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Danakil Depression – Colourful ‘End of the World’

Danakil Valley (Danakil Depression) is one of the least known regions in Ethiopia. It is a part of the Great Rift Valley, to which it owes its exceptional geological shaping. It is still difficult to access, with no tourist infrastructure, but provides impressions that can make every effort to reach it worthwhile. Dallol (116 metres under sea level) is a part of Danakil. This place is considered as the lowest located place in Africa, and at the same time, one of the hottest places on the planet with average temperatures amounting to 35 degrees Celsius.

Danakil Depression & Harar Trip

Although these places offer scorching sun and unfriendly environment, they are by no means worth visiting. Hot springs and brightly coloured geological formations are enchantingly beautiful. On Asalie lake, salt is still extracted and then transported on camels’ backs all over Ethiopia. All day in extreme heat, workers cut dried up salt crusts. Salt blocs that they make have dimensions of 30 x 40 cm and weigh 6 kg each. They load them on camels or sometimes donkeys. This black, unrefined salt is destined for animals. A camel can carry as much as 200 kg load on its back. The value of such salt bloc increases as one travels further from the Asalie Salt Lake. From the original price of 2 birrs, it can reach 15 birrs in Mekelie.

Work with transporting salt is very exhausting and one animal can make only 3 such ‘trips’ in the whole season. The season lasts from the end of November to the beginning of March as in other months it too hot to work. Caravans of camels transporting salt set out each year to reach further parts of Ethiopia. Most of them finish their routes in Mekelie, on the border of the Afar country. There are some, which reach far into Tigrai province.

Still active volcano of Erta Ale is one of very few places where we can admire lake of lava from a close distance, at a hand’s reach. It is considered by many as the greatest attraction of the Dankil Valley. Its height, in relation to the depression from which it grows, is 600 m. At the top, there is a lake of solid lava, only one of its kind in the world. Entering the crater is not very difficult as the trail leads through not very steep hill. Only temperature might be a problem so it is best to climb Erta Ale at night when it gets a little colder, which means about 30 degrees Celsius.

One must see a colourful field of hot springs near Dallol. It owes its surrealistic look to sulphur, iron, phosphorus and other minerals. Around us everything bubbles with steam escaping from land holes, which makes the place seem not Earth-like.

Salt is also extracted from Afrera lake, where it is produced with a method well known in many parts of the world. Workers fill shallow reservoirs with salt water. When the water gradually evaporates, the salt water increases its salt concentration. The lake is also located in a depression area (103 below sea level). On its banks, one can bathe in hot thermal springs that are still active. The seasonal dwelling place of salt diggers is a place far away from any population centres. From all over Ethiopia workers come here for the period of a few months to earn some money in order to support their families left in other parts of the country. This seems to be the real ‘end of the world’.

The village of Hamed Ela is the best starting point base for those visiting Dallol and Asale lake. It is situated about 50 km from Berahile (Berahyile). The road until not long time ago was very tiring as it led through the river bed. It has been modernized and now there is no problem to move along. Along that road there is a trail of camel caravans transporting salt. Most of the inhabitants are salt diggers. In Hamed Ela there is no accommodation, but one may pick up a tent in the nearby area. One may also rent a hut with beds, however, because of high temperatures, the best solution is to take a bed outside and sleep in the open.

Geological Marvels of Danakil Depression

The Volcanic Activity

Danakil Depression is home to numerous active volcanoes, including the notorious Erta Ale. Known as the “smoking mountain,” Erta Ale’s persistent lava lake lights up the night sky, offering a fiery spectacle of nature’s raw power.

Salt Pans and Salt Mountains

The depression is also renowned for its vast salt pans. For centuries, the Afar people have been mining these plains, creating surreal landscapes of white salt canyons, pillars, and terraces that glisten under the harsh sun.

Sulphur Springs and Acid Pools

Perhaps the most otherworldly sight is the Dallol hydrothermal field, where mineral-rich hot springs bubble up, painting the earth in psychedelic hues of yellow, green, and blue.

The Climate of Danakil Depression

The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places on Earth, with temperatures often soaring above 50 degrees Celsius. The harsh environment has shaped the landscapes and life that resides here, making it a unique ecological hotspot.

Unique Life in Extreme Conditions

Adapted Wildlife

Despite the harsh conditions, life has found a way in Danakil. Salt-loving microorganisms called ‘extremophiles’ thrive in the hot springs, while camels and donkeys employed by salt miners wander the arid landscapes.

Afar People: The Indigenous Community

The Afar people have long adapted to life in this extreme environment. Known for their formidable resistance to heat and aridity, they have carved out a living in salt mining and camel herding.

Preparing for Your Journey to Danakil Depression

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Danakil is between November and March when temperatures are relatively cooler.

Essential Packing List

Remember to pack lightweight clothing, sunscreen, hydration salts, a hat, and sturdy boots for your expedition into Danakil.

Safety Measures While Visiting

Visiting Danakil Depression is an adventure but also poses potential risks. Therefore, it’s crucial to go with a trusted guide who knows the area well, stay hydrated, and respect the extreme environment.

Ethical Tourism in Danakil Depression

Respecting the Environment

As travelers, it’s important to leave no trace, avoiding any negative impact on this unique ecosystem.

Supporting Local Communities

Support the local Afar people by hiring local guides and purchasing local goods and services.

Conclusion

The Danakil Depression is more than just a destination. It’s a testament to life’s tenacity, a colourful canvas of geological wonders, and a journey to the edge of the imaginable. Visiting Danakil is like stepping into another world, one that forever alters one’s perception of nature’s capabilities.

Danakil Depression & Harar Trip


FAQs

  1. What makes Danakil Depression unique?
    Danakil Depression is known for its surreal landscapes, including active volcanoes, neon-coloured springs, and vast salt pans. It is also one of the hottest places on Earth.
  2. What wildlife can be found in Danakil Depression?
    Life in Danakil includes extremophiles in the hot springs, and animals like camels and donkeys, which are commonly used by the local Afar people.
  3. What is the best time to visit Danakil Depression?
    The best time to visit is between November and March when temperatures are relatively cooler.
  4. What should I pack for a trip to Danakil Depression?
    Pack lightweight clothing, sunscreen, hydration salts, a hat, and sturdy boots.
  5. How can I practice ethical tourism in Danakil Depression?
    Respect the environment by leaving no trace and support local communities by hiring local guides and purchasing local goods and services. Our travel agency Timeless Ethiopia always uses local employees.

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