This is the highlight of my trip to Ethiopia if not the highlight of my life. It was not very easy to organise the trip as none of the eight of us knew each other before we met in Ethiopia. The original idea initiated in this forum and we had an amazing group of 8 people in the end, including Victoria, 69 yr old independent traveller from Austria who instantly became our subject of adoration who gave us hope we’ll be carrying on travelling independently even after the age of 69. 6 of us met through LP Thorn Tree and the remaining 2 were recruited in Ethiopia. Two ladies were interested in the three day trip Dallol and six of us went even further to Erta Ale on a five day expedition. The most economical way was to start and end our tour in Mekele. Costs have been negotiated, re-negotiated, boring bits cut out from the itinerary, itinerary amended several times etc. You’ll be experiencing Afar way of life, caravans, salt slab production etc even if you pay for the Dallol excursion only so no need to fear you’ll miss out on something if Addis is not the starting/ending point of your Danakil Depression trip.
Safety – Governments of many western countries advice against all travel to Danakil Depression. Hostage taking did take place in the past and maybe Afar indeed are not the friendliest of people, but we didn’t feel threatened at all.
You cannot visit Dallol in less than tree days from Mekele – the first day is just driving from Mekele; stop for lunch, arrangement of permits and allocation of an armed guard at Berhaile and PM drive to Hamed Ale. Sleep at Hamed Ale and the second day comprises of spending half day at Dallol, bake in the heat of the afternoon, then sleep again at Hamed Ale and the third day is the same as the day one, but other way round.
Dallol and Erta Ale can be visited on a five day expedition: the first two days as per above, the third day is the drive through Danakil Desert from Hamed Ale to the Erta Ale base camp, then 3 hours evening climb/hike, 2 hours at the volcano, 4 hours sleep, 1.5 hours at the volcano before the sunrise and the descent follows soon after the sunrise on day 4. Day 4 is all day driving from Erta Ale base camp to Hamed Ale and Day 5 is the same as the day one, but other way round.
Ask your tour operator to provide prices for 2 people, 3 people, 4 people, 5 people and 6+ (sometimes 5+). Our price options were:
2 Travelers -905Euro, 3 PAX- 785Euro, 4 PAX- 670Euro, 5 & above – 535 Euro
• 4wd vehicles comprehensively insured
• Fees to drivers, security guards, road leader and for the cook
• 3 meals of the day with bottled mineral water
• Permit to Danakil
• Camping gears
• All government taxes
. Fees to camels and local guides
Ask the tour operator to spell out if something is NOT included just to make sure there are no any hidden costs. Tips for drivers, cook, little servant in Hamed Ale and the exaggerated protection in Dallol (we had 4 soldiers with us!) were not included in our price and that worked out around Birr 300 extra per person.
Very important – ask your tour operator to guarantee the following:
• There will be plenty of water in case you’re stuck in the desert, especially on days 3 and 4!
• First Aid kit!
• The drivers must have each other in sight at all times, especially on days 3 and 4!
• There must be one torch per person for the hike to Erta Ale. The hike is 3 hours long and not particularly hard, but the volcanic rock is sharp and a few of us had some (minor) cuts.
• The Afar guide will have to be in control at the approach to the inner rim – we got too excited and wondered off dangerously close to the edge not knowing how solid the rocks were where we were standing on – this should have not happened!
• Ask for air con 4×4 (our air con didn’t work)
• Ask if they have satellite phone (they probably don’t)
Day 3 and 4 are the most challenging as this involves long drive through the most inhospitable of places – the drivers can get lost trying to find their way through the sand and bushes. The most hazardous is Day 4 when the local Afar guide is dropped off at his village in the morning and the drivers now left with no resident guide start loosing each other whilst trying to get to Hamed Ale as quickly as possible. Things like car breakdown or simply being stuck in the sand in the midday sun at the temperature of 40+C can be fatal if there’s no water or shade to escape to. If this happens, then let them do whatever they need to do to get the car back in the driving condition. You find/improvise the shade, hold on to your water and hope for the best. If worse comes to worst then the local Afars will find you – it’s incredible in what places they were appearing!
Things to take with you: (small) binoculars, sun block, hat, sunglasses, scarf/sarong, baby wipes, maybe ear plugs to minimise the wind effect and always make sure there’s plenty of water in your 4×4. You won’t need any extra clothing or tents for sleeping in Hamed Ale, it’s hot even at night and just a mattress will do, but the volcano is at 600m altitude and you’ll need a blanket, sleeping bag or a couple long sleeve T shirts.
Sulphurous fumes should not be a great concern at the rim of the volcano, but they are strong enough to cause mild irritation to your respiratory system – use scarf/sarong to cover your nose/mouth if your tour operator can’t provide one of those masks.
Our agency was Visit Ethiopia Tour and Travel http://www.visitethiopia.com.et/ and it was pleasure cooperating with Mikias. He’s very understanding, trustworthy, friendly, speaks good English and he can be reached on:+251 911 681 100. They, and other agencies, will ask for deposit to be paid as soon as possible, but we paid ours only a few days before the expedition because none of the people in the group knew each other before traveling to Ethiopia. It’s easy to transfer the money between banks in Ethiopia: you must know the recipient’s names, address and the exact branch of the bank they wish to collect the money from. Eg, you’ll be paying money in Axum’s Dashen Bank branch to Mr John Smith of Menelik II Avenue, Addis Ababa etc who wishes to collect the money from Dashen Bank Bole Road branch in Addis Ababa.
Goran Jovetic, London, UK