ACIDIC pools of neon yellow and green bubble between the rocks of a sprawling landscape branded the “Gateway to Hell”.
As if ripped straight from a sci-fi comic book, the alien-looking Danakil Depression lies 100m below sea level in the depths of Ethiopia.
With its blistering heat, acid, pools, chemical stench and crater lakes simmering lava from Earth’s mantle, the unwelcoming vast desert plain stretches more than 120 miles across the remote Afar Triangle.
Sitting at the junction of three tectonic plates that are slowly separating, it is one of the lowest places on the planet and is home to some of its most compelling visuals.
It is a beautiful and eerie alien landscape – with its springs sometimes dubbed the “killer lakes”.
Dead animals and insects are often spotted around the edge of the sulfur-spewing springs – either from drinking the toxic or water or inhaling too much gas in the carbon dioxide-rich air.
The “Gateway to Hell” showcases some of the world’s most fascinating geology, having formed from the slow continental drift of Africa and Asia.
Rainfall is scarce in the unforgiving region and tiny sprinkles of just 100-200m evaporate immediately while sulfur springs akin to kaleidoscopes hiss.
Rain and seawater that seeps into the spring get heated up by the magma and as the salt reacts with magma’s minerals, it causes luminous yellow and green colours to emerge.
Despite its sweltering 50C temperatures and foul smell, the geographical marvel has lured many daredevil tourists willing to cross continents for a glimpse.
Intrepid explorers can embark on day trips run from the town of Wikro while the more faint-hearted can gaze down from the skies on a helicopter journey.
The main attractions include the Erta Ale volcano – which contains one of just six active lava lakes on Earth – the stunning fissure filled Dallol Crater and Lake Karum.
But not all visitors are there to simply marvel at its fascinating visuals.
The site is filled with other-worldly oddities used by scientists to study the possibility of life on other planets.
Researchers have hunted for extremophile microbes in a bid to understand how life formed on Earth – and whether life forms on Mars are possible.
In 1974, paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson discovered the famed “Lucy” fossil – an early ancestor of humans thought to be 3.2 million years old, now on display at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.
Thousands of years back, the area was part of the Red Sea until volcanic eruptions formed rock barriers and the sweltering conditions evaporated the water.
As the earth pulls apart excruciatingly gradually over thousands of years, the land continues to sink.
And scientists at Nasa’s Earth Observatory believe the region will one day be submerged underwater as the land surface slowly drops further and further into the ground.
For now, the vast region continues to be mined by Afar tribes who travel for hours to the site before toiling under the suffocating sun to extract salt.
The salt slabs are then strapped to the backs of camels – often hered in their dozens – and taken to the city of Mekele before being flogged.
Up until the 20th century, the region’s salt – known as “white gold” – was used as a form of currency in Ethiopia.
According to travel site Brilliant Ethiopia, the best time to visit is between September and May, when temperatures usually sit under 40C – though proper footwear and a guide remain essential.