Community Trekking and the Danakil Depression

A true adventure across the Northernmost reaches of Ethiopia. Experience Community Trekking on the plateaus of Tigray, where horizons stretch for miles, distant mountain peaks morph into hazy silhouettes lit by the evening sun, and pockets of light and shadow dance on the undulating surface of the Tigrayan valleys below. Discover the alien environment of the Danakil Depression, home to lava lakes, acid springs, and sprawling salt lakes. With stunning scenery matched only by the charm and warmth of local Ethiopian hospitality, this trip is a sensory experience that’s as emotionally arresting as it is visually striking.

11 Days

$1,746

Community Trekking and the Danakil Depression - 11 - $1,746

Trip Summary and Itinerary Map

  • Explore the ancient city of Axum, Ethiopia’s original capital city. Axum plays an enormous role in Ethiopia’s history and culture and is central to the identity of many Ethiopian’s.  Home to Stelae fields where massive Obelisks over 1700 years old shoot dozens of metres into the sky, it’s a town of deeply religious roots and fascinating history.
  • Spend 6 days community trekking through rural Tigray. The treks take across the plateaus of the Tigrayan highlands and into the valleys below. The views are breath-taking, and the treks are locally run meaning over half the money goes directly to the local community.
  • Explore the rock churches of Gheralta, including the famous Abuna Yemata Guh carved into the cliff face and accessible only via rock-climb. The views from the churches are stunning. Still in use by local Ethiopians, the churches are a testament to commitment to faith. Stay overnight at the wonderful Gheralta Lodge overlooking the Gheralta Mountains.
  • Drive into the hottest, driest, and lowest place on the planet, the Danakil Depression. Climb the Erta Ale volcano, visit the salt lakes and salt pans, and walk amongst the neon greens, yellows and reds of the Dallol crater lake acid springs and salt mounds.  

Landmarks visited on Community Trekking and the Danakil Depression

Itinerary

Day 1: Addis Ababa

Upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, connect with a local flight to Axum. The flight time will depend on your international arrival details. 

At Axum airport, your driver will meet you outside the airport terminal and transfer you to your hotel. Check in to your hotel and freshen up before taking your first steps into the city. Spend the afternoon exploring the sites of Axum, including the Stelae field (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) that tower metres above and look fantastic in the afternoon sun. Visit Tsion Mariam Church, claimed to hold the original Ark of the Covenant. 

Spend the evening at leisure in Axum. You’ll stay overnight at the best available property in Axum, Sabean Hotel. 

Activities: Sightseeing in Axum

Overnight: Sabean Hotel


Day 2: Community Trekking in Tigray

Today marks the start of your community trekking experience in rural Tigray. After breakfast, we drive from Sabean Hotel to the trailhead near Chehat (approx. 2 hours drive). From here, we kick off the trek with a gentle one hour walk Chehat Community Guesthouse. 

The guesthouse is perched on plateau with sweeping views north along a gorge towards the church of Debre Damo. Upon arrival at the guesthouse, you will be welcomed with snacks and coffee/tea to enjoy as you soak up the views. 

Relax around the guesthouse while dinner is made, and get to know the locals over dinner before retreating to the simple and cosy rooms of the guesthouse. 

Activities: Transfer Axum to Trailhead, Trek trailhead to Chehat (~1 hour)

Overnight: Chehat Community Guesthouse


Day 3: Community Trekking in Tigray

Wake up to breakfast and freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee over the stunning view from the plateau. Today will be your first full day of trekking in Tigray as we head towards Enaf. 

The trek is relatively challenging trek as you traverse the sandstone cliffs of Tigray, passing down into the valleys and ascending again up to the top of the plateau. You can take the trek at your own pace, and you’ll be rewarded throughout with stunning views across the Tigrayan landscape. 

Note: the trekking routes can be amended depending on your fitness/preferred activity levels. 

You’ll soon spot Enaf Community Guesthouse sitting atop the valley, where you’ll again be welcomed with snack and refreshments before settling down for dinner. 

The starlight in this part of the country is stunning, so don’t forget to look up to spot the various celestial bodies shimmering brightly in the absence of any light pollution. Beers and other cold drinks are available, and you can spend the evening enjoying the beautiful view. 

Activities: Trek from Chehat to Enaf (~8 hours, moderate difficulty)

Overnight: Enaf Community Guesthouse


Day 4: Community Trekking in Tigray

Another morning over coffee and panoramic views of the Tigrayan lowlands. The mountain peaks in the distance look fantastic in the early morning sun. 

Today we trek to Seheta down in the valleys of the Agame Mountain. The trek is around 5 hours, and a little easier than yesterdays trail. You’ll be heading down from the plateaus into the valley, so there are some steeper portions of the trail. 

Seheta Community Guesthouse is set in the calm of the valley farmland, and is a great base to learn about local life as you spend some time in the villages nearby. There’s also opportunity to trek further up the valley to explore some of the trekking routes and viewpoints there. 

Activities: Trek from Enaf to Seheta (~5 hours)

Overnight: Seheta Community Guesthouse


Day 5: Community Trekking in Tigray

As we continue our route through the sandstone cliffs of Tigray, we trek from Seheta in the valleys to Gohgot. Gohgot sits higher up in the cliffs, above the villages around Seheta but below the plateaus. The trek takes about 4 hours, and en route you can visit the local church of Gohgot Eyesus. 

Gohgot Community Guesthouse as great views into the valleys and low lying villages below. It’s a picturesque place and a great place to spend the afternoon relaxing. 

Activities: Trek from Seheta to Gohgot (~5 hours)

Overnight: Gohgot Community Guesthouse


Day 6: Community Trekking in Tigray

Continuing our journey, we head to Erar Community Guesthouse, one of the first established in the region. The trek takes 4-5 hours, and is a slightly more challenging as we’re heading back up the cliff to the plateau. 

Erar Community Gueshouse built on an isolated section of the western escarpment has some of the most wonderful views of the community trekking experience. 

Activities: Trek from Gohgot to Erar (~4-5 hours)

Overnight: Erar Community Guesthouse


Day 7: Community Trekking in Tigray

Today marks your final day of community trekking in Tigray. 

After breakfast and fresh coffee over the wonderful views, begin the trail to Shimbrety. This is a really exciting trail, and as you get closer to Shimbrety you’ll find a rock-tunnel that has been carved through the ridge to give villages on the western side access to the lovely rock church of Maryam Buzuhan. 

Spend your final night atop the limestone cliffs of Tigray, blanketed by starlight and well-fed by your lovely local stuff. Grab some cold beers (other refreshments available) and enjoy the view one last time. 

Activities: Trek from Erar to Shimbrety (~5 hours)

Overnight: Shimbrety Community Guesthouse


Day 8: Churches of Tigray and Gheralta Lodge

After breakfast at the guesthouse, walk for 3 hours to the trail head Idega Arbi where you driver will be waiting for you. Transfer to Gheralta Lodge, charming lodge with cabin-esque rooms dotted along the plateau ridge offering tremendous views of the Gheralta Mounatins and low-lying farmland. 

After lunch at the lodge, explore some of the rock-churches in the region. The rock churches of Tigray astounding not just for their history, rock carvings and paintings, but also for their representation of the religious commitment of the local people. Built high into the cliff face, some of these churches are only accessibly through climbing the vertical cliff, and yet they’re still used by local Ethiopians of all ages. The views from inside the churches is extraordinary. 

The view as the sunsets behind the mountains and the sky illuminates in dark reds, yellows and oranges is the perfect respite after your community trek. 

Activities: Explore the rock-churches of Tigray and the sunset at Gheralta Lodge

Overnight: Gheralta Lodge


Day 9: Danakil Depression

After breakfast in the lodge, we begin our excursion into the incredible Danakil Depression.  A geological depression caused by the continental drift of three tectonic plates, the Danakil Depression is one of Earth’s most unusual environments. Renowned as the ‘hottest place on the planet’ and home to salt lakes, lava lakes, volcanoes, and colourful acidic springs - it’s a wonderful, alien environment.

We meet the rest of the group and jump into the reliable Toyota Landcruisers that will be our safe haven as we journey into one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. Stop for lunch at Kusrawat, before pressing on to Dodom, the basecamp at the base of the Erta Ale volcano. 

Have dinner with your group around 6PM and prepare to being the hike up the volcano at around 7PM when the sun dips towards the horizon. The hike up Erta Ale takes about 3 hours across a gentle inclination of rocky terrain. The terrain itself is not challenging, but the heat of the region combined with the duration of the trek (3 hours) can make it challenging for some travellers. 

We’ll arrive at the crater rim around midnight. The lava lake at Erta Ale is among the most stunning natural phenomena anywhere in the world. The bubbling magma cuts through the crusted charcoal surface like laser beams as smoke bellows from this ‘gateway to hell’. 

Spend the night at nearby campsite on the volcano. Stones and rocks demarcate ‘rooms’ that fit up to 3 people, and camels transport mattresses and blankets to the top of the volcano. 

Activities: Drive to Danakil Depression, Hike Erta Ale

Overnight: Camping on the volcano


Day 10: Erta Ale to Hamed Ela 

Rise early (5AM) and return to crater rim for one last look into the fiery caldera before beginning the 3 hour descent back to Dodom. Upon arrival at Dodom, enjoy breakfast before piling back into the Landcruisers. 

Drive through the Danakil desert across the sprawling salt pans where you’ll find local Afar people working under the searing heat to cut the salt into blocks before loading onto camels. The camels are led back to nearby towns in ‘camel caravans’ as they transport the salt for export across the country. It’s a humbling site, and walking alongside these camel caravans in this distant corner of the world brings new appreciation to this ancient trade. 

Arrive at the sparse settlement of Hamed Ela where your cooking team will once again do you proud. Enjoy refreshments and spend the evening under the stars on makeshift beds in the Danakil. 

Activities: Drive through Danakil desert, witness salt mining and walk with camel caravans

Overnight: Hamed Ela Settlement


Day 11: Dallol and Salt Lakes

Your final day in Ethiopia may be the most extraordinary of all as we head to the incredible Dallol volcano, visit Lake Karum and swim in Lake Afrera and its nearby hot springs. 

Dallol is a cinder cone volcano in the Danakil Depression, although its unique geology means it lacks any of the archetypal volcanic looks. Instead, Dallol is a canvas of bright green, reds, and yellows distributed across hundreds of hot acidic springs and mounds of salt deposits. Characterised by bright, multi-coloured springs, fissures, and geysers, and with average annual temperatures of 35°C (95°F), Dallol is one of the most visually compelling and geologically fascinating destinations on Earth. The landscape looks completely otherworldly. 

Lakes Karum and Afrera are the two hyper-saline lakes in the Danakil Depression. Lake Karum (also known as Lake Asale) is one of the most visually striking lakes any in the world looking more looks more like an Arctic desert than a saline lake. The lake-bed is a jet white salt crust chequered in irregular contours that slowly becomes submerged in the clear water of Lake Karum. The transition from the salt pan to Salt Lake is so gradual that it feels as if the salt pan simply starts to shimmer and shine as it juts off into the horizon.

Lake Afrera sits over 100m below sea level in the Danakil Depression, and contains the world’s lowest lying island, known as Deset. At the horizon, dormant volcanoes protrude out from Afrera’s shimmering green topology, and Afrera’s extreme salt concentration results in mounds of salt building up on the lakes shores. Unlike Lake Karum, Lake Afrera can be swam in, and its hypersaline nature leaves you floating weightlessly. It’s a refreshing respite on your journey in the Danakil, and there are nearby freshwater hot springs that make for natural jacuzzis to wash the salt off before jumping back into the air-conditioned Landcruisers.

As your exploration of the Danakil draws to a close, we drive back to Mekele to catch a late flight back to Addis Ababa to connect with your international flight home (note: we can arrange an overnight in Addis and additional services depending on your international flight departure schedule). 

Activities: Explore the Martian landscape of Dallol, visit Lakes Afrera and Karum.

Prices, Departures and Inclusions

Prices are per person based on two travellers. 

Includes

  • Domestic flights based on discounted Ethiopian Airlines rates enjoyed when travellers fly internationally with Ethiopian Airlines. 
  • All ground transport via private minibus or 4WD. 
  • All accommodation as indicated in the itinerary. 
  • Meal plan bed and breakfast. All meals included on treks and in the Danakil Depression. 
  • Fees for entrances, local guides and compulsory scouts for activities mentioned in the itinerary, unless listed as excluded.
  • All government taxes for the services included in the tour price.
  • Cooking and camping equipment in the Danakil Depression.
  • Scout and police escort in the Afar region.
  • Camel and camel tires in the Afar region.

Excludes

  • Entrance fee for Gheralta churches (150 Birr per person per church). Entrance fee for church visit on community trek.
  • Any meals not mentioned as included.
  • International flights and visa fees.
  • Other personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and gratuities, etc.
  • Any activities not mentioned as included.

Questions about this Trip?