Two cramped buses, a few hours sleep at the side of the road, multiple check points and around 18 hours after leaving a bus station of sorts in Dire Dawa we arrived in Djibouti City, the country’s capital. Along with the fun and games in Addis organising our visas it wasn’t the easiest country to get in to!
Aside from the expected heat, our first impressions were of a dusty, rocky, ‘deserty’ country largely devoid of greenery. Those impressions would be confirmed as we explored over the next week. Djibouti is, however, home to some weird and wonderful natural landscapes, two of which we were excited to explore – Lac Abbe and Lac Assal.
We joined Ben and Christina, a German couple staying at our hostel, on a tour and drove west out of the capital passing the Grand Barra, a huge plain of dried and cracked white clay, before lunch in the tiny town of Dikhil.
It was off-road from here as we headed across a rocky desert along the mountainous Ethiopian border, through a few tiny villages and past one contraband-carrying camel caravan. We were told they were mostly carrying Benson and Hedges cigarettes, which are unavailable in Ethiopia.
Lac Abbe is a plain dotted with limestone chimneys, some as high as 50m. It’s actually no longer a lake and the disappearance of the water over many thousands of years means the plain is now visible. At the base of a few are hot springs whose steam escapes through the holes in the rocks – thereby giving them their name of ‘chimneys’.
We walked around a few of the chimneys before enjoying a fantastic sunset from our camp, which were very cosy Afar-type dome tents made of steel rods and woven mats.
We were up to watch the sun join us for the day before walking across the plain towards Lac Awash to try meet the flamingos. Sadly Lac Awash is also disappearing quickly, which means the flamingos were too far away to see although we did see a single white one in a tiny tarn on the plain.
Other animals we saw driving around the desert were a number of Giraffe and Pelzen gazelle, the former so named because of their long necks, as well as monkeys, a fox and an ostrich.
After lunch back in Dikhil we continued towards Lac Assal, with the final few kms being particularly beautiful as we descended to 155m below sea level and the lowest point on the African continent!
The contrast of the salt against the bright blue is striking and it was really fun to float in the lake. The lake is different shades of blue depending on its depth, and in the late afternoon sun was very beautiful.
It was then back to the capital for a much needed shower to wash off our covering of salt!
Can you visit independently?
It’s near-on possible to visit Lac Abbe independently given the lack of public transport into the desert. For Lac Assal, we met an Italian who was planning to catch the public ferry to Tadjoura and walk the circa 20 kms to the lake. The majority of people, visit the two sites on a two-day tour.
We went with Bambu Tours as they had a tour going the day after we arrived. They were no great shakes but pretty much delivered what they promised.
There didn’t seem to be too many companies so if you’re looking to join a tour, it will just depend who has one going. You can also try www.divedjibouti.com who offer land tours.
US $225/person. This included transport, meals, water and accommodation at Lac Abbe; there were no entrance fees. It’s a lot of driving over the two days so bring a few snacks for the car!