The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is a rare but fascinating remote destination. Visitors might feel as if they had landed on a different planet. The Danakil Depression is extremely hot, and features bubbling volcanoes and a unique landscape.
Situated 100 meters and more below sea level, it is a natural wonder with a complex geological history. Three tectonic plates meet at the Danakil Depression, which is the result of Africa and Asia moving apart. This has provoked rifting and volcanic activity. Even though Danakil is the hottest place on earth, many travelers visit the depression.
Those interested in going to the Danakil Depression are advised to hire a tour, especially considering that it is a somewhat hostile environment. It is best to visit with an expert and someone who knows the area well.
Before traveling to Ethiopia, visitors must also make sure that they meet all entry requirements, including obtaining an Ethiopia eVisa. All foreign nationals, with the exception of Kenyan and Djibouti citizens, must apply online for their eVisa to enter Ethiopia. Holders of the Ethiopia tourist visa can stay in the country for 30 or 90 days, depending on the option selected during the application process.
Once in Ethiopia, travelers will be able to explore the country at their own speed. Besides going to the Danakil Depression, there are plenty of captivating attractions, including the Omo Valley and Axum.
Danakil Depression Highlights
When visiting the Danakil Depression, there are three main highlights worth seeing.
Set at about 20 km north from Hamedela, Dallol is a cinder cone volcano. Several hot springs here discharge brine and acidic liquid. Visitors will also see small, temporary geysers that produce cones of salt. The base of the hills is the lowest place in Ethiopia as well as the hottest place on earth.
The name Dallol comes from the Afar people, and it means dissolution or disintegration. In fact, the Afar people hack blocks of salt out of the ground in this area. Travelers are likely to see camel caravans loading up with salt here.
Irta’ale, also known as Erta Ale, is an active shield volcano. This means that the volcano is composed almost exclusively of lava flows. Erta Ale has been in a state of continuous eruption since 1967. The volcano’s southerly crater is one of the only permanent lava lakes on the planet.
The climb to the volcano takes between three to four hours, the road is about 15 km long. Tours take visitors on the hike in the evening, generally after dinner. While the climb in itself is not too steep, the darkness and heat make it more difficult. It is possible to ride a camel and tourists should have a torch to walk. At the summit, the temperature will be cooler.
Lake Adfera or Lake Afrera is a hypersaline lake, with a surface of 100 square km. An hypersaline lake is one that has high concentrations of sodium chloride or other salts, making saline levels higher than those in the ocean.
The lake is not as visited as Dallol or Erta Ale. However, tours that start in Addis generally include it. Visitors can actually swim in the nearby springs, and salt is extracted from its green waters.
Hiring a Tour to Explore the Danakil Depression
Travelers should hire a tour guide to explore the area, especially, as there are no hotels or restaurants. Even though the Danakil Depression is open to foreign visitors, it is important to bear in mind that this is a remote area. Tour operators will set up mobile camps. The same is true for food, tour operators take all of the supplies to feed their guests and crew.
Travelers will encounter various companies, each with their own itineraries. One option is to book a three-day, two-night tour. On the first day, tours will usually take their guests to the Erta Ale volcano and crater. On the second day, the tour will move on to Dallol and Lake Asale.
It is important to point out that during the tours, electricity and showers will not be available. This also means that there aren’t toilets around. Visitors will find themselves surrounded by nature and without the infrastructure they are generally used to. Before booking a tour, visitors must know that this is part of the experience.
Drinking water is often supplied by the tour guide, but it is advised to double check before the journey begins.
Those who decide to book a tour must also know that it is mandatory for all Danakil Depression tours to have a military escort. However, there is no reason to be alarmed, it is a matter of safety.
When traveling to the Danakil Depression visitors must exercise caution at all times, follow the instructions given by the guide and should not stray away from their group.
When to visit the Danakil Depression
Some tour companies offer their services all year. However, visitors should bear in mind that between July and early October, the chances of flooding are high. When traveling during this period, you may not be able to make it to Irta’ale or Lake Afdera.
It is also essential that foreign visitors know that there are some health related risks for people with heart conditions. If a traveler suffers from heart problems, it is strongly advised to not go to Danakil.
Regardless of when travelers go, everyone should watch out for signs of heat exhaustion. Staying hydrated is key.