Ethiopia & Djibouti: Danakil & Whale Sharks

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Trip code: 
AYJ
Way to Travel:
Guided Group
Activity:
Culture
Group size:
4–11
Min age:
16

An adventurous journey through the alien landscapes of the Danakil Depression to Djibouti’s beautiful coastline

Salt caravans trudge along towards the sunset, past alien landscapes as they start the long journey to market. A lava lake bubbles within a volcano’s crater from which lava fields, fresh enough to still crunch underfoot, descend. Afar people eke out an existence from this eerily beautiful landscape tucked in a remote corner of the Horn of Africa – the Danakil Depression. Stretching between Ethiopia and Djibouti, the region, formed by three tectonic plates tearing the land apart, encompasses some of the lowest and hottest places on Earth. Meanwhile, off the Djibouti coast, gentle giants - Whale sharks – swim and reefs teem with all kinds of marine life. This is a journey unlike any other…

Highlights

Dallol's remote and unique landscape

Snorkel with Whale sharks

Climb Erta Ale, an active volcano

The salt caravan at sunset

Lake Assal, the lowest point on the African continent.

Key information

6 nights standard hotels, 4 nights wild camping and 3 nights traditional Afar huts

Travel by private minibus and boat

Some long drives on rough roads and hot conditions

What's included

  • All breakfasts, 8 lunches and 7 dinners included
  • All accommodation (see accommodation section)
  • All transport and listed activities
  • Flights from London (if booking incl. flights)
  • Arrival & departure transfers

What's not included

  • Travel insurance
  • Single accommodation (available on request)
  • Visas or vaccinations
Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for tailormade trips:
020 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

At Exodus we believe in the power of Responsible Travel.

Every time we travel, we are part of a global movement that creates jobs, builds more sustainable societies, encourages cultural understanding and safeguards common natural and cultural heritage. To learn more about what Responsible Travel means to Exodus click here… 

Itinerary

  • Day 1

    Start Mekelle.

    The group flight usually arrives in Mekelle this morning.  The rest of the day is free to relax or visit some of Mekelle’s attractions such as Emperor Yohannes IV Palace or Martyrs Memorial Monument.

    Zemarias Hotel or similar

  • Day 2

    Visit Wukro’s rock-hewn churches.

    After breakfast we drive to the famous rock-hewn church of Abreha and Atsbeha, one of the finest in the Tigray Region. The 10th century church’s large interior is cruciform in shape with an ornately carved roof supported by thick pillars and decorated arches. We can also view well preserved 17th and 18th century murals inside. Later, we transfer to the town of Wukro where spend the night.

    Wukro Feseha Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 3

    Into the Danakil Depression; sunset on the shores of Lake Assal.

    Today our wilderness adventure begins as we descend into the Danakil Depression. Located in the northern part of the Afar Triangle, the depression is about 125m below sea level and is the result of three tectonic plates diverging. As we lose altitude, the landscape becomes drier and less populated and we are likely to notice an increase in temperature. We arrive in the major Afar town of Berhale in time for a spot of lunch and a refreshing cold drink. While here we meet our local guide and policemen (a requirement when travelling into the depression) and then proceed to Hamed Ela, a village near the salt works of Lake Asale. Once we have unloaded our camping equipment we travel to the salt lake’s shoreline where we can witness the famous salt caravans at sunset.

    Wild Camping

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 4

    Dallol's sulphur springs; salt caravan at Ab-Ala.

    This morning we travel to Dallol – one of thehottest spots on Earth. It is a place like no other, an alien landscape dyed orange and yellow by sulphur and iron oxide. We have some time to explore this bizarre place and learn about its unique geology before moving onto Asebo, the starting point of the salt caravans. With a bit of luck, we may witness the Afar people cutting blocks of salt out of the ground and loading them onto camels for the long journey to Mekelle. We return to our campsite in time for lunch before transferring to Ab-Ala.

    Wild Camping

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 5

    Climb Erta Ale.

    We have a long drive today to reach our next destination, the base camp of Erta Ale. The last section of our journey sees us veering off the main road into the desert and eventually driving over solidified lava flow from earlier eruptions. Following an early dinner, we load up the camels and begin our trek to the rim of this active volcano. We begin in the evening light, but part of this trek is at night to avoid the worst of the heat so make sure your torches are fully charged. The path is not particularly steep, and it will take us approximately 4-5 hours to reach the top. This is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to peer down into a bubbling lava lake and we hope to do just that – as long as the volcano isn’t producing too much smoke. We spend the night near the summit, a short distance away from the crater itself.

    Wild Camping

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 6

    Summit walk on Erta Ale; transfer to Lake Afrera.

    Rising early, it’s possible to take a morning walk on the summit where can explore the dramatic surroundings. Not only is Erta Ale one of the few places in the world where it is possible to see a lava lake, it is also the oldest, having been in existence since the start of the twentieth century. We return to base camp at the foot of the volcano and have some time to relax and enjoy breakfast before driving to Lake Afrera. We gradually gain altitude as we make our way to the lake but still remain at approximately 100m below sea level. Our camp is on the shores of Lake Afrera and next to a hot spring which is perfect for an evening bath.

    Wild Camping

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 7

    Drive to Semera; free afternoon.

    Today we drive throughout the morning to Semera, the new regional capital of the Afar Region. Our afternoon is free to relax in relative comfort, staying in an actual hotel, and recover from the harsh climate of the past few days.

    Agda Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 8

    Cross into Djibouti; explore Lake Abbe.

    Day 8

    This morning we drive to the border at Galafi and cross into Djibouti. Once we’re through customs our destination is Lake Abbe. Famous for its lunar landscape dotted with hundreds of limestone chimneys, some standing up to 50m high, the location was used in some of the scenes of the original Planet Of The Apes movie. Dinner this evening is on the edge of the lake.

    Traditional Afar Huts

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 9

    Sunrise at Lake Abbe; transfer to Lake Assal.

    We wake early this morning to view the eerie sunrise over Lake Abbe. After breakfast we transfer to Lake Assal, which at 155m below sea level, is the lowest point on the African continent. The white salt and gypsum banks of the lake contrast with the dark, dormant volcanoes surrounding it; making for an impressive sight. We have some time to explore our surroundings before dinner.

    Traditional Afar Huts

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 10

    To Foret du Day N.P. via Ardoukoba Volcano.

    On our way to Forêt du Day National Park we take a minor detour for a walk on the Ardoukoba volcano, where we are rewarded with a dramatic landscape of ancient lava fields as well as epic views of Lake Assal. On arrival at Forêt du Day, we enjoy lunch at a scenic spot and explore some of the park. After the arid landscapes of the Danakil Depression and Djibouti’s salt lakes, Forêt du Day’s relatively lush terrain is noticeably different.

    Traditional Afar Huts

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 11

    Explore Foret du Day N.P; transfer to Tadjoura.

    We have the full morning to explore the park’s exceptional ecosystem, keeping our eye’s peeled to the country’s only endemic bird species, the Djibouti Francolin, as well as the various species of monkey and dear that roam the forest. This afternoon we head to the whitewashed town of Tadjoura, which sits against the backdrop of the Goda Mountains and the bright blue sea at its coastline. Tadjoura is the oldest town in Djibouti and was an important port for many centuries. We have the opportunity for a stroll through its picturesque streets before sunset and relax our hotel.

    Hotel Le Golfe or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch
  • Day 12

    Boat ride across the Gulf of Tadjoura to Djibouti City.

    After breakfast we transfer to the marina and board our boat for the day. Our journey takes us to the islands of Maskali and Moucha in the Gulf of Tadjoura which have some of the best beaches in Djibouti. As much of the area is a marine park, the reefs are also incredibly healthy, and we have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the excellent snorkelling that is possible here. Late in the afternoon we arrive in the city of Djibouti where slightly crumbling French colonial buildings give the place a certain charm.

    Atlantic Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 13

    Full day Whale shark safari.

    For our penultimate day we travel into the Gulf of Aden in search of the world’s largest fish species – the Whale shark. Growing up to 12 meters long and weighing in at 20 tons, this shark is a true giant, with only cetaceans getting any larger. Despite their great size, they feed on plankton, which are amongst the smallest organisms in the oceans. Swimming with these majestic creatures is a true bucket-list experience and one of the best wildlife encounters that you can experience. The waters off Djibouti are pristine and home to one of the healthiest reefs in the world so we can also expect to see a huge variety of fish species as well as sea turtles.

    Atlantic Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 14

    End Djibouti City.

    Our trip ends today. Those on the group flights will be taken to airport for the flight to London.

    Meals included: Breakfast
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Essential Info

Visas

Ethiopia

All nationalities require a visa for Ethiopia which can be obtained before departure (at a cost of GBP26) or on arrival (at a cost of USD50 - be prepared to queue for a while). Please note that the Ethiopian government may change their visa on arrival policy at very short notice so make sure to check the latest advice. A certificate of Yellow Fever vaccination maybe required in order to obtain your visa, for instance if you're travelling from a country at risk of Yellow Fever transmission - please check with the embassy for the latest advice.

Djibouti

Most nationalities require a visa to enter Djibouti, including nationals from the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and European countries. You should get a visa before travelling. British nationals should contact the French Embassy in London. Applications may take several weeks to process and should be made well in advance of travel. Visas on arrival are issued at the discretion of the Djibouti immigration authorities but this is not recommended. You must also have evidence of your onward journey.

British nationals applying for a Djibouti visa in Ethiopia generally require a letter from the British Embassy in Addis Ababa for presentation at the Djibouti Embassy. There is a fee for this service payable in local currency.

Vaccinations

Ethiopia

Recommended vaccinations are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A.

Other vaccines to consider: Hepatitis B; Meningococcal Meningitis; Rabies; Typhoid; Yellow Fever.

Yellow fever vaccination certificate required for travellers over 9 months of age arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travellers having transited more than 12 hours through the airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.

Djibouti

Recommended vaccinations are: Hepatitis A; Tetanus

Other vaccines to consider: Diphtheria; Hepatitis B; Rabies; Typhoid.

Yellow fever vaccination certificate required from travellers over 1 year of age arriving from or having passed through countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travellers having transited through the airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.  Ethiopia is on this list.

Eating and Drinking

All breakfasts, 8 lunches and 7 dinners included.

Hotel meals are generally good although they can lack variety. Local dishes are enjoyable if you like hot, spicy food although milder versions can be requested. Local food is traditionally eaten with the hands. The sour bread known as injera is used as a scoop for the casserole dishes known as wat.

Vegetarians can be catered for, though you may find the diet somewhat limited. Clients who have specialist dietary requirements must contact us to discuss if they can be accommodated. Ethiopia and Djibouti are poor countries and they are not familiar with gluten or lactose free diets.

Weather

The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places on the planet and while we only travel in the cooler months, it is still possible for daytime temperatures to exceed 40°C. Nights can also be very hot with average temperatures in the 20’s. Rainfall is rare in the depression.

Djibouti has a hot and arid climate with temperatures in the cooler months averaging in the high 20’s. Temperatures in Forêt du Day National Park can drop to single figures at this time of year however.

Is this trip for you?

This trip has been graded 3 (Moderate). This itinerary takes in some very remote destinations that experience little in the way of tourism. For those with an open mind and a sense of adventure, the rewards are great; however, comfort is minimal. Camping is mostly wild with no facilities and on the hottest nights it is advisable to sleep out in the open. Hotels can be basic in comparison to European standards. Ethiopia and Djibouti are developing country and there may occasionally be no hot water, or indeed, no water at all. Most rooms are furnished simply.

For the days that we travel, the average drive time is typically between 3-5 hours. The maximum drive time is approximately 7 hours but this can vary depending on road conditions and the number of stops we make. Much of the travel will be on poorly maintained roads and in hot conditions.

The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places on the planet and it is possible for daytime temperatures to exceed 40°C. Clients with heart or respiratory problems should consult their doctor. It is important to stay hydrated at these temperatures and protection from the sun is essesntial.

The Etra Ale volcano trek is not technically demanding but it does require a reasonable level of fitness. It is partially undertaken at night when temperatures are lower but average temperatures can still be in the high 20’s. Due to the ever-changing nature of the volcano and the region, the visibility of the lava lake and lava flows may vary.

You should be comfortable in the water in order to participate in the ocean excursions, but no certifications such as SCUBA are necessary. We take no risks with health and safety and our expert staff monitor conditions to take appropriate measures for a wonderful time in the area. It is possible to swim with Whale sharks on every departures that we run but as with all wildlife, there are no guarantees. The possibility of seeing Whale sharks decreases in February but they are still present in these waters.

Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for tailormade trips:
020 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Accommodation

Hotels, Huts & Wild Camping

You will spend 6 nights in standard hotels (most with en-suite facilities), 4 nights wild camping (with most sites having no facilities) and 3 nights in traditional Afar huts.
Hotels are basic in comparison to European standards. Ethiopia and Djibouti are developing countries and there may occasionally be no hot water. Most rooms are furnished simply. Tents will be erected by local staff members, who will also cook and wash up. On the hottest nights camping, it is advisable to sleep out in the open. 

Single accommodation (available on request).

Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for tailormade trips:
020 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

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Dates & Prices

An overview of flight options

Exodus is committed to making joining our tours as easy as possible, wherever you live. We generally only block book seats from London, but this certainly does not mean that you need to fly from there. Depending on the route and airlines available, there will usually be various options available for those who want to fly from their local airport.

This page aims to provide a useful overview of the options available to our clients. However, the best flight arrangements should be tailored to your personal requirements, so please contact our Sales team for expert advice.

 

What kind of options do I have ?

1. We can book for you: Flights from anywhere in the world - not via London  

Depending on the route, this may be direct or via an overseas hub like Amsterdam, the Middle East or elsewhere. On short haul routes there may be direct flights with low cost airlines, charter flights or scheduled airlines. Exodus can book most, but not all, of these for you. The most appropriate airline may be different to that which we use for the group flight from London, but many people now travel on different airlines and meet up with their fellow passengers at the destination.

Pros Cons
  • May be the most direct route
  • Often the extra fare compared to the London flight is minimal.
  • As you will be in the hands a single airline for your entire journey, the airline will be responsible for your bags and your connections.
  • You may not be able to join the group transfers. However, we can usually arrange private transfers, or book your flights to try and coincide with the group transfers. See notes on transfer arrangements below.

 

2. We can book for you: Connecting flights from your local airport to London

Exodus can book connecting flights to London so you can join the group flight there. Connecting times will be followed according to airline advice, or as requested by clients. There are two types of fares we can use for this option: a 'through-fare' or a 'published fare'.
 
a) A 'through-fare' is where you will be in the main airline's care throughout. You change planes, but your bags are checked all the way through to your final destination. 

b) A 'published fare' ticket is completely seperate from your onward ticket from London. It is usually cheaper than a through-fare but will need to be paid for and issued as soon as it is booked. This can be a problem if your tour has not yet reached minimum numbers. On 'published fares' neither airline is aware that you have connecting flights, so Exodus is responsible for timing your connection, not the airlines involved. The tickets are also usually non changeable and non refundable.

Pros Cons
  • Depending on the fare type, Exodus or the airline is responsible for flight connections.
  • Through fare tickets can be expensive.
  • On a published fare, tickets must be issued immediately; tickets on published fares can be very difficult to change if onward flight times change; bags are not checked though to your final destination.
  • Published fares are non-refundable.

 

3. Booking some or all of the flights yourself

You can also book connecting air travel yourself, either to London, or all the way to the start point. There may be certain airlines or routes we don't have access to, so this is always an option. However, if you make your own travel arrangements you become liable for any delays, cancellations or missed connections, and Exodus is not required to offer refunds if you have trouble reaching the start of your trip.

Pros Cons
  • You might find cheaper fares, or routes not available to Exodus.
  • You are responsible for any delays or missed connections, and the cost of the tour is not protected should you miss your flight be cancelled.

 

 Notes on transfer arrangements

Sometimes it is possible to travel on a different airline to the group flight from London. Where this is the case, we need to think about ensuring you meet up with the group with minimum extra cost and hassle.

  • On certain trips, it is easy to arrive on a different flight and still meet the group at the hotel with time in hand. We can usually arrange private transfers (at extra cost) or offer advice on taking a taxi to the start hotel.
  • On other trips (especially in Europe), the transfer meets the group flight and then travels some distance to the first night's accommodation. Where this is the case, our Sales team will try to arrange flights that arrive before (and depart after) the group. However, we do have to make it clear in your final documentation that if your flights are delayed, the transfer cannot wait for you. While Exodus or our local operators will do what we can to help you reach the start point of the tour, any additional costs must be paid by the client. 

 

Next steps? 

Call our Sales team on: 0203 733 0698

Email your query: [email protected]

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Call us on 020 8772 3936