Visiting the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia. The hottest place on earth!
During my trip to all 197 countries in the world, I’ve loved to visit the extremes of our gorgeous planet. The lowest point on earth (the Dead Sea in Israel/Jordan) along with the highest point on earth (Mount Everest in 2023). I’m super keen to visit Omyakon in Russia, the coldest place on earth, and finally visiting the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia which is the hottest place on earth (as a temperature average over the year).
My first time in Ethiopia I didn’t manage to visit the Danakil Depression. I had just started my blog, and this was long before I understand how bloggers make money. And it’s expensive to visit the Danakil Depression. So I had to turn it down, and make do with the other epic things to do in Ethiopia, with feeding the hyenas in Harar being a particular highlight.
So when I went back to Ethiopia last year with my non-profit Mudita Adventures, visiting the Danakil Depression was my number 1 goal. I could finally afford it, so it was time to visit the hottest place on earth. And I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences during my visit to all 54 countries in Africa.
Table of contents
- Visiting the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia. The hottest place on earth!
- What is the Danakil Depression?
- Where is the Danakil Depression?
- How To Visit the Danakil Depression
- Is it safe to visit the Danakil Depression?
- Best Time to Visit the Danakil Depression?
- How many days should you spend in Danakil?
- Is the Danakil Depression the hottest place on earth?
- Why does the Danakil Depression look like that?!
- Visiting the Danakil Depression; My Experience
- FINAL THOUGHTS ON VISITING THE DANAKIL DEPRESSION IN ETHIOPIA
What is the Danakil Depression?
The Danakil Depression is a natural phenomenon caused by 3 tectonic plates meeting. The African and Asian plates are moving apart, causing rifts and volcanic activity. That combined with the fact that the area is actually 125metres BELOW sea level means it has created a unique environment with lakes of salt, lava, and crazy heats, with the highest year-round average temperature of anywhere on the planet!
Further to that, it’s often referred to as the cradle of humanity with the fossil of the famous ‘Lucy’ found here. Dating back to 3.2 million years BC. This has led many paleontologists to believe this was the area where the human species first evolved.
Where is the Danakil Depression?
The Danakil Depression is in the northeast of Africa (and Ethiopia), on the border with Eritrea, one of the least visited countries in the world. The nearest city is Mekelle, and that’s the hop-off point for trips here. You can see on the google map here:
How To Visit the Danakil Depression
First up, you can’t visit the Danakil Depression independently.
And you can’t do it ‘cheaply’. It’s in the middle of nowhere, it generally involves 2/3 days of off-road driving, so a trip to the Danakil involves a guide, a rented driver and car, and a package allowing you to sleep in tents and have food provided.
An absolute bargain basement 3 day Danakil Trip will normally start at $400, and can easily run to $1500 for more comfort. The trips normally start and finish from Mekelle in Northern Ethiopia. To get there you can fly from Addis Ababa for about $125.
So how do you organise a trip to the Danakil? The easiest way to do it is online of course. But the cheapest way to do it is on the ground in either Addis Ababa, or Mekelle. It’s 100% quick and simple to do it there, there are tour operators everywhere, so you can’t fail.
And if you want to use the guys I used, his name is Alex. Tell him you came from me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Is it safe to visit the Danakil Depression?
It’s safer than traveling to Iraq, traveling to Syria, or traveling to Afghanistan. But the Danakil is said to be the most inhospitable place on earth. It is safe as long as you’re with a good operator, but there are bandits in the area. However, 99.9% of tourists are safe. Having said that a kid did steal my mate’s camera from our campsite when we were there!
Best Time to Visit the Danakil Depression?
The best time is their winter – so November to January, when it’s a little cooler. Summer, temperatures can easily hit 50 degrees. Ouch!
How many days should you spend in Danakil?
Tours to Danakil Depression are generally 2 days/1 night, or 3 days/2 nights. Longer tours are possible, but to be honest, it’s uncomfortable travel out there and 3 days is more than enough! Personally, I’d recommend the 3D/2N option. You’re likely to only be once, so make the most of it. Here’s how it normally breaks down
2D/1N: Here if you ONLY want to see Dallol (that’s the famous bright yellow landscape), then it’s possible on the 1 night tour. You won’t get to see the Etra Ale volcano, or the salt mines, or the salt flats etc.
3D/2N: You get the volcano, Dallol, the salt flats, the salt mines, and a chance to swim etc. Sure, it’s hot and uncomfortable. But this is the best experience.
4D/3N+: Don’t bother! You can see it all with 3 nights. The tour operators just want to make more money!
Is the Danakil Depression the hottest place on earth?
Yes and no. It is the spot with the average hottest temperature year-round, at 34.4. It isn’t the place with the maximum high though, the belongs to Death Valley, USA AT 56.7 degrees.
Why does the Danakil Depression look like that?!
It’s the 2nd lowest place on earth, it’s the hottest place on earth, one of the driest places on earth (100ml of rain PER YEAR!), the tectonic plates are directly beneath it. The sulfur and salt then react and cause the yellow/orange chimneys.
So yeah, you ow have HUGE salt plains, volcanoes spewing lava, and multi-colored landscapes making it look like an alien planet.
Visiting the Danakil Depression; My Experience
I had been in Ethiopia for a couple of weeks. We had traveled through Lalibela, Gondar, and the beautiful Simien Mountains. Gondor was our last spot and where our trip was due to end, but as I mentioned above, this time I promised myself I wouldn’t miss out on the Danakil Depression. So from Gondor, I organised a 6 day trip to the Danakil. From Gondor to Axum, a night there. Then on to Mekelle, a night there too. The following morning, our trip to the Danakil began. With one last night in Mekelle when we finished – I highly recommend that, rather than jetting right back to Addis. You’ll want a proper bed, a shower, and a cold beer after the discomfort of the Danakil!
We choose the 3D/2N option, and to be frank with you guys, it was an uncomfortable trip. BUT it was also one of the best experiences of my travel life, so sometimes you have to earn the best stuff.
Each day involves up to 7 hours driving in the 4X4 cars. Thankfully they do have air conditioning but even with that, it still gets super hot. Your nights are spent on basic camping style beds, out in the open, alongside each other. No showers, no running water, and basic toilets. Mealtimes are prepared on open fires. Pretty tasty actually, Ethiopian food is great. But again, no home comforts, no cold drinks etc. This is adventure travel, so be prepared for that.
The salt flats were beautiful, as good as the famous Bolivian Salt Flats but not as famous. And the landscapes generally across the entire Danakil Depression have to be seen to be believed.
Without doubt, though, the highlight of the whole thing is Dallol. The other-wordly landscape leaving you thinking you’re on another planet. I had seen pics of this place for years, it was a dream to finally see it with my own eyes. And the colours will blow your mind, as they did mine. Uber vivid yellos and organges. Sulphur gasses pouring out. It’s like nothing else on earth. They don’t recommend you stay there so long due to the toxic gasses, so within a couple of hours or less you’re back in the vehicles.
But what I recommend the Danakil Depression? 100% yes. It’s the best thing to see and do in Ethiopia in my opionion, and actually one of the coolest things on our whole planet. Don’t miss it if you’re in East Africa.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON VISITING THE DANAKIL DEPRESSION IN ETHIOPIA
I’ve been to Ethiopia twice, but it took me 10 years to go back for my second visit. And during those 10 years, I regretted not spending the extra money and visiting the Danakil Depression. Every time I saw photos and videos online, it pained me. So thankfully, I had another opportunity to return. Dont make the same mistake as me! If you’ve made it this far, then go the extra mile and spend the money. The Danakil Depression is one of the most unique, beautiful (and uncomfortable) places in the world. Don’t miss out when you’re so close!
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