Salt of the earth: visiting Lac Assal in Djibouti

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We visit Lac Assal in the Afar Depression where three diverging tectonic plates have created some of the strangest sights we’ve seen

Lac Assal in Djibouti is wickedly deceiving. At first, it appears as a glorious expanse of blue-green water and blinding white sand, easily mistaken for a Maldivian beach. Behind the facade, however, lies a painful lesson: the vast white plain is not sand at all but salt: jagged shards that bristle on skin and leave you itching for water.

Lac Abbé in Djibouti: apocalypse wow

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Lac Abbé in Djibouti is both desolate and apocalyptic. Seeing this eerie moonscape is a surreal experience like little else on Earth

It turns out that the 1968 film Planet of the Apes was not filmed in Lac Abbé in Djibouti, as proudly claimed by several guidebooks, numerous blogs, countless Djiboutian tour guides and even international newspapers. The producers didn’t even leave the Western United States.

This is a crying shame firstly because Lac Abbé is a suitably apocalyptic filming location and secondly because there goes Djibouti’s only claim to fame.

Swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti

Swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti promised to be the highlight of our trip – but would it live up to the hype?

I’m a pessimist and Peter’s the opposite, so while he was brimming with anticipation at the prospect of swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti, I sat dolefully in a corner wondering if a) we would even see a whale shark and b) if I would be able to keep up with it.

Visiting Decan wildlife refuge in Djibouti

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Decan wildlife refuge in Djibouti offers an oasis of calm outside Djibouti City and the chance to get close to some charming wildlife

Decan, which stands for DÉCouvrir et Aider la Nature (discover and help nature), is located just 20 minutes outside Djibouti‘s dusty capital city. The refuge is home to an array of species including cheetahs, lions, ostriches, tortoises, Somali donkeys, caracals, squirrels, oryx, antelopes, kudus, zebras and porcupines.

Diving in Djibouti: my first wreck

Diving in Djibouti doesn’t appear on many bucket lists, but as we learn on our trip to the country, it can be even better than Mauritius or Tahiti

Djibouti, it is said, is the Dubai of the Horn. Its port location and peaceful nature in an otherwise restive region has made it a prime location for foreign interest. The country is home to Africa’s largest US army base and France’s biggest Foreign Legion deployment. China, Japan, Italy, Germany and Spain among others also have soldiers stationed there.

22 interesting facts about Ethiopia

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From violent volcanoes to luminous lakes, we take a look at the most interesting facts about Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s unique mix of fascinating history, deep-rooted identity, incredible natural wonders and rare wildlife makes its one of the most intriguing places on Earth.

The country is home to landscapes as diverse as deserts, volcanoes and highlands, architecture ranging from rock-hewn churches to medieval-style castles, and wildlife that includes rare species such as the gelada baboon, the walia ibex and the Ethiopian wolf.

In search of the source: visiting the Blue Nile Falls

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The Blue Nile Falls in Ethiopia may not be a match for its grander neighbours, but following the footsteps of famous explorers still makes for a fine day out

The Blue Nile Falls – or Tis Abay in Amharic, meaning “great smoke” – is a somewhat poor relation to the famous waterfalls found in listicles. It’s no Angel, Iguazu, Victoria or Niagara, but the 42m-high (138ft) Blue Nile Falls still offers a dramatic display.

Which Simien Mountains trek is for you?

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A Simien Mountains trek should be an essential part of any visit to Ethiopia. We summarise the best routes to help you choose which trek is best for you

With a range of trekking options available, from day trips to mammoth multi-day thru-hikes, choosing a Simien Mountains trek can be a bewildering process. As with most things in Ethiopia, there is a dearth of information available online. With that in mind we’ve summarised the most popular trekking routes in Simien Mountains National Park to provide a solid overview of each option.

Simien Mountains National Park: trekking Africa’s Grand Canyon

After Erta Ale and Dallol, would Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains National Park live up to the hype?

If Simien Mountains National Park really were ‘Africa’s Grand Canyon’, how was it that I knew nothing of it? Was this just Peter’s ploy to drag me out camping again?

I knew of the park by name, but couldn’t point to it on a map, or tell you what I might find there. To be honest, prior to planning our trip, I had no idea there were proper mountains in Ethiopia – a result perhaps of TIA syndrome which conjures dusty, flyblown vistas and not the vast gorges of lush beauty that populate Simien Mountains National Park.

Leap of faith: hiking to the vertiginous Tigray churches

Tigray churches over the plains

To reach the Tigray churches of Ethiopia, one must scale sheer rock, inch along narrow ledges and skirt around yawning chasms – all in bare feet. Naturally, we leapt at the chance

I was feeling uncharacteristically nervous. It wasn’t the narrow ledges with sheer drops that had me spooked, but the prospect of climbing with ropes – something I’d never done before.

Exploring the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

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The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia are the most extraordinary man-made sites in sub-Saharan Africa. Here’s what we learnt from our three days there.

The 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia are a focal point and a place of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Christians. In mid-January, during the Timkat (Epiphany) festival, thousands of white-clad worshippers descend on the churches.

“This is Africa”: useful mantra or ugly prejudice?

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“This is Africa”, or TIA, is used to shrug off a range of inconveniences, but does its casual use perpetuate harmful stereotypes?

Africa, more than any other continent, has a PR problem. Popular culture tells the west that Africa is a land of conflict and famine where progress is slow and corruption is rife. Even the ‘better’ half of Africa is riddled with cliché: the giant red sun, open savannah and fearsome tribes in native garms.

The most pervasive cliché perhaps comes wrapped in a snappy epithet: “This is Africa” or its diminutive form, TIA.

Danakil Depression tours: what to know before you go

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Danakil Depression tours provide a fascinating look at a remote part of the world. We lend some insight into what you should know before you go

By certain measures, the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is considered to be the hottest place on earth with temperatures regularly reaching 45°C (113°F). Despite the challenges involved in visiting such a remote and hostile environment, there are numerous Danakil Depression tours on offer.

Surprisingly, tour companies tend to provide very little information for their would-be customers. Key information such as what to expect and what to pack is missing from most tour company websites.

Dead heat: the hottest places on Earth

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We take a look at the hottest places on Earth and what it takes to survive there

Having just returned from Dallol in Ethiopia, we’ve seen how hard it is to survive in one of the hottest places on Earth.

The hottest places on earth are in constant flux. They change from year to year and recording techniques – which are often challenged and disputed – change with them. Regardless, the same places tend to crop up again and again, many of them sharing similar characteristics. The hottest places on Earth are nearly always dry, barren, sunny and home to little or no vegetation.

Dallol: visiting the hottest place on earth

Dallol in Ethiopia, the hottest place on Earth

We visit Dallol, a collapsed volcano crater filled with acid ponds, poisonous chlorine and sulphur gases, inside the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia.

I wasn’t daunted at the prospect of visiting Dallol, dubbed the hottest place on Earth. Despite its temperatures regularly reaching 45°C (113°F), I knew that after visiting Erta Ale volcano in the region, Dallol would be a walk in the park – if the park was a collapsed volcano crater filled with acid ponds and geysers, poisonous chlorine and sulphur gases.

Dallol lies 116m (380ft) below sea level in the Danakil Depression of the Afar region in Ethiopia and is part of the East African Rift where three continental plates are being torn apart.

Volcanic seven summits of the world

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We take a look at the volcanic seven summits – the highest volcano on each continent

The volcanic seven summits may not be coveted with the same vigour as the seven summits or even the seven second summits, but the peaks still offer a worthy challenge

We’ve just returned from Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Erta Ale may not be as lofty or as challenging as the following summits, but it did remind us why we stand in awe of volcanoes – active or not.