The Sun scorches the cracked earth, a wavering mirage confuses the eye, and dry air and dust suck the moisture from your mouth and eyes. Ethiopia's Danakil Depression is one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on the planet. The area is located in the Afar Region of north-east Ethiopia near the border with Eritrea.
The Danakil Depression is the northern part of the Afar Triangle, a geological depression caused by the Afar Triple Junction: a place where three tectonic plates join.
Walking around the area you feel like you are on another planet. There are volcanoes with bubbling lava lakes, multi-coloured hydrothermal fields, and great salt pans that dazzle the eyes.
One of the main attractions located in the Danakil Depression is the Erta Ale Volcano. The name means “smoking mountain” in the local Afar language, and it is an apt name for the most active volcano in Ethiopia.
The 613-meter-tall flaming mountain is known for holding one of only six lava lakes in the world. At night, the bubbling cauldron of lava can be seen breaching the rim of the crater in a spectacular display of fiery lights against the night sky.
The drive from Addis Ababa to Erta Ale is one of stark contrast leading from Tigray’s cool highlands to the dry and barren low-lying desert of the Afar region. Ostriches, camels and antelopes can be spotted on the desert plains along the way. As temperatures increase with the descent, the terrain transforms into some of the driest and hottest environments on earth. The road ends within 7 kilometers of the volcano’s large base and the adventurous traveler can continue on foot for 2-3 hours along a gentle slope to the summit. To avoid the heat, trekkers start the climb late in the afternoon and will walk some of the distance in the dark. Sturdy walking shoes and a head torch are handy items to have along on this excursion.
Note: Erta Ale is an active volcano and as such, it is continuously changing. While Erta Ale is known for being one of the few volcanos in the world that has an almostpersistent lava lake, the levels of the lava lake’s surface are constantly rising and falling. This, along with periodic volcanic gasses being emitted from the crater, can make observation difficult on certain days. It is therefore never guaranteed that you will see the bubbling lava in the crater on any given day.
Even if the views are not as spectacular as you had hoped on the day that you explore Erta Ale, you may still enjoy the challenge of the night-time hike to the summit and the unique experience of spending the night on the rim of an active volcano.