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Hottest Inhabited Place on Earth: Dallol, Ethiopia


The Afar Region of Africa, named for the people who call it home, encompasses Djibouti, Eritrea, and the northeast corner of Ethiopia. A notable trait of the Afar Triangle is the Danakil Depression, the lowest point in Africa. The territory is one of the hottest on the planet, and features everything from earthquakes and volcanoes to geysers and salt canyons. It is also home to Dallol, a remote mining camp accessible by camel.

The now-abandoned town of Dallol was once a busy site, mining potash, sylvite, and salt during various times throughout its history. When U.S. mining companies were conducting geological surveys in the early 1960s, they recorded the hottest average temperature for an inhabited location on Earth.




The town of Dallol was named for the volcanic explosion crater in the Danakil Depression. Part of the Erta Ale Range, the Dallol crater was formed when basaltic magma penetrated Miocene salt deposits; the resulting hydrothermal activity created phreatic eruptions which formed the collapsed volcano. The Dallol crater is one of the lowest known volcanic vents in the world today, 150 feet (45m) below sea level.

The geological depression of the Afar Region continues even lower, eventually reaching 509 feet (155m) below sea level. The region sits along a fault line, not far from a tectonic triple junction to the south. As a result, the valley is often disturbed by tremors from the plate tectonics.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

Dallol-5 Dallol-8 Dallol-7

Between September and October of 2005, scientists recorded 163 earthquakes greater than 3.9 in magnitude effecting the area. Multiple volcanic eruptions accompanied the earthquakes while the resultant new fissures gargled molten lava. The hot springs in Dallol boast bright colors, a palette of ferrous chloride and iron hydroxide emissions collecting in pools.

Just to the west of Dallol mountain are the salt canyons, boasting some of the most impressive features of the Danakil. Pillars of salt – a result from erosion – rise up to 130 feet (40m) high. The salt pillars vary in pinkish hues due to the shifting levels of halite and potassium salt deposits over time.



Cruelest Place on Earth

Dallol-3-2The trek to Dallol from any direction is long and arduous. The locals refer to the area as “the Gateway to Hell,” and it’s not hard to see why: there are no roads and the landscape of the Danakil Desert makes passage extremely difficult. The journey by camel can take a full day from the nearest population center.

In the Danakil, the daylight is blinding. The mountains yield to an expansive white flats, seemingly endless in every direction. Press on far enough and a large brown mound protrudes in the distance, the base of the collapsed volcano blurring in the heat.

Upon approach, the beauty and danger seem to grow in concert. Thin crust covers pools of colorful acid, each taking turns bubbling to the surface through one of countless hot springs.

Geysers spit toxic gases while deposits of sulfur and iron oxide collect in miniature ponds the color of slime and Listerine. Mineral aggregations reach skyward, a result of the always-active fumaroles.

The dangers go beyond the brittle crust, acid pools, and sulfur spouts; there is also the threat of “fire wind,” what the natives call the sweltering sandstorms which feel like a tornado in an oven. Another threat are the Afar themselves, nomadic tribesmen known for their ferocity.


The Ethiopian government requires all visitors to the Danakil to hire armed guards, a rule easily understood after hearing the Afar were rumored to have castrated foreign visitors to their land in the early 20th century. It’s for good reason National Geographic credited this area as being one of the cruelest places on earth.


The Heat

Dallol-9-2Dallol sits over 400 feet below sea level and averages less than 200 millimeters of rainfall per year. Not surprisingly it is also unbearably hot, with little fluctuation in temperature throughout the year.

During the early 1960s, an American mining company conducted a geological survey of the Danakil. It was in Dallol the team measured the record average temperature of 96° Fahrenheit (35°C). The daily high will frequently eclipse 115°F (46°C).

Here, the sun isn’t the only source of heat; the unique environment contributes to the calefaction. Conical vents act as natural exhausts of the earth’s gasses. Boiling acid bubbles to the surface through hot springs.

The heat comes from every direction, and it’s a kind of heat the human body isn’t built to handle – but man isn’t alone. Any trip to Dallol will also see the remains of small animals overcome by heat, starvation, or fumes.

Out here, even predators are scarce.



The Dallol area of the Danakil Desert is rich is potash, a key component of fertilizer. Potash is not particularly rare, but what makes Dallol unique is the salt deposits reach the earth’s surface, providing easier access with low-tech mining requirements. When this discovery was made in 1906, an Italian company by the name of Compagnia Mineraria Coloniale (CMC) established the first mining operation in Dallol.

Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com

photos courtesy photovolcanica.com

By April of 1918, the first railway between the new mining site and the Eritrean port of Mersa Fatma was completed. The remote location meant construction would be difficult as materials in the Danakil are scarce. Most of the structures were built from salt blocks, the only building material available.

Potash mining would continue in Dallol until after World War I, when overseas suppliers were able to undercut the Ethiopian salt in ease of availability and cost of extraction. In the following decades several attempts to re-open the salt mine were made, but none would last.

Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com

From 1925-1929 an Italian company ran a sylvite mine out of Dallol. After World War II the British removed most of the railroad, essentially turning the lights out on Dallol forever. Without a rail system to export the mined salt, no organized mining operation could be profitable. A low-tech salt operation in the early 1950s would be the last time Dallol was operated as a mine.

A geological survey team’s trip to Dallol in the 1960s was the final attempt at organized mining in the area. The mining infrastructure was rumored to have been sabotaged after World War II, and most everything of value was evacuated.  Hopes of renewed operations in the years since have failed; if the economics of accessing the remote location weren’t enough of an obstacle, the on-going tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea have created a hostile environment, further preventing any large-scale mining operation from safely operating.

Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com Photo courtesy photovolcanica.comv Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com

photos courtesy photovolcanica.com


Dallol Today

Unfortunately much of the history of Dallol is forgotten as few records survived. Today the town has long been abandoned, only the remnants of salt-block walls remain (see on google, or bing). Still, the rusted skeletons of long-dead trucks dot the landscape. A boiler from a locomotive sits alone nearby, its host engine long missing. Axles from mining rail cars are strewn about, corroded from years of salt exposure.

Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com

The area is not completely abandoned as many Afar still make the nightly trek to Dallol for the salt, the only abundant natural resource of value.  The Afar workers cut the salty crust into square slabs for shipment back to Mek’ele, the closest city center. A long procession of camels then transports the slabs over 60 miles for processing into salt.

Future attempts to re-establish large-scale potash operations at Dallol are unlikely as long as the worldwide supply is not threatened. It simply isn’t rare or valuable enough for large companies to accept the risk of conducting operations in such a hostile environment.

Photo courtesy photovolcanica.com

photos courtesy photovolcanica.com


Sometimes Interesting recommends this quick video on a trip to Dallol:

  1. October 24, 2013 at 18:03

    The more hostile the location the prettier it is. It is crazy to think people still live in the region

    • October 26, 2013 at 20:11

      “The more hostile the location the prettier it is.”
      There’s definitely truth to this!

  2. October 24, 2013 at 20:14

    Awesome! Don’t think I’ll be travelling there any time soon. I’m not a fan of the heat. Amazing colours in those photos, though.

    Side note: the narrator in the video sounds like Mike from Breaking Bad

  3. dfsdfs
    October 25, 2013 at 11:09

    Thanks for the post but the Study is BS.

    There Are a lot of highly inhabited places In Southeast India Where the Temperature Exceeds 50 degrees Celsius. and the locals don’t even care. BS studies Aside. lol..

    love your blog anyway Respects.

    • October 25, 2013 at 18:13

      Hi, thanks for the comment. I believe the specific record with regards to Dallol is highest average temperature, over an entire year.

  4. October 25, 2013 at 12:05

    I thought you could only reach this place via camel. The video shows plenty of Land Rovers.

    • October 25, 2013 at 18:20

      Yes and no. One could take a Land Rover across the flatter portion of the desert journey, but once you approach Dallol mountain the terrain is not as passable by truck. There are no roads and the ground is a fragile salt crust. It is a region where humans have to watch their step; a vehicle’s weight would not be supported.

      And don’t forget about those acidic pools and geysers! ;-)

  5. October 25, 2013 at 12:08

    Scary and beautiful – that would be Africa in a nutshell!

  6. October 25, 2013 at 17:44

    Crazy! I always enjoy reading your informative posts. Captive subject! Great job… again :-)

  7. October 26, 2013 at 11:00

    Amazing how people keep trying and sometimes succeed in living in the most hostile environments. I’m thinking about my own environment too, I live in Central Texas and the summer temperatures are unbearable, frequently over 100 degree F for weeks on end. Little rain. We are in one of the worst droughts in decades. But of course, it’s still way better than the region you describe …

  8. November 2, 2013 at 15:38

    Beautiful and fascinating, up to your high standard. I add one detail I saw once on a documentary about the Danakil Depression. Local people sometimes obtain water by building a cairn over volcanic vents where steam emerges from the ground. Some of the steam condenses on the stones and drips down, and if you are very patient you can come back and find enough water to drink.

    • November 4, 2013 at 21:56

      Why thank you Stephen, that’s a good piece of additional information! Creative of the locals to think to do that as well. Volcanic vapor water, hmm. Marketing idea? :)

  9. Abdulazize
    April 15, 2014 at 02:38

    i Love Afar and Danakil depression because of danakil is unique place i the world.
    Afar people also they,r Hospitable people, when you camper with that Hottest weather
    they still patienful people and their strong

    • April 20, 2014 at 12:11

      Abdulazize, I have a lot of respect for Afar, the conditions are tough and create a tough person in mind, body, and spirit. Thanks for the comment.

  10. Manoj
    July 10, 2014 at 20:02

    I have been traveled to Dallol many times.

    • July 15, 2014 at 16:24

      Thanks for the comment, would you mind to tell us more about your trips to Dallol? :)

  11. December 21, 2014 at 00:16

    Great writeup. Had no idea this existed. Found a better version of that video here: (Dallol part starts later in the video)

    • December 23, 2014 at 18:22

      Thanks Harve, and appreciate the link to the video, agree that one is better. Fascinating stuff!

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