Climbing in 48 degrees Danakil Depression; active lava lake in Ethiopia

Danakil Depression

The Danakil Depression. Probably the most special thing we have seen during our trip. It is an area in the north-east of Ethiopia against the border of Eritrea in the Afar region. It is the hottest place on earth (average year temperature) and has an active volcano Erta Ale with a lava lake that you can visit. The Dallol area is 100 meters below sea level and has active sulfur lakes, creating a bizarre range of colors. Sharp lava stones and salt lakes that you drive over are not the best combi for the car so we decide to leave it and go with a trip.

Climbing in 48 degrees, sleeping on the ground. Danakil Depression, a natural wonder!

We start our trip at the volcano Erta Ale, a day driving through the lava landscape, where we do more than 2 hours over the last 20 kilometers through the large lava stones. At the military camp (it is close to Eritrea) we wait until it gets dark before we start the 3-hour walk to the edge of the volcano. Despite the climbing, it is a tough trip. The heat (still more than 40 degrees) ensures that we drink 4 liters of water per person. The ORS that we have taken for safety is doing its job, because we are coming down, but still reasonably alive. The last 20 minutes we walk over new lava towards the rim. In 2011 he really erupted for the last time with the lava coming to the cliff. Two weeks ago the lava was still over the edge, so at the rim of the volcano we have to walk very carefully over the fresh lava to see where you can and can not stand. Sometimes the lava creaks and you immediately feel the heat coming up through the slits. Bizarre!

Here a short video that we made on the edge of the Danakil Depression

We stand against the wind a few meters from the edge, so that we do not suffer from the toxic substances and the heat of the lava in the lake. Wow what a magical sight! The volcano is super active and we see big explosive of red lava shoot up, bubbles that dissolve again. It is very impressive to be able to experience this from so close. That night we sleep at the top of the cliff (nearby, but at a safe distance from the edge) on mats on the ground. In the background we hear the explosions of the volcano, but we are so tired of the climb, the heat and the impressions that we fall asleep within 5 minutes.

Wake up with a huge explosion

The next morning we are awakened by a huge explosion, where the air above the volcano lights up completely red. The wake up call of the volcano? We wait until it is quiet and then go 1x to the edge to see the magical spectacle. Then we visit another area close to what has only smoked up to 4 days before our visit in all those years, but where you can now see red lava. We realize that the whole area is bizarrely active and we strongly wonder whether it will indeed be in 2025 that this volcano (as predicted) will burst again.

Salt extraction by the Afar

After the volcano we drive further into the Danakil Depresion in 1.5 days. The area is full of salt plains of the Awach River which, because there is never rain, does not make its way to the Indian Ocean. On the way we see the local Afar salt win. Unbelievable how strong these people are. They are in full sun all day (it is when we are there at 8 o’clock in the morning already 48 degrees) to chop up salt to make blocks. They sell these blocks for 4 birr (16 cents) to the men with camels who then bring it to the civilized world through the Danakil Depresion to sell it for 26 birr (1 euro). Every day the same. So every day you see rows of camels packed with salt blocks leaving the area.

On the way we pass the many huts made of some sticks, plastic and stones. There is no water, no agriculture, no public transport, only salt. The people of the Afar probably have the toughest living conditions we have seen so far. If food or assistance with water should be sent somewhere, it is still in this area, but unfortunately we do not see any NGOs here.

The outer landscape of Dallol

On the way to Dallol, the landscape changes from salt plains to salt crystals to sand. At Dallol, at 125 meters below sea level, it is at 8 o’clock in the morning almost 50 degrees! The military who ride with us (we are 16 kilometers from the border with Eritrea) are first sent to the front to check the area and then we can go there too. Dallol is a volcanic area where sulpher and iron oxidise and provide an extraterrestrial landscape. The area is constantly changing and therefore always changes. We have never seen anything like this and it is overwhelmingly so special. 1 of the military is there for the first time and is therefore very happy when I take a picture for him with his phone.

For us this trip was another highlight of the trip. The heat was intense, but we were able to experience how it will soon be east in the middle ;-). Satisfied, we return to Mekele. What a special landscape this country has! We can all recommend a trip to Ethiopia, the diversity is really enormous. There is so much to see and so much to experience. It is that our visa for Sudan begins to tick, but otherwise we could have stayed in this country much longer.

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