ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Salt camel caravans, hot sulphur springs, world's only liquid lava lake Erta Ale hosted by charming forester


Ethiopian Deserts: Danakil Depression and Desert

The Ethiopian Deserts module is some of the wildest components in discovery travel in the world, and certainly not for the faint of heart. It will require some serious cross-country desert driving, risking getting stuck, and camping under the most primitive conditions imaginable, at times with a relentless desert wind laden with dust. Moreover, there has been a case of tourist-kidnapping that resulted in the death of several tourists several years ago. However, the government has greatly stepped up security since.


A picture is worth a thousand words. Most of our hundreds of pictures are favored in Google! Why? Because no other website has so many beautiful high resolution pictures, taken by ourselves. Our pictures not only show you the beauty of Ethiopia, but they also show that we go everywhere, photographing wildlife, plants, people and culture. They show our professionalism, our keen eye for detail and our passion for the culture and nature of Ethiopia. So why consider booking our our Ethiopia Culture & National Parks modules? Because we don't mislead you like many tour operators do. When the Blue Nile falls are dry.... we tell you. When fog clouds the lava lake of Erte Ale? We let you know. Just drop us a mail and we will check it out for you.

Our tours take you to ALL famous cultural places of Ethiopia, and on top of that, you get to see up to 12 large nature reserves accompanied by a conservation forester. There is nothing similar on the market.

As Ethiopia can be combined with other East African countries, we organize tours in modules. Destinations Overview: Historical Circuit; Danakil Depression; Eastern Route; Simien Mountains; Bale Mountains; Southern Parks Safari; Gambella; Addis Ababa. BUT WAIT: if you buy your international ticket with Ethiopia Airlines, they will sell the internal flights at a price that you can't even ride the bus for. But you MUST plan it all in one package and making changes may be very costly. So let us help you plan your entire trip and book your local flights for an incredibly low price after you booked your international flight with Ethiopian Airlines!


Whether or not this trip is worth the discomfort is entirely up to you. I can just tell about my own experience. I have been in more than 80 countries, and to me, this was one of the most exiting experiences I have had in my life. Totally fascination landscapes, a consolidated salt lake that you can drive on, hot sulfur springs with colors so bright they hurt your eyes, camel caravans that take you back to the days of Marco Polo are still navigating the desert, but likely to disappear within one or two decades, the only lava lake in the world, a fascinating desert tribe, the Afar, and a very remote chance to see some of the rarest mammals on earth, like the Somalian Ass.





Day 1 Mek'ele - Hamed Ale ±180km

  1. Berahile, visit the salt market and pay the entrance fee into the Danakil Desert;

  2. Hamed Ale base camp.


Day 2 Hamed Ale - Erta Ale ± 80km;

  1. Sulfur geysers at Dalol;

  2. Sulfur pool;

  3. Salt winning site of the Afar People in Lake Assale;

  4. hike up the Erta Ale after 4 o clock to benefit from the lower temperature;

  5. Make camp at the top of Erta Ale;

  6. Admire the glow of the Erta Ale Ale at night.


Day 3 Erta Ale - Mek'ele ±260km

  1. Walk down from Erta Ale;

  2. Depart from the Danakil Depression to return to Mekele.

Costs $595

. Included: meals, transportation, fees, non-alcoholic beverages, tee/coffee at meals. Minimum number of  passengers is 2.

Ask for a group discount.

This Ethiopia tour module starts out from the capital of Tigray, Mekele, at an elevation just above 2000m, a fast growing town with very little tourist attractions. It can be reached by road (about 800km) and by air on the daily (but unpunctual) flight on one of Ethiopia Airlines brand-new Bombardiers.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Mekele Airport with a brandnew Ethiopian Airlines' Bombardier Street view of Mekele, capital of Tigray, Ethiopia



In order to get to the Danakil depression, or Afar Depression as the Afar like to call it, one needs to get permission in the town of Berarhile, a dry desert town at the elevation of just under 1,000m, which is the market down for salt mined by the Afar from Lake Asale. Camel and donkey caravans bring the salt tablets to Berahile, from where it gets loaded on trucks for further distribution.


Tourist vehicles get armed policemen on board of their vehicle, as well as a local guide, each of which get a royal payment plus expenditure commission, but the real costs involved are the space they take in the vehicles, so that often no more than 2 tourists seats per vehicle. Later, at the tourist sites, soldiers get also added to the tourist caravans, obviously at a price. The Afar elder who often accompanies us to Lake Asale, told us that very little or none of the commissions go to the Afar People. 


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Salt market at Berahile, Etiopia

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Salt trade at Berahile, Ethiopia

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Unloading salt from camel at Berahile, Ethiopia

Top: the salt market of Berahile, where the Camel caravans unloads their salt tablets.

Bottom: sales of salt.

An Afar man unloads the salt tablets from his camel.




The road down to Lake Asale winds down trough incredibly rough landscapes that become increasingly dryer.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Semi-desert vegetation at route Berahile - Danakil Desert, Ethiopia ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Expedition Danakil Depression

Semi-desert vegetation along the road down to the Afar Depression.

Tourist caravan at the Afar Depression.


After a few hours ride, you arrive at the village of Hamed Ela, which is also the base camp for exploring the highlights of Lake Asale.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Amed Ela tourist camp Lake Asale, Danakil depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Camp at Hamed Ela, Lake Karum, Danakil Depression

Evening dinner at Amed Ela tourist camp.



Camping at Amed Ela tourist camp. While huts are available, camping in these tents is actually more comfortable, because they give better protection against dust winds, often blowing at night.


Traditional salt mining at Lake Karum, Danakil Depression

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Traditional salt mining Lake Asale, Danakil Depression

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Traditonal Salt mining at Lake Asale, Dallol Depression

The salt harvesting process: First the salt crust at the lake is broken lose with sticks. Then the salt gets chiseled down to standard sized salt tiles.

Once chipped down to size, they get loaded onto camels and donkeys.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Camel caravan at Lake Asale, Danakil Depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: -115 m below sea level at Lake Asale, Danakil Depression

Camel caravans take carry the salt to the Berahile market.


Once arrived at Lake Asale or Lake Karum, you are at approximately 115 m below sea level.

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Hot sulfur springs, Lake Asale, Danakil Depression Volcanic fumaroles at the sulphur springs at Lake Asale

Sulphur hot springs at Lake Asale.

Fumaroles at the sulphur hot springs at Lake Asale.


Egg shell over Fumerole of  sublimated sulfur cristals at sulphur hot springs, Lake Asale, Dallol Depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Extinct fumeroles at Lake Asale sulphur hot springs, Danakil Depression

Egg-shell sulphur crystals at small fumaroles at Lake Asale.


Extinct fumaroles - volcanic vents - at Lake Asale.

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Salt rock formation at Lake Asale, Danakil Depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Hoodoo salt rock formations at Lake Asale, Danakil Depression

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the snow-white salt plain of Lake Asale, is an outcropping of saline rocks.


At a short distance of the sulphur hotsprings, are hoodoo formations made up of salt crystals.

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Cross country through desert of Danakil Depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Off-road travel through Danakil.

In order to get to the Ale Erta Volcano, you will have to cross the desert totally off-road.


Off road travel across the Afar depression.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Base camp at Ale Erta Volcano, Danakil Depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Climbing Erta Ale volcano Dallol Depression

The base camp at the Ale Erta Volcano.


Hiking up the Ale Erta Volcano.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Glowing molten lava at Ale Erta, Afar, Danakil Depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Glow at Ale Erta Volcano at night

Glowing lava at the Ale Erta Volcano.

The nightly glow of boiling lava at the Ale Erta Volcano.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Afar nomad huts at Danakil Depression ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Desert palm Danakil Depression during dust storm at sun set

To protect the Afar from fierce dust and sand laden desert winds, Afar huts are made of densely woven mats.


A lonely cluster of palm trees in the dust laden sunset at the Afar or Danakil depression.

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Afar girl, Danakil depression Afar elder at Danakil Depression

Afar girl.

The Afar Elder, who usually is our guide on our Eastern tours.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Somalian Wild Ass, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Somali Ostrich, Danakil Depression, Etiopia

One of the less than a hundred surviving Somali Asses, the wild ancester of our donkeys.

The Somali Ostrich occurs in the wild in the Afar Depression.

ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Cheetah, desert Ethiopia ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Oryx, semi desert, Etiopia

Cheetahs still occur in the Danakil Depression.

An Oryx in the Afar Ethiopian Desert.


ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Lake Afrera, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia ETHIOPIAN DESERTS: Hot springs at Afrera Lake, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

The brakish Lake Afrera.

Palms at a fresh water spring at Lake Afrera.


What makes us different from so many other tour operators?

Just look at the quality of our high resolution pictures. We took them all ourselves. We have thousands of high resolution pictures on this website, that you can see enlarged by clicking on them. These pictures show that we have been everywhere in the country of your interest and really know the details. We are professional explorers and biologists with MSc and PhD.


National Parks Tours Worldwide, a social responsibility and conservation company, is a brand name of the World Institute for Conservation & Environment, registered in the Netherlands with headquarters in the USA.


Phone USA:

(++)(1) 304 - 581 - 7740


Phone Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

(++251) (0) 911 440 915




Skype: ecotravelworldwide


Parks Man Dr. Daan Vreugdenhil is author of this website. He dedicated his life to the conservation of nature., He was part of the team that selected the first 39 protected areas of Ecuador in the 1970s and he initiated the Cuyabeno Lodge in Ecuador's Amazon in 1985, making him one of the world's eco tourism pioneers. A speaker of 8 languages and having traveled to 80+ countries, Dr. Daan Vreugdenhil has is one of the world's greatest connoisseurs of nature and national parks in the world.