East and north-east Ethiopia, from the mountains through the desert to the lowest place on earth
This part of Ethiopia is inhabited by the Afar nomads, Oromo's, Somali and Harari. Where in most parts of Ethiopia the Christian Orthodox faith has had a great influence on culture and social life, in the east Muslim culture has been dominant since the 13th century. Visiting the 1000 years old walled Muslim city of Harar you will breath the atmosphere of the tales of "thousand and one night". The surrealistic landscapes of Danakil Desert with one of the few active lava lakes in the world and the bright colored salt formations of Dallol make you feel walking on another planet.
Read also our Tour program "Desert and Salt Lakes" which we offer as an individual- as well as a group tour. Contact us to get more information or book a tour to Experience the Extraordinary!
The road from Addis Abeba to Harar has many interesting aspects such as the beautiful Awash National Park and the very scenic route through the Chercher and Arba Gugu mountains. Around Harar the coffee plantations are more and more replaced by chat, a mild stimulating drug. altTravelling from the town Awash to the Afar Depression north-east, you will drive through a complete different landscape, ending your trip in the Danakil Desert and Depression. This trip is really only for adventurers with a good physical condition because the desert climate is very hot. But first stay a while in the Bilen Lodge in chalets built in Afar style. You can swim in the nearby Bilen Hot Spring and observe a great variety of birds and wildlife in the surrounding riverine forest, acacia woodland, savannah and wetlands. This beautiful place is a good start for what might be the most interesting and strange journey of your life. Partly in a 4 wheel drive, partly on a camelback you will discover the unknown desert world, the salt lakes with their capricious shaped salt-formations, the active volcano Erta Ale with its lava "lake of fire"" in the crater, the place where "Lucy" was excavated, the Afar people with their camel-caravans transporting salt to Mekele and much more new things.
Highlights of eastern Ethiopia
Awash National Park
Even from the asphalt road which bisects the Park, you can already see big herds of the beautiful oryx, grazing the yellow savannah grass. They are abundantly present in this Park, together with gazelle, dikdik, lesser and greater Kudu, waterbuck, warthog, velvet monkeys and baboons. Near the Filwoha Hot Springs with their beautiful blue pools surrounded by palms, lions can be seen and also leopard, cheetah, hyena and golden jackal are present. But the greatest attraction of the park is its amazing variety of 450 bird species among which the endemic yellow-throated serine and Ethiopian cliff swallow. Also the beautiful scenery is a great attraction. The Awash river which flows at the border of the park tumbles down as an impressive waterfall (especially in the rain-season) into a 150 m. deep gorge. From Kereyou Lodge in the park you have a splendid view into the gorge. You can also climb the Fentale volcano to enjoy the terrific view into the crater which is still steaming and over the park with on the background an old volcano range. On the slopes you can see klipspringers and mountain reedbucks while impressive lammergeyers are searching for their prey.
Some Muslims consider Harar as the fourth holiest city of their faith after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. There are several stories about the foundation of Harar which date from the 10th century to the 15th century. But it is certain that the walls which still surround the old city, have been constructed by Sultan Nur around 1560. This old walled city with its steep cobbled streets and white houses breathes a special, relaxed and lively atmosphere and you should stay several days to taste it.
Through the ages, Harar has been ruled by several sultans so it nearly always has been under Muslim influence. That's why the old city inhabits 108 mosques from which the oldest is of the 12th century. There are many other interesting monuments and places to visit such as the 16th century tomb of Emir Nur, the Rimbaud House (where the great French poet is said to have lived during his stay in Harar) which is used as a museum now, the house of Ras Makonnen where the last emperor Haile Selasse spent his childhood, the Church of Medhane Alem or the Harar Museum. It is also interesting to visit one of the old Harar houses with their beautiful interior and don't forget the lively market to buy the famous colourful Harar basket ware. The most famous attraction of Harar is the hyena man who -according to a 50 years old tradition- is feeding every evening meat to a troupe of hyena's. He knows all the hyena's by name and when he calls them they appear from the darkness one by one to take the meat from his hand or mouth. When you observe this spectacle you can't help shivering a little bit.
Danakil Desert and Dallol salt formations
The Afar people boast a history of 2000 years. They have traded salt with the Ethiopian highlanders since the early axumite period. (around 0 A.D.). Islam has been rooted firmly in Afar altsociety for 700 years and the Afars always have had their own sultan-kings. The last sultan was forced to live in exile under the Derg regime but still the Afars are expecting him to return to his residence near Assaita, their formal capital. En route through the country of this intriguing nomad people you will meet them regularly along the road with their camels -who are their most precious possession- carrying their flimsy houses to the next stop. And further to the North the long rows of camels transport the salt-bars from the salt lakes to Mekele as they have done for ages.
The Danakil desert and Danakil depression are part of the Afar regional state. Here you can make trips which surpass your imagination and which will bring you in bizarre, unearthly landscapes which are difficult to describe. There are different roads leading to Danakil: the asphalt road to Asab (Eritrea) starting by Awash town, following the course of the Awash river that finishes abruptly in the salt desert near lake Abe and the road north of Addis Abeba via Debre Berhan, Kombolcha and Bati. On Monday there is a very colourful market in Bati. It is the largest cattle and camel market in Ethiopia where Amhara, Oromo and Afar people meet each other. It might also be your first meeting with the tall, proud Afar men with their afro-hairstyle and cotton toga's with a gun on their shoulder. Or you can start your tour in Mekele, the cosy capital city of Tigray and drive via Berhaile.
The first mentioned road leads you via the flat Alleghedi plain with its far horizons and some wildlife, the Meteka wetlands which are excellent for birders, the Yangudi Rassa National Park where the rare wild asses have their home and several small towns to Semere, the recently built new Afar capital. Here your must obtain an admission paper to start your adventure to Danakil. But this trip is not without risks and should be well prepared and accompanied by experienced people.
The desolateness of the desert with its salt pans and volcano peaks has a special attractive power. The beautiful Salt lake Afdera is most easy to reach from Assaita. Top of the end is it to organize a camel caravan journey to the active Erta Ale volcano with the worlds only lava lake, glowing red hot at its edges, from which now and then an explosion of fire work erupts. Imagine camping at the edge of this crater with its "lake of fire", enjoying in the night the spectacular eruptions! Going to the Dallol unique Salt Mountains is another unforgettable experience. The capricious shaped shimmering white-, green- and yellow colored salt formations form a sharp contrast with the empty landscape. Hot steaming water is bubbling up from the earth on many places. You get the feeling of being on another planet. Following the ages old track of the salt transport caravans you can finish your trip in Mekele, the capital of Tigray. Interested to make a tour to East Ethiopia? Contact us to get more information or book a tour. You can also book a group tour.