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Tash travels to the lowest point on earth

As the Destination Manager for Africa I love any excuse to get out and experience more of the continent that I love.

This time round it was the Danakil Depression on my Addis to Gondar Dragoman trip that was the true highlight. This 3 day stint is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth and was packed with one stunning experience after another.

We began with a briefing from one of our guides the evening before we set off. She had 12 rather nervous faces looking intently at her trying to absorb every word of her advice. Mainly, what to pack, how much water to drink and don’t go too fast up the volcano!

The next morning we were met outside our hotel with a fleet of 4x4 jeeps. In groups of four we chose a jeep and were introduced to our driver/guide for the next 3 days. These guys were all full of energy and expertise; they kept us all entertained during our driving hours.

The jeeps took us in convoy to the Depression, first stopping in a small town for lunch in a local restaurant while permits and security were collected. Then, onwards! We were taken to the base camp of Erta Ale first crossing a huge sandy plain off-road in our jeeps and then through the notorious ‘worst road in the world’ full of rocks and boulders. If we did not have faith in our drivers before then we certainly did afterwards!

At the base of the volcano we made sure our day packs had some snacks, water, a torch and bedding in them and got ourselves ready for the climb ahead. After this everyone sat down together for supper – soup, pasta and fruit – to energise before we started walking.

Once the sun had fallen and the temperature had dipped below 40 degrees we were led up the mountain by a selection of guides and guards. We all stuck together, a winding trail of flashlights making their way to the top. After about 4 hours of walking through the dark with a few short rests we all made it to the camp at the top.

After quickly chucking our bags down we grabbed our cameras and headed to the crater rim. Unfortunately we were unlucky, the wind was too strong and all we could see was a fog of toxic gases. Never mind, we all trudged back to camp, found a spot under the stars and had a few hours sleep.

We were woken up around 4am and went back to the edge of the crater, this time, success! The wind had eased off a bit and we caught a view of the bubbling lava at the bottom of the crater. A truly incredible sight and sound lay before us.

After some time walking around the crater, taking care to only step where our guide stepped, and taking as many photos as we possibly could it was time for a snack and to head back down the mountain. It was a race to descend before the sun rose and the temperature sky-rocketed once more.

It was then a couple of hours making our way down, this time looking at the sights as the sun started to rise. Once we reached the bottom our guides met us and threw cold water over everyone’s head to help us cool off. Breakfast followed and then it was onwards to our next spot.

This turned out to be a huge salt lake we could swim in! What an amazing feeling after a night of trekking! We spent about an hour swimming in the lake and cleaning off in the freshwater hot spring next door. By the end we felt we could climb the mountain all over again!

Next up, lunch and then visiting clear water pools, chemical infused lakes, towering rock formations and a reflective salt pan which you can create amazing photos with.

The second night we slept in a local guesthouse and sat out in the courtyard with the family, cats, dogs, and mounds of traditional Ethiopian food for the evening. With a cool beer in hand it felt like we could stay forever!

The final morning it was up bright and breezy with a quick breakfast before a trip to meet the Afar people who mine salt from the Depression. We witnessed them cut the salt into blocks with rudimentary tools, then load up their camels to start the week long trek to market.

Our last stop was to Dallol or ‘the colourful place’. An area where the minerals and metals in the ground react with each other to create the most spectacular areas of vivid colouring and rock formations which rise out of the surrounding landscape. This is an area where if you step on the wrong rock your shoes could start to dissolve! An incredible area to wonder at what our natural environment can create.

Finally it was once more into the jeeps to be returned to our hotel reminiscing on the incredible three days we had just had the privilege to experience. It is hard to believe this was only 3 days of a 21 day trip! There was so much more to come…

Enjoy this experience for yourself here!