The Hottest Place on Earth – Danakil Depression, Afar Region, Ethiopia

In the dead of winter, the temperature is 115°F.  Sweat dripping from my brow, I duck under a parched dobera glabra evergreen for some respite from the hot Ethiopian sun.

Traveling to the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia’s Afar Region, an unforgiving region nestled against an inhospitable border with Eritrea, was not at the top of my bucket list.  After discovering that five travelers were killed by armed rebels in late 2012, the region was the last thing on my mind. Yet, here I was – life infusing electrolyte drink permanently affixed to one hand, a camera to the other, and a mouth hung in awe at the most spectacular scenery I had ever witnessed.

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An Afar village girl greeting us as we make our way into the Afar region.

Our trip yielded so many wonderful highlights. Here are just a few: Danakil’s salt flats, the Dallol sulfuric crater, and the Erta Ale shield volcano.

The Salt Flats.

The Danakil Depression is a cruel and inhospitable region with temperatures that can hover well above 140°F.  The area is home to the Afar people, tribes that consist of rugged nomadic herders and salt miners. Much of the region is well below sea level, with several salt flats that are more than 100 meters below sea level.

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Joyce and the salt flats of Danakil Depression

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Camel caravans transporting salt in the Danakil Depression.

 

The salt crust reaches nearly 900 meters deep.  It is where the Afar miners extract blocks of salt and transport their goods via donkey and camel caravans to Berahile, a gateway village, where the salt is sold or transported even further.

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A salt miner chipping out blocks of salt for transport.

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Camel and donkey caravans carrying salt blocks to Berahile for trade.

 

Dallol.

Imagine being transported to a different planet.  Your perception of the color spectrum is quite different on this alien world.  The atmosphere consists of 20% oxygen and 80% stinky egg.

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The Dallol volcanic crater. The amazing colors are due to salt, sulfur, iron oxide, and a variety of other minerals.

 

The Dallol crater features subaerial volcanic vents with eruptions that produce hot springs that discharge acidic, salt, iron oxide, and sulfuric liquids.  The result is an ever-changing landscape of vibrant color and bubbling peaks.

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Ethiopian militia, assigned to guard travelers in the Dallol area, scope out the area for potential threats.

 

Erta Ale.

Erta Ale, in local Afar lore, is known as the “gateway to hell.”  This description could not more accurately describe the unbridled power, fury, and intensity of Erta Ale’s lava cauldron.  This shield volcano, one of the few remaining in the world, is continuously active.

Our trek up to Erta Ale had the macabre sensation of a slowly unfolding Shakespearean tragedy.  Our post-dusk climb led us up the steady incline of dark lava fields.  The path, illuminated only by the shallow reaches of our headlamps, was never ending as we plodded blindly for four hours.  Yet, each step brought mounting suspense as we got closer to what we knew would be an unearthly experience.

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The Erta Ale shield volcano

 

If you’re adventurous and enjoy travel off the beaten path, I highly recommend visiting Ethiopia and making arrangements to visit the Danakil Depression.  It certainly isn’t the most comfortable travel, but it’s well worth the discomfort to experience one of the most remote and wondrous regions of the planet!

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The sun setting on the salt flats in Danakil Depression

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Joyce chatting with an Afar boy at a military check-point village.

 

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