Admire nature and test your vigor in one of the lowest points and the hottest place on Earth
The Danakil is located in Northern Ethiopia, in the Afar region. It is known as the ‘hottest place on earth’ but that title does the place so much injustice.
The Danakil region is so much more than how high the temperature gets, it’s unique geological features are the ones that draw visitors to visit it, despite the cost, the many hours of off road driving, and the bare bones accommodation.
A trip to the Danakil Depression is without a doubt the absolute highlight of Ethiopia and is where the prehistoric sites are located.
It is a city of roughly 7 million residents which makes it one of the busiest and fastest growing cities of the world. A glimpse of the city would include highlights such as the St George and Trinity Cathedral and Merkato. St George served as the coronation center of Emperor Haile Silassie and Queen Zewditu whilst Trinity is his burial place and where the tombs of the Emperor and the Empress can be seen. Merkato is one of the busiest open air markets in Africa.
The national museum exhibits among others Lucy, a partial skeleton of Australopithecus Afarensis aka Dinkinesh in Ethiopian, which means you are wonderful. The Ethnography museum which was Emperor Haile Silassie's former palace is another interest for the visitor.
Awash National Park is the oldest protected area in Ethiopia, 205 km to the east. It is considered as the ‘Bird Paradise of Ethiopia’ with more than 480 species recorded. The area hosts magnificient landscapes and supports immense wildlife. It is also known for its highest bird diversity of more than 480 species. Colobus and Vervet Monkeys, Lesser Kudus, Warthhogs, Crocodiles, Monitor Lizards, a variety of birds and big riverine trees are to be seen here.
You will drive to Illala Sala Plain a 30km round game drive, to see herds of Beisa Oryx, Semmerings Gazelle, Lesser Kudus and Warthogs. This is the best place to see different bird species including Raptors. A breathtaking view of the Awash Gorge is part of this drive.
You will have a short walk to a cave that will take you to myriads of sheer cracks with a depth of about 60 metres in the limestone cliffs. The vast expanse of hardened lava flow is a sight to admire especially if you are keen on exploring nature.
Mount Fentale is a dormant volcano which is 2007 metres high and 9km in diameter at the top. It has a panoramic view where one can see vapour coming out of the vents.
Enjoy a natural hot spring bath and swim surrounded by Acacia trees and Doum palm. Waterbucks, Vervet Monkeys, Hamadryas Baboons and a number of terrestrial and aquatic birds including Weaver and Plovers can be seen. Enjoy the beautiful view of Lake Afdera and its surroundings including the salt mining which is the economic hub spot of the Afar area.
We start shortly after breakfast at 06.30 and drive to Dodom at the base of Erta Ale. This may be one of the worst roads in the world. The 80 km distance could take 6 hours passing through changing landscapes of solidified lava, rock, sand and the occasional palm lined oasis.
You pass several small hamlets scattered here and there in this desert land before reaching Dodom. You will trek from Dodom to Erta Ale which takes about 3 hours. After an early dinner around 17:00 trek up to Erta Ale at 20:00.
Camels transport all the camping materials and some food, sleeping materials, mattresses and water to the rim of the volcano, where we spend the night watching the dramatic action of the boiling lava.
Erta Ale ranks as one of the most alluring and physically challenging natural attractions anywhere in Ethiopia. It is a shield volcano with a base diameter of 30 km and a 1km square caldera at its summit. Erta Ale contains the world’s only permanent lava lake and you will spend an unforgettable night on the top of the mountain.
You will rise with the early morning sun with time to walk around the pits and craters. The main pit crater is 200 metres deep and 350 metres across, is sub circular and three storied. The smaller southern pit is 65 metres wide and about 100 metres deep.
You will leave around 07:00 to head back to Dodom for breakfast. You will reach the camp by 10:30 at the latest and after some time to relax you will drive on to Hamad Ela, a village with a total population of about 500 people.
Mekele is the capital city of the Tigray National Regional State. Late this afternoon we will take a Mekele City Tour. We will view the impressive Dejat Abraha Castle built in the heart of the city around 1906. The castle is now a hotel.
We will also stop to visit the Hawelti (Monument of the Martyrs) erected to remember the valiant fighters who sacrificed themselves to emancipate their people from the dictatorial military regime (1974 - 1991).
The artistic tower spiralling more than 100 feet above the ground and mounted by a large ball is visible through much of Mekele. This is the centerpiece of the large war memorial. The memorial is modern and engrossing. As you enter each side there are larger than life figures representing the victims and victors of the war.
Appropriately black and stick like, the figures include mothers and children trekking out from the famine, several of them not making it. Beside them are the hardy Tigrain fighters with machine guns over their backs and trusty donkeys in tow. These peasant fighters overcame the Soviet backed might of the Derg military regime.
After a lunch break, we will visit the historical Atse Yohannes IV Palace which is named after the famous King who ruled Ethiopia from 1872 to 1889. Emperor Yohannes chose Mekele as the seat of his government and built his graceful palace which is still intact, in the 1870s.
The palace now serves as a museum and is highlighted by the Emperor’s throne, the royal bed, his ceremonial dress, rifles, and many other valuable historical collections. The fantastic throne of Atse Yohannnes IV was made by the Italian engineer Giacomo Nareri in 1874 and it is the eye catching centerpiece of the museum.
Drive to Hamed Ela via Berhale. The Danakil Depression can be said to ‘begin’ here. It is one of the most inhospitable regions of the world, but is nonetheless spectacular, full of eye catching colours in the sulphur springs.
The desert has several points lying more than 100 metres (328 ft) below sea level. You pass through the small town of Berhale where the camel caravans stop before they proceed to the northern highlands. En route you see many long caravans going to the salt mines and others coming out of the Danakil with their salt loaded camels (3 - 4 hours drive).
A morning driving tour to Ragad (Asebo) the place where the salts are mined. Observe the breaking of the salt from the ground cutting it into rectangular pieces and loading it onto camels. You drive ahead to Dallol and visit the different landscape formed by volcanic activity.
Excursion to Dallol (116 metres below sea level and one of the lowest places in the world) with colourful salt mining. Visit to Lake Assal following the camel caravans and walk with the Afar people.
Drive back to Hamed Ela and proceed to Gheralta. En route visit Mikael Imba which is of similar design as Abraha Atsbeha and Wukro Cherkos. The church is perhaps the most spacious of all the rock churches in Tigrai with an interior area of 140 square metres.
The top of the pillars are graced with stepped capitals and the ceiling is meticulously decorated with intricate patterns. Incised in relief, a large Greek cross adorns the ceiling. In terms of decoration and finishing, Mikael Imba is “an artistically finished church.”
After breakfast, drive to Medhane Alem (Saviour of the World). This church can be reached through a combination of asphalt and dirt roads through Freweyni via Hawzen. To access the church you climb a slope of exposed sandstone covered with potholes which local people believe to be the hoof prints of St. George’s horse.
This church is one of Tigrai’s oldest and finest rockhewn churches. Its exterior and interior walls are roughly hewn, which only makes the elaborately carved coffered ceiling much more special. It is quite possibly the oldest rock-hewn church in Tigrai or anywhere in Ethiopia.
Take a lunch break at Adigrat and proceed to Debre Damo. Damo monastery is situated on an isolated mountain in the northern part of Tigray. It is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries.
Debre Damo was built in the sixth century AD, with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint (Abune) Aregawi. The history of Debre Damo is centred on the "Nine Saints" who came to Ethiopia from Syria to spread Christianity in the Tigray region.
One of them was Saint Aregawi who settled on the mountain of Debre Damo. Debre Damo is magnificent in terms of its location and its extensive collection of priceless manuscripts that have remained intact till today.
It has become a prominent monastic and educational centre for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Debre Damo is only accessible by climbing up a "plaited leather" rope lowered from the cliffs, which visitors tie around their waist and are pulled up by a monk at the top of the cliffs. It is only accessible to men and male animals.
Women and even female animals are forbidden to set foot into the monastery, and must remain under the cliffs and pray from there.
Finally visit Yeha. This city was founded at least 2,800 years ago and served as the capital of the pre Axumite empire. The well preserved stone temple was built 2,500 years ago. It also served as a center of a monastic Christian community in the early 6th century.
A modern church built next to the temple ruins contains some of the ancient temple stones and its treasury contains illuminated manuscripts and crowns. En route to Axum through the dramatic highland landscapes of Adwa, is where the Battle of Adwa (1896) took place and is a landmark to the Black World.
After an early breakfast visit Axum, recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. Axum is a testament to the rich and glorious past of the mighty Kingdom of Axum (2nd C. BC - 700 A.D.). This morning the visit will start with the famous Stelae field with its Axumite Stelae in various sizes and shapes.
The archaeological museum is nearby and it offers an opportunity to bring context to the relics on view today.
In the afternoon you will visit the Kaleb and Gebremeskel tombs dating to the 6th century A.D and on the way to town, the Ezana inscription (Ethiopia’s Rosetta stone) is worth visiting.
Tradition has it that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia in the 10th century BC by Menelik I and later Ethiopian kings and emperors would proclaim their legitimacy to rule by their lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Throughout the day we will discuss the development of Christianity in Ethiopia and its relation to the Ark and the story of the Queen of Sheba.
All accommodations in and out of Addis Ababa as indicated on the itinerary double or twin room (Accommodation depends on availability)
All breakfasts and dinners
All ground transportation; 4WD drive
All fuel, drivers’ allowance and insurance
All local guides and all entrance fees
All government taxes
International and domestic flight tickets
and have covered most regions of the country.
Ethiopia is truly a stunning country, in fact having travelled to 80 odd countries it ranks in the top 3.
In all honesty Eskinder and his company are the best you will find. Last November we embarked on a two week trip to the Danakil depression and Northern Ethiopia with this company based. From our very first enquiry Eskinder has been tremendously helpful and professional in giving us the best advice, especially regarding Danakil, always replying to any questions within 24 hours. We had a great driver for the whole trip, in addition we had to take a local guide, cook and security who were all top notch.
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