Kate Eshelby visits the surreal landscapes of the Danikil Depression, Djiboutie where rocky wilderness is punctured only by steaming fissures and limestone chimneys. This article appears in Volume 27: The Books Issue

I’m in Djibouti, a former French colony full of surreal and savage landscapes cupped by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somaliland, to follow in the footsteps of the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who spent time hunting in the sauna-hot desert of this frontier land. He later wrote about its desolate beauty in his book, The Danakil Diary.

Order Vol. 27  

This treeless land of volcanoes and steaming fissures is where three of the earth’s tectonic plates diverge, ripping the rocky wilderness into deep canyons and throwing up towering limestone chimneys like mystical fortress kingdoms. Among its vast basalt plains live the nomadic Afar people. Their golden- coloured domed homes blend into the stony valleys.

For centuries the Afar have mined the salt left behind in a string of crater lakes after the Red Sea flooded. I join a salt caravan at Lac Assal, one of the earth’s lowest and hottest places, and follow the nomads up into the Ethiopian highlands where they trade this “white gold”. The lake flashes bright aquamarine against an expanse of shimmering white as salt shapes sprout out of the water like giant crystal toadstools.

The award-winning Djiboutian author Abdourahman Waberi has written several poetic books about his country, evocatively describing a “tortured geology” with “desert furrows of fire” under “rays of a yellow chameleon sky”. I, too, pen furiously in my notebooks, inspired by this apocalyptic, Mad Max-like land.

Discover More...

Destination Inspiration: Akko, Israel

You May Also Like

City Guides

You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? That’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best bits and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local – it was written by one. Eat your heart out, shop until you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.


Curate your bookcase with the full SUITCASE library. From Volume 2 through 28, we've been around the world, explored uncharted landscapes and reexamined travel perceptions along the way. We invite you to do the same; grow your collection today.

Download Suitcase App
Learn More