Eritrea Travel Guide
Formerly annexed by Ethiopia, Eritrea new-found independence has put it back on the tourist map. The East African nation’s chances of attracting visitors with its rugged landscapes, breathtaking highlands and virtually zero crime are high, but tourists must content with undeveloped infrastructure if they want to cover this largely unexplored haven. Visit secluded monasteries, important archaeological sites and the 200 little islands in the Red Sea known as the Dahlak archipelago.
Eritrean has two to five-star hotels available for all types of travelers, but mostly hotels can only be found in the large cities, with the better hotels are in the main parts of Asmara. Only four of the Dahlak islands are inhabited, and you should expect basic lodgings here in guesthouses owned by camel and goat herders. The people are friendly and the streets are cleaner than those in many other parts of the continent.
When to Go
Hot and dry along the Red Sea coast and wetter in the central highlands.
Semiarid in the lowlands and western hills.
Heavy rainfall from June to September except in the coastal desert.
Getting There & Away
Eritrea can be reached by air, landing at the capital city of Asmara. Lufthansa flies three times a week to Asmara, while Eritrean Airlines flies to a couple of destinations in Africa and Europe, but its flight schedule often changes. The city can be explored by car, bicycle or on foot, and some towns are connected by boat. If you choose to drive in the countryside, beware of roaming goats and camels who have a tendency to walk out in front of cars when you least expect it.
Health & Safety
Bike riding accidents in Eritrea are common so always look out for pedestrians and bicycle riders. It is a safe city that can be easily explored on foot even at night, and there is little worry about crime. Altitude sickness is common in Asmara because it is almost 8,000 feet above sea level so be sure to give yourself time to acclimatize before attempting to camel race it around the city. Do not drink tap water unless you want diarrhea or worse, and make sure any bottled water you buy is sealed.
Three days in Asmara
Two days in Dahlak Archipelago
Two days in Karen
Two days in the Nefasit Monastery
Asmara: some impressive pieces of Italian colonial architecture are found here. Harnet Avenue, the main street of Asmara, is the place to start exploring. It has the best restaurants, cinemas and hotels in the country.
Karen: is the place where the famous wood and camel market can be found. Hundreds of camels are brought to the main road of the ‘Circle of Flowers’ every Monday. On other days, there are only a few camels, but plenty of donkeys and firewood.
Dahlak archipelago: along the Red Sea coast encompasses 200 little islands. A permit is needed to visit the islands, which can be secured from the Eritrean Shipping Lines office in Massawa.
Nefasit Monastery: sits atop a hill that provides awe-inspiring views of the Red Sea coast. There are narrow trails for hiking in the area.
Theater: the Opera House on Harnet avenue in Asmara is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. The National Theater of Eritrea is where to go for cultural shows and events.
Cultural immersion: in Eritrea’s religious diversity (Catholic and Muslim) is a good way to get to know this country. Visit the Great Mosque on Harnet avenue and the Catholic Cathedral, the landmark of Asmara.
Shopping: visit the Madebar open-air market in Asmara where merchants recycle everything, making shoes out of tires and stoves out of metal containers.
Dining: on seafood is a must on the main street of Massawa, which is lined with numerous stores, bars and restaurants.
Hiking: through Nefasit up to Debre Bizen is a breeze, as the trail is lined with stones to follow. You can go bird-watching and marvel at the rock hyraxes on the side. Don’t forget to buy at least two bottles of water at the trailhead of Nefasit; it’s going to be a long and hot walk up.