Tour with ETT – Ethio Travel and Tours
We were lucky to find a tour to the Danakil depression already during our stay in Lalibela. It also included a free transfer to Mekele (around 10 hours with a minivan with several photo-stops and a lunch pause). The tour agency we booked it with is called ETT – Ethio Travel and Tours (www.ethiotravelandtours.com; in Mekele their office is in the building of the Milano Hotel). We were highly satisfied with the whole organization and service. The price of a three-day tour starts with 450 US Dollar and is a subject to (flexible) negotiation. However, if you book the tour in Lalibela, you don’t have so much choice and it is not possible to handle as effectively as you could when booking from Addis Abeba or in Internet.
On the first day, we were picked up from our hotel at 9 am and together with other tourists (16 tourists ~ 4 cars + 1 car for the crew) were brought to the first stop in Abola at a coffee shop. Keeping in mind that all tourists are brought to one shop, consider switching to the coffee shop next door where the prices are twice as low and the whole business is not tourists-oriented.
On the road in Ethiopia
We had a simple but delicious lunch (the salsa sauce was to kill for) in Berhale. During the tour, we had unlimited bottled water, however the ice-cold soft drinks and beer were not included in the price of the tour package and cost 25 Birr each. Taking into account the surrounding temperatures of at least 38 degrees, this was a delightful option which was willing accepted. At daytime the temperatures outside reached 46 degrees, so we were extremely lucky to have an A/C in the car!
The landscape changed dramatically with every hour we drove, starting with the prairie, continuing with the black lava-stone landscape, where sandstorms are not rare, occasionally passing by the palm lined oasis, evolving to the sand desert and ending with the lifeless lava desert. Very often, you see camel families or sheep stock literally on your way.
After the sand desert, you pass by several hamlets where little children meet you clapping their hands what means they are asking you to stop and to give them some food or treats. Even our driver gave out some cookies, so we followed and distributed some nuts and pens. These children rarely go to school; they mostly stay with their families and help their parents to graze the cattle.
The last two hours to Dodom – the Erta Ale base camp – were very challenging both for the driver and the passengers: this may be one of the roughest roads in the world.
Erta Ale volcano
After having dinner, we hiked to the rim of the Erta Ale (which means „smoking mountain“ in Afar language) volcano. The hike took us about three hours and was fairly moderate. We covered about 9,5 km and 500 m altitude in less than three hours. During the hike, two soldiers and a local guide accompanied us as a security measure during the long-lasting Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict.
By the way, take the guidance to have three liters water with you seriously. The temperatures are still very high even when it gets dark, so you will feel urge to drink a lot.
After reaching the military outpost on the rim of the volcano, we had to put on the masks or scarfs (the sulfur smell is sometimes unbearable) and walked to its summit, to the alluring longest existing lava lake in the world to witness the dramatic action of the boiling lava in complete darkness…
Afterwards, we returned to the military outpost and spent the night at the top of the mountain, at the rim of the volcano, under the stars. We were woken up at around 4 am and enjoyed the sight of the lava lake at down: the wind was weaker, so the visibility was slightly better. It was incredible to see the flowing rivers of glowing-red lava, standing on the edge of volcano crater! So far this was one of the most mesmerizing and ominous sights in my life…
After the hike back to the base camp, we had a savory breakfast (pancakes, omelet and fruit) and then drove to the Lake Afrera, a salt water lake located more than 100 meters below the sea level, in one of the deepest depressions on the planet. We were allowed to have an enjoyable swim or more precise, floating as the salt content in the water is so high that you are not able to sink. The water temperature was cooler that the air. The sweet water spring next to the lake is in the opposite so hot that 40 degrees outside felt pretty much refreshing.
After the swim, we drove to Abala where we had delicious traditional dinner. To the point, we indeed an amazing cook during the tour.
By the way, the locals listen a lot to the local Ethiopian music, also our driver on the tour. This style is called Ethiopique. More than that, they willingly dance to it – a lot of rhythmical shoulder and hips moves. During the overnight stop at Abala, we danced with the little kids next door to our homestay (a room with mattresses and blankets for us, simple but clean shower and toilet). Older children were obviously amused seeing foreigners dancing to their local music but joined us and clapped to the rhythm. Some of them expectedly asked us for the money (a habit?). We didn’t have anything with us and just continued dancing. It seemed to work. Is this the right approach to the locals? Just keeping doing what you do and interacting through games and dance?