I’m Joel Santos and, although my initial background deeply linked to Economics, more than a decade ago I decided to follow my true and unconditional passion for photography. Since then, I’ve travelled more than 40 countries in all continents, not only because I’ve become a professional travel photographer, but mainly because I’ve embarked on personal quest about finding where true happiness really comes from and searching for unique moments made of light, both of which I’ve been able to encounter both in nature, specially in remote places, and in people, mostly those special human beings that I had the privilege of meeting in the most adverse contexts.

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One of those places, where otherworldly landscapes and unforgettable people meet, is in Ethiopia, namely in the Afar region, where the Danakil Depression lies, notable for being the hottest place on Earth. Special people and places deserve a unique perspective, so, as a passionate story teller, and after documenting Ethiopia for the first time in January 2015, I decided to return a few weeks ago, in early March, this time not only with my trustworthy stills camera, but also with a camera equipped drone.

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Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

The Danakil depression lies below sea level and has resulted from the presence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa, near the border with Eritrea. There lies the Erta Ale volcano, 613 metres high, with one (sometimes two) active lava lake at the summit, which occasionally overflows. It’s notable for holding the longest-existing lava lake, present since 1906. Volcanoes with lava lakes are extremely rare; there are only six in the world.

Camel caravan and salt miner, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Besides Erta Ale’s lava lake volcano, the Afar region has one of the biggest salt deserts in the world, and the aerial images reveal a never before seen perspective of the salt patterns and the ‎salt miner ‎caravan marching to the salt extraction site, where they cut brick-like chunks of salt from the ground and load them on the camels, working from 8am to 4pm, while temperatures rise above 45 Cº.

Aerial panoramic shot of Erta Ale’s lava lake and recent lava overflow. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Flying over the lava lake was tricky, since the winds, the smoke and, above all, the heat waves sometimes compromised the stability and integrity of the drone, so choosing a clever flight path was mandatory.


Stunning salt patterns and salt miner camel caravan marching to the extraction site. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Fortunately, with some social interaction, both miners and camels were quite calm about having a drone flying over them, and just kept their marching and working routines perfectly untamed.

One of a kind 180º aerial view over the twin craters and lava lakes at Erta Ale’s volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Aerial view of the multicoloured sulfur springs at Dallol, mixed with salt patterns

Not so far away from the mining site, the sulfur gases mixes with water and salt, creating a multicoloured and unreal landscape known as Dallol, ranging from reds, oranges, yellows and greens to whites. The presence of iron underneath the soil took a toll on the drone and incapacitated the magnetic compass, which added a bit more of a challenge and required fully manual flight.

Stunning salt patterns and salt miner camel caravan marching to the extraction site. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Infinite salt patterns witha thin layer of salt, aerial shot from 350 meters high. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Curious fact, this region’s salt deposits were created over time as water from the Red Sea periodically flooded the depression and evaporated. The most recent such flood was around 30.000 years ago and the next is estimated to be in about 10 million years. Therefore, no need to be afraid of the next flood… this area will continue to be the hottest and, probably, one of the most otherworldly one can experience during our lifetime.

Gateway to Hell, Danakil, Erta Ale, Dallol, Ethiopia