Danakil Depression – Colourful ‘End of the World’

Danakil Depression Ethiopia

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.

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 untill 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 temparatures, the best solution is to take a bed outside and sleep in the open.