Massawa

Travel Guide Africa Eritrea Massawa

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Introduction

Massawa is a city on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea located at the northern end of the Gulf of Zula beside the Dahlak Archipelago. An important port for many centuries, it was ruled by a succession of polities, including the Axumite Empire, Medri Bahri Kingdom, the Umayyad Caliphate, various Beja sultanates, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Italy, Britain, and Ethiopia, until Eritrea's independence in 1991. Massawa was the capital of the Italian Colony of Eritrea until this was moved to Asmara in 1897.

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Sights and Activities

Notable buildings in the city include the shrine of Sahaba, as well as the 15th century Sheikh Hanafi Mosque and various houses of coral. Many Ottoman buildings survive, such as the local bazaar. Later buildings include the Imperial Palace, built in 1872 to 1874 for Werner Munzinger; St. Mary's Cathedral; and the 1920s Banco d'Italia. The Eritrean War of Independence is commemorated in a memorial of three tanks in the middle of Massawa.

You can hire a local boat to take you to Green Island for just a few dollars (or Nakfa). Prices are cheaper if booked direct rather than through a hotel. The small island has nice beaches inhabited by a large amount of Hermit Crabs. There is also the ruins of what appears to be a fortification from the Ottoman Empire. Snorkeling is highly recommended from this small island.

The Massawa Museum is small, but an excellent museum. Outside are several boats used during the sea-borne assault on Massawa and the Palace of Emperor Haille Selasie (the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974). The Second Battle of Massawa (aka. Operation Fenkil) occurred between February 8–10, 1990. The Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) were successful in taking Massawa and ultimately obtaining independence from Ethiopia. The museum also hosts exhibits of pre-war history and the flora and fauna of the area.

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Weather

Massawa has a hot desert climate. The city receives a very low average annual rainfall amount with around 190 mm and consistently experiences soaringly high temperatures both during the day and during the night. The annual mean average temperature approaches 30 °C and is one of the highest found in the world. Massawa is noted for its very high summer humidity despite being a desert city. The combination of the desert heat and high humidity makes the apparent temperatures seem even more extreme. The sky is usually clear and bright throughout the year.

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Getting There

By Plane

Massawa International Airport (MSW IATA) is a newly built airport that has a greater capacity than Asmara, the capital. It is the hub of Nasair (local airline), the only airline to use the airport as of March 2011. Nasair has regular international flights from Massawa to Dubai, Doha, Khartoum, Jeddah and Nairobi. All other international flights to Eritrea (Lufthansa from Frankfurt, Egyptair from Cairo and Yemenia from Sanaa) land in Asmara's older and smaller airport. Nasair has domestic flights to Asmara from Massawa.

By Car

Massawa is accessible from Asmara and the rest of inland Eritrea via the Asmara-Massawa highway.

Massawa road itself is an exotic experience where you ‘pass through three different climates’. You start from Asmara with three layers of jackets and remove two of them in Nefasit and Ginda and finally walk around in your T-shirt when you finally reach the port city of Massawa on the red sea. The climate of Massawa rises up to 45 degrees whereas in Nakfa it tends to go below zero degrees at least in the month of January.

By Bus

Buses run many times daily (before dusk) between Asmara and Massawa. Minibuses also run as soon as they are full (which takes very little time) between the Asmara bus station and Massawa. Regional buses run from the Massawa bus station and around the area a couple of times a week. But other than the long coastal two-day voyage to the other port city of Assab and to the inland via Asmara, there is not much to see beyond Massawa within the region.

By Boat

Massawa also connects to Asmara by narrow gauge rail, but it is not open to any regular service as it is more or less a museum railway with trains running on a steam engine and only open to chartered tours.

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Getting Around

Massawa is divided by the mainland neighbourhoods of Gurgusum Beach, Hitumlo, Amaterre and Salinas, the island neighbourhoods of Tualud and oldtown Massawa as well as the Abdelkadir peninsula. The only interesting areas of the city for tourists are the two islands (Tualud and Oldtown) connected to each other and the mainland by causeways, and Gurgusum Beach which lies about 14 km north of the city towards the airport. The two islands are walkable, but to Gurgusum beach one needs to take a taxi/car.

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Eat

You obviously have to eat Red Sea fish while in Massawa. The best place to do that is either at the Dahlak Hotel (somewhat pricy but well worth it) or at the rustic streetside restaurant in oldtown Massawa (there is only one) where the day's catch is grilled Yemeni style in a fired up clay-oven and served along with little limes and a side order of thin flat-bread and dates soaked in butter and honey.

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Sleep

Downtown Massawa has a few airconditioned and moderately priced hotels on Tualud Island (none with beaches):

Corallo
Central Hotel
Dahlak Hotel.
Red Sea Hotel.

Gurgusum Beach, on the mainland of course has the GB Hotel as well as the adjacent Hamassien Hotel, both airconditioned and on the beach, but the former offering more facilities.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Massawa Travel Helpers

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This is version 5. Last edited at 14:07 on Apr 6, 21 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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