Danakil desert & Erta Ale lava lake

  • Lavasee
  • Säurepfütze am Dallol
  • Salzlaugensee
  • Kochender Salzsee
  • Explodierende Gasblase im Lavasee des Erta Ale Vulkans
  • Kamele transportieren das "weiße Gold" der Danakil Salzseen

Volcano expedition to the Danakil & Erta Ale volcano

Experience one of the geologically most active areas on the planet and some of the most inspiring landscapes: the Danakil desert, an active volcano with a boiling lava lake, the surreal landscapes of colors, salt, geysers, springs and fumaroles at Dallol, and the great salt lake - an unparalleled moonscape, where salt mining and trading has been going on with camel caravans since Biblical times.
On this expedition, we cross the Afar area from South to North, climb active Erta Ale volcano and stay full 3 days and nights on the volcano, as well as 2 full days at Dallol and the Great Salt Lake. At the miners' town of Ahmed Ela near Lake Assale we'll watch the centuries-old ritual of salt cutting, the shaping of salt blocks and the endless caravans arriving and leaving loaded with the precious "white gold".
We have thorough experience with this expedition as we have been organising it since early 2007 with VolcanoDiscovery. This is reflected in an excellent preparation , highly competent professional and friendly staff, close interactions with local people and delicious food prepared by our cook - which will more than compensate for the sometimes spartan character of living conditions we'll find ourselves in.

Day 1: Arrival in Addis Abeba

Typical scenery in the streets of modern Addis Abeba
Typical scenery in the streets of modern Addis Abeba
The Ethiopian flag and Ethiopians
The Ethiopian flag and Ethiopians
One of the modern hotels
One of the modern hotels

Arrival at the airport of Addis Abeba ADD and meeting with our partner. Transfer to the hotel in the centre of Addis Abeba and a welcome dinner.

Accommodation in a good hotel (D)

Day 2: Drive to Awash national park

You will meet children at every stop. Please do not spoil sweets, better school items!
You will meet children at every stop. Please do not spoil sweets, better school items!
The Awash waterfalls are an ideal place for photography, but mind the crocodiles around!
The Awash waterfalls are an ideal place for photography, but mind the crocodiles around!
You may watch animals at the National Park of Awash.
You may watch animals at the National Park of Awash.

In the morning, transfer from Addis Ababa to Awash Nationall Park, already in the Rift Valley. Game drive into the savannah and visit of the Awash river canyon and waterfall. There will be stops at geological highlights with the explanations of our guide.

Acc.: Hotel or guesthouse in Awash (B, L, D)

Day 3: Drive to Logia

A spot where fresh lava shows the spread and breaking apart of the African plate.
A spot where fresh lava shows the spread and breaking apart of the African plate.
One of the volcanoes in the Danakil dessert.
One of the volcanoes in the Danakil dessert.
A scenic drive through volcanic landscapes.
A scenic drive through volcanic landscapes.

Today, we continue to drive through the Rift Valley into the Afar triangle, slowly loosing elevation. The landscape changes from savannah to steppe and half-desert, interrupted by oases from the Awash river.
There will be also a stop at the spreading plate are of Africa with volcanic sites. Also a little safari throught the Awash National Park in the morning.

Acc.: : Basic hotel or camping (B, L, D)

Day 4: Drive into the Danakil - Afrera salt lake

The salines where the salt crystals are mined.
The salines where the salt crystals are mined.
Our camp site next to the hot springs and the lake
Our camp site next to the hot springs and the lake
Obsidian is covering an old lava field
Obsidian is covering an old lava field

We leave the main road and continue on an unpaved 4x4 road northwards into the Danakil. The trip leads through rugged moon-landscapes, characterized by volcanic rifts and faults, young black lava flows and gravel desert. After about 4 hours driving, we reach the flat, salt-covered Danakil depression at the salty lake Afrera by afternoon. There will be time to visit the interesting salines, where pure salt is being produced. Next to our camping site there are hot springs and also the lake is attractive for swimming.

Acc.: : Basic hotel or camping (B, L, D)

Day 5: Drive to Dodom village (base of Erta Ale)

Soldiers protect every step you will do on Erta Ale, so there is a reasonable safety in the area
Soldiers protect every step you will do on Erta Ale, so there is a reasonable safety in the area
Simple huts at the Erta Ale base camp
Simple huts at the Erta Ale base camp
The leader of the Afar people will give us the permission to visit the Erta Ale volcano
The leader of the Afar people will give us the permission to visit the Erta Ale volcano

If you are interested, you could join a group of salt workers in the early morning and watch the interesting technique to gain salt from the lake.
After breakfast, we pick up two Afar policemen and an Afar guide, then drive though the flat salt and lava desert to the Afar village of Dodom and set camp at the base of Erta Ale volcano. Unlike other expeditions, we don't rush you up the mountain the same night, but enjoy a magical night in the desert at the foot of the mountain: when it becomes dark, the intense zodiacal light of stardust and the red glow from the volcano lake and the brightest of starlit skies will compete with each other.

Acc.: : Night under the stars in the base camp. (B, L, D)

Day 6: Day-time ascend to Erta Ale volcano with camels

Camels will carry our gear
Camels will carry our gear
Hornitos at the slopes of Erta Ale volcano
Hornitos at the slopes of Erta Ale volcano
Little islands of vegetation in a lava desert
Little islands of vegetation in a lava desert

During the night, Afar guides will join us with their camels. At sunset, we will start the realtively easy ascend (ca. 10 km, 500 m climbing, ca. 3 hrs) during the fresher morning hours along the flat flank of Erta Ale's shield volcano, while the camel caravan carries our luggage and the equipment.
The gently climbing hike itself follows interesting lava formations (aa and pahoehoe lava fields, lava tubes, hornitos, sand deposits, rare vegetation) until we stand on the rim of the caldera. An easy descend brings us to the floor of the caldera and after 10 minutes, we stand on the active pit crater containing the boiling ava lake.
This and the following two days are fully dedicated to observe the lava lake and the volcanic features of the caldera at our liking.

Acc.: : Improvised camp on Erta Ale (B, L, D)

Day 7: Two full days to observe Erta Ale's lava lake and the caldera

Sunrise over the lava lake of Erta Ale (c) Tobias Schorr
Sunrise over the lava lake of Erta Ale (c) Tobias Schorr
Aerial photo of the lava lake (c) Tobias Schorr
Aerial photo of the lava lake (c) Tobias Schorr
Tourists at the rim of the lava lake (c) Tobias Schorr
Tourists at the rim of the lava lake (c) Tobias Schorr

There has been a lava lake at Erta Ale since its discovery in 1906, making it not only one of the very few present-day constant lava lakes as well as the by far longest existing lava lake. Yet the remoteness of the Afar area and difficult access to the volcano made that this wonder of nature was largely unknown up to the 1960s. Since then, there has been a gradual increase of adventurous tourists visiting this lava lake - a particular tourism that experienced a sudden increase due to improved accessibility in more recent years. Our small group will therefore not be the only one on Erta Ale´s caldera rim, but our extended stay there will maximise the opportunities to explore, observe and photograph the volcanic activity both during day and night. A local milityry camp increases the safety of the visitors.

Acc.: : as before (camp on Erta Ale) (B, L, D)

Day 8: The second day at the Erta Ale volcano

Boiling lava bubbles (c) Tobias Schorr
Boiling lava bubbles (c) Tobias Schorr
Boiling lava bubbles (c) Tobias Schorr
Boiling lava bubbles (c) Tobias Schorr
Boiling lava bubbles (c) Tobias Schorr
Boiling lava bubbles (c) Tobias Schorr

Today you may use your first experience to take better photos of the lava lake than the day before. There is plenty time to stroll through the lava fields and to discover the caldera with your guide Enku. The best time for taking photos is the early morning and early evening. There is also a good opportunity to film the activity with your camera or smartphone.

Accommodation like the night before in the camp.

Day: 9: Descend from Erta Ale - camp near Afar village Hamed Ela

Soldiers at the base camp of Erta Ale (c) Tobias Schorr
Soldiers at the base camp of Erta Ale (c) Tobias Schorr
Soldier at the base camp of Erta Ale (c) Tobias Schorr
Soldier at the base camp of Erta Ale (c) Tobias Schorr
Our tour guide Enku at the lava field of Erta Ale lava lake (c) Tobias Schorr
Our tour guide Enku at the lava field of Erta Ale lava lake (c) Tobias Schorr

After a last sunrise at the spectacular lava lake, we break down our camp and using the camels again, we return to the point of departure where the jeeps are waiting.
After lunch, we continue for 1-2 hours back into the desert, where we will set camp near a typical temporary Afar village. Refreshing showers will be available from simple wells in a river bed. For those interested, we can also visit the Afar village and get an impression of the nomadic culture of the Afar.

Acc.: : Camp (B, L, D)

Day 10: Visit of the hydrothermal active Dallol acid volcano

Colourful salt deposits and pools at Dallol volcano
Colourful salt deposits and pools at Dallol volcano
The salt mountains & canyons at the edge of Dallol volcano
The salt mountains & canyons at the edge of Dallol volcano
Aerial photo of an boiling salt pool
Aerial photo of an boiling salt pool

At the morning we will meet the salt caravans on their way to the salt mining area. After a few kilometres we will arrive at one of the most strange areas on our planet, the Dallol acid volcano. There are hot and acid solutions coming up and create colourful pools. Later we will take also photos of a canyon in huge salt mountains and of two other pools with acidic salt water. The last night at our open air "hotel" in Ahmadela.


Accommodation as before (Ahmed Ela) (B, L, D)

Day 11: Transfer to Lake Assale - salt caravans - transfer to Wukro town

Cutting salt plates for transport. (c) Tobias Schorr
Cutting salt plates for transport. (c) Tobias Schorr
They walk kilometres in hot and dry conditions. (c) Tobias Schorr
They walk kilometres in hot and dry conditions. (c) Tobias Schorr
Saltcaravan going to the mine. (c) Tobias Schorr
Saltcaravan going to the mine. (c) Tobias Schorr

The sometimes difficult 4x4 drive through the desert northwards to the large, mostly dry salt lake near Ahmed Ela is our goal of the day.
In the afternoon and evening we can watch the endless camel caravans coming and going: arriving empty, they stay in the fascinating town. They are met by the ones leaving packed full with precious salt blocks. After nightfall, we can assisit the procedure of assigning walt cutters (the focolo) to the camel owners (the Arho), for the next day in the salt mine at the lake. In the afternoon we drive to Wukro town in the Tigray area.

Acc.: : Comfortable hotel in Wukro (B, L, D)

Day 12: Drive from Mekele to Lalibela [NEW]

Whereas Islam is the main religion practiced by the Afar people inhabiting the Danakil depression, most people living in the Tigray and Amhara regions have a long tradition of Ethiopian orthodox Christianity which gave rise to the 12th-13th century AD construction of numerous rock hewn churches in this area. The jeep drive from Mekele to Lalibela will take us through local towns such as Alamata, Woldiya and Gashena and across deep gorges and a Tertiary volcanic landscape that offers impressive views over the Afro Alpine Plateau before arriving in the town of Lalibela set amidst the Lasta Mountains.

Acc.: comfortable hotel in Lalibela (B L, D)

Day 13: Visit of the rock hewn churches of Lalibela

This day will be spend at 2500m above sea level exploring the Lalibela rock hewn churches which were intricately carved into volcanic red tuff stone during the reign of the area´s most famous ruler, Saint-King Gebre Meskel Lalibela, from the late 12th to early 13th century. Some of the major churches that we will visit include Bet Medhane Alem, Bet Mariam, Bet Amanuel, Bet Giorgis ,Bet Meskel, Bet Denagel, Bethlehem, Bet Merkorios, Aba Libanos and Bet Golgotha. The group spends the last evening of this expedition enjoying a farewell dinner at a local restaurant serving Ethiopian delicacies.

Acc.: As before (comfortable hotel in Lalibela) (B, L, D)

Day 14: Return to Addis

An airplane of Ethiopian Airlines
An airplane of Ethiopian Airlines
Flight over the highlands of Ethiopia
Flight over the highlands of Ethiopia
Arrival at Addis Abeba airport
Arrival at Addis Abeba airport

If you don't opt for an individual extension, the tour ends with a domestic flight back to Addis Ababa. If you leave on an international flight in the evening, we provide you with a day-room and suitable airport transfer in Addis.

Acc.: : none (optional hotel nights in Addis on request) (B)