LAKE ASSALE, ETHIOPIA: Salt camel caravans, Hot sulphur springs, Erta Ale Volcano. Ecotour hosted by charming forester.

Lake Assale

Lake Assale, also written as Lake Asale or  Lake Karum, in the Danakil Depression, was formed in the past when the area was periodically flooded by the Red Sea after which large amounts of marine salts deposits (120,000 ha) accumulated at what is now the lake. Covered with a thick salt crust, the area is part lake and part salt deposit. 

Why consider booking our our Ethiopia Culture & National Parks modules? Because for the same price, our tour gets you to ALL cultural places Ethiopia is so famous for, and on top of that, you get to see up to 12 National Parks/Reserves accompanied by a conservation forester. There is nothing similar on the market. As Ethiopia can be combined with other East African countries, we organize tours in modules. Destinations Overview: Historical Circuit; Danakil Depression; Eathern Route; Simien Mountains; Bale Mountains; Southern Parks Safari; Gambella; Addis Ababa BUT WAIT: if you buy your international ticket with Ethiopia Airlines, they will sell the internal flights at a price that you can't even ride the bus for. But you MUST plan it all in one package and making changes will be very costly. So let us help you plan your entire trip for an incredibly low price!


For millennia, traditional salt mining has been the regions main economic activity, with salt camel caravans traveling up to thousands of kilometers, when salt was still a major trading commodity, thus bringing wealth to the Axum empire. The salt is still cut by hand and loaded onto camels for transportation to the highlands as it was done over the  centuries, but now the salt gets loaded onto trucks at the Berahile salt market, a small town at about 2 hours drive from the Tigray capital Mekele. Caravans pass daily through Hamed Ela a hamlet where most tourists pass the night. Due to volcanic activity, the Afar Depression has some of the most colorful geyser-like activity in the world, at a former potash mining camp at Dalol. Every evening, Afar cameleers pass through the village on their way to Berahile.


Recently, the government of Ethiopia granted new industrial potash mining concessions which are now becoming operational, but we have been explained, that these operations extract potash and rare minerals from salt deposits at great depth and that they are not a threat to the traditional salt mining. We are concerned though that new salt winning operations in salt pans at Lake Afrera will compete with the traditional mining at Lake Assale and that this traditional trade with its salt caravans will go extinct over the next decade or two.


Tourist camp at Hamed Ela

Expedition Dallol at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Hamed Ela at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
Tourist camp at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Hamed Ale at Lake Karum, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Tourists travel in caravans of minimal 2 or three four-wheel-drive vehicles and spend the night in primitive facilities in Hamed Ela, where they either sleep in tents or makeshift Afar huts. After visiting Lake Asale, many tours continue to visit the Erta Ale Volcano.


Traveling on the salt crust

Elevation Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Salt deposits at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
Salt crust at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Expedition to sulphur springs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

At an elevation of about 115 m below sea level, Lake Assale is a former bay of the Red Sea, which from time to time got connected and disconnected and as it became disconnected the salts accumulated to layers of several hundreds of meters deep. On top of it is a extremely salty lake in many places covered by a thick crust that can support vehicles. The salt crusts vary from dark brown where mixed with soil to almost snow white in other places where it is purer.


Traditional salt mining

Traditional salt mining at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Afar man mining salt at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
Camal salt caravan at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Afar man loading salt to camel at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Traditional salt mining at Lake Asale and transportation on Camel caravans, which take the salt to Berahile, 48 km to the east. If you want to still see this, don't wait too long as commercial salt companies are gradually pushing this traditional industry out of existence.


Salt hoodoos and cliffs at Lake Karum

At a distance of just a few kilometers from the Dallol hot springs, are remarkable salt formations consisting of eroding layers of salt which have shaped into salt hoodoos. These hoodoos are rarely visited by the tour operators, but our expeditions always take you there.

Salt hoodoos at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Saline hoodoos at Lake Karum, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
Salt hoodoos at Lake Assale, Dallol Depression, Ethiopia Salt cliffs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
Saline rocks at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

While the surface of Lake Asale at times is blindingly snow white, there are also different salt deposits which may be in different shades of brown. Some look like salt rocks (left) or layered hoodoo formations (above). The salt formation on the left is different from the ones at the Dalol hot sulpher springs. Both are systematically neglected by most tour operators.


Sulphur Springs at Dalol

The hot sulphur springs are in exuberance comparable to Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone National Park in the USA. The characteristic white, yellow and red colors are the result of sulphur and potassium salts colored by various ions. Hamed Ela, at 48km east of Berahile, is the tourism springboard for visiting these sulfur springs.

Sulphur hot springs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Dallol hot springs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Mini geysers pouring out sulfur laden hot water which after crystalization assumes different colors according to temperature and exposure at the air.

Crystallization of sulfuric salts in saturated water in mini pools.


Dallol hot sulphur lake at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Extinct mini geysers at Dallol at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

The shore of the main sulfur lake.

As the hot springs move about over time, extinct mini-geysers are left behind in the landscape.


sluphur "egg shell" at Dallol, Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Miniture fumerol at Dallol hot springs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
"Egg shell" fumerole, Dallol hot springs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Sufphuric gases escape from many whole in the porous lava rocks and around the edges, the gases sublimate in to thin "egg shells" of sulphur salts that cover the rocks around the hot springs.

Expedition to Dallol hot springs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Hot springs, Dallol, at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Sulfur deposits at Dallol, Lake Asale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia Volcanic hot springs, Dallol at Lake Asale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
Tour to Dallol hot springs at Lake Assale, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Your host on our trips is our associate en Ethiopia, Tamirat, a professional forester who has traveled the entire country to study forests, wildlife and cultural highlights for the Ethiopian National Parks Service and the Ministry of Tourism. Besides having an academic degree, Tamirat is an awfully warm person and a great travel companion.


After visiting Lake Assale and the Erta Ale Volcano, it is possible to continue to Lake Afrera and from there to the Lucy site at Hadar, but most people return to Tigray capital Mek'ele to continue from there to Lalibela.


This travel module takes you to Lake Assale:




Day 1 Mek'ele - Hamed Ale ±180km

  1. Berahile, visit the salt market and pay the entrance fee into the Danakil Desert;

  2. Hamed Ale base camp.


Day 2 Hamed Ale - Erta Ale ± 80km;

  1. Sulfur geysers at Dalol;

  2. Sulfur pool;

  3. Salt winning site of the Afar People;

  4. hike up the Erta Ale after 4 o clock to benefit from the lower temperature;

  5. Make camp at the top of Erta Ale;

  6. Admire the glow of the Erta Ale Ale at night.


Day 3 Erta Ale - Mek'ele ±260km

  1. Walk down from Erta Ale;

  2. Depart from the Danakil Desert to return to Mekele.

Costs $595

. Included: meals, transportation, fees, non-alcoholic beverages, tee/coffee at meals. Minimum number of  passengers is 2.

Ask for a group discount.



Ethiopia modernizes and changes more rapidly than any other country in Africa. Many features may not be there anymore in the near future. If you want to see it the way it was for thousands of years, see it now before it has changed forever! Compose your own once-in-a-lifetime Ethiopia-Africa-Adventure from our affordable modules:

Famous Ethiopia Historical Circuit

Simien Mountains trek or car visit

Danakil Depression and Erte Ale Volcano Expedition

Awash Babile Harar Safari Tour

Ethiopia Central and Southern Parks & Tribes Safari Tour

Bale Mountains National Park and Sof Omar Caves Tour

Gambella National Park Safari

Addis Ababa City Tour & Airport Transfer

All Ethiopia modules and prices together

We designed our itineraries in such a way that you can compose a 2 to 4 weeks journey from different modules that can show you the entire country or just the parts that interest you, all depending on your personal preferences, available time and budget. Email us on your interests and we can discuss a custom program with you by phone (we have phone lines from the USA and Europe) or skype. So, weather you have a great ethnic affinity, are a birdwatcher or want to go on safari, contact us and we work out a customized program that focuses on YOUR interests.

Blue Nile Falls, EthiopiaSt. George Church, LalibelaStellas, Axum, EthiopiaTukuls, Lalibela, EthiopiaElephant bull, Babile, EthiopiaEthiopian Wolf, Bale National Park

Gelada, Simien Mountains National ParkFacilides Bathroom, Gondar, EtiopiaWabia Ibex, Simien MountainsChurch, Lake Tana, EthiopiaErica trees, Bale Mountains National Park.Facilides Castle, Gondar, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa Bole International Airport is home of Ethiopian Airlines, featuring Africa's youngest fleet of the latest intercontinental jet airplanes - including 2 Dreamliners - as well as short-distance Bombardier turboprops for very comfortable, affordable and reliable in-country flights servicing all major cities of Ethiopia. The second best airline of Africa, will fly you non-stop from the USA and Europe to Addis Ababa. Take our 1-week Ethiopia Cultural Monuments Tour and than continue for your Kenya or Tanzania safari - or any other East African capital - thus completing your journey. IF YOU BUY YOUR INTERNATIONAL TICKET FROM ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES, YOU WILL GET MOST INTERNAL FLIGHTS FOR $25 - $35 PER LEG! BUT CHANGING AFTERWARDS IS EXPENSIVE, SO WORK OUT A SCHEDULE WITH US TO GET A FABULOUS DEAL FOR FLYING THROUGH THE COUNTRY IN STEAD OF SPENDING ENDLESS TIME ON THE ROAD!!!


Ecotravel Worldwide is a brand name of the World Institute for Conservation & Environment, registered in the Netherlands with headquarters in the USA, a social responsibility and conservation company. About CO2 emission offset for your travels.

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