Unveiling the Secrets of Danakil Depression, Ethiopia: A Journey into the World's Fiery Abyss


In the heart of North Eastern Ethiopia lies a basin so unforgiving that it has earned itself ominous titles. Wilfred Thesiger, the decorated British desert explorer, referred to it as the "Land of Death," while National Geographic bestowed upon it the title of the "Cruellest Place on Earth."

Welcome to the Danakil Depression, where extreme conditions shape the lives of its inhabitants and the pursuit of 'white gold' sustains communities against all odds.

Photo of Danakil Depression, Afar Zone 2 by Riyanka Roy

Surviving in the Harshest Environment

As we delve into the Danakil Depression, be prepared for a journey into a land of extremes. The scorching sun beats down relentlessly, creating shimmering mirages that play tricks on the eyes. Dry air and swirling dust drain moisture from your mouth and eyes, leaving you with a constant reminder of the arid nature of this region. Brace yourself for an encounter with one of the hottest, driest, and lowest places on Earth.

Salt: The Precious 'White Gold

While the Danakil Depression may appear inhospitable, it holds within its harsh grasp a precious commodity: salt. Tens of thousands of families have made their livelihoods from mining this 'white gold.' Discover the toil and determination of the salt miners as they brave the searing heat and laboriously extract salt from the cracked earth. Witness their resilience and understand the vital role this mineral plays in sustaining their lives.

Photo of Unveiling the Secrets of Danakil Depression, Ethiopia: A Journey into the World's Fiery Abyss by Riyanka Roy

The Ethereal Landscape

As we navigate through the Danakil Depression, prepare to be mesmerized by its surreal landscape. The cracked earth stretches before you, revealing a desolate beauty that is both haunting and captivating. Observe the ever-changing colors of the mineral-rich soil, a testament to the geological wonders that lie beneath the surface. Marvel at the vast salt flats, where the stark white expanse blends seamlessly with the surrounding barrenness.

Cultural Encounters and Ancient Traditions

Beyond the harshness of the environment, Danakil holds a rich tapestry of cultural encounters. Engage with the Afar people, the indigenous inhabitants of the region, and gain insights into their traditions and way of life. Discover their resilience and connection to the land, as they navigate the challenging terrain and preserve their age-old customs amidst the relentless conditions.

Exploring 'Erta Ale': The Fiery Beast

No journey to Danakil Depression is complete without an encounter with Erta Ale, one of the world's most active volcanoes. Embark on a challenging trek through rugged terrain to witness the glowing lava lakes nestled within its fiery crater. It's a surreal experience that will leave you humbled by the raw power of Mother Nature.

Photo of Erta Ale, Afar Zone 2 by Riyanka Roy

How To Reach Danakil?

To be honest, it’s not an easy journey! In spite of that, it’s surely a magical place to explore.

The nearest airport is in Mekele, however, it might be difficult to get a direct flight till here. The best way would be to fly to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, from where you can take another flight to Mekele.

From here, it was a road trip across the Great Rift Valley, crossing some of the highest points of Ethiopia, to explore one of the lowest points on Earth!

The best way to explore is to book a 3 nights/4 days trip that would take you across Danakil Depression, which includes a night trek to Erta Ale, an active shield volcano, that lies in this region; exploring the salt flats and the vast stretches of the desert; a night under the starlit sky at Hamed Ela; a chance to dip in the salt pools and of course, endless opportunities to walk alongside the acid pools and sulphur formations!

In spite of the harsh climatic conditions and lack of basic necessities, the people of Afar are happy to call this home! They mostly trade with salts, something that is abundantly available in this part of the world. We saw hundreds of camels, carrying salt bars across the desert. It was a sight to behold!

We traveled with ETT (Ethio Travel & Tours), the most reputed agency, organizing the Danakil Depression Tours. The 3 nights/4 days trip would cost you around 600 USD. The price might seem high for backpackers on a shoestring budget, but you need to take into consideration that you’re traveling in a great, comfortable, and safe 4×4 car, guarded by a convoy with local policemen to ensure your safety and you have all your water, food, guide and entrance fees included.

Photo of Unveiling the Secrets of Danakil Depression, Ethiopia: A Journey into the World's Fiery Abyss by Riyanka Roy