A 3-day tour in the Afar region, visiting some of the most unique places.
Highs & Lows
Long car rides
You start the tour in the city of Mek'ele and then spend 3-days touring the Afar region. The main attractions are the Danakil Depression, the volcano, and the salt lake.
I blindly booked a tour while I was in Ethiopia. Although I didn't know what was ahead of me, I was excited to be a part of an adventure. (Isn't that what traveling is about?)
Backstory: A friend invited me to join them in Ethiopia. I was like, "Dope! New country! Also, they can plan everything!" Well turns out my friend "forgot" to buy their flight, so when I landed in Ethiopia at 9 pm, I was solo and had zero ideas what I wanted to do.
After a night's sleep, I decided I wanted to see the Danakil Depression after seeing a photo of it. My usual protocol is to scour TripAdvisor and blog posts, so I understand the best tours/cheapest way to get there.
But since I had limited time, I skipped my usual protocol and didn't look anything up. The next morning I headed to the airport, booked a flight to Mek'ele, and went to the first guesthouse I could find. I talked to the guy at reception and told him I wanted to go to the Danakil Depression, and he signed me up for a 3-day tour.
I didn't question why the tour was 3 days; I was just happy that I would see the Danakil Depression.
The next morning I woke up and I realized I had no idea what I signed up for. What was the name of the tour group? Will there be food? Where will I sleep? Will anyone else join me? Why was it for 3 days??
A driver, who spoke little English, picked me up and we started to drive. After 1.5 hours, I switched to another car that had 3 other tourists. I excitedly introduced myself and immediately asked what the plan for the day was. They told me we were on our way to a volcano...Hmm...ok. Volcanos can be cool. Let's do it!
Was the Erta Ale Volcano worth the 9-hour drive plus 30 minutes walk? No, I've seen better volcanoes.
Even if the volcano was lackluster, I still enjoyed the whole experience of getting there.
For example, our driver kept pulling to the side of a road when he saw a goat because he wanted to buy a small goat to feed us for dinner. When he was talking to the goat owner, we would play with the kids. It's small moments like these that make traveling enjoyable.
The last photo shows our beds for the night. It was as simple as can be but honestly, we didn't need anything else.
On the second day of the tour, I didn't see much, but it was still one of my favorites, and definitely a day I won't forget.
The main attraction on day two was Lake Afrera, a salt lake. I enjoyed hanging out in the water since it felt like a warm bath, but there was nothing spectacular about this lake.
Will I remember this lake in 10 years? I doubt it (although I'll probably remember the pain when I rubbed my eyes while in the water. Note: salt lakes are very salty, do not use salty hands to wipe your eyes)
So why would the second day of the tour be memorable if all I did was drive all day and see a mediocre lake? It's because of my tour guide and driver who ended up becoming my friends.
At the end of the second day, I was the only tourist left on my tour. We stayed in a small city, Abala. It was a lot of fun to hang out with my guides for the night. I tried Khat for the first time (a plant stimulant) The Khat didn't sit well with my stomach, so the driver suggested I drink ouzo to make my stomach feel better. After several ouzo shots and some beers, I completely forgot about my nausea and instead just drank, laughed, and danced with my guides at the local pub (which maybe had 10 people inside). We stayed out until midnight and had to wake up at 4 am the next day.
I'll remember this experience because it was very local and unique (I was the only foreigner in the area).
Dallol is the reason I booked the 3-day Danakil Depression tour. Honestly, I didn't care what the itinerary was as long as I got to see this distinctive, natural landscape. This was the last sight of the tour and by far the most impressive.
Dallol Quick Facts:
◾The hottest place on Earth, with an average daily temperature of 94°F/34°C
◾One of the lowest points on the planet
◾The green ponds are sulfuric acid deposits...so don't fall in one, or you'll lose a leg.
◾Dallol is a ghost town
◾You need to book a tour to visit this area.
I've never been to another planet, but it felt like I wasn't on Earth when I visited Dallol
Practical Note: Wear a good pair of shoes that you don't mind ruining. The walking surface is very sharp, and the minerals can stain your shoes. I only own two pairs of shoes and unwisely wore my flats, which now have a big hole and are no longer black.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
If I were to rewind, I would've only booked a 2 day tour, but I still enjoyed my time visiting the volcano.
The food was basic on the tour.
Tips you would give a friend?
Download some podcasts since the drives are quite long.
Pack sturdy shoes that you don't care about because the terrain is rouge and sharp in Dallol.
The volcano was underwhelming