Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

How and where do I begin to describe the things I saw during my recent trip to the ‘hottest place on Earth’?

“Amazing” or “breath taking” doesn’t seem to cut it. “I must be dreaming because I can’t quite possibly see what I’m seeing right now” is more like it.

Danakil Depression is known for the ‘hottest place on earth’ but that title does the place so much injustice. The Danakil region is so much more than how high the temperature gets – its unique geological features are the ones that draw visitors to visit despite the cost, the many hours of off road driving, and barebone accommodation (still recovering from the flea bites).

A trip to the Danakil Depression is without a doubt, the absolute highlight of Ethiopia. A brave claim considering that I haven’t seen everything Ethiopia has to offer. But I’m standing firm by my claim and looking forward to be proven wrong.

As of a matter of fact, it has been the highlight of this around the world trip, if not my life.

Where is Danakil Depression?

It’s located in Northern Ethiopia, in the Afar department – close to the Eritrea border. Only the first hour of the drive from Mekele was on an asphalt road, the rest was a dusty, bumpy, ride on dirt tracks – if even that. When we got to the desert, we were following faint tire marks it was a wonder our drivers knew where we needed to go without a GPS or a compass.

Jeep convoy on the Danakil Depression tour

Our jeep convoy

How Much Does It Cost to Visit Danakil?

It cost me $550 for a 4D/3N tour from Makele with Ethiopia Travel and Tours (info@ethiotravelandtours.com)

Visiting Danakil Depression doesn’t come cheap. You need to have 2 jeeps in your group (even if it’s just you and 2 drivers), armed guards, and local Afar guides. Expect to spend upwards from $400. Different tour companies can give such a wild range in prices (we’ve been quoted anywhere from $550 to $1300 per person for similar itineraries) – it’s scary.

An Afar with his camels

An Afar villager passing us by with his camels while we were waiting for our jeep to get unstuck.

The trip was the only thing I had organized before coming to Ethiopia since finding a group to share the cost is critical.

Finding a reputable company is even more so considering the harsh condition of the area. The Afar government requires a minimum of 2 jeeps per convoy – the reason for which became obvious when we were out there. Getting your car stuck in the loose sand seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Then, you’ll need the other jeep to pull you out.

Jeeps stuck in Danakil

Coming back to rescue part of our jeep convoy

Each time we did get stuck, out of nowhere people of the Afar tribes -adults and children alike – would show up and watch us struggle to get the jeeps out. And we would be in the middle of this barren desert and we’d wonder – ‘Where did these people come from and how do they live?’

The Danakil Itinerary

Day 1 Mekele – Hamed Ela
Some people in our tour were worried they wouldn’t see the ‘camel caravans’ – well, they felt silly after this first day because camels are so ubiquitous along this stretch that after awhile you think, ‘Eh, another camel?’

What’s interesting is the story behind these camel caravans. The camels carry salt blocks mined in the Danakil region to be sold in Mekele, a town 150 km away. They’ve been doing this since forever. The camels and their drivers walk in soaring heat for 3 days just so they can get 15 Birr per kilo of salt. That’s less than $1 per kilo.

Camel caravan in an Ethiopian desert

Day 2 Hamed Ela – Erta Ale
Erta Ale’s volcano is one of those places that leave you wordless – except for a string of curses and swearwords, because you just have to say something in the face of it, but can’t seem find the right words. More on this coming.

Erta Ale volcano, Ethiopia

Day 3 Descend from Erta Ale
This day is a wash since we basically spent the day driving back from Erta Ale, but that’s probably a good thing. We needed the time to digest what we just saw the night before.

Day 4 Morning tour of Dallol then back to Makele
Dallol competes with Erta Ale in trying to blow your mind and if not because of the quickly rising temperature, we could’ve stayed there for much longer absorved in its multi-colored alien world.

Then we saw bubbly lakes, unique rock formations, and a ‘lake’ over the salt flat that’s so surreal but we barely had time for these because we had to drive back to Mekele on that very same day.

$550 and 21 flea bites later and I can safely say that it’s worth every dollar, and every single flea bite.

I have more posts on the Danakil’s highlights coming – but in the meantime, feast your eyes on some of these pics:

12-16 Danakil Tour – day3
12-15 Danakil Tour- day2

Practical tips on visiting Danakil Depression

  • Best time to visit Danakil is in the winter November – February. It will get too hot otherwise. It was hot when we went and it was supposed to be in dead winter.
  • Most tours leave from Mekele even if you arrange it with a company in Addis Ababa. Flight to Mekele from Addis is $60. Yordanos and Atse Yohannes Hotel in Makele seem to be your best bet to find other travelers, but it would probably be easier to form a group in Addis Ababa.
  • Confirm that your 4×4 will have a working air-con. Can not imagine how miserable the trip would be if the air con didn’t work. And since the road is so dusty, opening the window is not possible all the time.
  • Bring a good headlamp and a scarf for the volcano hike. Not all of us had headlamp when we did the hike and when we got to the crater. VERY dangerous as you can easily stumble and fall into the lava. The scarf is needed for the sulphurous fume that can be very irritating to eyes and throats at times.
  • Our agency was Ethiopia Tour and Travels. I had a reservation when I found out some negative reviews about the company (after committing myself to the group) but went ahead anyway despite my initial reservation. Glad to say that everything went well. A little chaotic at times and we’re not really sure who this ‘university professor’ guide is supposed to be, but we had plenty of food, plenty of water, and everyone was so friendly and helpful.

You May Also Like

17 Responses to “The Hottest Place on Earth – How I Ended Up in Danakil Depression”

  1. Nigusu

    i had visited danakil depression and worked there for two years it is the area with non forgettable memory . very impressive and interesting natural resources .

  2. Jaycee

    We are just planning our trip to Ethiopia, and having come across your page by accident, I'll be bookmarking it for essential reading! Many thanks.

  3. Crocus

    The Danakil is certainly in a class by itself, colorful moonscape on earth, and more. There are other mind-blowing places in that land, historical and natural. the Simien Mountains in the fall, and the 12th century cluster of rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, among others. No parallels on the planet!

  4. Sara

    I have been several times with groups of tourists and always remain stunning in every adventure.

  5. megan

    This is all great information…going soon and so much appreciated about Danakil

  6. Tyler

    I was there last year. Like you I was blown away by the beauty of the place. I'm glad you made it there.

  7. Bret @ Green Global

    Wow, sounds like an amazing trip. I'm a big fan of Ethiopian music and cuisine, but hadn't read many 1st person narratives about the country. Sounds like you had a blast, and the photos of salt flats and volcanoes are awesome!

  8. Ali Nquyen

    I've heard a lot of Danakil. I'd really love to check out this place someday. Great pics, btw!

    • jill

      Hhahaa , hope I didn't scare you too much. Honestly, I'm already planning to go back because I'd love to go to the south. This time, I'd be more prepared so hopefully there will be less misfortunes. I'd definitely won't be petting any stray animals anymore, lol.