Despite the increasing footfall, the Danakil Depression remains unapologetically absent of infrastructure. You'll be sleeping under starlight by an active volcano, or on makeshift wooden beds in the most remote settlement you've ever seen. It's this ruggedness that makes the Danakil such an extraordinary experience.
Places to Stay in the Danakil Depression
Most tours of the Danakil are round-trips from the Tigrayan capital, Mekele. The town is the ideal springboard into the Danakil as it connects easily with other destinations along the northern circuit thanks to Ethiopia's fantastic domestic flight network.
Depending on how much time you have available, it's common to fly into Mekele the evening before your Danakil expedition starts to rest up and prepare for the journey ahead. You can also spend a night here at the end of the trip, but most travellers are ready to get on a plane and head back to Addis, or continue their tour on the evening you return from the Danakil.
Most travellers arrive in Mekele the night before their journey into the Danakil. Mekele is the capital of the Tigray region in Ethiopia, and the closest city to the Danakil Depression. There are plenty of accommodation options in Mekele, with most in the 3* range, and plenty of new hotels are opening up.
Mekele is a vibrant and energetic city, more-so than many travellers expect. Being the gateway to the Danakil, it's often imagined as remote and barren. This couldn't further from the truth. If you're spending a night in Mekele before your Danakil excursion, it's well worth exploring some local restaurants, bars, and historic sites.
At Erta Ale
Visiting Erta Ale means spending a night at the makeshift ‘campsite’ by the crater rim. Camels transport sleeping materials, including mattresses and blankets, up and down the volcano. Local Afar people have set up a matrix of ‘rooms’ demarcated by stones.
The campsite is relatively smokey since you're in close proximity to the crater, but you won't notice it after having stood peering over the crater rim. You'll sleep around midnight, and be up again for 5AM to take another look at the volcano before heading back down to the base camp, Dodom.
At Hamed Ela
Hamed Ela is your resting place for the night you’re not at Erta Ale. It’s a rudimentary settlement of wooden huts that provide a small degree of protection from the sun during the day, and is a common lunch spot as you traverse the Danakil over 3 or 4 days.
The beds are made of a wooden frame with ropes wrapped taught on either side to support the mattress. You spend the night under the stars on these beds. It’s simple, but it works.
At Abaala Village
A slightly more advanced affair, Abaala village is an important market town in the region and your final stop before returning to wider civilisation at Mekele. Mattresses are laid out on the floors of the mid-size rooms at the homestay, and nearby shops provide much needed refreshments (including beers). Electricity is available here.
You'll arrive at Abaala in the early evening on your final day of the expedition. Your cooking team will prepare dinner and grab refreshments for the whole group. It's a short 1-2 hour drive the following morning to get back to Mekele.
Depending on your interests and wider travel plans, you’ll be spending 1-3 nights in the Danakil, with a 2 night stay being the most common.
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