A few places and highlights in Ethiopia are difficult or time consuming to be travelled independently. This is definitely true for the Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression, both areas we visited over Christmas 2010. To get around the Omo Valley would have taken us several weeks travelling on the infrequent public busses. The Danakil simply cannot be visited without a tour operator, unless you have the survival skills of a local Afar and know how to extract the permits from local policemen.
We contacted local Ethiopian agencies in Addis Abeba directly, about 15 of them and eventually decided to book tours with 2 different agencies. For the 8 days in the Omo Valley, we chose Experience Ethiopia Travel, for the 6 days in the Danakil Depression we preferred Pangeans Safari. Both agencies were very professional, very flexible & reactive to any question or requirement.
Yayehiyrad, the Manager of E.E.T. as well as Christos & Liza, the owners of Pangeans Safari are all very friendly and helpful. Both tours were extremely well organized, without any bad surprises whatsoever. To make it short: both agencies, though totally different, can be strongly recommended.
The excellent tour with Experience Ethiopia Travel took us around the “Classical Circuit” of the Lower Omo Valley, offered good quality accommodation, a brand new car, and last but not least an excellent and very experienced driver / guide, Matthew.
Pangeans Safari specializes more in “Off the Beaten Tracks”, trying to get their customers a more genuine experience. They are very flexible and perfectly understand the needs of fervent photographers like us, who grave for the perfect light. Traveling with the owners added a new dimension, since they are more likely to allow you to look behind the scene.
Moreover, their camping equipment is the best you can get. Talking about organization? Even in the middle of nowhere, Lisa and Christos provides a comfort we did not expect, like a make-shift shower! But the most important and truly unique aspect is that Liza is the only woman in the business, which enables her and her customers to get in contact and interact with local women she had become acquainted with on previous trips. This contributed to our everlasting memories of this tour through the Danakil.
True, these two destinations and tours were serious attacks on our finances. To cut costs it was critical to find fellow travelers, which proved to be quite easy through the Lonely Planet ThornTree Forum. Actually we had to turn down people, since four persons (including us) already seemed a crowd, especially travelling with this huge escort. During each trip our group was made up of four persons. For the Omo Valley we each paid 695 Euros (995 Euros for a group of two), for the Danakil we had to dish out 950 Euros (1.250 Euros for two).
Both, the Omo Valley and the Danakil will undergo major changes soon. All roads in the Omo Valley are under construction, which will shorten travelling time considerably and make the area accessible all year round, even in the rainy season. In the Danakil there was talk of paving the road from Berdahile to Hamed Ale, which would mean an end of the camel caravans, although some skeptics doubt that the trucks will withstand the effects of erosion due to the salt. Let’s hope the camels will have the last laugh…