If adventure is what you seek, I have a great one for you in the North East of Ethiopia. The Danakil Depression lies in the Afar Region bordering Eritrea and is home to stunning scenery that make you feel like you are on another planet due to its rugged terrain with active volcanoes, salt flats and lakes, and a land rich with minerals that create some beautiful colors and it is a spectacle.
The Afar region, where the Danakil Depression is has its own culture comprised of nomadic herders and they speak their own language (Cushitic) which is spoken in Ethiopia, eastern Eritrea, and Djibouti. Their culture is related to that of Somalia and the ethnic group, the Oromos.
From Mekele the closest town to the first stop on the tour, the volcano, you have a bumpy and exciting ride through very rugged terrain that include camels, ostriches and antelopes before you reach a Mad-Max-esque camp with local and national army soldiers.
There you have dinner before beginning the climb of the
Erta Ale volcano. Walking in the dark with flashlights is fun and different and when you arrive at the top around 3 hours later you to the crater edge for views of the lava which are very impressive. Then around midnight you go to sleep on mattresses in open air with stunning stars above as your ceiling. In the morning around 5 they wake you to go see the volcano crater lake again, and to start descending before the sun gets strong and temperature too high.
You then visit and have a chance to swim in a salt lake called Lake Afrera before having lunch and making your way to a village where you spend the night in a local home.
The next day you visit Lake Asale and its surrounding salt flats which are stunning and you have a chance to see the sunset in this beautiful place as you see camel caravans, carrying salt cut in blocks by perhaps the hardest working people in the world in very hot conditions.
The last day you visit perhaps the most impressive attraction, the Dallol Sulfur Springs. It is one of the coolest and most beautiful things I have seen in my entire life. It is is a cinder cone volcano that has craters that are the lowest known subaerial volcanic vents in the world, at 45 m (150 ft) or more below sea level. The rich mix of volcanic magma and minerals create a surreal rainbow of colors and scenery and even smells!
“Dallol craters are dangerous places to visit because their surface can be covered by a crust of salt with pools of hot acid water just inches below,”
-Hobart King, of Geology.com
5 Things you didn’t know about the Danakil Depression
5. It lies on 3 tectonic plates and has rugged terrain that has developed as a result of Africa and Asia moving apart, causing rifting and volcanic activity.
4. It is about 125 m (410 ft) below sea level.
3. It is home to the active volcano, Erta Ale, one of several crater lakes of lava bubbling from the Earth’s mantle.
1. The Danakil Depression is the hottest place on Earth in terms of year-round average temperatures.
How to Get there
The starting point for the Danakil Depression is the town of Mekele, which is pleasant and Ethiopia’s second largest city with lots of students and a nice atmosphere. Getting here from other parts of the country can take between 1-2 days by land, or you can fly into this city’s airport.
What to pack
Most of the tour operators will provide everything you need, including taking your luggage with you and having it in the vehicles if you need to retrieve anything, but I would recommend:
-A small backpack or day pack.
-Sunblock and/or a baseball cap, etc.
-A warm jacket for at night when the temperature drops.
-A sleeping bag or sleeping bag/liner if you tend to get cold at night.
-Comfortable shoes for walking.
-Bathing suit for swimming in a salt lake or hot springs.
Best times of Year to Go
November and December as temperatures are lower with little or no rainfall.
This will depend on how many people you are doing your tour with (clearly the more people, lower prices) and on the quality of the company and service you will get. The 4 Day tours that include all of your transportation, accommodation and food seem to range between $400-500 USD, (some include internal flights), and of course will depend on your negotiating skills.
I did a 4 day tour with World Sun Ethiopia Tours and it was exceptional. From the coordination of the trip before it, the food was good and the team are extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. I would absolutely recommend them!
My Danakil Depression tour with World Sun Ethiopia Tours was kindly sponsored, but all view are my own.