Locals call it the "Gateway to Hell."
This barren, inhospitable landscape named Dallol is located in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia near the Eritrean border. It's one of the world's most geologically active areas.
Earthquakes, volcanoes, lava lakes, and bubbling sulphur springs are the norm.
It's also the hottest place on Earth. The average annual temperature is almost 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius),
and the average daily high temperature soars to 106º F (41º C).
Mother Nature offers little relief. Rainfall is rare, and the "Afar Wind" is characterized as a boiling breeze that leaves one's skin feeling as if it's on fire. Stepping out of an air-conditioned vehicle is truly like stepping into a furnace.
The otherworldly colors are caused by hot, liquid sulphur mixing with iron oxides, copper salts, and other minerals.
The acid lakes are as deadly as they are beautiful.
Dallol is part of the larger 124 by 31-mile Danakil Depression, an area 410 feet below sea level (125 meters). The extreme geological activity is because the depression lies at the junction of three tectonic plates, which are violently tearing apart the land from the rest of Africa. Millions of years from now the Red Sea will once again engulf Danakil and create a new ocean.
After an additional, multi-hour, 4 x 4 journey through
the unforgiving, desert depression,
another natural marvel awaits – the Erta Ale volcano.
The daytime heat is far to intense for the three-plus hours hike to the top of the volcano, meaning visitors depart after dark, arriving at the summit shortly before midnight.
This is what lies inside the continuously active volcano ...
Erta Ale contains just one of five lava lakes on the planet.
In addition to battling the intense heat, visitors must avoid the poisonous sulphuric fumes rising menacingly
from the crater.
Even though there's always the fear the volcano could erupt again at any moment, it's nearly impossible to walk away from the hypnotic spectacle.
After a couple of hours sleeping under the stars, it's time to descend before the harsh sun rises again the next day.
It's hard to imagine anyone living in the Danakil Depression, a sight National Geographic once described as the "cruelest place on Earth."
However, the nomadic Afar people have been crisscrossing this desert for centuries, seeking to eke out a living through the salt trade.
It normally takes the caravans at least a week to arrive ...
at these salt flats.
Miners first pry the salt free.
Then cut it into large slabs ...
before shaving it into uniform blocks set for market.
For such backbreaking work, a miner, on a good day, could expect to earn a little over seven dollars, which isn't bad considering some laborers survive on about one dollar a day.
The blocks are then loaded onto the camels for the arduous return trek.
The Danakil Depression would be a highlight for even the most adventurous of travelers, but keep in mind it's a remote, hard-to-reach region; lodging facilities are nonexistent, so sleeping is done under the stars and toilets entail squatting behind rocks or sand dunes; and there are some dicey security issues.
The border with Eritrea is always politically volatile. Back in 2012, terrorists kidnapped four tourists and killed five others. Now, solo traveling is outlawed, and all groups must be accompanied by armed guards.
Still, it's not often one gets to stare into the mouth of an active volcano or visit the hottest place in the world.