Danakil Depression - Other worlds tour 2011

This is a trip report with pictures from my trip to the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia and Djibouti, visiting Mekele, Dallol, Erta Ale, Lake Abbé, Lake Assal and other places in the region. Scroll to the end to see maps and lots of online resources about the Danakil.

We were 7 people traveling with Undiscovered Destinations, meeting up in Addis Ababa, some of us for an injira meal with so loud music that we didn't really get to know more than each others names. The next morning we almost didn't get on the flight to Mekele in northern Ethiopia since the inspection did not believe that Søren could not take off his sewn in belt - until he finally capitulated and stripped down and walked through the metal detector in underpants. Miss Dublin tried to start a conversation on the flight - if I had a cat? She had figured that out from all the hair on my fleece - no, it must have been from the previous passenger in the X-ray machine..

In Mekele we met up with our crew, Afera was our guide and he had two jeeps for us and one for the cook and staff. We had one day of visiting rock hewn churches around Mekele and then we were on our way.

This is the view from one of the Rock Hewn churches, Abraha wa Atsbeha.
It was a full day drive (many photo stops) from the mountains to the Danakil. 
Camel trains would appear, and we descended from the lush fields to the dry foothills.

Berahle. A dusty town between the hills and the Danakil. The destination of the camel trains loaded with salt.

Beautiful landscape after Berahle, here tectonic lifted plates. Many photo stops...

Sunrise in Ahmedela village

Tuesday 8. November - Ahmedela - Dallol

Beautiful sunrise over the salt desert. Driving into the desert, we soon met the hard working salt diggers, cutting and shaping the salt into blocks and loading the camels. They worked until noon with no shade and walked 1½ hours back to Ahmedela village. We continued north to Dallol, the officially hottest place on earth where 34 degrees average day and night is recorded. And we were striken with the beauty of Dallol, not just acid pools in all kind of colours, but hot, bubbling acid. Dallol is not just the hottest place, it is also at -115 m the 6th lowest place on earth.

Arriving in Dallol. This is the place of the 2007 incident.
Soldiers, Dallol

Dallol, 6th lowest place on earth

If in the West, this would attract 1 million visitors a year
Feeling Hot

Wednesday 9. November - Ahmedela - Erta Ale

We headed south towards Erta Ale through the depression. After only 20 minutes we were stuck in impassable mud. There was only 25 km to drive, but no way through. Instead we drove back towards the mountains and Mekele; a bit up in the foothills there was a fair gravel road going south. Endless black lava fields all around. In the afternoon, we headed east and sand dunes engulfed us. We were stuck several times; most often the auxiliary truck where the 4 wheel drive did not work. It didn't seem anybody lived here, but when we were stuck, a camel could turn up, or some invisible shepherds would appear out of nothing. We could see the Ale Bagu volcano (blocking the view of Erta Ale), but at one point there was a river we couldn't pass and had to look in several directions for a track. Finally we succeeded and around some more dunes a village appeared, and then several others. We had not seen any villages since this morning in the mountains. We reached another village at the south west corner of Erta Ale around sunset. A hundred people turned up and negotiated with Afera. Many with Kalashnikovs. We needed to take some guides from here. Full throttle north to the entrance of the lava fields which we reached at 18:00. One (!) hour drive through the lava fields before reaching the base camp - if one can call it that, but I suppose we had climbed up from -100 meters to about 0 by now... Man, that was tough.

Dinner with thunder in the distance, but didn't really think more of it - this is the dry Danakil desert. We only brought a sleeping bag and a few snacks and two litres of water each. After walking for an hour we were engulfed in lightning. On a barren rock. It was very scary. And it was raining and I cursed myself for not packing the rain cover. At one point I was seconds from fainting - it blackened before my eyes, but just had time to sit down. One of the guides held my hand walking for 10 minutes before I was OK again. I'm sure it was dehydration. We have had plenty of water, but it is difficult to drink enough when the water is like drinking hot water from the tap. We hiked together with an Italian group, which had a couple of camels which we hoped would catch the lightning first. The inclination was slow, so easy going, but we were wet and it was a 9 km hike. We started around 20:00 and 3½-4 hours to get to the crater rim. The raining and lightning stopped and we reached the huts on the outer rim. A few times we could see the glow from the mountain on the way up. Short break before descending to the crater floor and 10 minutes walk to the round Erta Ale inner crater. Of course no fence or anything – just a volcano and a feeling that only thin lava tube crust separating you from certain death.
Preparing for take off
Erta Ale by night

Like Mt Doom, just without the Ring. Oh, and the  lava – in my notes I have just written [replace with a lot of verbs]. The beautiful glow of the lava filled the crater – the lava is maybe 10-15 meters below us – a bit difficult to judge. There was certain repetition of the lava flow – the black crust was filled with thin lava lines glowing and every 10 minutes the gasses below would cause the blanket to explode for a couple of minutes with a mini-eruption and lava splashing on the blanket. Hypnotizing. There was just our group and the Italian group, which went to the huts quite soon. One of the couples was quite interesting to watch – the woman would push the man close to the edge, urging him to almost jump in to get the perfect photo. It was easy to see, even though it was scary to be closer than a couple of meters from the rim. Having replaced my soaked shirt with a dry one, but still wet pants, we  reluctantly retreated to the huts. Søren stayed for another hour, all alone. Glad for the sleeping bag, probably the only coldish night. No beds or anything, but we were so tired and wet that I think all quickly dosed off. Next time I will not forget my rain cover.

Sunrise at Erta Ale
Erta Ale by day

My Erta Ale video
My Dallol video

Thursday 10. November – Erta Ale – Lake Afrera

Up at 5:30 for sunrise. We were woken up by the strangest camel noise – like a horse neighing with the mouth full of water. Gekko had bought a Ouzo and biscuits in Mekele (the best he could find). I had still nausea from yesterday, so had Søren. Not much to see of the sunrise though, but the lava and crater was much different in daylight. We could see the pitch black lava on the crater floor from when the lava sometimes had spilled over the rim. It quickly started to get hot. A last trip to the lava lake and it was still beautiful to watch, though the glow was gone.
In January 2012 the crater rim was the place where 5 tourists were killed, 3 wounded and 4 kidnapped. Cuddly went back to Ethiopia in March 2012 to visit Omo and talked to one of the guides operating in the area. From his information it was one of the tourists who resented the hold up, and thereby starting the shoot out. The guide told Cuddly that 10 out of 12 groups cancelled their trips.
It was hot going down. The inclination was not steep at all, but we were all out of water though we each had brought 2 litres. We were down at 9:30 (3 hours).
Another dreadful hour in the jeeps crossing the lava. Because of the rain last night there were many small streams, so we quickly got stuck (did I mention that we get stuck all the time?). At one big stream, 4 other cars were trying to cross, one entered, got stuck, the next entered, got stuck. After one hour we helped out pulling them back. One noticed a couple of cars had gotten through further upstream and we followed.
(C) Miss Dublin
It rained a bit yesterday. This picture is (C) Miss Dublin

At lunch we reached Hamed Ela where we presented our school books to the school master while many were watching. The clapped at us (touching) – and the next time, please bring a football or a basket ball (so now dear reader, take note, they will be thrilled). This is so far out in nothingness. Still no Afars with knives which I would have expected, but many with Kalashnikovs.
42 degrees – phew. We went south through sand plains along the volcanoes and lava fields. Saw one ostrich and a few Thomson gazelles. A local government jeep was stuck, and we helped him out. After a few hours (!) suddenly a gravel road turned up, heading east – where did that come from? The Chinese, of course. 100 km/h. From our car, we could see a big dust cloud come from Afera's car in front of us, coming to a quick halt. He had forgotten to tighten his bolts (which he usually did every 3 hours), so one of the wheels came off and overtook him and ended up 200 meters in front of him… Praying time. Sometimes we had a couple of local people with us whom we never found out who were, but this guy was praying towards Rome instead of Mecca – probably forgot his Qibla. The Italians came and maybe 20 of them helped with the wheel, most of them with encouragements and sincere pieces of advice. We continued on to lake Afrera – a nothing town next to a salt lake. In the lake is the lowest-lying island in the world – Franchetti Island at -102 meters. We got to the town 17:30 and a semi-cold Cola was a pleasant surprise, but our small talk was easily drowned by the tv showing Ethiopian soap operas. Lousy 'motel'. Still no appetite for supper. I, Gekko and miss Dublin went to a hot spring with Afera and Deregie. It was next to a nice campground, overlooking the lake. This lake is one of the most saline in the world – a socalled hypersaline lake. I found it funny to float with my arms behind my head and legs together. The hot pool was great to wash off the salt (and dust). Hot spring combined with overheated me made me almost faint. Afera (our guide) did faint. We took the beds out of the small rooms into the yard. It was windy and lots of dust, but 34 degrees made it impossible to sleep inside. Slept well though and later in the night the wind decreased.
Eh, something is missing...
Ayers Rock of Ethiopia

Friday 11. November – Afrera lake – Djibouti

Dust covered. We were off at 8:30, I think. Super paved road (thank you, China) 120 km south to the east-west road between Addis and Djibouti. Leaving town, there were salt pans but after that the landscape was boring.

Franchetti Island at -102 meters visible in the lake

Just before the junction, we said good bye to Afera, Dereggie, our cook, the helper and security guard (Afera and his team always called him 'Polis'). We continued east towards the Djibouti border at Galafi. Lots of trucks plying the road in both directions, so we got there at 12:30. Galafi, another dusty down. Our Djibouti team immediately spotted us. No tourists come this way, which is also the reason it is so difficult to get a Djibouti visa. Daniel and Abdullah had waited since 9 and the two agencies were not that well coordinated with the timing. We stamped out in an aircon cooled shack (!) – aahhh, wonderful when it was 40 degrees outside. Unfortunately they were quite swift. A few more kilometres of trucks waiting in line before the border. A Djibouti border shack. Again, the border control seemed never to have had so many foreigners at one go, so he spend 20 minutes writing  all visas into a small book and asking the  profession of a random number of us… We saw baboons on the road to Dikhil where we had a good 3 courses lunch. Mainly flat nondescript plains and from Dikhil it was gravel road west towards Lac Abbé – some places we could go 100 km/h. The two cars sometimes did a driving battle. Sunset in the village of Ras Ela ('Red Water'). A village with all children ready to be photographed. It was dark before we reached Lac Abbé, and we could see the special rocks protruding, looking like egg cartons in the car headlights. We reached the camp around 19:00. Sleeping in a kind of Afar huts with second hand French Legionnaire fold-out beds (the legionnaires left Djibouti two years ago). Good dinner – ate a bit. Salad, beef kebabs, banana/oranges. The camp was kind of basic, but quite nice compared to the previous nights.

Saturday 12. November. Lac Abbé – Lac Assal – Tadjoura

Woke up to a wonderful view of the lake and the landscape – 05:30. Looking out of the hut, it was like a view from something out of Star Wars. This was the ending point of the Awash river that Wilfred Thesiger was the first to follow in 1934 and was the first white person to encounter. Until then it had been a great mystery where the river ended, and like in the Danakil, it was a dead end from where the water evaporates.
We drove to a viewpoint to see the sunrise between the travertine chimneys – nice. Nearby hot springs right below the surface (we had to park the cars a bit away), and just jumping made it obvious that the crust was very thin here. Breakfast and walked to the lake to see the flamingos. Saw a Jackal run away, and there was supposedly also hyenas nearby. Maybe 200 flamingos in the lake shifting positions when the girls chased them. We drove south along the lake and saw the larger fumaroles. The chimneys are porous and were created under water but bacteria (like lichen) covered the mud and hardened the surface. One of the fumaroles actually had smoke come out at the top. The lake was quite diminished. The guides thought it was because of an Ethiopian dam across the Awash. It didn't seem the lake would be here in a few decades. We took a southern road back to Ras Ela to a nice lunch – one of the drivers was from this village, so his family prepared 'La Ahlah' (we had fun pronouncing this in an Arabic tone, and it is probably not spelled this way). It was again super hot (well, only 40 degrees, but still) and we came to the village at noon when the school closed – so quickly surrounded by 100 children. Next, it took two hours to the north to a viewpoint of a divide with the 3 continents pulling in different directions (supposedly). Bought a Geode (3$). A couple of other nice view points before reaching Lac Assal (Lake Assal). Super beautiful. Only there half an hour between 16 to 16:30. Lac Assal is the lowest point of Africa at -155 m, the second lowest in the world (after the Dead Sea depression [http://geology.com/below-sea-level/]). It is also the most saline lake in the world (except for a pond – Don Juan pond – in Antarctica, doesn't count). Wikipedia states it also is the largest salt reserve in the world. We thought is was ironic that the table salt in Djibouti was from Kuwait. We were the only ones at the lake except for a couple of people trying to sell us … salt. They had a couple of funny souvenirs – like salt crystallized goat skulls. We should have spent more time here, but it was getting late. I'm very happy to have been at this place – it was quite special. The lake is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.
A long trip followed to Sable Blancs beach, a bit further than Tadjoura on the north shores of the Tadjoura bay. And what a wonderful place after many days of dusty rides. It was the only place where I saw sand beach in Djibouti, and some of us were quickly in the warm water to wash and swim. There was fluorescence in the water making it magic. Most of the party took the beds out of the open huts to sleep by the water. No mosquitoes.

White shores of Lac Assal - the most hyper saline lake in the world and the 2. lowest place in the world

Sunday 13. November – Foret du day

Morning swim in the warm waters and after breakfast we left at 8:30 for the Foret du Day forest. About two hours and climbing from 0 to 1600 meters of altitude, and dropping back to 1400 meters. Here in the ’mountains’ there was a small village and a pleasant temperature of 23 degrees (several members and especially our guides felt cold after the constant 30+ temperature). From the village we brought a ‘local guide’ who Cuddly didn’t think did much good – well, he didn’t do much bad either. The park is supposed to be an ancient forest, one of the few green places in Djibouti, but the guides could not really explain much about it and it was only mildly interesting. On the way back, we got an insight into Gekko's work, which basically boiled down to he was kind of responsible for the current financial crisis in the world – and/or he might actually get us out of it… There was a nice view through a valley to the north.  I think all of us agree that this part could have been left out of the trip. Kolding got bad stomach from the potatoes at lunch, which also included smoked goat – I could eat a tiny bit of it, after several days with no appetite.
We returned to Sable Blancs and snorkelled and relaxed at the beach. It is a surprisingly good snorkelling spot with both shallow coral beds and deep drop offs. Omar told us he was making a 16 person hotel at the beach. For dinner we had ‘lobster’ (it was Crayfish, Gekko told us), but it did not taste good. Probably boiled too long, or my appetite was too small)
Foret du day

Monday 14. November – Ardoukoba - Djibouti City

It rained this morning, but ended soon after breakfast. The morning spent with snorkeling and reading books. Early lunch (menu same, same) and we left at noon. The beach is just out of Tadjoura and we were kind of told we were going to have a 5 minute tour of Tadjoura – we did, but I think it mostly was to find the best qhat for the drivers. Several wanted to skip the Ardoukoba volcano, but I’m happy we did take the 10 minutes detour from the main road. Daniel had said ‘oh, it is a couple of hours’. From the end of where the car could go, it was a 8 minute walk over lava and up to the rim of the small (it was really small) crater rim. Wonderful view over Lac Assal and the lava flows in all directions. The last eruption was in 1978. It was very windy but wonderful. We continued for another hour to Djibouti City. We passed endless truck and petrol loading stations near the harbour – for the million trucks plying the Djibouti – Addis Ababa road. The traffic was mixed trucks with cars and camels.
Hotel Cien Piel. Lots of trouble since Daniel would not take responsibility for the mix up in the reserved rooms. I think Omar fixed it eventually, but the 4 string chain of command showed its weaknesses here. But besides that, the hotel was very nice and I got online after 8 days – the longest in the last 15 years...
Daniels took us for dinner, a 5 minutes walk from the hotel and on a top floor. The first ‘real’ glimpses of the city. Much street life and I could now see we were quite centrally located. I guess the food was OK but again confusion about what food was served. Later, Omar joined us for dinner, fortunately, and things were sorted out.

Tuesday 15. November – Whale shark search

Today's program was to search for whale sharks, which are often spotted here in Djibouti in the winter months. They can grow up to 15 meters, but here they are usually ‘only’ about 8 meters.
We met ‘Dan’ on the pier in front of our speed boat – or actually a boat with a canvas ceiling and a big outer motor. Søren had made the arrangements and had chartered a boat for 510$ including gear and lunch and all except Cuddly joined. It was a nice one hour ride west into the Bay on full speed.  We had a boat driver and a spotter from Yemen. We hardly arrived at the first of two spotting grounds before the first shark was spotted. For me it was impossible to see anything from the boat into the waves, but I guess that is what spotters are for. We all quickly jumped in, but only miss Dublin had time to see it before it dived. We had probably stunned it. We snorkelled and cruised around for some time to find it again. We continued west along the coast, ready to jump in again. It was warm, so it was ok to be wet in the boat. We did a snorkelling stop and had a tuna sandwich. The wind had picked up and the waves were getting bigger. Our spotter saw something splashing when we were turning back – next a fin was spotted in the waves and a ‘go, go, go’ was issued. Yes! There was the monster trying to get away from us. I did not see the head, but it was like an underwater version of the dragon tails from Pandora in Avatar. 10 seconds was what we got. Got a few pictures that unfortunately were later overwritten (why did everybody tease me? I did show it to them in the boat!). Søren, miss Dublin and I saw it. We did another stop for half an hour to snorkel at a coral-finger protruding under water in a bay. Several craps fluffing in the big blue. Large schools of fish. Huge – really big – waves for 2½ hours up and down, the boatman trying to sail near the shore. At one point we stopped since a dolphin group came up to the boat to look at us. I have never seen dolphins before, so that was quite nice. We reached the harbour at 15:30 and were all literally covered with salt crystals after the splash of waves in our face all the way back – half evaporating again. Wet, wet, wet. Our pickups were ready (thank you, Omar) and we said good bye to Gekko at the hotel (half drowned). We were new men – and happy men – after a shower and a dragon hunt.
We went on a ‘city tour’ with Daniel which basically was a walking tour through the centre and the marketplace for an hour. The people really did not like to be photographed and we had to put away the cameras so not to be executed. Søren was followed for most of the trip after showing interest in one of the pieces of clothes all men her e were wearing.
I had almost on behalf of the group said ‘yes!’ when asked if would try poisson Yemeni and it turned out to be a really good experience. Basically they served grilled fish with thin naan bread. Last time I got this was from an oil drum with coal where bread and fish was put on the inner sides of the barrel – in Eritrea. Now, this was a somewhat better restaurant, but everybody seemed happy with finally getting some decent food. Daniel and one of Omar’s three daughters joined us. Cuddly was really charming and was quite keen on knowing if she was married and what about her sisters? We had much fun about that. Another of the sisters drove us back to the hotel whom he also asked – she did have a boyfriend. Cuddly: ‘But is he bigger than me?’
We said good bye to another participant who were leaving early next morning. Søren and I looked for a pictures of us to upload to our travellers club site, but the only picture with both of us was one from Lac Assal and all were kind of funny – Polle from Snave and Erik big stomach

Wednesday 16. November – Djibouti City – Addis Ababa

Omar picked the remaining 5 of us up at 7:30 and drove us to the Kempinski – the finest hotel in town. Infinity pools towards the sea. A great breakfast with brie cheese, ham and other exotic things not seen the last two weeks (the doughnuts were a bit dry, though). There was a Djib photo exhibition in the hallway. Only Omar was with us and we found out more of how the arrangement was. He was actually very nice, but there were so few freelance guides who spoke English, so Daniel and Abdullah were about what was available. So the last days of some dissatisfaction were turning. His biggest wish was a 6x6 truck for 12 persons which he knew was available in Dubai or Australia. Cuddly tried to negotiate a bit for a truck for one of his daughters, but Omar insisted that the girls were worth more. Omar was meeting the president at 9 to discuss tourism in Djibouti, so he drove us back and it was my turn to say good bye. Miss Dublin, Cuddly and Kolding would be on a later plane to Addis, and Søren was going on to Somaliland. I just had half an hour for the market where I had spotted a wrestling T-shirt yesterday for my son. He started with 6000 Francs (a fortune!) but came down to 1450 (still too much). On the way back to the hotel a toothless guy approached ‘Hello my friend, do you remember me?’ ‘ Security at the hotel?’ Denmark? One minute – come and say hello to my boss – he is from Denmark. He followed with me in the direction of my hotel. I realized I was going to be robbed and he was soon trying to take me on a less crowded road – good bye! Djibouti is many places quite shabby and dilapidated.
Good bye to Søren and transfer to the airport. Had to wait outside for two hours since Kenya Airways was delayed. I have never seen so many bulging biceps and GI Joes in my life. There cannot be much to do at the army camps but pumping iron. Talked to a couple GI's from Kansas who were on the same flight. They had been there for a year and had a short leave. The summer had been unbearable. They had seen nothing of Djibouti than the base, but said that there was a trip to Lac Assal one could take, but it cost money, so few did.
Took off at 15:30 for Addis. Totally empty airport. The departure board showed all flights taking off in the evening. 

Support our troups @ Infinity pool, Kempinski



A speaker near you...

Søren has made a wonderful show of the Danakil depression - he is a great speaker and has much better pictures and videos than I have here:


and about the Danakil specifically:



BBC: hottest place on Earth
Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Inspiration and pictures


The horn of Africa is a long way from most people's idea of a holiday destination; for us that is part of what makes it so exciting. This tour is an incredible journey of discovery through some of the most remote and isolated places on earth, a voyage through an inhospitable yet breathtaking landscape more akin to another planet than our own. Starting and ending in the tiny country of Djibouti we explore the spectacular Lac Abbe, a vast salt lake with tall limestone chimneys belching gas into the air, and then cross into Ethiopia to Lake Afrera and traverse the dreaded Danakil Depression, home to the formidable Afar people. We hike up the volcano of Erta Ale and marvel at its lava lake, visit the hot springs at Dallol - the hottest place on earth - and look out for camel caravans carting blocks of salt across the desert. Returning to Djibouti we visit Lac Assal and the remarkable Foret du Day National Park before finishing in the cosmopolitan capital, rubbing shoulders with nomads from the countryside and traders from Arabia. There are few places in the world that can compete with this region for real adventure.

Original itinary

The Danakil Depression

Day 1 - Addis Ababa

Arrive in Addis Ababa and transfer to hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax. Overnight Ghion Hotel or similar. (D)

Day 2 - Mekele

Fly to the town of Mekele. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, in this region hundreds of rock-hewn churches were carved and constructed out of one rock. Many of the churches are carved directly into the cliff walls of the ‘Ambas’ - typical Ethiopian mountains with flat tops and almost vertical sides. Along the way, we visit some of the churches. Overnight Axum Hotel or similar. (BD)

The formidable Danakil Depression is known as one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with searing temperatures and little flora or fauna. It is the lowest place on the planet, created when the earth’s crust collapsed and water flooded in, only to evaporate in the fierce sun leaving enormous salt flats and salt lakes. These are important for the local Afar people, who collect this important commodity to sell at markets. Geologically, it is one of the most active places on the planet, and volcanic cones and lava spewing from the ground in places. To travel here feels like you are traveling to the ends of the earth, a remote, hostile, volcanic desert with spectacular landscapes where few western travelers have been before, and our journey of exploration allows us to do more than just scratch the surface, taking us to areas that define the very essence of ‘off the beaten track’. It has also been home to a number of important fossil discoveries, giving clues to the earliest ancestors of humans. The Danakil today is populated by the nomadic Afar people, a group once renowned for their hostility towards outsiders. In times gone by, Afar men could only be considered adults once they had killed another man, and are reputed to have worn their dead enemies’ testicles around their necks. They are thankfully no longer as fierce as they once were, and to meet them is to meet one of the most isolated ethnic groups on our planet.

Day 3 - Ahmedela

Drive to Ahmedela along unmarked sandy tracks, passing Afar settlements along the way. Ahmedela is the base for exploring the salt mines and seeing the salt workers and camel caravans. Overnight camping at Ahmedela. (BLD)

Day 4 – Dallol

Drive to Dallol and along the way enjoy views of the small hills and colourful hot spring in several places. These hot springs are composed of different minerals along with sulphurs and potash and create spectacular colours. Dallol is renowned as being the hottest inhabited place on earth; between 1960 and 1966 an average annual temperature of 34°C (94°F) was recorded. You are likely to see the long 'caravane de sel' – camel trains loaded with salt. Later we drive back to Ahmedela and our camp. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Day 5 – Erta Ale

Drive to Mount Erta Ale through the Afar desert – Erta Ala is the highlight of this expedition, and is one of only 5 permanent lava lakes in the world. We hike 3 hours to the rim, while our gear and water is carried by camels - we wait for sunset and one of the world's most spectacular sights when the red lava in the crater lights up the sky. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Erta Ale hike

The gently climbing hike itself follows interesting lava formations (lava and pahoehoe lava fields, lava tubes, hornitos, sand deposits, rare vegetation) until we stand on the rim of the caldera. An easy descend brings us to the floor of the caldera and after 10 minutes, we stand on the active pit crater containing the boiling lava lake.

Day 6 – Afrera Lake

After an early breakfast, we leave the only road in this part of Ethiopia (connecting Addis with the ports in Djibouti) and start the journey to Afrera Lake. The Afrera salt lake is home to local Afar people harvesting salt flakes using traditional methods, and in the lake is the worlds lowest lying island in the world, Frachetti island (-102 m). Overnight camping. (BLD)

Tucked away in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is one of the smallest countries on the continent and receives very few visitors. A French colony until 1977, it was one of the last African nations to gain independence. Djibouti’s main asset is its port, providing an outlet for landlocked Ethiopia to send goods across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and Djibouti Town is the country’s liveliest hub, although in a country with a traditionally nomadic population, that’s not saying much. The capital is a fascinating mix of African, Asian, Arab and European influences and is divided into an African and European quarter – it is small enough to explore by walking around and although there are few traditional sights the main appeal is soaking up the atmosphere of this cosmopolitan little city, with French legionnaires mixing with nomadic Afar tribesmen, and women dressed in outrageously colourful robes. Djibouti Town has an allure that is hard to put your finger on.

Day 7 – Lac Abbe

Cross the border with Djibouti and drive to Lac Abbe, a salt lake fringed with incredible scenery, where limestone chimneys belch sulphur. This landscape is so other-worldly that the classic science fiction film ‘Planet of the Apes’ was filmed here. Overnight camping. (BLD)

There are few places in the world like Lac Abbe – it is one of the most desolate places on our planet. Bordering Ethiopia and Djibouti, this vast salt lake is surrounded by hundreds of limestone chimneys, some up to 50 metres high which spew sulphurous gas into the air, and its shores are inhabited by the nomadic Afar people who use the lake to gather salt. The lake is also renowned for its birdlife, with flamingoes, pelicans and ibis among other species to be found here. It is difficult to put into words such awe-inspiring scenery, and it is unlikely that you will ever have seen anything like this before.

Day 8 – Lac Assal and surroundings

We head to Lac Assal – a crater lake and the lowest point in Africa (-150 m) as well as the most saline body of water in the world (up to 40%). It is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular natural phenomena on the continent. We spend the night in the picturesque coastal town of Tadjoura, with its whitewashed buildings and good beaches. (BLD)

Lac Assal

Surrounded by dormant volcanoes, Lac Assal is an impressive sight; the salt flats contrast with the blacl lava fields and there are numerous large crystal formations dotted around. The lake is fed by hot saline springs making it unique among salt lakes, as all others are fed by streams and rivers.

Day 9 – Ardoukôba volcano and Foret du Day National Park

Drive to the Ardoukôba volcano with great views of Lac Assal, and further north to visit Foret du Day national park. A remarkable forest in an otherwise desert country – with monkeys, warthogs, leopards and various other animals. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Foret du Day National Park
This tiny national park, just 3.2 sq. km, is at odds with the rest of the country, the remains of an ancient forest that once spread across the region but has now ceased to exist with the changes in climate over many thousands of years. The park is located at 1500m above sea level, and cooler temperatures as well as mist from the clouds mean that a variety of species can be found here, including the endemic Djibouti francolin, one of the rarest birds in the world.

Day 10 – Djibouti Town

Head to Djibouti Town, the capital of this tiny country. We arrive in tthe afternoon and should have time to explore this fascinating city, at the crossroads of Africa and Arabia. Overnight Hotel Plein Ciel or similar. (BLD)

Day 11 – Djibouti Town

We spend the day visiting some of the city’s key sights, including the colourful Marché Central (market), where all manner of good are traded and people from many different ethnic groups mingle. Overnight Hotel Plein Ciel or similar. (BLD)

Day 12 – Djibouti Town

Tour ends. (B)

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