3 days in Denakil depression
General info about Denakil:
The Denakil Depression is a desert and extremely arid land stretching around northeast Ethiopia, southern Eritrea and northern Djibouti across 136956 km2. To be more accurate, it’s about 13 times the size of Lebanon! It is the 3rd lowest point on earth and one of the hottest.
This region is famous for inhabiting the Afar ethnic group. They speak their own language; they have particular pointy frontal teeth and they are Muslims.
THE DENAKIL EXPERIENCE:
Took the 1st flight going from Addis Abeba at 7 am directly reaching Makale at 8:10 am. Makale is the capital city of Tigray in the Northernmost of the nine regions of Ethiopia. I reached the city right on time for the depature of my 4X4 ride heading towards the Denakil with 6 other travelers. There were two French cousins, one 70-year-old Italian, a Spanish couple and me going on that trip. Each 3 people hopped on a 4X4 old jeep accompanied by our expert drivers, the guide and a PERSONAL CHEF :p .
We drove for four straight hours through villages and agricultural fields listening to Tigray music, to reach the Denakil. We first stopped for a short lunch break in a small Afar village, where we had our first encounter with this unique ethnicity. It took us two more hours to reach the base camp of the Erta Ale Volcano.
We arrived in the late afternoon and rested, until dinner time. We shared delicious traditional Ethiopian meals such as Njera, chiro, soup & vegetable stews.
When the sun was completely set around 8 pm we gathered along, with guides, military soldiers and camels to start our volcano hike towards the lava crater. We trekked for 3 and a half hours under a sky full of starts following the crater’s fiery red smoke from faraway.
As soon as we reached the edge of the crater, we couldn’t believe our eyes from the jaw dropping scene that we were witnessing. I really envisioned standing on the doors to hell. There right in front of us an immense lava lake with fire exploding fiercely, and flowing slowly in a stream. We stood there for an hour just observing the lava spectacle while sipping some delicious Ethiopian sweet wine from Axum. It was the best experience of my life!!
And guess where we spent the night…?!
Just 2 kms away from the crater! We simply slept on mattresses under the moonlight.
We woke up at sunrise to hike down the volcano before the heat strikes again. We grabbed our breakfast and hit the road towards Dallol, the hottest inhabited place on earth! In order to reach the site on the next morning we stopped halfway for the night in Hamedella a small Afar Village. On that day, I passed next to lake Assal the lowest point of land in Africa and the 2nd lowest on earth at -150 m below sea level. Now I can brag about the fact that I’ve been to the two lowest points on earth, after visiting the Dead sea earlier this year at -428 m below sea level ;).
We woke up with full excitement to hit a 4-hour road heading straight to Dallol. All this wait was totally worth it! We crossed hundreds of kilometres of dried mars-like lands and immense salt flats to finally reach a point where we had to start hiking. We parked our 4X4 jeeps and walked for 30 mins that felt like 1 hour under 40°C of desert heat.
I suddenly felt like I was walking on another planet… I was really mind blown by the stupendous sulphur yellowish stretches. The strong rotten egg smell did not stop us from admiring and picturing the hot spring geysers erupting and pouring the vapour water and dissolving into salt in poisonous blue, green or yellow coloured ponds. As we walked along the land we could see different and numerous colourful formations. I was truly witnessing unique geological phenomena that is nowhere else to be found in the world!
After the hike, we got back to the cars to continue our expedition through the extra-terrestrial land, to stop by some of the weirdest natural Salt mountains structures and then by several geothermal skin healing ponds. How could I forget to fill in some of this healing water to my mom back home! She was really pissed off when she knew about that story…
Lastly we drove to the dried side of lake Assale to an immense salt flat. When I stepped out of the car and walked on this natural wonder, I felt like I walking on a gigantic slippery mirror that reflected the sky and the clouds.
However, the salt mines of the Denakil depression are a completely a different story. Afar men work under very tough and severe conditions, in which temperature hardly drops below 50°- 60°, even early in the morning. It was also fascinating to see how rigorous the salt miners are, by working under the harsh weather and breaking plates of salt out off the ground with an axe and carving them into tiles, to stack, tie and prepare them for transportation. It was heart-breaking to know that they only earned 1 BIRR per for each salt tile they cut!
Throughout the road trip back to Mekele, I could see the camel caravans and donkeys from behind the window transporting the overweighed salt blocks from the mining areas to the nearest village.
Thoughts about the trip:
This was the experience of a lifetime! I honestly think that the Denakil Depression is one of the most underrated sites on earth! It was absolutely the highlight of my trip to Ethiopia.
How do people don’t know about this wonder of nature! From climbing to the top Erta Ale active volcano, to hiking to the hydrothermal fields and admiring our nature’s most severe creations. I also felt so humbled by meeting the Afar people and their hard-working salt miners. As well as seeing how much the villagers and children are happy and self-satisfied with so little.
3 DAYS TRIP COSTS:
164 $ flights From Addis Ababa to Mekele and back.
300 $ Denakil trip
11$ One night at a Motel in Mekelle.
- If you are flying international with Ethiopian Airlines you get a discount on your internal national flights. Very useful
- You have to book your Denakil Depression Tour with an experienced local Tour operator. Otherwise it will be almost impossible to reach the destinations alone in the desert.
- Do not forget to bring small gifts and candies to the kids. Something I regret not doing before coming.