Desert, Salt and Volcanoes


Itinerary (13 days)

Day 1: Addis Ababa - Awash
When the group is complete in the late morning (many int. flights arrive in the early morning), we transfer from Addis Ababa to Awash Natl Park, already in the Rift Valley.
In the afternoon, a game drive into the savannah of the relatively unknown park (many species of birds and mammals to observe) and a stop at a viewpoint on the deep gorge of the Awash river and its powerful waterfalls are on the program.
Acc.: Guesthouse in Awash (B, L, D)

Day 2: Drive to Logia
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.
Acc.: Basic hotel or camping (B, L, D)

Day 3: Drive into the Danakil - Afrera salt lake
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.
Acc.: Basic hotel or camping (B, L, D)

Day 4: Drive to Dodom village (base of Erta Ale)
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 camp. (B, L, D)

Day 5: Day-time ascend to Erta Ale volcano with camels
During the night, Afar guides will join us with their camels. At sunset, we will start the relatively 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 lava 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 6-7: Two full days to observe Erta Ale's lava lake and the caldera
Acc.: as before (camp on Erta Ale) (B, L, D)

Day 8: Descend from Erta Ale - camp near Afar village
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 9: Transfer to Lake Assale - salt caravans
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 assist the procedure of assigning salt cutters (the focolo) to the camel owners (the Arho), for the next day in the salt mine at the lake.
Acc.: Camp (B, L, D)

Day 10: Dallol volcano
A full day will be available to explore the fascinating volcano of Dallol - a volcano hidden under kilometer-thick deposit of salt. The volcano marks its presence by the up doming of the salt and hundreds of fumaroles and hot springs in all colors.
We can visit the remains of a ghost town, almost entirely built in salt, at Dallol, where miners lived in the 1930s to extract potash from the Dallol area. The town was the hottest inhabited place on earth.
Acc.: as before (Ahmed Ela) (B, L, D)

Day 11: Salt caravans - salt cutting and loading - transfer to the highlands
In the morning, we watch the sometimes thousands of camels leaving for the salt cutting area. We then drive to the lake and watch the salt cutters and salt shapers at work, following a century-old established order. By the time we leave in the late morning, the first camels are being loaded and the cycle is repeated.
For us, it's time to leave the desert. Our way out follows along a spectacular canyon into the highlands. At a small, clear waterfall, we stop for lunch, to bath and clean the cars from the salt.
In the late afternoon, we should already be back on the highland plateau where we stay the night in a small lively town, and enjoy the first cold beer after more than a week!
Acc.: Guesthouse or hotel (B, L, D)

Day 12: Highland plateau sandstones - Debre Abraham rock-hewn church - transfer to Mekele
This day is a spare day. If not needed, we use it to take a short side-trip into the wonderfully colored and spectacularly sculptured northern highlands, where we hike to one of the oldest rock churches of Ethiopia, sitting on top of a multi-colored table-mountain of old eroded sandstones.
Transfer to Mekele in the afternoon, where we will stay in a good hotel and celebrate the expedition with all crew members in a stylish restaurant serving delicious Ethiopian and international food...
Acc.: Hotel in Mekele (B, L, D)

Day 13: Return to Addis (flight from Mekele)
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)

25 Nov - 8 Dec 12
23 Dec 12 - 4 Jan 13
13-25 Jan 13

Additional info:


  • Accommodation in double rooms / tents
  • Full board from lunch on first day until breakfast after last hotel night
  • Drinking water from D4-10 (8 liters per person per day)
  • Full camping equipment
  • Private transport in 4WD vehicles
  • All fees for transits, entries etc.
  • Experienced driver guides and cooks
  • Armed Afar guards and guides
  • Internal flight from Mekele to Addis Ababa
  • Professional English-speaking guide and staff
  • Detailed information package
  • Professional accompanying volcanologist

Not included:

  • Flight to and from Addis Ababa
  • Single room/tent supplement
  • Extra drinks and (if required) extra nights in Addis Ababa
  • Tips for local staff

Extra nights in Addis before or after the expedition 50 EUR per room
Flight from Europe to Ethiopia ca. 900 EUR (depending on availability)
Trip cancellation insurance 3% of tour price
Extension programs, e.g. day-trip to Debre Libanos On request (ca. 150 EUR per car)

Physical requirements:
The walks on this tour are not particularly difficult, but you should have experience with hiking on uneven and rugged terrain. Although it is about the coolest time of the year, temperatures near Ahmed Ela and in the desert are usually around 35-40 deg (95-105 deg F), but could soar up to 45-50 deg C (120-130 deg F) in the hottest hours near Dallol.
Sanitary conditions during most part of this expedition will be very basic and you should be in excellent overall health. We ask you to consult a medical doctor about going to the Danakil prior to joining the expedition.

Arrival info:
The expedition starts and ends in Addis Ababa, but the international flight to Ethiopia is not included as default.
For European departure airports, we can included a flight ticket for you at additional cost (ca. 900 EUR) if you let us know in advance.

Mixed standards: in the towns, we use hotels of good local standards, but you should not expect any luxury. In the villages, the best options will be basic hotels or using the mattresses / tents. In the desert and on the volcano, we sleep usually under the stars or (if it's not too hot) in tents or under a cover.

Customized tours:
On request, this tour can be customized for small groups.

Preceding / additional days:
It's no problem to add days before or after the expedition and we'll book these for you. If you bring more time, you could do day trips from Addis or take an extension tour.