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One of the best-kept secrets in East Africa: The Tigray rock churches

In the rugged mountain landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia you can find more than 120 hidden rock churches. To get to most of these churches you have to hike up into the mountains, where you will find hidden 1600-year-old churches that have been preserved by the monks and priests. The rugged mountain range with deep valleys are breathtakingly beautiful. The churches date from the 9th to the 15th century. Until 1965 no one outside of Tigray knew about its existence. Not many foreigners have visited these churches so far.

Many churches are hard to find, carved into a steep cliff or hidden in a cave. The existence of these churches was hidden from foreigners until the early 60s of the last century. A stay of a few days in the area to make a spectacular climb to some of these churches is worth adding to your bucket list.

How to get there

The Tigray region is the northernmost of the nine regions of Ethiopia, adjacent to the border with Eritrea. Most of the churches are found in the mountainous region between Axum and Mekelle. The best known (and most visited) are the Gheralta churches, found around the Gheralta Mountains, about two hours away from Mekelle. The Gheralta churches include Abuna Yemata Guh plus Maryam Korkor and Daniel Korkor. Maryam Korkor and Daniel Korkor are actually only a 7-minute walk from each other at the summit of a towering plateau.

The base to visit the Gheralta churches is Hawzen, a dusty two-street town halfway between Axum and Mekelle. If you’re planning to head to Tigray on a tour, your accommodation in Hawzen and local guide to the churches will typically be included. We would never venture out without a guide.

Best time to visit

We recommend visiting October to March when it’s dry and temperatures are pleasant. The sky is mostly clear so you will have the opportunity to take beautiful pictures. Click here for more Mekelle climate information.

This article was last updated on January 17, 2022.