The Northern Circuit


Map of Ethiopia showing Danakil Depression in red

Kibran – Northern Circuit Attractions

Introduction to the Danakil Depression & Erta Ale Volcano

The Danakil Depression is is officially listed as the hottest place on earth, with an average temperature of 34 to 35 degrees Celcius. Some days see the thermometer climbing to a blistering 50 degrees Celcius.

Much of this vast and practically unpopulated region lies below sea level, dipping to a sweltering base of -116 meters at Dallol, one of the lowest points on the African continent.  With an annual rainfall of only 100-200mm, this is undeniably one of the driest spots on the entire planet.

The Danakil Depression is located at the top point of the African Rift Valley, in the Afar Triangle, which is an area where three divergent tectonic plates meet. The Arabian and two African plates, simply put, are pulling away from each other, revealing new and dramatic landscapes. The northern part of the Afar Depression is known as the Danakil Depression. This area is one of the most tectonically active on earth.

When visiting the Danakil, it is easy to imagine that one is on an alien planet. The scenery is so dramatic that it is unlike anywhere else on earth. Vast white salt pans give way to steaming sulphur springs, seeming to erupt with dazzling lemon and lime colours. The build-up of salts cause interesting patterned rims and chimneys to form along the pungent pools. Copper salts give the cooler pools a brilliant turquoise colour. Geysers spew steam and boiling water, adding a dimension of sound to an otherwise silent, almost lifeless place.

A single river, the Awash River, flows into the Dallol Depression. The water quickly evaporates, though, and beyond the river lies a string of salt lakes, covering a surface area of around 1,200 square kilometres.

The area is home to the nomadic Afar people, who make a living from mining the salt from these pans. The salt is carved into bars and then transported by camel caravan to other parts of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Good to Know

Recommended length of stay: 2-3 Nights (Camping)

Helicopter day excursions are available

Major Religion: Muslim

Area nicknamed "The Cradle of Humanity" after Donald Johnson’s 1974 discovery of the bones of Lucy, a hominid believed to have lived 3.2 million years ago

Elevation: 125 meters (410 feet) below sea level (Danakil Depression), 613 meters (2,011 feet) above sea level (Erta Ale Volcano)

Travel Info

Good to Know

  • The Danakil Depression stretches across the Eritrean border to the east of the Tigrayan highlands.
  • This is officially listed as the hottest place on earth, with an average temperature of 34 to 35 degrees Celsius.
  • This is one of the most tectonically active places on earth.

Top tourist sites to visit when in the Danakil Depression and the Erta Ale Volcano

Key Attractions


Erta Ale Volcano or “the smoking mountain” as it is known by the Afar, is one the few volcanos in the world that has an active lava lake. Erta Ale is a typical basaltic shield volcano, which means that it has a gentle slope of less than ten degrees.

The volcano’s base is 40 kilometres in diameter, yet it is only 613 meters high, sloping up to the 1,700 x 600 meter caldera. There are several pit craters, of varying sizes.

The southern crater is where the most active lava lake can be seen. After decades of activity, the volcano continues to inspire awe as tourists stare into its blazing lava cauldrons. The Afar also call it “the gateway to hell”, and it is not hard to see how this name was derived.


The best time to visit the Danakil Depression is between November and March, when temperatures drop to an average of 25 degrees Celcius.

The extreme conditions, geothermic activity, dangerous acidity of some of the pools and thin salt crusts in places, means that it is essential to visit the Dallol with an experienced local tracker and guide.

In addition to the area’s harsh conditions, the location‘s remoteness makes accessibility a challenge. There are two ways in which the Danakil Depression can be experienced:

Trekking Adventures

In most instances the tour will depart from Mekelle. A two-night trekking adventure, during which you will camp at the Afar village of Hamed Ela, will give you access to the Dallol and Asebo Salt Lake. A three-day trek, with an additional night’s camping at Dodom (at the base of the volcano) will enable you to continue on to visit the Erta Ale volcano as well.

Helicopter Safaris

The helicopters are based in Addis Ababa, from where they will depart. After collecting you from your departure point, and refuelling in Mekelle, you set off on a once-in-a-lifetime day trip. You will land at Dallol, to explore on foot, then fly over Erta Ale before returning to your hotel.

Local Attractions in the Danakil Depression and the Erta Ale Volcano

Danakil Depression and the Erta Ale Volcano Photo Gallery


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