Lake Tana, the largest lake, in Ethiopia is the source and from where the famed Blue Nile starts its long journey to Khartoum, and then into the Mediterranean Sea.
It is located in the north-western Ethiopian highlands, the lake is approximately 84 kilometers long and 66 kilometers wide, with a maximum depth of 14 meters, and an elevation of 1,830 meters. Lake Tana is fed by the Lesser Abay, Reb and Gumara Rivers and its surface area ranges from 3,000 to 3,500 km² depending on season and rainfall.
The 37 islands that are scattered on the surface of the Lake shelter fascinating churches and monasteries, some of which have histories dating back to the 13th Century. However, it should be noted that some of the monasteries are not allowed to women. The most interesting islands are: Birgida Mariam, Dega Estefanous, Dek, Narga Estifanos, Tana Cherkos /Qirqos/, Mitsele Fasiledes, Kibran Gabriel and Debre Maryam. Tana Qirqos is said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant before it was moved to Axum in 4th century by the order of King Ezana.
Kibran Gabriel is the principal monastery frequented tourists from Bahir Dar (women are not allowed), with its impressive Cathedral-like building first built at the end of the 17th Century. Dega Estephanos, which is also closed to women, is on an island in the lake, and the monastery is reached by a very steep and winding path. Although the church is relatively new (only hundred years old), it houses a Madonna painted in the 15th century. However, the treasury of the monastery is a prime attraction, with the remains of several Emperors, as well as their robes and jewels.
On the banks of the lake are many more monasteries, such as Ura Kidane Mehret and Narga Selassie. Near Gorgora, at the northern end of the lake, the Susnyos palace is a forerunner of the magnificent palaces and castles of Gonder, and dates from the reign of Emperor Susneyos. In the same area the medieval church of Debre Sina Mariam is particularly important for its murals.
A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Along the lakeshore birdlife, both local and migratory visitors, make this an ideal place for birdwatchers.
Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasilidas Island, which is especially famous as an important wetland. The whole of the Lake Tana region and the Blue Nile Gorge have a wide variety of birds both endemic and migratory. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to riverine forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.