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Eritrea

Photo © gigi-1979

Travel Guide Africa Eritrea

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Introduction

Who's that girl?

Who's that girl?

© All Rights Reserved gigi-1979

Eritrea's relations with its neighbour Ethiopia have never been great since the U.N. declared the former to be a province of the latter in the 50s. Eritrean national pride and a burning thirst for independence resulted in the Struggle for Independence, a brutal 30 year war which ended, somewhat surprisingly, in victory for the smaller forces of Eritrea. 1993 marked the start of Eritrea's independence, but not the end of its Ethiopian conflicts. Border disputes resulted in further fighting, which was finally brought to a halt in 2000.

The relative peace enjoyed by Eritrea now is a promising sign. Travellers should maintain caution, but the country's attractions are safe. Italian styled architecture reveals the country's colonial past and gives Asmara, the capital, a striking appearance. The Red Sea around the Eritrean coast and the Dahlak Archipelago has been esteemed highly by divers, who are attracted by the WWII war relics hidden under the surface and the lively aqua-life.

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Brief History

In the period following the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, when European powers scrambled for territory in Africa and tried to establish coaling stations for their ships, Italy invaded and occupied Eritrea. On January 1, 1890 Eritrea offically became a colony of Italy. In 1936 it became a province of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), along with Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. The British armed forces expelled those of Italy in 1941 and took over the administration of the country which had been set up by the Italians. The British continued to administer the territory under a UN Mandate until 1951 when Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as per UN resolution 390(A) under the prompting of the United States adopted in December 1950; the resolution was adopted after a referendum to consult the people of Eritrea.
The strategic importance of Eritrea — because of its Red Sea coastline and mineral resources - was the main cause for the federation with Ethiopia, which was the first step in the annexing of Eritrea as its 14th province in 1962. This was the culmination of a gradual process of takeover by the Ethiopian authorities, a process which included a 1959 edict establishing the compulsory teaching of Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia, in all Eritrean schools. The lack of regard for the Eritrean population led to the formation of an independence movement in the early 1960s, which erupted into a 30-year war against successive Ethiopian governments that ended in 1991. Following a UN-supervised referendum in Eritrea (dubbed UNOVER) in which the Eritrean people overwhelmingly voted for independence, Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993. Perhaps the conflict with the deepest impact on independent Eritrea has been the renewed hostility with Ethiopia. In 1998, a border war with Ethiopia over the town of Badme occurred. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War ended in 2000 with a negotiated agreement known as the Algiers Agreement, which assigned an independent, UN-associated boundary commission known as the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), whose task was to clearly identify the border between the two countries and issue a final and binding ruling. Ethiopia was to withdraw to positions held before the outbreak of hostilities in May 1998. The peace agreement would be completed with the implementation of the Border Commission's ruling, also ending the task of the peacekeeping mission of UNMEE. The EEBC's verdict came in April 2002, which awarded Badme to Eritrea. However, Ethiopia refused to withdraw its military from positions in the disputed areas, including Badme, and also refused to implement the EEBC's ruling, and the dispute is ongoing.
Border conflicts with both Djibouti and Yemen have been resolved overtime.

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Geography

Eritrea is located in Northeast Africa and is bordered on the northeast and east by the Red Sea, on the south by Ethiopia and Djibouti, and on the northwest by Sudan. It lies between latitudes 12° and 18°N, and longitudes 36° and 44°E. The country is virtually bisected by a branch of the East African Rift. It has fertile lands to the west, descending to desert in the east. Eritrea, at the southern end of the Red Sea, is the home of the fork in the rift. The Dahlak Archipelago and its fishing grounds are situated off the sandy and arid coastline. The strategically important Bab-el-Mandeb strait connects the coasts of Eritrea and Yemen. The Afar Triangle or Danakil Depression of Eritrea is the probable location of a triple junction where three tectonic plates are pulling away from one another: the Arabian Plate, and the two parts of the African Plate splitting along the East African Rift Zone. The highest point of the country, Emba Soira, is located in the center of Eritrea, at 3,018 metres above sea level. In 2006, Eritrea announced it would become the first country in the world to turn its entire coast into an environmentally protected zone. The 1,347 kilometres coastline, along with another 1,946 kilometres of coast around its more than 350 islands, will come under governmental protection.

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Regions

Eritrea is made up of six regions (zobas)

  • Central
  • Southern
  • Gash-Barka
  • Anseba
  • Northern Red Sea
  • Southern Red Sea

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Cities

  • Asmara is the current capital and is home to amazing well preserved art deco architecture from the 1930s that any tourist can enjoy.
  • Massawa
  • Keren
  • Assab
  • Agordat
  • Dekemhare
  • Mendefera
  • Nakfa was the capital during the war and every building in the city was destroyed except the mosque. Most of the city relocated underground during the war.

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Sights and Activities

Qohaito

Qohaito was an ancient Aksumite city in the Debub region of Eritrea. The Ancient Greeks called the city Koloe. It was a major stop on one of the African trade routes, and may have been the summer capital for the kingdom. There are many pre- Christian ruins in the city and it lies on a high plateau at the edge of the stunning great Rift Valley. The city was most likely inhabited till the 6th century AD. Due to the civil war most of the city has not been excavated.

Other Ancient Cities

  • Adulis is located in the Northern Red Sea this city was a port for the Kingdom of Aksum before it fell in the 8th century.
  • Dahlak Kebir is an island in the Red Sea and on the western side there are some ancient cisterns and a necropolis. There are also some interesting fossils.
  • Matara is located about 136 kilometres southeast of Asmara this city was a major Aksum city for more then a thousand years.

Dankalia

Dankalia, souuth of Massawa along the coastline is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. The volcanic desert makes this place look like a different planet. There is no great sights or destinations here other then lifeless desert, which some travellers like. Dankalia is also the home to the legendary Afar people, who are one of the most fiercest groups on the whole planet.

Massawa Island

Explore the amazing architecture and the old town of this amazing neighborhood in the city of Massawa. The buildings are a blend of Egyptian, Turkish and Italo-Moorish styles. Also many of the buildings are built with coral rock having mashrabeya, which are wooden screen windows.

Other Sights and Activities

  • National Museum of Eritrea is an ok museum that was opened in 1992. It is now located in the former Comboni Sisters School for Women.

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Weather

Weather in Eritrea varies with altitude a lot. While much of the coastal area and towards the south can be very hot, the inland plateau where Asmara is located are usually much cooler and much more pleasant.
Temperatures in the lower areas can be well over 40 degrees Celsius, especially during the hot May to October summer period. Winters are still plesantly warm though here and temperatures rarely drop below 18 degrees Celsius. Here, most of the rain (scarce) falls between October and March, while on the inland and western plateau most rain tends to fall during July and August.
Masawa, at sea level, has average highs of 35 in summer, 25 during winter. About 200 mm of rain is recorded on average here.
Asmara which is located at 2350 meters above sea level has temperatures between 15 and 22 degrees Celsius year round during the day and nights can be relatively cold. The city has on average around 500 mm of rain.

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Getting there

By Plane

Eritrean Airlines is the national airline of Eritrea and is based at Asmara International Airport (ASM) near the capital. International destinations include Djibouti, Dubai, Frankfurt, Jeddah, Milan and Rome. Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt and Jeddah as well. Other destinations with connections to Asmara are Nairobi, Cairo and Sana'a.

By Car

You can only enter Eritrea from Djibouti but you have to leave again via Djibouti or Sudan (see below). Due to this, few travellers with their own wheels go to Eritrea, but in case you do: be patient and have your papers and insurance in order.

By Bus

There is no official public transport between Eritrea and Djibouti but a combination of (shared)taxis and minivans travel between the border and towns in the two countries. From Eritrea, the main starting point is Assab. In Djibouti this is Obock, a town reachable by dhow or speedboat from Djibouti City. There’s only one border crossing, at Rahaita/Moulhoulé, about 112km south of Assab.
Borders with Ethiopia are mostly closed for travellers for now, but you should be able to travel to Sudan, though not the other way around. From Teseney, bush taxis go to Adi Bara at the Sudanese border, from where you should find transport to Kassala in Sudan.

By Boat

Although there is quite a long coastline, there are no official passenger services across the Red Sea towards countries like Saudi Arabia or Yemen. You can get however between Yemen and Djibouti and travel overland to/from Eritrea to make this trip over sea.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Eritrean Airways flies between the capital Asmara and the city of Assab at least twice a week.

By Train

There is a railway line between Asmara and Massawa, but services are infrequent and not timetabled. There are however extra trains that can be chartered by groups of tourists. It is a great journey!

By Car

Roads between Asmara with Keren, Massawa, Adi Quala and Barentu are generally in a good condition and are paved. You can rent cars at the Eritrean Tourist agencies and usually they come with a driver that speaks English, but you might be able to drive yourself. Note that some other roads though are heavily potholed or gravel and require a 4wd vehicle. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit.

By Bus

Buses are cheap, comfortable and reliable. There are at least two buses a day between the major towns like Asmara, Massawa and Keren and at least one daily service to smaller cities and towns. Buses leave when full, so there is not timetabled service. It is best to show up early at the bus station for long journeys, to assure a seat.

By Boat

There are no scheduled passenger services along the Eritrean coastline, but as it is a great location to go snorkelling, diving or fishing, you might be able to charter a local boat.

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Red Tape

Most western travellers need a visa to enter the country which you can obtain at the nearest embassy/consulate or in your home country. Otherwise, neighbouring countries produce visas within 24 hours, for example in Djibouti. Costs are approximately $25. Upon arrival getting one is only possible for group visitors with prior notice.
Only people from Kenya and Uganda don't need a visa to visit Eritrea.

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Money

See also Money Matters

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Health

See also Travel Health

Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Eritrea when you have been in a yellow fever country within 7 days of entering Eritrea. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Eritrea. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.

Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Eritrea is a very safe country and few travellers will have any problems here. Even Asmara is a very safe city.
The main concerns are the extreme high temperatures in Dankalia (summers of more than 50 degrees Celsius) and annoying things like roadblocks. These are harmless though. Don't wander off the main roads, as mines are a real possibility here.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Eritrea flag

Map of Eritrea

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Capital
Asmara
Population
4,230,000
Government
Transitional government
Religions
Islam, Christianity (Coptic, Catholic, Protestant)
Languages
English
Calling Code
+291
Nationality
Eritrean
Local name
Ertra

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This is version 23. Last edited at 11:43 on May 6, 13 by Utrecht. 14 articles link to this page.

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