The great Afar (Ethiopia – Djibouti)

Region: Ethiopian and Djiboutian Afar

Duration: 16 days including 13 of trekking and walks

Type: Trek & exploration


  • 3 and a half days of trek in the Tigray and 3 days of camel trek in Djibouti,
  • Full day walks in Assabolo Canyon, Dallol, Erta Ale, Lake Abhe,
  • Tadjoura Gulf with scuba diving,
  • An optional departure anticipated for the Ankober escarpment, a couple of beautiful walks and exploration of Lalibela (total of 22 days)

Physical level: Moderate to difficult, beware of the heat

Period: November 2017

Group: 3 to 8 participants

 A sneak preview:

This long expedition, essentially suited to the large Afar region on the Ethiopian and Djiboutian side, will start with a small escapade on the Abyssinian highlands, as if to signal the gaps in the ecological and cultural areas that are evident between these two areas.

Our journey starts straight away, far in the the northern part of the country, in Tigray Province to explore, in the course of a 4-day exploratory trek, troglodytic churches hidden in the Gheralta Mountains.

Then comes the dive into Danakil Depression, situated 120m below sea level. We will get to the Dallol Volcanoe with its hallucinating colours and acid baths then Erta Ale Volcanoe with its molten lava using the Assabolo Canyon route where we will come across long camel caravans carrying salt. Then comes the time to get to Djibouti, with its uniqueness: Lake Abbe with its rocky sentinels and Lake Assal at 157m below sea level, that we will reach while on a 3-day hike via the Djibouti Rift faults, finishing at the coral reefs teeming with marine life of Tadjoura Gulf.

Strong points:

  • A long and diverse journey combining Abyssinian Plateau and the Great Afar Region whose treasures contained in these parts of Ethiopia and Djibouti we will explore.
  • A total of 13 days with walks, sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for scheduled walks that last for the most part of the day:
    • 3.5 days of trekking in the Gheralta (troglodytic churches in the mountains)
    • 4 days of walks in the Ethiopian Afar
    • 2 half days in Lake Abbe (Djibouti)
    • 3 days of trekking in Djibouti
  • Even considering the drives in a 4×4 vehicle, all the days have their share of activity and exploration.
  • High quality guiding: French Terres Oubliées guide who is a specialist of the region and the Rift Valley, helped by local guides who are specialists of the regions we travel through.

Day by day:

Day 1: Addis Ababa to Mekele to Gheralta After a night abord a flight to reach Addis Ababan you are welcomed by your guide. Breakfast in the city, with the famous Ethiopian coffee and fresh fruit juice. We then take a flight to get to Mekele, the capital of the state of Tigray in the northern part of the country, where we meet our drivers that will take us to Gheralta region. Night in hotel.

Day 2 to 5: Gheralta trek: Our 3.5-day trek will take us across a section of Gheralta Mountains and Highlands. Here, more than a hundred troglodytic churches, hermitages and monastries are spread out on all the region’s mountains. We will thus leave on foot, in search of these architectural wonders, journeying through mountains that overlook the plain that the Tigrayans courageously cultivate. 5 to 7-hour walks per day with positive and negative elevation of between 300m to 500m. Certain churches, really hanging in the faults will require a bit of climbing and will therefore be optional.

The 5th day, at the end of the last morning walk to explore the biggest of the troglodytic churches of our journey, we will take the 4×4 vehicles and drive to the escarpment that will get us to the Afar region, to the Bere Ale village, the entry point of the Danakil depression. Camping in tents.

Day 6: Assabolo Canyon: A beautiful day of 5 to 6 hours of walking awaits us, depending on the area from which we commence.  We will trek along Assabolo Canyon, a busy salt-carrying camel caravan route, which we will not miss to come across. At the canyon’s exit, our 4×4 vehicles will take us to the small “village” of Ahmed Ela, where simple beds welcome us for nights under the beautiful stars.

Day 7: Dallol and salt field: The day is dedicated to exploration of the region on foot. A large part of the morning will be dedicated to Dallol Volcanoe and its annexe sites. The activity here manifests itself in an extraordinary way, the rising of underground water heated by the volcanoe creating an amazing frenzy of shapes and colours that only an artist would have been able to create.

We will then meet the salt quarry workers where Afar and Tigrayans strive to remove salt blocks from the salt field, that will need to be loaded onto the camels. In the evenings, huge caravans embark in the direction of the Abyssinian highlands and we can join them upto our village. Night on a bed under the beautiful starts.

Day 8: Erta Ale: A difficult road leads us to the foot of Erta Ale. In the evening, when the heat dies out, we will leave for the shielded** volcanoe, then at night we descend the crater to go and view the impressive, permanently active lava-lake, a unique spectacle that will leave us stupefied for the most part of the night. Night under the beautiful stars.

Day 9: Erta Ale to Semera: We climb down the volcanoe then get on the 4×4 vehicle and via Lake Afrera, come to one of the towns situated on the very active Djibouti/ Addis Ababa route. Night in hotel.

Day 10: DJIBOUTI/ Lake Abbe: We get to the border, where we wait for a new team from Djibouti. Despite still being in the Afar, we will feel a distinct difference in “the style”. After Dikhil town, we get on the road that leads us to Lake Abbe region. Here, impressive rock sentinels and hot springs guard the lake. We will spend the later part of the afternoon walking amidst these immense volcanic cones that originate from underwater. Night in camp, in daboitas, the traditional Afar huts or under the beautiful stars if you opt for this.

Day 11: Lake Abbe to Gagade: A new morning of walking around Lake Abbe where we will try to reach the lake and view its pink flamingoes. Then on 4×4 vehicles, we go to Gagade plain where our trek will start. Night under the beautiful stars.

Day 12 to 14: 3 days of trekking: We will leave for 3 days of scheduled hiking, with the 4×4 vehicle picking us up in the evning. Via the canyon on the Kalou wadi where pools invite us for a swim, we will get to Lake Assal, at 157m below sea level. The lake’s blue turquoise is surrounded by a gleaming white salt field, all set on a frame of black bassalt mountains, conferring to the region true magic. Exploring the region situated between Lake Assal and Goubbet Gulf, we will find faults and volcanic formations due to Djibouti’s Rift, before reaching the end of the sea where life suddenly abounds, fish and coral rival in colour, contrasting with the bareness of the arid banks. Night under the beautiful stars.

Day 15: Tadjourah & White Sands: A drive leads us to “White Sands” that characterize this unique white sandy beach on the coast of Tadjoura Gulf, to explore the coral reef flat with mask and tuba.

Day 16: Djibouti City: We will get to the small animated port of Tadjoura town, board a public dhow to get to Djibouti town (in the absence of a dhow, we will take a fast boat to cross the gulf). After a shower, flight to Adis Ababa then  night flight to France.

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