Afar Ethiopia 101: A full on the road guide to visiting Afar region

afar man smoking ciggarate

Afar Ethiopia is one of the many attractive places that are found in Ethiopia. The Place and the people have their unique features that are worth visiting. It is also one of the hottest areas in the country. Despite the optimal climate around the place, the Afar region has the shallowest point below sea level that makes it hot and unbearable.

The afar people, however, have no problem with that. Their everyday life defies all the norms. The Afar men walk for miles with their camels to find water or back and fro to work into the Danakil depression. They extract salt from the mineral-rich area. The Afar Ethiopia people are nomadic and independent.

The Afar Ethiopia area is the origin of the oldest hominids and the skeletons found in this area proves this point. The place is also a marvelous scene, of course, together with the harsh sun. The colorful land due to the mineral over from the volcanos creates unforgettable scenery.

If you reading this, you probably are wondering whether to visit this area or not, or you need information for some reason.

Afar is a good experience to visit. Not a well-developed town but the whole experience is what you probably have never imagined before. It will be a total new exposure for most people.

Here are a few points you need to know before visiting the area or to know the Afar Ethiopia region.

Where is Afar Ethiopia?

The Afar Ethiopia people speak Afar, a language of the Eastern Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family.

Afar, Adal, Danakil, are used to express these people in the Horn of Africa. The Afar Ethiopia interchangeably people live in north-eastern Ethiopia, south-eastern Eritrea, and Djibouti.

The Afar Ethiopia people were probably the first of the present inhabitants of Ethiopia. Their nomadism took them from the highlands of southeast Ethiopia and migrating to the desert area of Danakil.

The Afar Ethiopia Triangle, the northern part of which is the Danakil Depression, is part of the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia and is located in the north of the region. It has the lowest point in Ethiopia and one of the lowest in Africa.

The southern part of the region consists of the valley of the Awash River, which empties into a string of lakes along the Ethiopian-Djibouti border. Other notable landmarks include the Awash and Yangudi Rassa National Parks.

What does the Afar Ethiopia Economy look lIke?

The Afar subsistence economy depends on livestock. They are known for their sheep, goats, and camels. They rarely own cattle.  They also mine and export salt. The Afar people have to travel long kilometers to get to the mining area and through the desert land.

They create shape the salt into cubes before transporting back to the town on their camel’s back. This has been a challenge for many to make a living. They travel back and forth every day through the harsh climate only to get small salt cubes.

The road is full of illegal control points where the miners need to pay tax to pass to town. This economic tension between these parties probably makes the area dangerous, if not properly approached.

There are some exceptions, such as fishermen in the coastal areas and agriculturalists in the Assau oasis. Proud and, highly individualistic, the Afar Ethiopia people are feared by their neighbors. They live organized in patrilineal kin groups.

afar man smoking ciggarate

What language Afar Ethiopia speak?   

The Afar language or Qafaraf is an Afroasiatic language belongs to the Cushitic branch. Afar language is spoken by the Afar people inhabiting Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. The Afar language is an official working language in the region. The language has more than 2.3 million speakers.  

Do the Afar People Write?

The Afar Ethiopia people use the Ge’ez script. Since 1850th the Latin script has been used in other areas to record the language. Later, in the early 1970s, two Afar intellectuals and formalized the Afar alphabet.

The Afar Ethiopia Government

In the current regional system, Afar Ethiopia is one of the nine regional states of Ethiopia. The capital city of Semera lies on the Awash–Assab highway.

What is Afar Ethiopia Demographics?

In 2017, according to the projections by the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (CSA), the Afar Ethiopia region had a total population of 1,812,002.

Out of those the 991,000 are men and the 821,002 are women. The majority of the Afar Ethiopia inhabitants are pastoralists and one-sixth are urban inhabitants. 

The 2017 statistics have shown a massive population growth. There has been an additional half a million new population. The number of both genders has increased equivalently. The urban population has doubled.

The Afar people live with a density of 14 people per square meter.

afar woman

What to visit in Afar Ethiopia?

Afar Ethiopia is much known for its landscape and as an origin of humankind. The evolutionists believe the humanoid creature began its journey from such places. Hadar was one of the places in the afar triangle where one of the first humanoid skeletons were found.

The major attractions in Afar Ethiopia include the Afar Depression, the Erta Ale, the Awash National Park, the Yangudi Rassa National Park, the Hadar, and the Aramis areas.

The Afar depression or the Afar triangle is an area at the border of the red sea and is also part of the Great Rift valley. This area is a location for the discovered fossils of the earliest hominids. Being one of the lowest points in Africa, that is 155 meters or 509 feet below sea level, the area is one of the hottest.

The Erta Ale is an active volcano in the Afar Depression. The Erta Ale is  613 meters (2,011 ft) high and it has the longest existing lava lake in the world.

Is Erta Ale active?

Erta Ale is an active volvano in the Afar Depression.

When was the last time Erta Ale Erupted?

In 2009.

Is Erta Ale dangerous?

erta ale afar ethiopia

Yes. First, the location is the least inhabited places on earth. Second, the road to the volcano is not a stroll in a park. Third, on the road there, there are landmines, armed assaults, and even malaria.

The Afar depression is one of the most volcanic areas in the world. This activity created a floor composed of lava and basalt. Minerals such as salt, sulfur, and gypsum play a role in volcanic activities.

Afar is a place for geothermal energy sources and hot springs.

While you are in Afar national park, you will get a chance to see wild animals such as African wild ass, zebra, cheetah,  wild fox, and ostrich.  

 However, it is best to know that the number of tourists in the area is relatively low. It may be due to undeveloped tourism culture to the area, or the security issues or the harsh climate, the area receives a lower number of tourists. Although you will find lodges in the area, the services are very limited.

However, if you are fascinated with nature, and if you plan to go to the extreme, Afar is the place for you.

Therefore, You can visit these three places in Afar.

  1. Erta Ale– An active volcano, with active lava on the surface.
  2. Dallol– is a multi-color spring and fissure. The landscape created with mineral surface cover is marvelous to visit. The annual temperature of 35°C (95°F) could be hard for some.
  3. Salt Lakes- As I said above, lakes such as lake Afdera and Lake Asale are hypersaline lakes in Danakil Depression. It is a minimal landscape, all white and gray and blue, and great to experience.
dallol danakil depression

Afar Ethiopia and the skeletons

After the discovery of Lucy, an almost full early hominid, in the Afar triangle area in 1974, Afar became a household name in the field. Donald Johanson and his team found the skeleton of an estimated age of 3.8 million years old. The hominid is believed to be the world’s oldest bipedal hominid. Hadar, a community in Afar, was the site of the discovery in 1973-74 of “Lucy”,

First in the US museum, now in the Addis Ababa Museum, the skeleton is located on the ground floor of the museum. Even after that, in 2006, an almost complete cranium that is between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens have been found in the area.

In 2009, Ardi, a skeleton that dated 4.4 million years has been found. The skeleton was similar to that of Lucy.

A year later, old stone tools were found in the afar Ethiopia area. In 2015, hominid teeth and jawbone were found.

Every time, a new skeleton is discovered in Afar Ethiopia, it has its own story and surprise. This place, according to archeology, is the origin of human life. This is where the first human beings stood erect and acted like a human.

To visit this area is to visit your ancestors and the place they lived. If not, the place is another world in a small space on earth. 

dallol afar ethiopia

Do Afar People have building skills?

The Afar people are nomadic and need to move from place to place in search of water. They also have their goats and camels, and they need shelter for their short stay. Using their pastoralist life, the Afar people have simple and flexible shelters that are easy to build and demolish to building another place once again.

The afar people rather live together and locate their houses next to reach others. 

These days, due to political pushes, land issues, the Afar Ethiopia people are pushed into settling than a nomadic lifestyle. This recently increased urban-like settlement. New small towns form following the main road that connects cities. These towns are rather linear towns that depend on the main road for their economic and social center

These days, you would find houses around smaller spaces as well. The towns are getting new services and are growing without formal city plans. Even the houses are not durable and are made out of mud and stick.

Are Afar Somali?

No. The Afar and the Somali People are related. But they are not the same. Both the Afar and the Somali people speak a Cushitic language. The Afar people live at the junction of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Eritrea. And the Somali live in Solakia, east Ethiopia, and Djibouti.

When to visit the Afar region?

Well, Danakil Depression is the hottest place on earth. People avoid the place for that reason. The temperature could go above 40-degree centigrade.  And the rain is below 200 mm every year.

Unlike many places outside of the depression, the months from June to August is one of the highest temperatures in the area. The tours usually begin in a nearby city such as Mekelle and these months. The tour is also expensive.

For the rest of the months, from September to May, the temperature will be between 35 degrees and 40-degree centigrade. This is a better time to visit the depression.

What Precautions Should I Take While In Afar?

Well, Ethiopians, in general, are good people towards foreigners. At the same time, you will find people who need to profit from unsuspecting visitors. While you are in Ethiopia or any other African country, you need to be vigilant of your safety. You probably won’t find instant karma like you wish you would have in any circumstance. The best thing to do is to minimize public show and focus on your visiting. You need to avoid having too many expensive artifacts with you.

Afar is near the Somali border and Eritrea border and these places are known for its security issues. Even in Afar Ethiopia, it is much known that due to the salt trade or other, gangs sometimes cause a problem.

The afar area is known with a cruel decision to assault extruders. Here are a few tips.

afar ethiopia salt on camel

1-Never go without a guide that knows the area.

2- Never argue with anyone or never insult a culture.

3-never carry too much money or valuables. Leave them at the hotel or home.

4-Never take pictures of another man without permission. This is the fault of many tourists. Some even believe they can do whatever they want and they forget to respect the privacy of the people. This is dangerous in this area.

5-Camel is expensive, maybe more expensive than your car. Respect that.

6- Be careful of the chemicals, especially in the volcanic regions. Some could be toxic.

7- never approach the volcano. The flowing lave is nice to see close but too dangerous.

8-The Sun is harsh and hard especially if you are light skin. Use sunscreen and umbrella. Stay hydrated as well.

9- Make sure that your car has full ventilation before you start moving to the Afar Ethiopia area. The climate is unbearable.

When you are in Dallol, you need to see where you are stepping as the ground could not hold as the surface could be weak salt deposits. You need to follow the guides, they know the place better.

Where To Stay In Afar Ethiopia

There are few places to stay In Afar and even in Mekele city where you will probably begin your journey in the depression. The place has low accommodation due to the climate. At Erta Ale, you need to spend the night at the campfire and it will be close to the crater. In other places, you only find small wooden huts that are made for the climate.

It is not a luxury place, especially if you stay for 3 and 4 days. Only in Abaala Village, a market town, you will probably visit throughout the journey, you will find small rooms. You will find electricity as well and cold drinks as well. That is the nearest village to the main city of Mekele.


Afar is a marvelous place to visit. The place and the people are unique. They have their own unique culture. Besides the national park has wild animals that you would enjoy to see close. However, due to low tourist traffic to the area, the services are very much limited.

Afar Ethiopia is a true experience for many. With the serious precautions and preparations, we advise you to visit this place at least once. We advise you to check health conditions, although that may not be an issue for many, before traveling to such extreme places.

Afar Ethiopia is a beautiful town with unique people with a unique culture. The town is not that developed compared to other cities. This could be due to the nomadic lifestyle of the people. This region contains one of the most marvelous natural attraction that is located in the Danakil depression. This place is also a begging of humankind, according to the evolution theory. Many million years old skeleton is found in this area.

The place is preferred as a destination by many tourists, not for its comfort but its extreme characters. The high temperature, due to its altitude that is 150 meters below sea level, and dry air makes it an experience. The surface lava, and the salt and mineral landscape makes it a unique place on the planet.

Afar Ethiopia is a place to visit.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply