I’ve never posted on comment on this forum but was compelled to in order to discuss two things: the wonderful place that is Lalibela, and a special person we met along the way. We're two Aussie travelers who visited Ethiopia in December/January 2012/13. During our trip we fell in love with Lalibela. Sure, the rock-hewn churches are amazing (especially St George), and you can appreciate their beauty in pictures. But it's the people who make Lalibela special. It's a touristy place, but somehow they've managed to capitalise on the attractions without losing their identity. We did two half days visiting the 11 churches with a guide, which was enough time to appreciate them, but we also went back and checked out our favorites alone.
There are lots of capable guides who approach you on the street, but it's probably best to go with a recommendation if possible. We met with Zewdu Melak on arrival to Lalibela on a recommendation from a friend in Addis. He was professional from the outset, laying out all our options for us honestly and without being pushy. His knowledge of the region, the 11 churches in Lalibela, the customs of the people, the history etc was incredibly detailed. He works on the set price of an official guide set by the tourism management.
But he was worth a lot more than that. Above and beyond our visits to the churches, he invited us out to the local Asmari bet (traditional house). Our two nights our at the Torpedo tej house were among the highlights of our trip. And he also accompanied us on our visit to the Saturday spice markets, which I also recommend because you get a chance to meet lots of people from surrounding villages who come to town to sell grains, honey, sugar, spices etc.
If you can, plan your trip so you're there on a Sunday, so you can see the churches in service. We got to see the famous Lalibela Cross, which was quite special.
I am however aware that the church officials have recently raised the price of entry, which is something that a lot of guides are disappointed about because it's already started to affect tourist numbers and therefore many of them are struggling to find work.
If you'd like to get in contact with Zewdu Melak, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And his phone number +251 913636414. Tell him that Meni and Erin from Australia recommended him and I guarantee he'll give you great service.