The road through Awash National Park cuts through the southern tip of Afar, a vast but thinly inhabited federal region that follows the arid Rift Valley north to the remote borders with Eritrea and Djibouti. The region is named after the semi-nomadic Afar people, who comprise more than 90 percent of its population and traditionally subsist as salt traders or camel herders.
While the principal feature of southern Afar is the Awash River, which feeds an important modern irrigation scheme before it empties into a string of lakes near the border with Djibouti, the north of the region is dominated by the Danakil Depression, a searing and practically uninhabited area whose altitudinal nadir, dipping to 116m below sea level, is widely regarded to be the hottest place on the earth with daytime temperatures that regularly top 50°C. Other features of the Danakil include a spectacular lava pool nestled in the Erta Ale Volcano, and salt lakes such as Asale and Afrera, which have been mined by the Afar for millennia.
As might be expected, much of Afar isn’t really suited to casual tourism – aside from its inhospitableness it was also the subject of a stern UK FCO warning following the killing of five tourists in 2012, the third such attack since 2004. Yet it can be explored (at a cost) on an organized expedition with specialist operators based in Addis Ababa and Mekele.