The Danakil Depression: Visiting The Hottest, Lowest and Most Inhospitable Place on Earth


I don’t know where I first learned about the Danakil Depression.

For so many places, I remember the Instagram posts, the blogs and the documentaries that have inspired me to visit, but the Danakil?

No clue.

All I do know is that I can remember wanting to visit this unique corner of the globe since the inception of this blog, which it terrifies me to say, was almost nine years ago!

So when Chelsea and I decided to visit Sudan, it seemed like the perfect chance to also visit neighbouring Ethiopia and finally tick this bucket list destination off of my ever-growing travel to do list.

We, like most travellers, arrived into Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. We decided to fly from Sudan to Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airways even though it wasn’t the cheapest option, because we knew that overall, this decision would save us money.

Ethiopian Airways have a deal that if you arrive into the country with them, you will be eligible to book any domestic flights at a 50% off discounted rate!

We had quite a few places that we wanted to see in a short space of time and these cheap flights were absolutely the best way to make that happen. Back when we travelled in late 2019 I was able to book the flights online myself using a discount code, but I can’t for the life of me find that code anymore, so it might be that you need to contact the domestic flight office directly and have them book those flights for you.

After a day in Addis, we flew into Mekelle, which is the jumping off point for tours into the Danakil.

Important Note: Please be aware that travel to Mekelle is not only strongly unadvised, but also likely impossible. Furthermore, all travel to Ethiopia is currently strongly discouraged due to the current conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Please use this blog for inspiration and future planning, but be aware that travelling at the time of publishing (January 2022) that I, the author, strongly recommend you reconsider your need to travel to Ethiopia.

We organised our Danakil tour through World Sun tours, although to be honest, all of the tour operators have equally poor reputations. Expect the tour to be disorganised as all hell – this is just the way it is in Ethiopia!

Our 3D2N tour cost around $350 USD as we organised it in advance, but I have heard reports of people getting cheaper rates by booking through street touts.

Disorganisation aside, we eventually got going and were on the road, en route to the Danakil!

The drive was decidedly uncomfortable. There were four of us squished into a 4×4 that was definitely on the small side. It was hot and uncomfy, but we were still excited for what lay ahead.

A happy lady before she entered the ‘toilet’ at this cafe and lost any remaining innocence

While it wasn’t comfy, the drive was undeniably scenic. We initially gained a lot of altitude, before rapidly descending back into the lowlands.


As we got closer to our first stop in the Danakil, we came across this convoy of camels! These cuties were transporting salt blocks from the salt flats of the depression (which I didn’t even know existed before this point) to cities around the country.



Next, we arrived at the salt flats. Now, I gotta be honest, when I decided to visit the Danakil, for me, the main appeal was Dallol (stay tuned) and there wasn’t much else that I really knew about or was excited to see. So, these salt flats came as a complete surprise to me!

There was a little saltwater swimming hole which Chelsea wasted no time in jumping into, but I had swum in extremely salty water before at the Dead Sea in Jordan and have vivid memories of being all sticky and uncomfortable after getting out (and having to then get on three long haul flights back to Australia all gross and grimey) and thus decided to give this swim a miss.



Instead, I decided to take le drone out for a spin – a decision I ended up being extremely happy with – how gorgeous are these salt flats!?





Only a few moments after I brought le drone down, we were hurried back into our vehicle and started racing across the salt.

Why the hurry?

We needed to catch the sunset, and boy, what a stunning sunset it was.








After we had sunk a few beers and the sun had disappeared, we made our way to camp to eat dinner and (attempt) to settle in for the night. Our camp was a bunch of wicker style mats on the side of the highway and at first, this unconventional campsite was a novelty, however, it got real old, real fast.





The wind constantly whipped against our faces and ears, making it impossible to sleep. I tossed and turned for hours before giving up and tip-toeing over to the 4x4s to see if any were unlocked. Luckily, one of them was, and I promptly parked myself in the front seat, reclined it back and finally got a couple of hours of sleep.

What seemed like minutes later, we were awoken before the sun (it was literally like a 4.30am wake up call) for breakfast and an early start. I reunited with Chelsea after dragging myself from the car – she hadn’t slept a wink – and neither had anyone else in our group!

We were grumpy and bleary, but luckily, what lay before us served as the best wake up call of all.

It was time to visit Dallol.


Dallol is an undeniably unique geothermal environment. Based around a cinder cone shaped volcano, this area is known for the acidic fluids that are secreted from the volcanic hydrothermal landscape. These hyperacidic fluids are also hyper-saline and this unique environment creates a landscape like no other. The textures, colours and smells are utterly unique to Dallol, which is why I wanted to visit them so much!



The sight of the sulfuric yellows, burnt rusts and neon greens made the sleepless night completely worthwhile. I had wanted to visit this unique corner of the globe and it was finally happening!





It should go without saying, but make sure you pack proper hiking boots – there are a lot of liquids that you most definitely wouldn’t want to step in.


It is also worth me noting that when travel returns to normal within Ethiopia, if you do decide to visit the Danakil, an organised tour is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, the only way to do so.

Yes, the tour operators may be average at best, but the Danakil lies on the border with Eritrea, which is a notoriously volatile region, so as much as the humbug may get old fast, these guides have the knowledge around where is safe to visit, something that a foreigner just won’t have.

Furthermore, if your guide instructs you to follow them – do so! I know the temptation to frolic off and take photographs without anyone else in them (seriously, I understand the desire) but there have been several instances in which tourists have failed to do so and been kidnapped and/or killed in the process.

Now, that may sound terrifying, but as long as you use common sense when visiting the region and stick to your guide (like super glue) a trip to the Danakil can (usually) be done quite safely.




We spent a short hour exploring this other-worldly land formation, which passed by in what felt like an instant. I didn’t want to go! I wanted to stay and continue admiring the view! However, despite my protests, I very quickly understood why our visit was both an early and brief one – the heat became oppressive in an impressively short amount of time!


So, we said our goodbyes to Dallol and set off for our next stop – Erta Ale volcano.

Now, I am going to be straight with you. When you google Erta Ale or look into climbing it, the photos look absolutely out of this world.

However, the reality could not be further from the truth.

We hiked to the top, in the dark, and this was what we saw.


It certainly left a little to be desired! Keep in mind, we were already so sleep deprived by this point that when we exerted our bodies even further for such a lacklustre view it was extra disappointing.

We slept on the side of the volcano that night, and when we were shielded from the wind we both managed to get a surprisingly decent sleep! So much so that when we were woken up in the morning to see the volcano in daylight we both opted to give that a miss and instead catch a few more zzz’s.


We arrived back to Mekelle that evening. Our trip to the Danakil had been at times wonderful (Dallol and the salt flats were gorgeous) and at other times disappointing (Erta Ale, enough said).

We were also frustrated by the lack of care in regards to the preservation of these landscapes. Everywhere we went we saw mountains and mountains of empty plastic water bottles that had been discarded by the tour guides. Our tour was marketed online as being an eco tour, yet they were littering just as much as everyone else! Hiking Erta Ale wasn’t exactly a highlight, but it sticks out in my memory because of how many water bottles I saw whilst I hiked down in the morning – I am not exaggerating, it was thousands and thousands.

I am extremely grateful that I was able to travel to the Danakil when I did (especially given the current situation in Ethiopia) but I do feel that these tours could be done in a much more sustainable way.

How I have never caught fleas is a mystery!

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Parrot Guest House: This little guest house has appalling wifi but a decent restaurant on site and helpful staff. Unfortunately their Facebook page is currently blocked, hopefully they will be back in business soon!
World Sun Tours: I agonised over which tour group to choose, but in the end they are pretty much all the same. World Sun were fine, but I really wish they wouldn’t advertise themselves as an eco-friendly company when that couldn’t be further from the truth
Safety: Travel to all of Ethiopia is currently unadvisable, but this is especially true in the northern part of the country where Mekelle is located – wait to travel until it becomes safe to do so
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 lenses as well as with a DJI Mavic Pro Drone (now discontinued)
Remember: Bring extra sunscreen and all the patience you can muster – it’ll be a long and bumpy ride!

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30-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

47 thoughts on “The Danakil Depression: Visiting The Hottest, Lowest and Most Inhospitable Place on Earth

  1. Whoa, what an absolutely unique and bizarre place. I’ve never heard of it or seen anything like it! I’m sad to hear about the littering though.

    1. It definitely is unique! I don’t know of anywhere else in the world that has even remotely similar places! You and me both re the littering – hopefully that improves over time.

  2. The salt flats, sunset, and the entire adventure looks stunning! Will definitely be following your advice and save this as an inspiration and reference for a future trip!

    1. Thanks so much girl! I love to hear it. When Ethiopia begins its recovery from this war, it will need people coming to visit to help restabilise the affected regions and their economies. I hope that happens sooner rather than later!

  3. Loved reading this, the good and bad aspects. I always enjoy visiting these lesser know places. I found this blog very interesting

  4. These are some of my favorite photos of yours. I lived in Ethiopia from 2012-2014, but because I worked for the US government (Peace Corps), I wasn’t allowed to travel to the Danakil Depression (safety) and it was one of my biggest disappointments. I had hoped to have a 10-year reunion in Ethiopia and see everything I missed, but I don’t know how long it will take for the country to stabilize. What’s happening right now is utterly heartbreaking.

    1. Oh wow! I didn’t even realise the peace corps would have restrictions like that! I know, it’s so upsetting to read about – especially to think that so many of the people I met are experiencing it all firsthand, it’s absolutely awful. I truly think about it every day and hope that it starts to stabilise again soon <3

    1. Look, I’ll admit that it’s definitely not the easiest travel in the world, but it is truly an adventure 🙂

  5. Wow the colours on your photos are insane! The Danakil Depression is such an interesting place. I didn’t know there was something like this to see in Ethopia. The conflicts happening there are very sad 🙁

    1. There is a lot of incredible natural wonders in Ethiopia! I know, the conflicts are so upsetting – it doesn’t look like they will end anytime soon either 🙁

  6. What an amazing geological spot. Thank you for telling me about this place; I looked it up and it’s so interesting geologically and also for the palaeontology, with lots of ancient hominin fossils discovered. Now I have an image in my mind to tie it all together and Ethiopia is suddenly more interesting as a destination now. I really hope for peace in the area, so that people can build some normalcy.

    1. Gosh what a lovely comment to receive! Ethiopia is truly a country with fantastic history, wonderful natural geological features and incredible artifacts. I hope you get there one day!

    1. She managed to keep her hair out thank goodness, but honestly, by the end of the three days it was much of a muchness, we were both so smelly and gross! That first shower back in town was heavenly lol

  7. The geothermal features look amazing. I would love to see them. I’m not so keen about the potential danger though. Sounds like you figured out how to get around it.

    1. The danger was only going to be an issue if we did anything silly or got separated from our guides, so it didn’t feel dangerous at all. However now it would be an incredibly different kettle of fish 🙁

    1. Yes it really is, hopefully time brings awareness and awareness brings change so that these places can be preserved for many years to come.

    1. It really wasn’t anywhere near as scary as it sounds! Right now is definitely not the time to visit but once the region settles I highly recommend <3

  8. Wow! Once again you have outdone yourself. The tour you gave is amazing, and the photos, especially acidic landscape are spectacular! That place looks like it could be on Venus or something. I also got a kick out of the night photo on the volcano. Those eyes! I assume those are people, not critters? Sleeping by the side of the road just doesn’t sound good, especially with your other cautions about the area. You were smart to find the vehicle.

    One thing that I have never told you is how much I have learned about our world just from reading your blog. Some of the places you go I am well acquainted with, by literature and photos. But others, like Family, I never even knew existed. We have an amazing world, and I just want to say thank you for showing me so much of it. Having you back in the WordPress community is like finding your old friend again – very comfortable and enjoyable.

    1. Tim, this comment put the absolute biggest smile on my face, you have no idea how happy it made me!

      Those eyes were the lava bits! Not much lava at the moment haha, although I suppose it could change at any time! I didn’t feel too unsafe on the road (we were with a group) but god, the wind! I couldn’t have slept any other way.

      I love this so much – it honestly makes me so happy to share these places with you. I was a bit apprehensive about starting up again after being away so long, I felt like I’d abandoned my community and didn’t know what I’d be coming back to – the open arms by readers like you have felt so wonderful, reassuring and encouraging. I am so lucky to have readers like you <3

      I have a few international trips to some more off the beaten track destinations tentatively planned for the second half of the year (covid pending) including places like Syria, Djibouti and remote parts of Indonesia. I can't wait to bring you along!

      1. I fell in love with your writing several years ago, Ellen. Over the years, you have become a good friend, and I really mean that. I hope when I retire in a few more years that I can take inspiration form you and do more long distance, international travel. And most definitely I want to see your home country.

        Ha ha! I had no clue that was lava; it really looked like eyes. Many years ago I was hiking in the rainforests on the Washington coast (NW USA), and I was photographing the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. Well, long story short, I stayed way too long on the beach and had a long hike through very dense rainforest back to my car. I lost all the light and only had a tiny little AAA cell battery flashlight – really dumb on my part. Anyway as I was trying to get through that forest trail back to my car, I saw so many eyes – big ones, little ones, red ones, Wow!

        I was so scared; I just knew I was going to get eaten, but well, here I am. I was never so glad to see my car in my life. 😂

        Thanks again and keep sharing your wonderful stories.

  9. Wow! The geology is so unique and incredible. I love all of your photos! What a shame you can’t visit here anymore; it looks like you had quite the adventure! Thanks for sharing for future travel inspo down the road. Xx Sara

    1. It really is! The only place with any slight similarities is Eritrea, but even they don’t landscapes like Dallol!

  10. Oh wow this place looks ureal! That natural pool is incredible. I love exactly those kind of places where you feel like you just landed on a different planet! Thanks for sharing!

  11. I have never heard of the Danakil Depression. Your photos are incredible – looks like you were on a different planet. Thank you for sharing this geological wonder…awesome experience you had!

    1. It’s such a remote part of the world, and so special! Thank you for travelling with me and reading this blog 🙂

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