Cooperative is comprised of 18 members and profits from the business benefit them and their family members, impacting upwards of 100 people directly. Additionally, 20% of cooperative profits are channeled into a community development and conservation fund to assist the entire community. 


To Book Directly
Manager: Abe Bento
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Call +251 92 136 2945

To Book through a Reservation Agent
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Call: +251 550 8870 or +251 551 0168

For assistance arranging a full tour including lodging and transportation contact one of the participating tour operators.

Traveler's Testimonial

"A wild and beautiful place - only a few days here but really enjoyed it. Stunning scenery and wildlife."

Simone Cole - BBC

"Our visit with you was far & away the high point of the trip."

Erin Chapman - D.A.T.A., USA (experiencing community tourism in Ethiopia on a trip with Brad Pitt)

Come and Enjoy!

Featured Community Experience