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Ethiopia–Why to Go NOW? 2. Reason: The Danakil Depression

Updated: Jan 19

The Danakil depression in Ethiopia is one of the top ten hottest places.

The average temperature here is a hot 49°. When we were there in January, it was like winter – with an average of 39°, it's probably almost fresh for the residents. The yellow sulphur fields of Dallol add a very special smell to the heat. The volcano Erta Ale looks an feels like Mount Doom - Here you can look down on giant red lava lake. Welcome to another planet!

Safety note: I was in Ethiopia in 2019. There is currently a travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office. Please check before you book a trip.

No joke: the Danakil Depression is being examined to help understand how life might develop on other planets and moons.

As soon as you visit the Dallol sulfur springs, you will understand why–but let's start from the beginning.

From Mekele there are quite a few tour operators offering a trip to the hottest (in terms of year-round average temperatures) and also one of the lowest places on earth (it is about 125m below sea level).

This area is very remote, only sand tracks or very bumpy roads lead to the tourist attractions. Having said that, currently Chinese work teams are building roads in this area. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is up to others to judge.

In Danakil depression  Ethiopia  they're only bumpy dirt roads. You need a good Jeep and a skilled driver to get around

We were very lucky to have a mechanic as our driver. Aved was not only really nice and a good driver, he also always kept an eye on the other cars to check that nobody got stuck. In summer the temperatures easily climb above 50 degrees Celsius (that's over 120 Fahrenheit) but even in December we still measured more than 30 degrees. One car did get stuck and it took us quite a while to get it out of the sand.

The 80km drive took us more or less 6 hours

– just to give you an indication of how bumpy the roads of solidified lava, rock and sand are.

The place where all the jeeps stop and the trek to the mountain starts is called Dodom.

If you imagine the volcano Erta Ale as Tolkien's Mount Doom, you might as well call the area around it Mordor. Dodom at least looks like a place where Orks would feel quite cosy

– it's dirty, in the middle of nowhere, smelly and boiling hot. Fortunately we didn't sleep there, but started our 3-hour trek up the mountain as soon as it was dark. Now … we saw beautiful pictures of the lava lake before we set out, but – how to best put it – since the last eruption in January 2017, the volcano has a a cold. Mostly the flow is blocked and you can only see a lot of smoke – which still looks quite impressive with its red glow in the night. We slept on the rim of the crater in the hope of getting a better view and to see the sunrise. The sunrise part worked …

The walk down in the morning was pretty hot and I didn't mind having breakfast in a stinky hut – as long as it provided shade and a passing camel here and there.

Click on the first picture to see the gallery:

As a little bonus, we visited Afera Lake, which is something like a miniature Dead Sea.

We were very happy to float a bit in the salty water. This place could be paradise and really nice to relax, but at the moment it is simply too dirty to be nice.

Afera Lake/Ethiopia is something like a miniature Dead Sea.

Generally I must now warn the willing traveller: Danakil (Afar) was the most polluted region we visited in Ethiopia.

It was quite depressing to see plastic bottles everywhere. But then it is not really a surprise, but a simple calculation: on the day we went up to the volcano (OK, that was peak, peak season) there were 60 jeeps in Dodom. 60 jeeps with 4 people adds up to 240 tourists, who will drink at least 4 litres each.

Danakil (Afar) was the most polluted region we visited in Ethiopia.

That makes about 1.000 plastic bottles a day – crazy! Even though I usually try to boil or purify water, there was no alternative to bottled water here. ​​This was really – for me - the most shocking and pressing issue on our whole trip. Nothing which could not be solved with a big drinking water truck and refillable bottles …For the night's accommodation, we drove all the way up to Abala. If you want to do the tour, I would recommend that you spend the night in Hamed Ela. This might not be the nicest place on earth, but it will be nice to see sunrise on the salt plains.

Here the locals cut rectangular pieces out of the salt and load them onto camels. It looks like the big salt plains in Bolivia – only that you are around 4.000 metres lower. It is really exciting to watch the locals work and the camels hanging around … even though they were not loaded while we were there. Another highlight: Aved found us a heart-shaped salt lake for bathing!

Click on the first picture to see the gallery:

​The coolest (not in temperature ;-)!) part of the three-day trip was the sulfur field of Dallol.

This place really looks like a different planet. The earth is bright yellow, turquoise water bubbles into surreal-looking lakes, sulfur steams up into the air, and here and there you find weird rock formations. The reason for all this volcanic activity is that the Danakil Depression lies at the triple junction of three tectonic plates and has developed as a result of Africa and Asia moving apart.

Click on the first picture to see the gallery:

If you want to visit Gheralta after this trip I would recommend that you organize transport from where the road from Danakil hits the A2. It will save you going back 1 hour to Mekele and then passing the same spot the next day. To Gheralta it is also about one hour from this crossing.

You can watch a short Video here:

I didn't really film - I was too occupied to take pictures of all the beautiful things going on around me, but as I had the drone with me, and as I sometimes pressed the record button on my camera as well, I had a few (very shaky, sorry) clips, that I edited into a short clip. I hope you enjoy watching it …

How to get there:

Ethiopian Airlines flies daily (at least from Frankfurt) directly to Addis Abeba. If you book with them, you get a discount on the inland flights, which you will probably need, as the roads are very bumpy and dusty …


We arranged everything through Lalibela Eco Trekking. Molla Kassaw - the owner - organized our whole trip and everything worked perfectly. We didn't have a single guide, but always different local guides, who showed us their town/hike. That way we got to know a lot of different people, who knew their local attractions best.

In the separate blogs I will recommend places and restaurants we visited or have seen, alongside any other comments we had about the various places and the what-to-dos.

You can read more Blogs of Ethiopia, which I wrote here:
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