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.

Warning: The security situation in Eritrea is unpredictable. Several government offices have issued travel warnings, specifically to advising against all travel to border areas (Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti).

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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 officially 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

Bordering Ethiopia, there are north-south trending highlands, descending on the east to a coastal desert plain, on the northwest to hilly terrain and on the southwest to rolling plains. Eritrea retained the entire coastline of Ethiopia along the Red Sea upon declaring independence in 1993.

Eritrea is a relatively small country (by African standards), about the same size as Pennsylvania or England, but it has a varied and contrasting landscape due to the diverse topography of the Great Rift Valley, which traverses all of East Africa, the Red Sea and the Middle East.

The country's most interesting destinations are its natural attractions. There are six main topographical features in the country. The highlands in the center and south of Eritrea, the western lowlands, the Sahel in the north, the subtropical eastern escarpments, the northern coast and archipelago and the southern coast.

The highlands, where the capital Asmara is situated, lie between 1,500 and 3,500 metres above sea level and are blessed with a temperate, Mediterranean and dry climate, with little seasonal variation in temperature. There, the rainy season comes between May and September and the dry season lasts from December to April. There is however considerable variation in temperature between different altitudes in the highlands. The landscape essentially consists of valleys, hills and vast expanses of plateaus interrupted by dramatic chasms and gorges. The dry season from December to April is distinguished by the red-brown, rusty, beige or black (stone and rubble-colored) landscape, resembling photos from Mars. The vegetation consists largely of shrubbery, eucalyptus, aloes, cacti and the odd explosively colorful specs of bougainvillea, jacaranda or other ornamental plants in the villages and towns. The rainy season brings torrents of rain and nourishment to the land, which transforms into a verdant, emerald and grassy landscape in the post-rain months from August to October.

Rural highlanders live a lifestyle that resembles Biblical times: villages with stone houses, small plots, ancient temples (both Christian and Muslim), people farming and herding with traditional means using little technology, and transporting their goods (as well as themselves) with mules and camels. A good place to explore the highland landscape is in the outskirts of Asmara, the capital. Near the village of Tselot is the Martyrs National Park, inaugurated in 2000. It is a mountainous forest and wildlife preserve at the ridge of the highland plateau where the capital was built.

The western lowlands lie between 1,500 and 100 metres above sea level, the climate is tropical with high humidity and heat throughout the day during the rainy season (which comes at the same time as in the Highlands, i.e. from May to September) and dry hot days with cold nights during the dry season. The landscape consists largely of plains, which are grassy, muddy and green during the rainy season and dry, dusty and sparsely covered with shrubbery during the dry season.

The plains are interrupted by the odd hills and mounts as well as three seasonal rivers originating in the Eritrean highlands and one perennial river, which forms part of the Ethiopian border and originates in the Ethiopian highlands (the Setit, also known as Tekeze in Ethiopia and Atbara in Sudan). All major towns in the lowlands are situated on or near these rivers. The southern half of the lowlands consists of typical African Savannah and hosts the odd flocks of wild African elephants and other typically Savannah-type flora and fauna. The northern half of the lowlands is considered part of the Sahara desert and consists of vast expanses of sand dunes and rocks with a few sparsely populated oases. The best place to explore both aspects of the lowlands is the market town Tessenei by the Sudanese border and its surroundings, as it lies right between the dry and green parts of the lowlands. Tessenei is also a place of trade for the nomadic peoples of the desert as well as the sedentary farming communities of the Savannah. Tessenei affords some of the most basic amenities for visitors such as hotels with showers and flush toilets, shops (including photo shops to buy film and bottled drinks) and restaurants serving well-cooked meals. It is accessible by asphalt road from the capital Asmara via Keren and the towns of Agordat and Barentu, which takes about 10 hours. Buses run daily from Asmara. It can also be reached by dirt track from the Sudanese city of Kassala only 40 km (25 mi) away. Considering the border bureaucracy, this short distance could however prove to be a whole day's endeavor.

The Sahel in northern Eritrea lies at the eastern fringes of the great Sahara desert and is distinguished by its sharp contrast with the sandy deserts of the western lowlands and those of the eastern coast. The Sahel consists of a towering narrow chain of mountains ranging from 1000 to 2500 meters (3280-8200 ft) high and continue all the way north to Sudan and Egypt (a feature of the Great Rift Valley). The slopes to the east and west are sparsely populated by herding nomads. The rainy season in the western slopes comes at the same time as in the Highlands and western lowlands, whereas the eastern slopes resembles the Red Sea's climate of erratic precipitation between December and March. The rainfall in this region is much less than in most other inhabited parts of the country. The climate is desert-like with little humidity, dry hot days and cold nights with little seasonal variation in temperatures. Variations in temperature are seen however, between different altitudes. Heavy erosion due to war and previous overgrazing has also seriously impeded the benefits of the rainy seasons. The landscape is therefore very arid and fit for only the most tenacious of nomadic herding communities. The central and northern core consists of impenetrable and hair-raising mountain passes, gorges and valleys. This was the main base for the Eritrean rebels (who now make up the country's government) when they fought against Ethiopia for Eritrea's independence. One seasonal river, Anseba, originating in the highlands, bisects the mountain range and drains in a delta on the Red Sea coast of Sudan just north of the Eritrean border. The best place to explore the Sahel is the town of Nakfa, which was the main base of the Eritrean resistance and gave the national currency its name. Nakfa also has a war-museum commemorating the liberation struggle and a comfortable, yet modest government-run hotel with a restaurant and satellite TV. It is accessible from Asmara via Keren on asphalt road and from Keren via the town of Afabet on a dirt road. This takes 10 to 12 hours as the road between Keren and Nakfa is awful. Buses run to Nakfa from Keren starting early in the morning so a trip from Asmara would entail an overnight stay in Keren (which is served many times daily from Asmara). Afabet is also accessible by asphalt road from the port of Massawa via the town of She'eb. The Massawa-Nakfa trip would still take about 10 hours as the unavoidable Afabet-Nakfa leg of the journey is the most taxing. Buses run once weekly from Massawa to Nakfa.

The subtropical eastern escarpment, consists of the eastern (seaward) slopes of the highland region. Unique for this thin sliver of landscape is that it hosts the country's only subtropical rainforest and one of the world's largest selection of bird species, both seasonal (winter-migrants) and endemic (tropical). Being so mountainous, it has never been heavily settled (luckily) as it is very hard to farm. Nevertheless, there are some small coffee and spice plantations in its central, higher altitude areas as well as tropical fruit plantations in the lower areas. The Solomouna National Park is the best place to explore this area and is accessible by asphalt road from the capital Asmara as well as the port of Massawa. The only way to the national park is by guided tour with one of Eritrea's tour agencies, which all operate out of Asmara. Traveling to coastal Massawa from highland Asmara, one also passes through this region. The flavor of this region is represented by the towns and villages between Nefasit (25 kilometres from Asmara) and Dongollo Alto (50 km from Asmara).

The northern coast and archipelago consists largely of a sandy red-brown and beige semi-desert with some shrubbery and volcanic basalt-rock along the mainland coast. The elevation is between 0 and 500 metres above sea level and the climate is always tropical and humid. The rainy season is an insignificant concept on the coast as it seldom rains at all, save for the freak storm that occurs on the odd year. Some minimal precipitation and cloudiness may occur in the months of November to March, but the coast relies mainly on the runoff from the highlands and eastern escarpments for its water supply (from aquifers and table water). The few attractions inland are the hot springs resort about 35 kilometres from the port city of Massawa, where hot mineral water baths are available and the water is also bottled as one of the country's most popular mineral water sources and brands (Dongollo, sold in brown glass bottles).

The coast and archipelago host some of the Red Sea's most pristine coral reefs, rife with marine wildlife ranging from dugongs and mantas to big schools of tigerfish, dolphins and of course sharks. Eritrea's coast offers some of the best diving in the world but some of the most limited diving and tourist facilities, all of which are based in the port city of Massawa and are extremely expensive. The beaches in and immediately surrounding the port city of Massawa and to the north are of modest to poor quality due to pollution, flooding and erosion from the nearby highlands. Parts of the northern coast also consists of large mangrove swamps, great for fishing and bird watching but not for beach life.

The beaches on the Dahlak islands, on the other hand, are clean, white and pristine, with lagoons of clear turquoise water. The only way to get to the Dahlak islands is to charter a boat from a licensed company in Massawa. The biggest island Dahlak Kebir, which features one modest resort-hotel is 90 kilometres away as are some other smaller uninhabited islands like Dissei, which can make for affordable day-trips from Massawa. Beyond Dissei, the archipelago extends much farther and offers much greater attractions. With Eritrea's limited facilities, the possibility of going on longer cruises and exploring more of the attractions is prohibitively expensive and only available through a few European-run companies based in Massawa. With the country's heightened sense of security, doing such travel independently on one's own boat or a chartered one is impossible. The best place to explore the northern coast and archipelago is obviously the port city of Massawa.

The southern coast is perhaps Eritrea's most dramatic yet most inhospitable landscape because of its volcanoes, quicksand, bubbling sulphuric mud pools, salt lakes, coastal cliffs and inland depressions. The elevation ranges between peaks of over 2,000 metres above sea level and depressions of more than 100 metres below sea level with fields of salt pans and strangely shaped rocks where temperatures reach the highest on our planet. The northern inland areas of the southern coast offer a dramatic landscape of contrast between the backdrop of the towering mountains of the highlands to the west and the vast expanses of coastal desert to the east. It is the only area of considerable vegetation in the whole region, thanks to the highland rainfall and runoff. The area also hosts an interesting array of wildlife such as mountain goats and ostriches. The region is situated between the port cities of Massawa and Assab, which are about 500 kilometres apart. The region is ideally visited on a journey between the two cities, but a journey could also consist of excursions from Massawa and/or Assab individually, especially for trips geared towards viewing inland landscapes. Any journey without guides to this region is off-limits due to the extreme climate and to political volatility near the Ethiopian border. The only public transportation in the area consist of buses between Massawa and Assab, which run a few times weekly. Assab is also served by Nasair from Asmara twice weekly.

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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, south 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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Events and Festivals

New Year’s Day

Eritrea joins the world in celebrating New Year on January 1. It is typically marked by slaughtering either a goat or a sheep, which is a sign of sacrifice to god.

Orthodox Epiphany

This Christian holiday commemorates the presentation of Baby Jesus to the Three Wise Men. It also signals the end of the 12 days of Christmas, with the annual observance taking place in January.

Fenkil Day

Celebrated on February 10, this holiday is an integral part of Eritrean culture as it honors the gallant patriots and the martyrs of "Operation Fenkil," which ended colonial rule. Every year, thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Massawa to join the event.

Birth of the Prophet

A joyous remembrance of the birth of the prophet, this holiday is celebrated by Islam followers in Eritrea. The date changes every year according to the lunar calendar.

Women’s Day

March 8 is a day of celebration for the social and economic achievements of women in Eritrea as well as around the world. It is a rather controversial event because of the human rights and displacement issues that Eritrean women continue to face, but the government continues to acknowledge it.

Independence Day

Considered the most important national holiday, Independence Day is observed annually on May 24 to remember May 4, 1991, when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front reinstated the independence of Asmara following a 30-year war against the Ethiopian army regime.

Martyr’s Day

Celebrated on June 20, Martyr’s Day is an official holiday that pays tribute to the freedom fighters who died for Eritrea’s liberation. The war lasted from 1961 to 1991 and claimed an estimated 65,000 fighters and thousands of civilians. It is commemorated with mass mourning processions that end at graveyards throughout the country.

Anniversary of the Start of the Armed Struggles

Also known as Bahti Meskerem, this important holiday on September 1 recognizes the people who scarified during their prolonged freedom campaign against Ethiopia. Observances typically include a moment of silence for the martyrs, public speeches from dignitaries and the singing of the national anthem.

Eid al-Fitr

This day marks the end of Ramadan, or the holy month of fasting. The date changes yearly according to the lunar calendar.

Eid ul-Adha

This important religious holiday in Eritrea honors the willingness of Abraham the prophet to sacrifice his first-born son. The date changes yearly.

Christmas Day

Eritreans actually celebrate Christmas twice - on December 25 and again on January 7. The latter holiday is called Geez Christmas, which is recognized by members of the Russian Orthodox Church. The date is based on the Julian calendar.

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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 °C, especially during the hot May to October summer period. Winters are still pleasantly warm though here and temperatures rarely drop below 18 °C. 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 °C in summer and 25 °C during winter. About 200 mm of rain is recorded on average here.
Asmara which is located at 2,350 metres above sea level has temperatures between 15 °C and 22 °C 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

Citizens of Kenya and Uganda do not need visas and citizens of Sudan may obtain a visa on arrival. Everyone else must apply for a visa in advance before entering the country.

Some Eritrean embassies have websites where a visa application can be downloaded and printed out. When you apply for a visa to Eritrea, you must do it at an Eritrean embassy in - or accredited to - the country where you are a citizen and nowhere else. If there is no Eritrean embassy or mission in your country, contact your foreign office/ministry to verify the nearest accredited Eritrean mission. Below is a list of Eritrean embassies around the world.

These are the Eritrean embassies or consulates in:

  • Europe: London, Paris, Brussels, The Hague, Berlin, Rome, Stockholm, Moscow, Athens, Milan, Frankfurt and Geneva. (If you come from a European (EU or EES) country without an Eritrean mission, you contact the Eritrean Embassy in Brussels by default).
  • Americas: Washington D.C., Ottawa, permanent mission to the U.N. in New York
  • Africa: Addis Ababa, Pretoria, Abuja Nairobi, Kampala, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kassala, Cairo, Tripoli
  • Middle East: Riyadh, Jeddah, Sanaa, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Kuwait, Tel Aviv (Ramat Gan), Damascus
  • Asia and Oceania: Islamabad, New Delhi, Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing, Melbourne.

When traveling overland, as of December 2008 it was not possible to obtain visas in Sudan (neither in Khartoum nor Kassala) unless you're a Sudanese national or a foreign resident. The border with Djibouti was indefinitely closed in December 2008 and with Ethiopia in May 1998, though an agreement was made in July 2018 to re-open the Ethiopian border.

For a tourist visa, you need to submit specific information about when and at what border post you will arrive and depart, so it is wise to have already made some plans (such as buying a ticket).

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Money

See also Money Matters

The currency is the Eritrean nakfa. It is pegged to the US dollar. There are 15 nakfas to the USD. Coins are issued in denominations of 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and 100 cents and 1 nakfa. Banknotes are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 nakfas.

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Work

A few foreigners, mainly from South Asia, work for the Eritrean government in various state-job contracts. Most, if not all, of these individuals acquired their jobs in their home country and/or were recruited and provided with their legal documentation by the Eritrean government while in their home country. It is unusual and perhaps difficult to arrive in Eritrea on a tourist visa and later apply for a work and residence permit while there.

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Language

The official languages of Eritrea are Tigrinya and Arabic, with Tigrinya used for most official purposes. Because Eritrea was an Italian colony (1890-1940), Italian is widely understood and spoken. In addition, people understand – and some still speak – Amharic (Amarinya), the official language of Ethiopia. English, however, won't get you far.

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Eat

Eritrean cuisine in the highlands (around Asmara) consists largely of spicy dishes and is very similar to Ethiopian food. The staple is a flat, spongy crepe or bread called injera, made from a batter of fermented grains. Spicy stews with meat and vegetables are served on top of it and eaten with the hands. This cuisine is generally found in many restaurants in the country.

Middle Eastern dishes such as shahan-ful (bean stew) served with pitas are also readily available everywhere but more commonly eaten for breakfast or brunch in modest establishments.

Lowland cuisine is not readily available in many restaurants, but in the old town (outermost island) of Massawa, adjacent to the freeport area, there are some simple restaurants that serve cuisine typical to the Red Sea area such as grilled spicy fish and "khobzen" (pitas drenched in goats butter and honey).

Owing to its colonial history, Italian food is abundant, albeit not too varied all across Eritrea. You will always find a restaurant that serves good pasta, lasagna, steak, grilled fish, etc.

In Asmara, there are also several Chinese restaurants, a Sudanese restaurant, and an Indian restaurant (Rooftop).

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Sleep

There are hotels at all prices and standard ranges in Asmara, from the modest ones for 200 Nakfa ($30 per night) to the overpriced Intercontinental Hotel Asmara, the only international hotel present in the country at the moment, (a little over $150 per night). Some hotels have one price for foreigners and another for locals. In most smaller towns, the lodging is quite modest and priced accordingly. The only expensive hotels outside of Asmara would be the two hotels on the sea in Massawa, neither of which exceeds $65 per night as of 2007. Modest in Eritrean terms usually means shared bathroom with several other guests, no room-service, a common room TV, no air-conditioning and no change of sheets or cleaning throughout occupancy unless asked for (and then you might be charged extra just as if you had your clothes washed and ironed, which is also readily available for an additional price). The middle-range hotels will have all these missing amenities (private bathroom, TV, air-conditioning, etc.) but no room-service nor inclusive laundering of sheets or clothes during occupancy. Restaurants and/or cafes are available at most mid-range hotels are regular hangout places for non-guests. In a hot place like Massawa, it is very highly recommended to stay at least at a middle-range hotel where air-conditioning is available. The only hotel that accepts credit cards in Eritrea is the Intercontinental (for a fee) and it is also the only hotel in the entire country with a swimming pool (both indoor and outdoor), gym and other common amenities in a modern standard hotel. Most, if not all, hotels beyond the towns of Asmara, Massawa, Keren and Assab are of the modest category. There are reported to be mid-range hotels in Nakfa, Barentu and Tessenei as well as resorts in Gel'alo and Dahlak (on the South coast and east of Massawa, respectively).

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Drink

The most common beverage in Eritrea by far is beer. There is only one (state-owned) brand in the country so there is not much choice, but it is quite good. Beer is consumed cold in Eritrea. Beer's popularity is closely followed by various soft drinks, and the most common flavours are as elsewhere in the world: orange, lemon/lime and cola, produced by one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The same company that holds the beer monopoly also holds the monopoly on producing the local form of Sambouca, colloquially called "Araqi", as well as Vermouth and other spirits.

Traditionally Eritreans also drink the local form of mead called "suwa", which consists of old bread fermented in water with honey, as well as a sweet honeywine called "mies".

Tap water should not be drunk by foreigners. There is plenty of relatively cheap bottled mineral water, both carbonated and non-carbonated in Eritrea.

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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 disease) 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 °C) 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

Eritrea's country code is 291.

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Quick Facts

Eritrea flag

Map of Eritrea

[edit]

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

Contributors

as well as Lavafalls (7%), Peter (5%), hasbeen (1%)

Eritrea Travel Helpers

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Accommodation in Eritrea

Use our map of places to stay in Eritrea to explore your accommodation options and to compare prices across the country at a glance. To narrow the results down by budget category, use the links below.

This is version 30. Last edited at 6:55 on May 7, 19 by Utrecht. 15 articles link to this page.

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