The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.

Instead of going out to the main road we continued our journey north on a minor dirt road that was recommended to us by Peter who we met at Jungle Junction in Nairobi, he had said that it was the most spectacular road that he had driven in Africa. It certainly was that, we lost count but there were at least 15 mountains of more than 3,000 metres high that we had to cross so we spent all day either climbing or descending. We passed through many villages and being Saturday they all had big markets happening usually beside the road but one town we arrived in held their market right on the road so its was a very slow crawl through the market to get to the other side of the town. We didn’t see many other vehicles for the whole day and it was as Peter had said a spectacular drive but we didn’t arrive in Mekele until 6.30pm. We had been in contact with an agent who would be able to take us on a tag-a-long tour of the Danakil Depression who had asked us to ring him once we arrived. So we did that and he came over to the hotel we were staying at and organised the trip for us charging us 240 US dollars on the spot and when I asked about a receipt he just told me to don’t worry my friend😳. The Danakil Depression is not a place you are allowed to visit on your own due to the on going conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 2012 five tourists were killed and a further two were kidnapped, so since then there has been an ongoing military presence and any visitors to the area must have armed Afar escorts with them. So the next morning we were up early and went into the CBD to find something for breakfast and found a local juice bar that made us the most scrumptious mango juice using a portable generator because the electricity was off followed by of course some Ethiopian coffee next door!

We had the most delicious mango juice for breakfast here.

While we sipped on our mango juice and coffee we watched a bicycle criterium being run around the street in front of us which was fun. The agent had told us that they would be around to pick us up at 8am the this morning but when 8.10 am came around and they hadn’t shown our first thoughts were that we had been scammed! At 8.15am they came roaring in and we followed them to their office in town where we met two other couples who were overlanding through Africa and were also tagging along on the tour. Patrick from Zimbabwe and his wife Marie from France were travelling from France to South Africa and Nick and Tessa from the Netherlands were travelling from Djibouti to South Africa. Also on the tour in company vehicles were five Germans, two Israelis, a Swiss girl who was born in Eritrea, the guide, a cook and about three crew. We set off and drove the 185 kilometres at a speed of about 60 to 70 kilometres per hour the whole way, I don’t know why so slow!

This was the type of country we were driving through from Mekele to Dalol where the Danikil Depression is.

We stopped half way and had a delicious local lunch washed down with a coke while we got to know our fellow tour members. We reached the sleepy little village of Dalol at around 3pm and it was 45c and very dry, we stopped in at the spot we were going to camp at to drop some of the crew off including the cook who was to cook our dinner for us. We then all went for a drive out onto the Danakil Depression, it had rained quite heavily only two days before so instead of it being a dry salt lake it was covered in up to 10 centimetres of water in areas which as you can imagine had become very salty and one of the most corrosive elements known to man so Marcus was having kittens!

Kilometres of nothing but salty water😳.

As we drove onto the salt lake coming the opposite way where several Camel trains carrying blocks of salt that had been cut from the lake bed. It was a a really incredible experience to witness and staggering to think that these men go out 6 days a week in temperatures over 40c with no shelter at all to do this work.

A camel train taking the salt out to Dalol.
A load of salt.
A very hard life for both the men and the camels.
The Afar people mining salt in the Danakil Depression.

We then carried on across the lake for about 20 kilometres to a lake that was bubbling but not so much from heat but from methane gas coming up. It was however around 45c and not really water but a really oily liquid that apparently the locals use for skin ailments but we found quite sticky and not very pleasant.

In this lake the water was very thick and oily.
Methane gas bubbling to the surface.

Then we returned to a spot on the lake where we could watch the sunset which was not really very spectacular and anyone knowing Marcus very well would know that he hates salt water (unless it’s Zanzibar!) so we were happy to leave after sunset and return to the camp.

A glass of what we think may have resembled wine while watching the sun dip below the horizon.
Sunset on the Danakil Depression.

Once back we had a couple of cold drinks and had a chat to a few of the other tour group members before we had dinner. We had the choice of sleeping in our roof top tent or on home made beds under the stars and decided to take the sleeping under the stars option and slept reasonably well waking every few hours to gaze at the brilliant stars above us. It was a windy night which helped with the heat which only dropped to 31c overnight.

Marcus testing out his bed for the night! It was very hot and windy all night.
It was very cosy!

The next morning we were woken at 4.30am for breakfast at 5am and then we all got back into our cars for another 25 kilometre drive across the lake to the Danakil Depression. Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression is one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on the planet and by 9am it was back tip in the low 40 celsius. The average year round temperature is a staggering 34.4 celsius. Parking the cars at the base of what seems like a rocky island in the middle of a huge salt pan. We had a walk of around one kilometre over very rocky uneven ground to the site which was just out of this world. It is like nothing else we had seen anywhere in the world and even the photos just couldn’t do it justice. The area had in the past been used as a sulphar mine but has been long abandoned, thank goodness but certainly had that rotten egg gas smell about it. It was around 10am when we finished walking back to the cars but was already 45c😟.

We met Patrick who is from Zimbabwe..
Groundwater heated by molten rock carries dissolved salts to the surface. The heat then dries away the moisture, leaving these multi-coloured deposits.
Incredible colours.
The salt deposits leave a beautiful pattern behind.
The Danakil Depression been there photo!
This shot was taken by Nick with his drone. You can see the amount of salt water we were driving through.
Another photo taken by Nick from the drone. Gives you a bit more of an idea about how big the salt pans are.

We returned to the camp where we and another couple Tessa and Nick headed off for the Gheralta Mountains while most of the others set off to have a look at a volcano which a lot of overlanders that we had spoken to said was not worthwhile doing. However before anything else, the first thing we had to do and as soon as we found a decent size town was to find a good car wash place and give the cars a really thorough wash outside, underneath and also the engine to get all the salt off which had already baked on. The young guys doing the wash were very good and once finished didn’t mind us doing an inspection and getting them to do any bits that had been missed.

Washing all the salt off. A few days later we were driving through rain and I made sure we drove fast through the deeper puddles so that the water would spray up and wash any remaining salt off.
Some of the tourists chose to sit on top of the cars.

Next we continue North towards the Gheralta Mountains in search of more rock hewn churches.

5 thoughts on “The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.

  1. Well ….,what can I say ? Just remarkable that you both cope with
    Extreme situations and experience what few of us tourists will ever see!!
    Your courage pays off in reams!! Thank you as ever for sharing this remarkable journey !! We would love to meet you in person one day when we are exploring Victoria in our Kimberley Kamper ! Are you enjoying the rain ? We have had sooo much the tanks over flow daily 😝


    1. Marcus and Pauline February 18, 2020 — 5:27 am

      Thanks man, It would be fantastic to catch up with you too. We head back to the UK in mid March for a 6 month drive around Europe so maybe when we return we could get together.


  2. Well ….,what can I say ? Just remarkable that you both cope with
    Extreme situations and experience what few of us tourists will ever see!!
    Your courage pays off in reams!! Thank you as ever for sharing this remarkable journey !! We would love to meet you in person one day when we are exploring Victoria in our Kimberley Kamper ! Are you enjoying the rain ? We have had sooo much the tanks over flow daily 😝


  3. a great description and photos of your amazing and so out of the way areas you have journeyed Pauline and Marcus. Jeff H


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