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Danakil Depression: The Cruelest Place on Earth

Located in the Afar region in northern Ethiopia, the Danakil Depression is a hellish place with extremely high temperatures and unnatural-appearing landforms. Dubbed as the 'Cruelest Place on Earth', it is meant only for those with an adventurous heart, a strong, resilient body and mind.
Vacayholics Staff
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2018
Interesting Trivia on the Danakil Depression
Salt Mining in the Danakil Depresssion
The local Afar people believe that the salt in the Danakil region was actually thousands of tons of pure gold. Legend has it that the local people once lived like kings, because of which they turned lazy and greedy, and forgot god. In retribution, god turned all the gold into salt. The legend further states that the punishment will come to an end only when the people are not greedy anymore.
Where is the Danakil Depression?
Danakil Depression Map
The Danakil Depression is a part of the Afar triangle, which can be found in Ethiopia, close to the borders of Eritrea and Djibouti. It is a part of a geological valley situated in the Horn of Africa. The Danakil Depression was formed due to the activities of three tectonic plates in the region.
Danakil Depression: The Gateway to Hell on Earth
Danakil Depression Arid Temperature
Lying 100 meters below sea level, this flat salty region holds the record of the highest average temperature on the planet - around 35 degrees Celsius. And on really hot days, the mercury reaches up to 60 degrees!
Topography of the Danakil Depression
Danakil Depression Lava Field
The depression is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, with endless stretches of salt flats, scorching sands, smelly sulfur, active volcanoes, and mineral deposits, coupled with the insane temperature, it is worthy of its moniker 'The Gateway to Hell'.
People of the Danakil Depression
People of the Afar Tribe
Despite the horrid climatic conditions, a tribe of people, known as the Afar, call this place their home. They are notorious for being fiercely proud and inhospitable towards outsiders. Till the Second World War, they would attack and castrate foreigners trespassing into the area. Although conditions are much safer now, visitors who wish to explore the place safely still have to hire armed militia squads.
The Salt Trade of the Danakil Depression
Camel Caravan Carrying Salt Blocks
The Afar people survive by extracting salt from the desert and lakes in the scorching heat, before loading it on numerous camel caravans, and selling it in the nearby cities and towns, which can be a trek of several days. Salt miners can earn up to 150 birr/7.5 USD for each day's work.
Volcano of Danakil: Erta Ale
Erta Ale Volcano Pool
For a first timer, nothing can prepare you for the view of Erta Ale, especially at night. A large lake of moving molten lava, that sparks and bubbles, occasionally spewing small sprays near the edge of the crater. It is the crown jewel of Danakil in all adventure itineraries. The heat here is so intense that most travelers who stand close to the crater find the soles of their shoes melting slowly.
Acidic Hydrothermal Pools of Danakil
Acid Pools at the Dallol Volcano
Not far from Erta Ale at Dallol, one can see one of the most alien sights that our planet has to offer. A huge area consisting of green and yellow hydrothermal pools, with the occasional orange and red. These pools are a part of the Dallol volcano crater. However, do not enter these pools under any circumstances as the water is highly acidic and can cause severe burns.
Animal and Plants in the Danakil Depression
African Wild Ass
Animal and plant life is very sparse in this hellish place. Apart from camels, one can occasionally spot wild ass, antelope, small birds, lizards, and insects. Most of these creatures survive on low thorny bushes and shrubs that are scattered across the desert.
Getting to the Danakil Depression
Afar Stick Huts
A must-see spot for hardy adventurers, one can get to the Danakil from the nearby city of Mekele, which can be reached by air via Ethiopian Airlines. At Mekele, travel agents can arrange package trips to Danakil, including 4WD vehicles and security. Some of the Afar provide accommodation in their traditional stick huts, through negotiations by travel agents.
Danakil Depression: Interesting Fact
The famous 3.2 million-year-old hominid fossil 'Lucy' (Australopithecus afarensis), was found here, making Danakil famous in the scientific community of archaeologists and paleontologists.