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The other Hell: Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression

Lying 100m below sea level, the Danakil Depression is about the hottest and most inhospitable place on earth with an average temperature of 34.4°C and a record high of 64.4°C! The Irta’ale Vulcane (613m) has been in state of continuous eruption since 1967, its small southerly crater is one of the only permanent lava lakes on the planet. In this area you can also visit Dallol, the lowest places in Africa is (-166m) and a sulphur lake (official the hottest place on earth a year round temperature of 34,4°C).


Reading this, we thought ‘Hell yeah, let’s do this’! Not sure if our Machine (Toyota Landcruiser, Colorado 2000) was as keen as us to go on this trip, but we took her anyway! There was also a recent kidnapping in 2012 with 5 killed tourist and several wounded, but we decided to ignore this information and press on.

He had been in Ethiopia for three weeks and our Machine was having problems with all the dust and the high mountains, plus she got really hot, but we her radiator taken out and fully cleaned and it looked like everything was ok. We hoped she would be ready to go with us to the Danakil Depression.






We had joined a group of three cars from a travel agency. When we arrived at the start point the guide looked at our car and told us that it was too low to do the trip. We were a bit worried, but we left anyway. What else could we do? Very soon on the trip we admitted that our car was maybe a bit lower than the other cars, but ours was in a lot better condition.

The first day we drove four hours to our first campsite. We started driving on a sandy road that slowly changed to a rocky road. On our way we saw landscapes with eye-catching colors and many long camel caravans on their way to the salt mines. Driving next to these huge animals was sometimes a bit scary as they weren’t used to cars and some of them freaked out, one of the things we didn’t wanted was a camel foot breaking our window!

The second day we normally would’ve gone to the volcano, but because of recent rains we had to wait till they confirmed that we would be able to drive there. So the plans got a bit changed and we started our way to the sulphur lake. We drove on a 2.5 meter wide rocky road, on both sides the landscape changed from rocks to salt water. After a few kilometer the rocky road changed to a strange brownish color, we were driving on salt.

We arrived at the sulphur lake and spend an hour to enjoy the incredible landscape. It was made of very flashy colors and a chemical smell which the guide said wasn’t bad for your health, but we didn’t really believe him.

We drove further to the saltlake and the saltroad where it became wet and the landscape became whiter. We were driving in a huge saltlake and the saltwater splashed up our car. We stopped, took our shoes off and had a walk into the lake. Although it was very hot, the landscape looked like we were standing on the North Pole.










On our way back the road changed again from saltlake to salt road. Next to the road people where cutting pieces out of the road and loading them onto camels. Then the camels took off for a 7day walk to the nearest town.

On our way we had to wait a few times for one of the cars, as their clutch was broken. They were able to fix it a little bit so he could use his gears again, although a lot more difficult than before. When the road finally transitioned into rocks again we took a break to spend the night, there was so much wind, it was hard to catch any sleep.







The next morning we left early to make our way to volcano Erta Ala. The rain had stopped and we were able to reach the volcano. It was a six hour drive to cover a distance of 80km, we were wondering about the road conditions. The landscape changed again dramatically as we started on rocks, drove into the loose sand, crossed some muddy parts, and made detours to try to avoid too much mud. The landscape changed from dessert to green areas where camels happily filled their tummies with grass.

The last few kilometers where very stressful as there was not really a road and the lavarocks over which we had to drive were really rough. A very stressful half hour later we finally arrived at the last campsite. The back of our car had hit many rocks, so we quickly checked out our car, but it looked like it only was the towing hook that suffered the rock hits. The other cars had less luck, they came to ask us if we had some iron wire to tight some things back together underneath their cars.









From the last camp we had a three hour hike at night up to the volcano and it was one of the most amazing things we’ve ever seen. No words or photo’s can describe how cool an active volcano with lava is.

We slept for four hours at the volcano to walk back at 4am, to avoid the high mid-day temperatures. The way down with our car was still stressful but a bit easier than the way up.


We headed back to the city and very happy that our lady made this arduous four days and rewarded her with a big bath!

We are Eef and Dries, a Belgian couple who decided to see the World before settling down. We quit our jobs, sold all or stuff, bought a car and on the 9th of February 2013 we left! We started our journey towards Africa –because Dries wanted to see Africa- and we’re planning to go to Australia –because Eef wants to go there- afterwards. Have a look at our website for pictures and stories and feel free to send us an email! http://www.waarisworteltje.be