THE DANAKIL DEPRESSION
Bubbling volcanoes light up the night sky, sulphurous mounds of yellow contort into other-worldly shapes, and mirages of camels cross lakes of salt. Lying 100m and more below sea level, the Danakil Depression (የደንከል በረሃ) is about the hottest and most inhospitable place on earth. In fact it’s so surreal that it doesn’t feel like part of earth at all. If you want genuine, raw adventure, few corners of the globe can match this overwhelming wilderness. But come prepared because with temperatures frequently saying hello to 50°C and appalling ‘roads’, visiting this region is more an expedition than a tour.
One of the Danakil’s must-sees is Dallol (125m below sea level at its base), about 20km north of Hamedela, where great warts of twisted sulphur and iron oxide paint a yellow and orange landscape that looks more like a coral reef than anything you’ve ever seen above the waterline. The base of the hill is the lowest place in Ethiopia and the hottest place on Earth, with a year-round average temperature of 34.4°C. The dry, cracked bed of Lake Asale alongside Dallol is where the Afar people hack blocks of salt out of the ground. The famous camel caravans load up here and you can stop to watch.
The Danakil’s most amazing site is Irta’ale Volcano (613m), which has been in a state of continuous eruption since 1967. Its small southerly crater is one of the only permanent lava lakes on the planet. The climb is long (15km; three to four hours) but not steep; the heat and darkness (you climb after dinner) create the difficulty. Camels will transport the gear for the night and riding one is an option. You’ll need a torch and it can get cool enough at the summit that you may want a light jacket or sleeping bag – make sure the operator organising your expedition has all of these covered.
Seldom visited (usually only by tours starting in Addis) is Lake Afdera (102m below sea level), sometimes called Afrera, which is 60km (up to six hours by 4WD!) south of Irta’ale. Salt is extracted from its green waters and you can swim in it or the nearby hot springs.