The hottest inhabited place in the world

The hottest inhabited place in the world
The hot springs in Danakil Depression offer a research opportunity for extremophile microbes
PHOTO: Creative Commons (Rolf Cosar)

The tribal Afar people have inhabited this arid moonscape for centuries, eking out a living by transporting salt across the brutal desert by camel caravans.

It was a searing 43C in the shade, but Dawit, my young Ethiopian guide, told me that I was lucky, as temperatures here in the Danakil can top 50C.

One of the more remote spots on the planet, northeastern Ethiopia's Danakil Depression holds the title as the hottest inhabited place on Earth, with an average year round temperature of 34C, and, as Dawit informed me, is more commonly known as "The Gateway to Hell".

You'd think that the harsh landscape would leave it devoid of visitors, let alone human habitation, but this is the surprising home of a disappearing cultural tradition: the camel caravans that carry salt through the brutal desert, led by the nomadic Afar tribe.

The Danakil Depression, formed by the collision of several tectonic plates on the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Djibouti border, is not only a sizzling cauldron but also a place of stunning geological wonders. The majority of travellers who come here do so to visit Erta Ale, a 600m-high and highly active volcano that contains the largest living lava lake in the world.

The volcanic lunar landscape resembles a surrealist painting, with sulphurous hot springs, lava beds, hypothermal pools, and a mix of sulphates, iron oxides and salt deposits all combining to create a hallucinogenic palette of otherworldly formations and colours.

The tribal Afar people have inhabited this arid moonscape for centuries, eking out a living by extracting salt from the mineral-laden lakes that dot the Danakil and transporting it across the desert by camel caravans. Similar to the Kurds, they inhabit an area spanning several countries, yet have no political rights or borders they can call their own.

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