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Desert, Salt and Volcanoes
14 days expedition to Erta Ale volcano and Dallol hydrothermal field (Danakil desert, Ethiopia)
"A very memorable trip ... exactly the kind of thing I've been looking for" (Jim K., UK - November 2015)
Erta Ale's lava lake in 2008
Erta Ale's lava lake in 2008
Green ponds and yellow-brown salt deposits at Dallol
Green ponds and yellow-brown salt deposits at Dallol

Desert, salt and volcanoes

14 days expedition to Erta Ale volcano and Dallol hydrothermal field (Danakil desert, Ethiopia)
Tour type
Expedition: active volcanoes - photography - adventure
Difficulty
Moderate
Group size: 4-11
Duration
14 days / 13 nights
no scheduled dates at present
Price per person
$ 4530 €£¥
Experience one of the geologically most active areas on the planet! The Danakil desert is famous for Erta Ale, one of the world´s few permanently active volcanoes. Until 2017, it hosted a spectacular boiling lava lake, which is now gradually returning (as of late 2020). Don't miss your chance to see the surreal landscapes of colors, salt, geysers and hot springs at the hydrothermal area of Dallol.

See the dramatic change of environment when the jeep expedition starts in Addis Ababa (at 2355 m), and gradually descents into the Danakil depression, passing through Awash National Park before reaching the banks of Afrera salt lake (at - 100 m). The journey continues as we climb Erta Ale shield volcano and spend 3 full days and nights exploring the volcano´s caldera. We then set up camp at the Afar village of Hamed Ela and have 2 full days to discover the hydrothermal area of Dallol and Assale salt lake, including the centuries-old ritual of salt cutting. Finally explore the UNESCO world heritage site of the rock hewn churches of Lalibela.

We have been organising tours to the Danakil since early 2007 and hence have expertise in arranging such expeditions. Our highly competent Ethiopian main guide and volcanologist Enku and his friendly team will safely take you through the desert in 4x4 jeeps. The sometimes Spartan character of living conditions in the Danakil are partially compensated by the large variety of meals freshly prepared by our cook!
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  • Spectacular, varied scenery of forested highlands, upland grassland, steppe, desert, shield volcano and salt lake deposits
  • Short morning safari in Awash National Park
  • Afrera salt lake camping with hot springs bath under the stars
  • 3 full days/nights on the summit of Erta Ale active volcano
  • 2 visits to the colourful and fascinating hydrothermal activity at Dallol
  • Century-old salt mining and camel caravans at Lake Assale
  • Full day for Lalibela rock hewn churches (UNESCO world heritage site)
  • Small international groups
  • Experience - we organise Danakil adventures since 2007
  • Professionally outfitted expedition and thorough preparation
  • Excellent Ethiopian volcanologist as main guide
  • Comfortable travel in 4x4 jeeps (window seat guaranteed)
  • Dedicated supply vehicle and experienced cook
  • Competent and friendly local team and drivers
  • No rushing from place to place - plenty photographic opportunities
  • Interaction with local people, introduction into local customs

14 days itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Addis-Abeba
Arrival at the airport of Addis Ababa, transfer to the hotel and welcome dinner
Day 2: From Addis Ababa to Awash
Morning start of our jeep expedition: driving into the Rift Valley and arrive in Awash by the evening. Besides lunch, there are a few stops planned along the way to take in the changing landscape and get an introduction into its geological formation.
Day 3: Awash National Park and drive to Logiya
Morning safari in Awash National Park and continuing our drive through the Rift Valley to the small town of Logiya.
Day 4: From Logiya into the Danakil, camping at Afdera salt lake
Continue driving along the main road from Logiya to Serdo, then turn northward through a volcanic desert landscape into the Danakil depression - campsite at the shore of Afdera salt lake.
Day 5: From Afdera salt lake to Erta Ale base camp
Morning option to further explore the salt works and mining town before we drive onward to the Erta Ale´s base camp, the final hours being a proper off-road 4x4 drive through the Afar desert.
Day 6: Early morning ascend - daytime exploring of Erta Ale´s caldera
Early morning ascend to Erta Ale´s summit (ca. 3 h, 10 km, 500 m height), breakfast on the rim and morning group tour around Erta Ale´s caldera. After lunch, free to relax and explore the summit caldera.
Day 7: Exploring Erta Ale´s fissure eruption site
Hiking expedition to the site on the volcano's flank where since January 2017 a new eruption is going on.
Day 8: Descend from Erta Ale to basecamp, drive to Hamed Ela
Early morning descend from Erta Ale back down to basecamp, breakfast, 4X4 drive to return to the main road and continue our journey to the Afar village of Hamed Ela.
Day 9: Full day to explore Dallol
This day focuses on discovering the colourful alien landscape of the hydrothermal system at Dallol. We organise two visits - around sunrise and sunset - to optimise light conditions for photography whilst also minimising exposure to the mid-day sun and heat.
Day 10: Lake Assale, salt mining and camel loading – and transfer to Abala
Morning visit of Lake Assale, salt mining and camel loading – and transfer to Abala
This day is reserved for the glistening plane of Assale salt lake, traditional salt cutting and camel loading, and the irregularly formed salt deposits and colourful acid ponds south of Dallol. In the afternoon we leave the Dallol area and drive up to the highlands and spend the night in Abala.
Day 11: Drive from Abala Through Mille/Chefera to Woldia
Full day (about 400 km) drive from Abala (Afar region) southwards to Woldia (Amhara region)
Day 12: Drive from Woldia to Lalibela
Today we drive from Woldia to Lalibela,
Which is one of the most historic towns in Ethiopia due to its world famous and travelling will be through the most scenery /landscape, UNESCO world heritage, rock hewn churches.
Day 13: Lalibela rock hewn churches
Full day visit of the UNESCO world heritage site of the rock hewn churches of Lalibela.
Day 14: Flight from Lalibela to Addis Ababa - end of tour
A morning flight takes us back to Addis Ababa, free afternoon prior to international flight
Dates and details
Booking inquiry

Arrival info:

The expedition starts and ends in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia´s capital. International flights to and from Ethiopia are not included as default, but feel free to contact us if you would like any assistance with finding the best flight connections for you.

Tour guide

Enku is the main guide on all our Danakil volcano expeditions. After obtaining a Diploma in Travel Organising and completing his BSc in Geology at the University of Addis Ababa, he spend 10 years traveling through Ethiopia whilst working both as free-lance travel guide and a contracted mining geologist for different oil and gold mining companies. Since 2006 he specialised in geological travel guidance for the Danakil depression and hence has lots of experience and competence in organizing expeditions to Erta Ale and Dallol. He likes to share his vast knowledge on the geology of the Danakil but will also gladly answer any questions you might have regarding Ethiopia´s fauna and flora, culture, history, food or traditions!
Our excellent Ethiopian main guide and geologist Enku!

Additional info

Physical requirements

The walks on this tour are not particularly difficult, but you should have experience with hiking on uneven and rugged terrain. Although we organise our Danakil during the cooler months of the year, temperatures in the Danakil depression usually range between 35-40 deg C (95-105 deg F), but can easily soar up to 45-50 deg C (120-130 deg F) in the hottest hours near Dallol.
The hike to / from Erta Ale´s summit area and caldera rim from base camp and back requires about 10 km trekking over uneven, but relatively easy and gently climbing terrain (about 500 m altitude gain / descend) and is done in the early morning hours prior to sunrise in order to minimize the impact of heat. To approach the edge of the lava lake and other parts of the caldera one needs to walk across the uneven, easy to moderately difficult to walk on platy, ropy or hollow pahoehoe lava flows. Good boots, long pants and gloves are a must. Extra care must be taken when walking over the lava tubes as the thin, glassy crusts of the hardened lava sometimes break so that you suddenly sink up to max halve meter into the hollow cavity below. Walking sticks to "test" the terrain and keep balance are recommended.

Sanitary conditions during most part of this expedition will be very to extremely basic and you should therefore be in excellent overall health. No proper washing facilities are available while in the desert (approx. 7 days). Unfortunately, the local toilet habits in the Afar region and in particular around the salt lakes and atop the volcano is to do your business more or less anywhere; the area around Ahmed Ela (the salt-cutters'town near Dallol) is littered with garbage and human and animal excrement, resulting in a high rate of stomach bugs / traveler´s disease among visitors to the region.
We therefore ask you to consult a medical doctor about going to the Danakil prior to joining the expedition. One should particularly take precautions / medicine against dehydration, diarrhea and stomach infections.

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