Danakil Depression

Danakil Depression is the most unique experience you’ll ever have. It is difficult, hot and uncomfortable but it is worth a visit. Living back in the cities before your travels, you never think you would find yourselves literally “in the middle of nowhere”. Visiting places like this only shows us how many things we still don’t know and how many diverse “worlds” there are on our planet. So here is to the adventure! It is truly “Out of this World”.

The Afar Triangle (also referred to as the Afar Depression) is a geological depression caused by the Afar Triple Junction, which is part of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. The three tectonic are namely the Nubian, Arabian and Indian.  The northern part of the Afar Depression is also known as the Danakil Depression. The Afar Depression is the product of a tectonic triple-rifts junction (the Afar Triple Junction), where the spreading ridges forming the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden emerge on land and meet the East African Rift. The conjunction of these three plates of Earth’s crust is near Lake Abbe.

Day 1: Nairobi – Moyale {780km in 11hrs}

Leave Nairobi as early as 5:30. We drive for 280km, past Karatina, Nanyuki to Isiolo for our own lunch or open personal lunchbox. We drive further 270km to the hot dry plains through Archer’s post, Merile, Laisamis, Loglogo to Marsabit. The cool weather welcomes to the oasis of Marsabit.

We drive further to Moyale. The city is located largely on the territory of Ethiopia but also belongs partly to Kenya. The city is known for its traditional architecture. {If we get at the border within working hours, we can initiate immigration formalities or start the following morning.} 

Day 2: Moyale – Shashamane {520km in 8hrs}

“Promised land” is a little patch of Jamaica, where dreadlocked Rasta settlers, many born in the Caribbean, have now made their home. Welcome to the community of Shashemane—Ethiopia’s version of “Amish country.” Reggae has its own code and language, infused largely with the ideology of the Rastafarians—followers of a spiritual system that arose in the 1930s in Jamaica.

A big influence on the Rastafarians was Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political leader in the 1920s who led a Back to Africa movement among descendants of slaves throughout the Americas. Rastafarians regard Garvey as a prophet who predicted that one day a black man would be crowned king in Africa and would bring deliverance to dark-skinned people everywhere.

Leave Moyale after immigration formalities in the early morning for an eight-hour drive to Shashamane. Today we cover 520km of spectacular scenery.

  Day 3: Full day in Shashamane

Spend the rest of day 3 in Shashamane. Shashamane was in the past given by His Highness Haile Selassie to repatriate people from America, Europe and the Caribbean Islands. Be a part of the Rastafarian culture, and get a glimpse of the famous art gallery by Teddy Dan and the church of The Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Nayabhingi. We have an informative local interaction with the community and we also meet the international Reggae musician. You can also explore the fun-filled nightlife in Shashamane if you are not tired.

Day 4: Shashamane to Kombolcha {620km, 10½ hrs}.

Kombolcha is a city in north-central Ethiopia, with an elevation between 1842 and 1915 meters above sea level. It was an Italian occupation having postal and telephone service, a clinic, a spaccio (“tobacco shop”), barrack village of the A.A.S.S. as well as other improvements intended for Italians. Archaeological research discovered “some remains of Christian settlements”, dated to the late first millennium of the current era.

After breakfast, we continue to journey through this incredible country. As you north through the central region, driving up through the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Enjoy flat-bottomed, steep-sided volcanic crater lakes called maars in Bishoftu. Proceed past Debre Berhan to reach Kombolcha after 620km in 10½ hrs.

Day 5: Kombolcha to Mekele{400km, 8hrs}.

Mekele formerly the capital of Enderta awraja in Tigray is today the capital city of Tigray National Regional State. It is located around 780km north of Addis Ababa, with an elevation of 2,254 metres above sea level. Mekelle is the economic, cultural, and political hub of northern Ethiopia. Mekele is the principal centre of Ethiopia’s inland salt trade. Newer industries include the production of incense and resin. The Danakil Depression can be said to ‘begin’ here.

After having breakfast drive to Mekele on the way you will visit Hayik Estefanos then continue driving to Mekele. Today will be a rather shorter day covering about 400km in 8hrs.

Day 6: Mekele to Hamede Ela {160km, 3-4hrs}.

Depart Mekele and drive to Hamede Ela campsite via Berhale. Once we reach Berhale, you will notice the landscape change. Most people associate this point as the start of the ‘depression’. Berhale is also a stopping off point for the camel caravans carrying salt from Lake Karum to the highlands of Ethiopia in the northwest. We will have lunch at Berhale before continuing on our journey to Hamede Ela. That night we will camp out in the open at Hamede Ela. Before sunset, we will travel a short distance to Lake Karum to watch the sunset from the salt flats on the lake. After sunset, travel the short distance by car back to Hamede Ela. Dinner and overnight at the campsite.

Day 7: Hamede Ela – Dallol – Berhale – Aballa.

Dallol is a cinder cone volcano in the Danakil Depression, northeast of the Erta Ale Range in Ethiopia. It has been formed by the intrusion of basaltic magma into Miocene salt deposits and subsequent hydrothermal activity. Phreatic eruptions took place here in 1926, forming Dallol Volcano; numerous other eruption craters dot the salt flats nearby. These craters are the lowest known sub-aerial volcanic vents in the world, at 45 m or more below sea level.

Numerous hot springs are discharging brine and acidic liquid here. Small, widespread, temporary geysers produce cones of salt. The Dallol deposits include significant bodies of potash found directly at the surface.

Berhale is a village at the edge of the Danakil Depression, kind of halfway climbing up the Rift Valley Escarpment. One passes here on the way to or from Hamad Ele and the Dallol sulphur springs. The village is also a stop-over for the camel caravans that bring salt from Lake Asale to the markets of Mekele, high on the plateau outside the Danakil Depression.

Rise early and travel over the low waters of Lake Assal. Although the distance is not far to get to Dallol, the cars have to drive (3 –4hrs) very slowly on the salt lake so as to not damage the cars.

Once we arrive at the base of a small mountain, we’ll hike up to see the sulphur springs of Dallol. The colours and rock formations that you will see here are hard to believe.

From Dallol, we will drive back across the salt lake stopping off to see how the local Afari people mine and harvest the salt. This is probably one of the toughest jobs in the world.

After lunch in Berhale, continue driving for about 2 hours until we reach the town of Abala. Dinner and overnight stay in shared rooms in a local man’s house.

Day 8: Aballa – Erta Ale.

Erta Ale is a continuously active basaltic shield volcano in the Afar Region of north-eastern Ethiopia. It is situated in the Afar Depression, a badland desert area. Erta Ale is the most active volcano in Ethiopia.                                                                           

 Erta Ale denotes “Smoking Mountain” in the local Afar dialect and its southernmost pit is known locally as “the gateway to Hell”. In 2009, it was mapped by a team from the BBC using three-dimensional laser techniques, in order for the mapping team to maintain a distance and avoid the lakes’ searingly hot temperatures.                             

Erta Ale is 613 metres high, with one or sometimes two active lava lakes at the summit which occasionally overflow on the south side of the volcano. It is notable for holding the longest-existing lava lake, present since the early years of the twentieth century (1906). Volcanoes with lava lakes are very rare: there are only eight in the world.

After breakfast, drive for around 2 – 3 hours on a paved road, after which we will start our off-roading! The first section will take us across the desert sands for around 1 hour after which we will stop for lunch in a small desert outpost town. After lunch comes the slowest part of the reading. We will navigate our way through a lava field covering around 12km in 1 and a half to 2 hours. Slow going! 

The cars will take us as far as a military outpost after which we will hike 3 hours to the top of the crater. Half of the hike will be done in daylight and a half in darkness so bring a good torch. Once we reach the top of the crater, you will get around 1 hour to relax and take in the amazing sight of the lava lake. This is truly an “out of this world” experience and somewhat hard to fathom. After taking in the lava lake, walk the short distance back to the camp for dinner and sleep.

Day 9: Erta Ale – Mekele

At 4:00 am, wake up and walk the short distance down to Crater Lake. Relax by the lava lake until sunrise. You will notice that the flow of the lake has changed since the night before so that is why we take in two visits to see the lava lake. After sunrise, hike for 2 – 3 hours back down to the military camp for breakfast.

Day 10: Mekele to Debre Birhan{650km, 12hrs}.

Debre Berhan is a city and in central Ethiopia. Located in the Semien Shewa Zone of the Amhara Region, about 120 kilometres northeast of Addis Ababa on Ethiopian highway 2, the town has an elevation of 2,840 meters, which makes it the highest town of this size in Africa.

After breakfast, embark on a long drive to Debre Birhan. The route passes along the spectacular mountainous ridge of the Great Rift Valley. In 12hrs we cover 650km for a well-deserved hot shower and a great meal.

Day 11: Debre Birhan to Arba Minch {400km, 6½hrs}.

Arba Minch meaning “40 springs” – Situated in southern Ethiopia at the base of the western side of the Great Rift Valley, the city of Arba Minch is the largest city in the Gamo Gofa Zone. Surrounded by forested mountains and home to two of Ethiopia’s largest Rift Valley Lakes, Arba Minch is named after the abundant springs found in the area.

This resort town rests on the edge of Lake Chamo where it has a stunning view of the aptly named ‘Bridge of God’, an isthmus that separates Lake Chamo from the neighbouring Lake Abaya. This stretch of land is home to zebras, gazelle, kudus and other wildlife. The Dorze village is also a popular attraction in Arba Minch – here tourists can visit the famous beehive huts built by the Dorze tribe.

A beautiful route through a mountainous desert landscape between Moyale and Arba Minch. The trip would cover about 400km approximately in six and a half hours. (6½hrs). Upon arrival, we may either visit,                                            

(a) Crocodile Market on Lake Chamo

Much like the temporary day markets that are common in Ethiopia, the Crocodile Market is a daily event on Lake Chamo where crocs similarly get together to see and be seen. A trip to this market is also a good chance to spot hippos, fish and birds. Crocodile Market on Lake Chamo

Or (b) Crocodile Ranch

The Crocodile Ranch was established in 1984 by the government of Ethiopia to sustainably maintain the wild croc populations. It lies on an area of 3 hectares of land. Feeding usually happens on Monday and Thursdays and is not to be missed.

Day 12: Arba Minch to Moyale {400km, 6hrs}.

Today morning we leave the Omo Valley where we will briefly see some of the 14 tribes of the Omo valley on the way. We finish the day at Arba Minch town, named after the 40 springs found in the vicinity.

Day 13: Moyale back Nairobi. {780km, 11hrs}

After breakfast, head to the immigration offices for formalities. Once cleared, hit the road via Marsabit and Isiolo. Since this is a homebound trip, you can choose to drive all the way to Nairobi covering about 800km in 11hrs.

Options are of course many and varied and in many cases, we can be flexible about the itinerary for accommodation facilities and the extension of the safari destinations.

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