Guide to Travelling to the Danakil Depression in Northern Ethiopia – The Hottest Place on Earth

The Danakil Depression in Northern Ethiopia is one of the most unique places on the planet. Boiling and steaming hot springs in breath-taking blue, yellow, green, red and orange colors, boiling lava lakes and a salt lake of epic proportion are just a few things that expect the few adventurers who dare visiting this hostile place.

Sulphur Fields in Dallol Danakil Depression

These are the top two sights in the Danakil Depression

Dallol – a volcanic area full of colorful boiling hot springs and astonishing colors

Dallol Danakil Depression 2

Erta Ale – a continuously active volcano with a lave lake in its crater

Erta Ale Volcano Danakil Depression

Boiling Lava at Erta Ale volcano. Photo by alakauf

Things to know about the Danakil Depression before going

Visiting the Danakil Depression is only possible by joining a tour group. In the past, there have also been a few security issues with groups of the local Afar people who are fighting for independence in the border region of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Therefore, all tours are escorted by armed guards.

Armed Guard in the Danakil Depression

How to get to the Danakil Depression

All tours start in the town of Mek’ele in the Ethiopian highlands. There are two options to get to Mek’ele from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and main gateway to the country: you can either endure a 17 hour bus ride for less than $15 (not recommended) or take one of five daily flights. Ethiopian Airlines offers 50% off all domestic flights for foreigners who have travelled to Ethiopia on Ethiopian Airlines. Just contact their sales office with your booking number and let them know your preferred domestic flight route and time and they will book it for you with a discount of 50%. If you are flying to Ethiopia with another airline – don’t to worry, the standard rate of a roundtrip ticket from Addis to Mek’ele is around $200 – still affordable (if not – there is still option A, the 17 hour bus journey).

Ethiopian Food

If you decide to travel to Ethiopia, do not miss out on the amazing food

There are numerous agencies that operate daily tours to the Danakil Depression. I would recommend you to book your tour once you are on the ground in Mek’ele and not to online in advance. You will have much more control over the price when you are negotiating in person. We booked our tour the evening we got to Mek’ele and left right the next morning.

Most tour operators offer the options of a two day, three day and a four day tour. I definitely recommend the three day tour. If you only do one of the two day tours, you will either miss out on the hot springs of Dallol or the hike to Erta Ale volcano – the two highlights of the tour. The three day tour covers all the sights in the area and didn’t feel rushed at all to us. The four day tour covers the same places as the three day option but at a more relaxed pace – a bit too relaxed as I was told.

We booked our tour with Ethio Travel and Tours, one of the most reputable operators. After some heavy negotiating, we managed to get the price down to $250 for the three day option including all costs including meals and water. I guess we were lucky because they still had exactly two seats in one of the jeeps available. But you should try not to pay more than $300 for the tour (the first price they asked was over $500 for the tour).

The tour highlights

We spend most of day one in the car, driving towards Erta Ale. The landscape on the way is beautifully dotted with extinct volcano craters. After sunset, we started our trek from Erta Ale basecamp up to the crater. The hike takes around three hours and is not very steep and we got to the crater at around midnight. You can walk right up to the rim of the volcano crater and watch the lave bubble under your feet. It is such an amazing and surreal experience.

Erta Ale Volcano Danakil

The lava lake of Erta Ale volcano is one of only five lave lakes in the world. Photo: Raul Soler

After admiring this incredible natural spectacle for a bit more than an hour, we got some rest on the thin mattresses near the volcano crater that were carried up by camels. Don’t forget to look up to the stars at night. Here, in the middle of nowhere you can see millions of bright dots in the sky. At 4am, after only three hours of sleep we got up again and walked back down to the basecamp. We had to be back before sunrise because the sun is just so strong.

Lake Karum Jeep Danakil Depression

Much of the road through the Danakil Depression is not a road at all

Day two was mostly driving and relaxing. On day three, we set off early in the morning  towards Dallol- the other highlight of the tour. The colorful landscapes formed by volcanic activity and iron-rich minerals that come straight from the core of our planet are like nothing I have seen before:

Sulphur fields Dallol Danakil Depression

Because the hot spots under the earth change frequently, this entire area changes its appearance every couple of weeks.

In addition to the beauty of the colorful Dallol sulphur fields we also stopped by this incredible whole in the salt crust of the lake:

Dallol Danakil Depression

This photo also made it into the top 10 of my best photographs of the year 2017. Check out the other 9

One the way back towards Mek’ele, we visited the local Afar people who are farming salt from the dry lake. They spend all day working in the open sun at temperatures that often reach more 50 degrees Celcius (122°F). The Danakil Depression is the hottest place on earth.Salt Worker Danakil Depression

This tour was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my travel life. Seeing the boiling lava of Erta Ale and the other-worldy landscapes of Dallol was such an incredible experience that I can recommend to anyone.

Ethiopia has made it into the list of my top 10 visited countries because it is so diverse. Check out the other places of the list: Most amazing countries by category

After my trip to Ethiopia, I travelled to Djibouti, a small country in East Africa that is considered to be one of the top 10 destinations in 2018, according to Lonely Planet. Check out my experiences here: Travelling to Djibouti – One of the top countries to visit in 2018?

Did you ever hear about this surreal place before and would you want to travel there? Let me know in the comment section.

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15 thoughts on “Guide to Travelling to the Danakil Depression in Northern Ethiopia – The Hottest Place on Earth

  1. Pingback: Most amazing countries by category | 197 Travel Stamps

  2. This is really an amazing adventure. Colorful hot springs, the lave lakes, the hole in the salt lake crush, they are just incredible. Do you know when was the last time the volcano erupted? I haven’t heard about it.

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  5. I had no idea Ethiopia had such diverse (and harsh) natural wonders. Your photos are incredible. It’s now on our list. Great tips regarding the travel, as well. I don’t know how interested we would be in each other after a sweaty, 17-hour bus ride.

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