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After landing in Asmara, it’s worth visiting the tourism office the next day (opposite the cathedral), where you can get all the latest tourist information. This is where you have to go to request a travel permit, and processing this request will take at least one day.

To visit the monasteries you also have to request official permission, but you can do this in the Tewahdo Church Office, in the Tiravolo district.

Public safety is excellent, and tourists can walk the streets of Asmara or Massawa without fear, even at night. Indeed, locals seem more inclined to look after tourists than to bother them.

The capital, Asmara, has a particularly exciting atmosphere, which is largely down to the old Italian architecture, the wide central boulevards and orderly traffic and street network. The large cathedral built during the colonial period dominates the downtown area. The market area, with its continual buzz and energy, is also unmissable.

Eritrea also possesses 350 offshore islands, around 209 of which belong to the Dahlak archipelago. Most of these islands are barren, uninhabited deserts, and visitors are drawn to them chiefly for the surrounding seas. The underwater life around these islands is spectacular, and the few visitors lucky enough to see it are guaranteed an unforgettable experience. It’s particularly well suited for snorkeling.

Massawa’s location makes it entirely different in appearance, compared to Asmara. The Arab atmosphere and architecture are down to the close links the city has to the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, but it also bears the traces of the many invaders who have passed through over the years.

Some of the Orthodox Christian monasteries in Eritrea can trace their origins back to the 4th century AD, but there are also some which were built in the 16th-17th centuries. There are 18 monasteries in total, and all are built high on mountaintops, so they can only be reached with much grueling exertion – this was partly to protect them against the attacks of the infamous Muslim leader Mohammed Gragn, and his anti-Christian attacks.” (2016)


Practicals

Transport

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Eritrea - Asmara - taxis

Eritrea - train

Food


Shopping

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Eritra - Asmara - market - Viktor Ohotin' s photo

Eritrea - Asmara - locally produced booze - k.a. photo

Public safety

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Eritrea - military - f.e. photo

Background

Eritrea - national flag

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

Safety:
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)

Geography

“Despite Eritrea’s relatively small size, it is blessed with rich and abundant nature, and with many topographical and climatic variations. These offer the traveler a range of options between the arid seashore and the green highlands. In general we can divide this small country into three markedly different geographical and climatic units: the eastern and coastal plains, the central highlands, and the western lowlands. Each of these landscapes offers its own unique physical and cultural characteristics.

Eritrea - Adi Aluati canyon - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Landscape on the way to Cohaito - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Giant sycamore tree - k.a. photo

History

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Eritrea - Many cinemas are reminiscent of the colonial presence of Italians (1882-1941) -a.p. photo

Eritrea - Asmara - Fiat Tagliero, Art Deco building, former Shell service station, now a historc monument - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara - scrap-ground of Soviet military equipment - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara - scrap-ground of Soviet tanks and other military equipment - k.a. photo

Nowadays

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Eritrea - Asmara -Harnet Avenue - k.a. photo

Eritrea - alley - a.t. photo

Eritrea - street scene

Eritrea - shacks on the way to Keren - k.a. photo

People

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Eritrea - locals - b.m. photo

Eritrea - woman - c.s. photo

Eritrea - men - s.v. photo

Eritrea - Asmara -k.a. photo

Eritrea - elder woman in the town of Mendefera - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara -k.a. photo

Gastronomy

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Eritrea - fata, a popular local dish - a.t. photo

Attractions

Asmara

Population (in 2020): 963,000

Eritrea - Asmara - city center with the tower of the Cathedral Our Lady of the Rosary - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Eritrea - Asmara - St. Joseph's Cathedral - a.p. photo

Eritrea - Asmara - main square with the The Great Mosque of Asmara (Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque) - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Asmara - the Italian colonial Cinema Impero - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Eritrea - Asmara -k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara - synagoge (Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Eritrea) - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Massawa (or Mitsiwa)

A port city in a disintegrating condition.



Eritrea - Massawa - historic building in the Old Town - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Massawa - ruins of the Banca d'Italia (Bank of Italy) - Viktor Ohotin's photo (2019)

Eritrea - Soviet-made Lada taxi in Massawa - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Massawa - Batse Island - old neigborhood - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Massawa - Batse Island - old neigborhood - k.a. photo

Asmara plus

Eritrea - Asmara -k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara -St Mariam Orthodox Cathedral - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara - yellow taxis - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara -Harnet Avenue - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Asmara -k.a. photo

Keren

Eritrea - Keren - the big Monday market - k.a. photo

Eritrea - Keren - women in the big Monday market - k.a. photo

Mendefera

Eritrea - the town of Mendefera - k.a. photo

Eritrea - the town of Mendefera - k.a. photo

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