Blue Nile Falls
Blue Nile Falls by ctsnow/flickr

Blue Nile Falls

Ethiopia

Near the source of the mighty Nile, one of the world’s longest and most famed rivers, an immense waterfall over a quarter of a mile wide crashes its way over a drop of 147 feet, its thunderous roar announcing its presence from over five miles away. This is the Blue Nile Falls, one of the most striking natural attractions you can see on the Nile’s incredible 4,132 mile journey to the Delta that washes out into the eastern Mediterranean.

These powerful falls near the huge Lake Tana have lost up to 80% of their flow in recent years due to a dam that opened upstream in 2003, but they are still a majestic sight, particularly in the wet season when the dam releases vast amounts of water into the Nile. This stretch of the river, the Blue Nile, called the Abbay in Ethopia, is considered holy by many of the Coptic Christians who live nearby. The falls are also known as Tis Issat, which means Smoking Water in Amharic.  When visiting, it is easy to see why, as the spray here is particularly fine, looking more like the smoke of a forest fire than clouds of water vapour.

Despite the name, the falls here are never blue, and are more typically characterised by the mud and silt that stains these waters a deep, dirty brown. Though this area can occasionaly become very dry, with rare but devastating droughts and famines occurring in the past, a small rainforest stands alongside the falls, fed exclusively by the spray and moisture of the Blue Nile.

The first European to reach the Blue Nile Falls is said to have been the Portuguese explorer Joao Bermudes, who wrote about the falls in his memoirs, first published in 1565. This portion of the Blue Nile, meanwhile, was long considered impassable until a documentary team navigated the route, from the source all the way to Sudan, in 2004.

Take a stroll over the Portuguese Bridge, first built in 1626 by Ethiopian emperor Susenyos, for a head-on view of the falls, though you will have to jostle for space with the street hawkers and souvenir sellers, many of them children, who crowd this area for most of the day. Local boatmen can take you right up to the base of the falls, past man-eating crocodiles, in small papyrus crafts known as Tankwa canoes that are surprisingly sturdy. If you are visiting the falls, try turning up in February, when the Jacaranda trees that are plentiful in the area come into blossom, lighting up the scene with their lush purple flowers.

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