Lakes Afambo & Gumare

Eastern Ethiopia

The little-explored territory and salt lakes scattered around Asaita are something of a holy grail for serious adventurers. This area remains one of the Horn's most inhospitable corners, appearing much the same as when explorer Wilfred Thesiger laid eyes upon it in the 1930s. Here the Awash River disappears into a chain of lakes, including Lakes Gumare and Afambo, which can be fairly easily visited from Asaita. The scenery is as stark, desolate and surreally beautiful as it is foreboding.

The easiest way to do things is as a day trip from Asaita using your own vehicle or the public buses from Asaita to Afambo (Birr15, one hour) that leave between 6am and 9am and return around 4pm. It’s possible to drive a couple of kilometres beyond Afambo; then you’ll have to hike the remainder.

Start by obtaining permission papers from the tourist office in Semera, which is easy enough. Then you’ll have to arrange armed Afar escorts (who almost certainly won’t speak English) in the village of Afambo near the lakes – expect to fork out Birr200 per armed guard. There’ll be other monetary demands at the start and along the way, including a necessary boat crossing on a reed raft. Buy everything you’ll need in Asaita, or better still in Addis, as there are no real shops after this, and bring camping gear as there’s no lodging.

The legendary Lake Abbe, the ultimate destination of the Awash River’s waters, is at least a three-day trip. Called Lac Abbé in French-speaking Djibouti, it can be approached much more easily from that side.