Lake Abbe is one of six connected lakes along the Ethiopia-Djibouti border and it literally feels like you’re on another planet. Exploring the chimneys across the moon-like landscape was a magical experience to say the least.
Our journey took us straight from Djibouti airport to this wondrous destination, seeing mirages and baboons along the highway. The drive was around 4 hours and don’t expect an easy ride, it is mainly off road and it’s a rocky path. Take a travel pillow, not for sleeping, you’ve got no chance, it doubles up a head stabiliser! We diverted our attention to gazelle spotting and watching the random settlements of the Afari tribes where the children would run to wave and hope to get some presents. As the 4×4’s drew closer, we peered over the volcanic rocky hills and were faced with hundreds of ‘chimneys’ dotted along the landscape, pretty incredible. We headed in further to explore!
About Lake Abbe
The salt lake, also known as Lake Abhe Bad, is the final destination of the Awash River. It lies at the Afar Triple Junction, the central meeting point for the Arabian, Nubian, and Somalian tectonic plates, a defining feature of the Afar Depression. As the three pieces of Earth’s crust each pull away from each other, the earth cracks forcing magma to the surface and as the boiling water bubbles up, they deposit the dissolved calcium carbonates creating natural limestone chimneys up to 50 metres high. Steam escapes at the top of these formations hence the why they are referred to as ‘chimneys’.
Sunset at Lake Abbe
As we walked around in awe of these other-worldly chimneys, the sun began to set, or as our guide called it ‘sleeping soleil’. Sunset in these surreal surroundings really was an epic experience with the steam from the hot springs glistening in the sunlight. It will come as no surprise that Charlton Heston was inspired to shoot his classic 1968 film, “Planet of the Apes”, on the shores of Lake Abbe.
There is only one place to stay in this bizarre and barren part of the world, this was the encampment with around 15 traditional Afar huts which are a wire frame covered in matting. Each contained two beds with mattresses and mosquito nets. I was pretty comfortable although don’t just pass out with sheer exhaustion and forget to drop the mozzy net. When the loud French man woke me up at midnight (one too many rums) as he went to bed, I could hear the high-pitched mosquitos buzzing around my head.
There was a meeting place with tables and chairs for eating where we had dinner consisting salad and pasta rounded off with cardamom tea. In an effort not to get sick from the water, we took our own plates and cutlery, beware though, light plastic plates take flight in the blustery wind, everything needs to be weighted down.
Sunrise at Lake Abbe
Next morning was an early start to catch the chimneys at sunrise, dressed and into the 4×4’s. The different perspective with sunrise allowed us to see the chimneys in another dimension, we followed the lines of the hot springs and looked in awe at this magnificent desolate land. I thought to myself how lucky I was to have had the chance to see this, not many ventured here.
We headed across the vast salt flats to see the flamingos in the saline waters of Lake Abbe, it was quite a walk since the lake surface area has shrunk dramatically due to diversion of water from the Awash River for irrigation. You can only go so far before the quicksand starts, I’d love to have got a closer photo of these lovely birds but didn’t want to risk disappearing… bigger lens next time!
Walking back the 4×4, there were a long line of donkeys heading towards us and Afari tribesmen tending to their goats, the nearest village is 200km but there’s a settlement of the Afari tribe by Lake Abbe. We were greeted by Afari children who’d set up a stall next to the 4×4’s for our return selling souvenirs such as animal bones, necklaces and rocks. If you get chance to go, do remember to take money and food for the kids, I completely forgot… think the early wake up clouded my planning!
Back to camp for a simple breakfast of fried flatbread and Nutella before getting on our way to the monumental Canyon d’Adail, known to the Afar people as Dimbia. It is an intersection of rifts and land faulting, south of Ghoubbet el Kharäb. Quite an impressive sight!
Djibouti is recommended for off-the-beaten track adventures
Djibouti is one of the top places to visit in 2018 and this natural phenomenon of the chimneys by Lake Abbe and the Dimbia Canyon are very much for adventurers happy to explore off the beaten track… you could even try venturing further into neighbouring Somaliland! If you’re not one of these travellers, get out your comfort zone, I can’t recommend it enough!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DJIBOUTI
Depending on your country of origin, there may be some differences in the length your visa is valid for but all travellers are required to obtain a visa for Djibouti. Evidence of a return ticket is required and ensure you have 6 months validity on your passport.
My visa was applied for with the Djiboutian Embassy, however, since my travels visa applications can now be made online.
Best time to visit Djibouti
The best time to visit Djibouti is between November to January when the weather is comparatively cooler and perfect for outdoor activities. This is also the best time of year if you wish to swim with the whale sharks as part of your Djibouti trip. May to September are pretty hot so best to avoid this low season.
Language in Djibouti
In Djibouti, both Arabic and French are spoken, however, Arabic is taught as their first language.
Tours in Djibouti
Our trip was organised by Trekkup from Dubai who use the best local guides on the ground for a seamless trip.
Don’t forget your travel insurance
Always make travel insurance a priority for any adventure! World Nomads is my go-to guys, I’ve learnt this from experience. You can buy and claim online even when you’ve left home. I love that they give a little back too and support community development projects in various countries.
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