The hottest place on earth

The Danakil Depression formed from the continental drift of the African and Asian tectonic plates. As the plates drifted apart at a rate of 1-2 cm per year, they leave behind a geological depression, known as the Danakil Depression, which sits more than 100m below sea level and contains some of the world’s most extraterrestrial landscapes.

Beyond its fascinating geology, the Danakil Depression holds the keys to some of biology’s most profound questions. In 1974, researchers found the remains of ‘Lucy’ in the Danakil Depression, an early ancestor of modern humans dating back 3.2 million years (now on display at the National Museum in Addis Ababa). That discovery attracted many scientists who went exploring the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia to understand the origins of life on Earth, as well as the possibilities for early-stage life on Mars.

"As you descend down into the Danakil Depression from Mekele in the Ethiopian highlands, you feel like you're driving to the center of the earth."

— Roos de Jong

Getting there

The vast majority of excursions into the Danakil Depression commence at the Tigrayan town of Mekele where you pile into the sturdy Toyota Landcruisers that carry you into the desert in convoy. Because of conflict in the area, you can’t visit the Danakil Depression without an armed convoy.

Ethiopia’s comprehensive domestic flight network makes it easy to access Mekele from all major towns in the north of Ethiopia, or via a connecting flight from Addis Ababa. Tip:  If you enter Ethiopia using Ethiopian Airlines, they will give you 50% discount on domestic flights.

From Mekele, it’s a 3-4 hour drive to the Danakil Depression, that begins on asphalt and ends on lava. Typical excursions into the Danakil last 3-4 days, all of which is done by vehicle, traversing roads, volcanoes and salt deserts.

"When one is in love, a mountain top becomes a flat field."

— Ethiopian proverb

Salt as far as the eye can see

After descending from the highlands, you hit salt. I’ve never seen so much salt in my life. You can actually carve a block of salt from the floor of the desert, strap it to your camel, and sell it a couple of hundred kilometers down the road.
After a while, we stopped near a hole in the salt pan, where you could take a dip in the water. Having never been to the red sea, I knew I had to try this. We were warned however, entering the water with a wound can be excruciatingly painful, and if you don’t rinse afterwards with fresh water, you stood the risk of dehydration.

"Dallol is the closest I have ever been to setting foot on another planet."

— Yuri Yabi


Dallol is a place like no other.  The effervescent colors and the abstract formations make it a place that you can only believe when you see it. Dallol is a cinder cone volcano but its unique geology means it lacks any of the archetypal volcanic looks. Instead, Dallol is a canvas of bright green, reds, and yellows spread across hundreds of hot acidic springs and mounds of salt. The hydrothermal activity below the Dallol crater is responsible for this kaleidoscopic landscape. Because this landscape is the result of continuous geological processes, Dallol is always changing, with new springs and salt formations arising continuously.
Personally this was by far the highlight of the trip, as Dallol is one of the most visually compelling and geologically fascinating destinations on Earth.

An out of this earth experience

In November 2020, an armed conflict now known as the Tigray War started between the Special Forces of the Tigray Regional government, and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). Since then an estimated 1 million people have been displaced from their home by the conflict in which both sides have committed war crimes. It is absolutely terrible to read about the pain and hardships that the kind people that we met along our journey have been through. I pray that a solution will be found and peace may return to the area. When it does, I highly recommend you visit the Danakil Depression to rebuild the tourism industry and all those who depend on it. I promise you, that it’s a once in a lifetime adventure that you won’t be forgetting any time soon.