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Lake Assal and the volcanic mountains beside, Djibouti |  Zineb Boujrada / The Culture Trip
Lake Assal and the volcanic mountains beside, Djibouti | Zineb Boujrada / The Culture Trip

Forget the Dead Sea, Djibouti's Lake Assal is the Place to Float

Picture of Zineb Boujrada
Updated: 7 March 2018

Lay back, relax, and let the blue-turquoise waters hug you as you float in the honey lake – Lake Assal of Djibouti!  While floating in the Dead Sea has always made the bucket lists as a must to do at least once in one’s lifetime, Djibouti’s Lake Assal beats all its previous records and is today the hottest deal for optimal water buoyancy. Get ready as you delve into all that you need to know about this mesmerizing natural wonder.   

What and where is Lake Assal?

Lake Assal is a volcanic crater lake kind of formation and it is nestled in the central-western part of Djibouti, marking the beginning of the Great African Rift Valley and paving the way to the renowned Danakil Desert. The honey lake is situated around 115 km (71 miles) from Djibouti City. It is the lowest land depression in all of Africa with 150m (492 ft) below sea level and comes third after the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea (-427m, or -1,400ft).

lake assal by Nasa

Lake Assal as seen from above | © NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Flickr 

With a surface salt density of 276g/L (increasing to 398 g/L 20m (66 feet) deep) Lake Assal is the most saline lake (outside of Antarctica) and is home to the biggest salt reserve in the world. Surrounded with visible salt pans, it has a solid salt bed with a thickness record of around 40 cm (15.75 inches) depending on how far you can dip into the lake. Giving its geological nature, Lake Assal is fed from the Gulf of Tadjourah and evaporation reaches its peaks especially when temperatures hit 55°C (131°F) in summer time. This makes it one of the hottest places on earth. No vegetation is in sight, only scarce thorny bushes around and a rich bacteria population.

Lake Assal is undoubtedly the most amazing thing you will ever see in Djibouti. And all that you will experience there can only be described as mind-blowing, especially the wind, the sun and the landscape’s breathtaking beauty, of course.

Why Lake Assal?

Easily accessible via the national road 1, it is advisable to visit Lake Assal on weekends. The road leading to it can be extremely busy because of all these trucks loaded with fresh vegetables and fruits coming from Ethiopia towards Djibouti City.  A caution: the traffic can be indeed exhausting under the sun and in some spots it can be less safe.

You will be fascinated as you witness the changing colors of the lake from different viewpoints and the alluring noises of the waters, walk on the crystal snow-like surfaces on the edges of the water or check on the cinder cones and the canyon nearby.

For centuries, Lake Assal has been the Mecca of salt trade in the Horn of Africa. It was absolutely common, until nowadays, to see caravans of salt traveling back and forth from the lake to the Ethiopian Highlands through the Danakil Desert. Essentially dominated by the Afar tribes, harvesting the salt crystals is a traditional savoir-faire. It is then transported in arid climate conditions and is a source of income to one of the poorest populations in the world.


Salt Caravane led by Afar people | © Ji-Elle / Creative Commons


Local Afar girl selling mined salt at Lake Assal, Djibouti | © Zineb Boujrada / The Culture Trip

What to Do in Lake Assal?

While you are on route to Lake Assal, you will encounter breathtaking views of rocky mountains as you leave the urban orbit behind you. As you immerse yourself in this harsh scenery, beware of the herds of camels that cross in all senses, truck drivers and difficult paths. After about a two-hour drive, on your left you will pass some gorgeous geological formations from which extremely hot springs emanate and where you can get a natural fish massage. Before that, the magnificent Lake Assal unfolds on the right, under the blazing sun of Djibouti. There are various gorgeous formations that are worth checking near the lake and as you get closer, you will be amazed at how spherical deposits of salt are paving its borders while the turquoise warm waters wave at the rhythm of strong winds. It is then time to go deeper and experience an optimal state of buoyancy. You will be entirely covered in salt afterwards, but the experience is absolutely worth it!

For the less adventurous, there is a trail just next to the lake that you can take to reach the top of an active volcano – well, it is dormant for the time being. The breathtaking view from up there is all you need to end this beautiful escapade.

Djiboutiii! Do you know what is this place? 🌏💙✅

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