Ethiopia’s Danakil depression is the hottest, driest and most inhospitable regions on Earth, but yet it is one of the most beautiful places we have been to.
Ethiopia Danakil Depression is located in Afar region which is in the northeastern part of Ethiopia, close to the border with Eritrea. Even though it has the most extreme climates found on Earth, Afar people call it home.
The region’s dramatic landscapes make it look like an alien land. Multicolored sulphur lakes, active volcanoes of bubbling lava, huge salt pans – all these extremes will leave you breathless. Walking in this region feels like walking on another planet.
We highly recommend this trip to all the adventure lovers and offbeat travellers. It’s one of a kind trip and memories you create during this adventure will last a lifetime.
Although we usually don’t travel with tour companies, this time we were left with no choice but take a guided tour. There are two main reasons for that:
- It is one of the most inaccessible areas and Google Maps won’t help you navigate there. Be prepared for one of the worst roads in the world where you may find yourself driving 5-10 km per hour for half a day trying to cross areas of solidified lava, rock and sand. Needless to say that you better be travelling in a group in such conditions.
- Second reason is that for certain parts of the tour you’ll have to have armed guards with you. Now before you panic, let us tell you that we never felt unsafe during the whole trip. And having local militia is mainly a precaution due to the fact that Ethiopia and Eritrea are technically still at war. It appears they never signed a peace treaty after the war of 1998-2000.
We took a 4-day trip organized by ETT (Ethio Travel and Tours – http://www.ethiotravelandtours.com).
4 days trip cost was 400 USD including all the meals, accommodation and transportation (excluding tips).
As we mentioned before, we booked our tour through Ethio Travel and Tours. Regular price for this tour is 600 USD, but there is some room for negotiation there. It’s not a must but tips are an important part of income for the tour guides and drivers, so you’re welcome to show your gratitude.
Best Time To Go
Danakil Depression is one of the hottest and driest regions of the world. It has got 3 seasons – hot, hotter, and hottest. No kidding. In summer, temperature rises above 50 degrees.
What To Pack?
Detailed packing list you can find here : What To Pack For Danakil Depression?
Below is our 4-day packed itinerary to this magical wonderland called Danakil Depression.
Fly from Addis Ababa (international airport) to Mekele. Mekele is where all the tour operators start Danakil Depression tour.
Day 1: Mekele to Hamed Ela
We drove from Mekele to Hamed Ela via Berhale. The Danakil Depression is said to begin here. It is considered to be one of the most inhospitable regions of the world, but it is pure magic, full of eye-catching colors.
Along the way we saw many camel caravans going to salt mines to pick up salt and others coming back from Danakil after collecting salt. We ended our day watching gorgeous sunsets in salt lake.
We were back at our camp at Hamed Ela at around 7 pm. Once we were back we were served with local Ethiopian meal. After that we spent some time in a local bar (yes! there was a tiny bar in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, we were surprised too). We were back around 10 pm and then slept under the stars. It was out of the world experience but was just the beginning of the magic.
Day 2: Dallol Excursion, Lake Assal and Asebo
Day 2 was a big day. We started early in the morning and drove to Dallol where we witnessed the most magical landscape. Dallol is 116 meter below the sea level, making it one of the lowest places in the world.
The sulphur landscape formed out of volcanic activity is the most colorful, dramatic and vibrant landscape on this planet. We were spellbound to an extent where we hardly noticed the hot temperature. We couldn’t resist saying every 5 minutes “what could be more beautiful than this”.
Then we visited Lake Assal followed by vast area of salt flats. We danced, jumped over the salt flats. There was no one around and the World seemed liked a wonderland.
In the afternoon we drove to Asebo, the place where salts are mined. We observed locals breaking salt from the ground, cutting it into large rectangular blocks and loading it on camels. I have to say it was a tough sight to see. Just spending half an hour observing the Afar people working hard in 50 °C will make you appreciate your life more. Truly, the locals working there are tougher than iron.
Friendly Tip- If you visit Asebo region, it will be great if you can take some sunglasses for the workers, heat is really strong and is really effecting their eyesight. It is almost impossible to work in 50 degrees and yet Afar people do it to preserve their culture.
After that we drove to back to a little village where we spent our night. It was a long day but one of the best day of our life.
Day 3: Trek to Erta Ale Volcano
Day 3 was another day of experiencing the wonders of mother Earth. We started around 7 am and drove to Askoma, the base of an active volcano Erta Ale.
7 hours long drive took us through changing landscape of sand, lava, rock and palm lined oasis. On the way we also saw some villages with a population of just 10 to 15 people in middle of nowhere.
We reached the base camp and had an early dinner. We got ready for our 3 to 4 hours trek to Erta Ale Volcano. The trek was easy. We reached the top around 8 pm and spent our night watching the dramatic action of boiling lava.
We spent around 3 hours eyeballing, observing and getting lost in this natural marvel. We could have gazed that sight forever. We were totally smitten by it. We welcomed New Year 2017 standing at the edge of an active volcano. What a better way to spend a New Year night?!
It was definitely one of the best experiences of our life, as we camped overnight and spent an unforgettable night at the top of the volcano
Day 4: Sunrise at the Volcano and Lake Afdera
We woke up early morning to walk around pits and crater. Volcanic activity in the morning was a bit calm as compared to the lava action we saw in the night but it was still stunning. We witnessed the most spectacular sunrise. Around 7 am we started hiking back to Askoma.
We returned to camp around 10 am, had our breakfast and left for our final spot of our expedition – Lake Afdera. A salt water lake in one of the deepest depressions on the planet. Floating in the lake was a great way to end the adventure. We could finally take a bath after 4 days of no shower! Hurray! And cherry on the cake was a fresh water hot spring right next to the salt lake (!) where we could wash away the salt and feel fresh and refreshed again.
After a quick lunch stop at a tiny village we headed back to Mekele.
And that was the end of our trip of a lifetime where we were absorbed in some surreal sights which are found in very few places on earth.
It was just a 4 days trip but it felt like a month because we went through so many unique landscapes. We would highly recommend you to add it to your bucket list.
Please let us know if you have more questions regarding this trip.