Trip to Ethiopia from the Danakil desert to the rock carved churches

December 24, 2010 - January 9, 2011

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Suggested trip itinerary in Ethiopia

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A trip to Danakil desert in northeastern Ethiopia (Afar region), is not a normal holiday, but a real expedition into one of the most extreme deserts on the planet, located within a depression that reaches the lowest point of 120 meters below sea level. Characterized by the presence of some active volcanoes, as well as a huge crust made of different types of salts up to 3000 meters thick, the Danakil depression offers landscapes made of shapes and colors, absolutely unique in the world. Although in recent years the tours to Danakil have increased in popularity, it's important to not forget that a trip to this region needs an impressive logistic, either because of the isolation, either because of the terrible environmental conditions, requiring a great spirit of adaptation from the visitor. It is therefore recommended to take a tour to Danakil only if you are highly motivated and accustomed to this kind of holiday.


  • Afdera Lake (also called Lake Giulietti or Afrera lake). It is a salt-water lake located approximately 100 meters below sea level, where there are numerous salt pans used by Afar people to collect this precious mineral.
  • Erta Ale. The Erta Ale volcano rises about 600 meters from the bottom of the Danakil depression and until November 2010, it was offering the unique sight of a lake of lava in constant boiling. Unfortunately, a great eruption occurred in the month of November 2010, has changed the landscape in the crater, damaging the beautiful lake of lava not visible anymore.
  • Dallol. It 'an ancient volcanic crater about 60 meters below sea level, characterized by the presence of acid lakes colored in green, red, yellow and blue, for the presence of various minerals which forms also bizarre colorful deposits. With its average annual temperature of 34.4 degrees centigrade, this is the hottest spot on the planet.
  • Salt flats. This is a vast expanse of salt located at an average altitude of 120 meters below sea level, where the Afar, local people living in terrible conditions, excavate "tiles" of salt, which are then dispatched to the markets of Ethiopia using camels, mules and donkeys.


As mentioned, the Danakil region is remote and can be reached only through a long journey through various places of interest in the beautiful Ethiopia. Beyond the Danakil expedition, we were happy to visit also these locations:

  • Senbete and Bati markets. Interesting markets held weekly, where various ethnic groups from different regions of Ethiopia meet together to buy, sell and exchange all types of merchandise.
  • Tigray region. A must for any trip to Ethiopia are the rock carved churches, obtained by digging directly into the mountain sides along the picturesque Massif of Gheralta.
  • Axum. Known as the city of the Ark of the Covenant, Axum is also famous for the stelae and for other archaeological sites
  • Gondar. Interesting city, with its castles and the beautiful church of Debre Berhan Selassie, adorned with splendid frescos.
  • Lalibela and its monolithic churches built by just digging into the rock, without using any foreign material.
  • Lake Tana. Brief half day tour to visit the beautiful monastery of Ura Kidane Meret.


A tour to Danakil, including a tour in Ethiopia, usually begins from Addis Ababa where the convoy of 4x4 is prepared for the long expedition to Danakil depression and beyond. Provisions are purchased before leaving Addis Ababa and these may include over 700 liters of water (!) even for a small group of travellers (tourists, drivers, armed guards, guides). Due to the logistics required and to the safety issues (which include also serious environmental hazards), any tour to Danakil must be carefully planned with a reputable outfitter in Ethiopia or through a reliable tour operator in your country.


After several years without incidents, the safety in Danakil has degenerated when in January 2012 a group of european tourists and their guides have been attacked during a routine excursion to Erta Ale volcano and several of them died. Before planning any trip to Danakil or Afar region, please consult the Foreign Ministery web site of your country of residence and follow their recommendations strictly as directed. The areas of the rock churches are safer, however, great care is recommended because theft and pickpocketing is very common. In any case, please consult the web site of the Foreign Ministery of your contry, for complete and updated safety situation in Ethiopia.

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Market in Ethiopia En route from Addis Ababa towards the Danakil desert in northern Ethiopia <<-- GO
Danakil is a remote region which can be reached from Addis Ababa by driving along a paved road for a couple of days. Along the way, we take the opportunity to visit the interesting markets of Senbete and Bati, a crossroads of different cultures and ethnic groups, where people sell, buy and exchange everything ... from a pair of slippers to a camel.
Saline Lake Afrera tour (also called lake Giulietti) in the Danakil desert <<-- GO
After having crossed much of central Ethiopia, we finally reached the first "real" place belonging to the Danakil depression: the mythical Lake Giulietti (or lake Afrera), a salt water lake located more than100 meters below sea level, in one of the deepest depressions of the planet.
Erta Ale volcano Erta Ale volcano excursion, visiting the summit crater currently in eruption <<-- GO
Erta Ale trek to reach the summit crater and observe the eruption in progress. Unfortunately, only a month before my tour, the beautiful lake of molten lava has been made invisible due to a new heavy eruption. However, the volcanic landscape is spectacular and, during the night, it was still possible to see the fiery red smoke coming out of a small aperture in the crater.
Minerals in Danakil Travel from Erta Ale volcano to Dallol in the Danakil depression <<-- GO
We resume our Danakil depression tour through difficult tracks that often fade into clouds of sand and dust. The final destination for today is the village of Ahmed Ela, an ideal base for tours to Dallol and to the salt flats. Along the way, we meet several camps where the Afar people live in extreme poverty, in the harsh environment of the Danakil desert.
Dallol Excursion to Dallol between active geysers and surreal acid lakes <<-- GO
Dallol is an ancient collapsed volcano that shows all its beauty emerging from the Salt Plains in the heart of Danakil depression. The hundreds of small geysers constantly active, release minerals which, once deposited, create a landscape made of surreal psychedelic colors and shapes.
Yellow Lake Excursion to Yellow Lake and salt canyon in the Danakil desert <<-- GO
The great day began with the tour to Dallol and its incredible colors, continues with the exploration of the salt canyon characterized by bizzarre towers and pinnacles, before getting to Yellow Lake, another geology jewel, having the waters colored by minerals and showing the presence of gas bubbles from the underground.
Salt mine Travel with camel caravans to the salt flats in the Danakil desert <<-- GO
The trip to Danakil desert ends with an exciting excursion to the salt flats, following an endless caravan of camels. These animals, also accompanied by donkeys and mules, are used for transporting the salt extracted from the Danakil miners by Afar people using just very primitive tools that make their work very hard.
Tigray Trekking to Tigray in Ethiopia and tour to rock carved churches of Gheralta <<-- GO
The journey in Ethiopia continues from the Danakil desert to the Ethiopian plateau, precisely in the region of Tigray, where among the picturesque mountains of the Gheralta massif, there are numerous churches carved directly into the rock. We do also a spectacular trek, to discover the churches of Myriam Koror and Daniel Koror.
Royal Enclosure Historic Ethiopia trip from Gondar to Axum via Debre Damos <<-- GO
The tour in Ethiopia continues with a visit to places of historical and religious interest, starting from the monastery of Debre Damos, reached only by climbing a rope of 15 meters, and continuing to Axum, the city of the Stelae and the Ark of the Covenant, before reaching Gondar with its picturesque Royal Enclosure and the church of Debre Berhan Selassie.
Monolithic church Tour to Lalibela during the Coptic Christmas visiting the monolithic churches <<-- GO
Lalibela is a town located in the heart of the Ethiopian plateau and is known for the presence of several buildings, mostly churches, built by carving a single huge block of rock, without adding any external building materials like bricks or concrete. The trip to Lalibela was held during the celebration of the Coptic Christmas, which falls in Ethiopia on Jan. 7 of each year.
Kidane Meret Monastery Ethiopia lake Tana tour and excursion to Kidane Meret monastery <<-- GO
My trip in Ethiopia ends with a brief visit to Lake Tana, a picturesque and interesting place for both scenery and history. I visit the famous monastery of Ura Kidane Meret, containing valuable paintings depicting the entire religion in Ethiopia.

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