Destination in brief
Eritrea is located in the northern part of East Africa, in the Horn of Africa. Neighbors: Sudan (north, west), Ethiopia, Djibouti (south). The country’s eastern parts have an extensive coastline along the Red Sea.
Eritrea was an Italian colony until 1941, and thereafter part of Ethiopia, until the country gained its independence in 1993.
Size: 117,598 km² (45,405 mi²) - Eritrea has about 350 islands in the Red Sea.
Capital city: Asmara (pop. 514,000) – Asmara is often nicknamed “Italy’s African City” or the “New Rome” because of the Italian architectural look of its older buildings. After seizing power in Italy in 1922, Mussolini was determined to make Asmara a “Piccola Roma” (Little Rome) and ordered his architects to build monumental, Italian-style buildings in the city.
Population: around 5 million (2020) – Eritrea is not an Arab country – 55% Tigrinya, 30% Tigre (mostly Muslim)
Many women are a mixture of Italian and Eritrean. The term used locally for them is “Kaffelatta”, which probably stems from the Italian for “coffee with milk”, which sort of describes their skin color.
The average age is 19 years old.
Eritrean society is highly social and deeply integrated. There is so much openness among friends and relatives that everyone is considered to be part of the home. This means that people visit each other often and without much fuss, are always welcome and fed with whatever is available.
Language: There is no official language, but so-called working languages: Tigrinya, Arabic and English. Amhara, Afart and Kunama are also widely spoken.
Religion: 50% Muslim (mostly Sunni), 50% Christian (Catholic, Eritrean Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran)
Although the authorities often crack down on Christian activists, the coexistence of the two main religions is very peaceful.
Political system: a one-party, authoritarian, totalitarian presidential system
Practically all media are state-controlled and thoroughly censored. Foreign journalists are not welcome.
69% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Currency: Nakfa (ERN)
Average net monthly salary: 200 USD (2020) – but the minimum wage is 24 USD/month only
Most common surname: Ali
Eritrea is a very peaceful, safe tourist destination, especially by African standards. It is probably the safest African country for a tourist, (if you are not trying to look too deep into the workings of the dictatorship). The very strong police and military presence in the streets certainly contributes to achieving such a low crime rate.
Some border areas with Ethiopia and Sudan are not entirely safe because of simmering tensions with these neighbors. It is promising, however, that Eritrea signed a historic peace agreement with Ethiopia in 2018.
Best time to visit: November-March or September-February if visiting the central highlands
Top tourist attractions:
Asmara, 1,500 year-old Massawa, Dahlak Marine National Park & Dahlak Islands, scuba diving in the Read Sea, Semenawi Bahri National Park (to see leopards)