Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression: When to Visit and Take Sightseeing Tours
Let’s start with this: yes, this place is really, really on Earth.
It’s no secret that Mother Nature likes to get weird, and dude, we love her when she does. But of all the bizarre creations she’s imagined in her 4.5 billion years of existence – mysterious god-like monoliths, swirling purple deserts, glistening oceans – one of the strangest must be the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.
Even everyone’s favorite smoldering rainbow lake, also known as Yellowstone’s famed Grand Prismatic Spring, pales in comparison to this astonishing geological work of art. In the middle of a suffocating and arid expanse marked by arrows of red rock, enormous technicolor pools undulate one another. They almost look like a searing, ultra-acidic version of Tuscan hot springs, their aquamarine and chartreuse content, and their edges yellowed and dotted like popcorn but hard as a rock.
The sources are in Dallol in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia, where breaking records is apparently a snap: with an average temperature of 95 ºF, Dallol is the hottest inhabited place on the planet. ; in summer, temperatures rise steadily to 122 ° F. It is also one of the lowest points on Earth, plunging more than 410 feet below sea level.
Such extreme conditions can only lead to quite bizarre phenomena. Within the nearly 4,000 square mile Danakil Depression lie dozens of extraordinary natural wonders, including salt marshes, colorful lakes and active volcanoes.
Volcanic activity heats the spring water, causing certain minerals (sulfur, salt, copper) to rise to the surface, giving rise to otherworldly shades of blue, green and yellow. As you might have guessed, you can look, but you can’t touch: it is sulfuric acid that we are dealing with here. In other words, if you dip your little toe in it, your skin will melt like candle wax.
The springs are also filled with extremophiles, microbes that live in extreme environments, similar to those of the Grand Prismatic spring. As, against all odds, they managed to survive in such inhospitable conditions, scientists began to wonder: could life succeed in thriving under conditions as or even more intense than these, say, for example? , on Mars ? Now, with a canvas for Mother Nature, the area is often used by astrobiologists to conduct research on what alien life might look like on other planets.
Considering how wildly intense fucking Danakil’s depression is, one would think they would have taped it for miles and miles around Area 51, only allowing professionals to explore its expanses. But no! Of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, or Mekele, the largest city near the Depression, travelers can sign up to take guided tours, including multi-day options for as little as $ 250.
Once you’re in the desert, you can take relaxed walks past sulfuric geysers, swim in crystal-clear (non-acidic!) Pools, and wander the acidic fields of Dallol. You can also spot the Afar people – the only group to live this far – riding the dry land on camels, carrying salt collected from deposits near their village, Hamed Ela, to nearby markets.
If you are planning on doing the trek, it is best to visit it between November and March, when temperatures are most tolerable, which is always around 95 ° F. Pack some sunscreen and do your best not to end up like that old lady at the end of Dante’s peak, Okay?