Eritrea Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Eritrea, a hidden gem in the Horn of Africa, is a nation of diverse landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality. Nestled along the Red Sea, this unique travel destination offers tourists a chance to explore ancient ruins, vibrant markets, and stunning coastal towns. Experience the allure of Eritrea’s cultural tapestry and untouched natural beauty.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Eritrea as a tourist is during the dry season, which typically falls between the months of October to April. This period offers the most comfortable and pleasant weather for traveling and exploring the country. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect during different seasons:

  1. Dry Season (October to April):
    • This is the most popular time for tourists to visit Eritrea due to the pleasant weather and lower rainfall.
    • Temperatures are moderate, making it comfortable for sightseeing and outdoor activities.
    • Coastal areas, such as Massawa and the Dahlak Islands, are particularly attractive during this season for beach and water activities.
  2. Hot Season (May to September):
    • The hot season in Eritrea coincides with the wet season, with sporadic heavy rainfall, especially in July and August.
    • Daytime temperatures can be scorching, making outdoor activities less comfortable.
    • This is not the ideal time for sightseeing, but it may be suitable for travelers interested in lower prices and fewer crowds.

While the dry season is the most popular time to visit Eritrea, it’s important to plan your trip well in advance, as accommodations can fill up quickly, especially in popular tourist destinations. To avoid disappointment, check the local weather forecast and consider your interests when choosing the best time to explore this unique and historically rich East African nation.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Eritrea as a tourist can be a bit challenging compared to some other travel destinations, as the country’s infrastructure and transportation options are limited. However, with some planning and flexibility, you can explore this fascinating nation. Here are the primary ways to get around Eritrea:

  1. Domestic Flights: Eritrea has a few domestic airports, and if you need to cover long distances quickly, especially between major cities like Asmara and Massawa, you can take a domestic flight. The national carrier, Eritrean Airlines, operates flights between key cities.
  2. Buses: Buses are the most common mode of public transportation within Eritrea. The buses, often old and crowded, connect various towns and cities. Keep in mind that schedules may not be reliable, and buses may not be as frequent as in other countries.
  3. Shared Taxis: Shared taxis are a popular way to get around Eritrea, especially for short distances. You can find shared taxis at taxi stations or stands. These taxis follow set routes, and you’ll share the ride with other passengers.
  4. Rental Cars: Renting a car is an option, but it can be relatively expensive and comes with certain requirements. You’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a local Eritrean driver to accompany you. Road conditions vary, so driving can be challenging, especially in rural areas.
  5. Walking: In cities like Asmara and Massawa, exploring on foot is a viable option, especially within the city centers. Walking allows you to soak in the local atmosphere and discover hidden gems.
  6. Bicycles: In some areas, you may find bicycle rentals, which can be an eco-friendly and leisurely way to explore the surroundings.
  7. Hitchhiking: While not as common as in some other countries, hitchhiking is possible in Eritrea. However, it’s essential to exercise caution and be patient, as it may take some time to get a ride.
  8. Boats: If you plan to visit the Dahlak Islands, boat transportation is the primary means of reaching these beautiful island destinations.

Traveling within Eritrea may require a degree of patience and adaptability, as the country’s transportation infrastructure is not as developed as in some other tourist destinations. Additionally, it’s essential to check the latest travel advisories and be aware of any local regulations, as conditions and policies can change. Be sure to plan your transportation in advance and consult with local authorities for the latest information to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey in this unique African nation.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of Eritrea are Tigrinya, Arabic, and English. Here are some basic words and phrases in Tigrinya and Arabic, which can be helpful for tourists:

In Tigrinya:

  1. Selam – Hello
  2. Iy’cna khulka? – How are you?
  3. Dehna nehka – I’m fine
  4. Tifelh – Please
  5. Amasegenallo – Thank you
  6. Lbey – Yes
  7. Aye – No
  8. Selamna – Goodbye
  9. Ferehy – Excuse me
  10. Cheney? – Where?
  11. Egzyeyo? – How much?
  12. Ozilley? – When?
  13. Nay baleku? – How is your family?
  14. Soka lideley – Delicious
  15. Nay arat? – What’s your name?

In Arabic:

  1. Salam – Hello
  2. Kifak? – How are you?
  3. Tayyib – I’m fine
  4. Min fadlik – Please
  5. Shukran – Thank you
  6. Naam – Yes
  7. La – No
  8. Ma’a salama – Goodbye
  9. Afwan – Excuse me
  10. Ayna… – Where is…
  11. Kam howa thamanu? – How much is it?
  12. Mata? – When?
  13. Kif hal ahlak? – How is your family?
  14. Tayyib – Delicious
  15. Ismak maa? – What’s your name?

While English is also widely spoken, especially in urban areas and among the younger generation, making an effort to use a few words in the local languages can enhance your travel experience and show respect for the local culture. Locals in Eritrea will likely appreciate your attempts to communicate in Tigrinya or Arabic.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Eritrea offers a limited but diverse range of accommodation options for tourists. The best place to stay depends on your interests and the areas you plan to visit. Here are some of the types of accommodations you can consider in Eritrea:

  1. Hotels: Eritrea has several hotels, especially in the capital city, Asmara. You can find a mix of budget, mid-range, and luxury hotels that cater to a range of budgets and preferences. Some of the well-known hotels include the Asmara Palace Hotel, Crystal Hotel, and Sunshine Hotel.
  2. Guesthouses: In smaller towns and more remote areas, guesthouses are a common form of accommodation. These are often family-run and provide a more local and intimate experience. It’s advisable to book guesthouses in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
  3. Resorts: Along the Red Sea coast, particularly in towns like Massawa and Dahlak Islands, you can find resorts that offer beachfront accommodations. These resorts are ideal for travelers seeking a more relaxed and coastal experience.
  4. Hostels: Hostels are not as prevalent in Eritrea as in some other countries, but there are a few in Asmara and other cities. They offer budget-friendly options for solo travelers and backpackers.
  5. Rental Apartments: In some urban areas, you can rent apartments for short-term stays. This can be a good option for travelers who prefer a more self-catering approach.
  6. Campsites: For the adventurous traveler, camping is possible in some areas of Eritrea, such as in the Gash-Barka and Debub regions. Be sure to obtain any necessary permits and check local regulations.

It’s important to book your accommodations in advance, especially if you plan to visit during the peak tourist season. Eritrea’s tourism infrastructure is not as extensive as in some other countries, so planning your stay well can help ensure a comfortable and enjoyable trip. Additionally, be prepared for varying levels of amenities and services, as some areas may have limited facilities.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Eritrean cuisine offers a rich and flavorful array of dishes influenced by its unique culture and geography. When visiting Eritrea as a tourist, be sure to try these must-try foods:

  1. Injera: Injera is a spongy, sourdough flatbread that serves as the staple food in Eritrea. It’s typically used as a base for various stews and side dishes. Tear off a piece of injera and use it to scoop up the flavorful stews.
  2. Zigni (Sega Wat): Zigni is a spicy stew made with beef or lamb and seasoned with berbere, a chili and spice blend. It’s a popular and flavorful Eritrean dish often served with injera.
  3. Tsebhi: Tsebhi is a rich and hearty stew made with various meats, vegetables, and legumes. It’s a comforting dish often enjoyed with injera.
  4. Shiro: Shiro is a popular and flavorful vegetarian stew made from ground chickpeas or lentils. It’s typically served with injera and can be found in many Eritrean households.
  5. Firfir: Firfir is a spicy and tangy dish made with leftover injera that’s soaked in a flavorful sauce. It can include ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and spices.
  6. Bilen (Gored Gored): Bilen is a raw meat dish, usually beef, that’s cut into small pieces and mixed with spiced butter and herbs. It’s a delicacy often served on special occasions.
  7. Alicha: Alicha is a mild stew made with vegetables and legumes, typically served with injera. It provides a contrast to the spicier Eritrean dishes.
  8. Tihlo: Tihlo is a unique Eritrean dish made with small, bite-sized pieces of injera served with a spicy sauce. It’s often enjoyed as a snack or light meal.
  9. Himbasha: Himbasha is a sweet bread traditionally baked for special occasions, often flavored with spices like cardamom and cloves.
  10. Café Sini: Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy Eritrean coffee, which is typically served in small cups and accompanied by traditional coffee-making ceremonies.
  11. Tej: Tej is a honey wine that is sweet, strong, and popular in Eritrea. It’s often enjoyed in social gatherings.
  12. Fruits: Eritrea offers a variety of delicious, locally grown fruits, such as mangoes, papayas, and bananas, which are available in abundance in markets and street stalls.

Eating Eritrean cuisine is not just about tasting delicious food; it’s also an opportunity to experience the country’s unique culture and traditions. Be open to trying these dishes, and don’t hesitate to ask locals for recommendations or to explain the flavors of the dishes you’re trying.

What to See? 🔍

Eritrea offers a unique blend of natural beauty, historical sites, and vibrant culture. As a tourist, here are some must-see places and attractions in Eritrea:

  1. Asmara: The capital city is a treasure trove of Italian colonial architecture, earning it a UNESCO World Heritage site designation. Stroll through the Art Deco streets, visit the Central Post Office, and enjoy the vibrant cafe culture.
  2. Massawa: This picturesque coastal city is known for its Ottoman-style architecture and beautiful beaches. Explore the Old Town with its narrow streets and historic buildings. Don’t miss the nearby Dahlak Islands for snorkeling and diving.
  3. Keren: Known as the “City of Sunshine,” Keren offers a bustling market, cultural diversity, and the famous Fiat Tagliero Building, an iconic architectural wonder.
  4. Dahlak Islands: Accessible by boat from Massawa, the Dahlak Islands are a paradise for divers and snorkelers, with pristine coral reefs and abundant marine life.
  5. Nakfa: Visit this mountain town that played a significant role in Eritrea’s liberation struggle. The Nakfa Museum and underground Nakfa Caves are important historical sites.
  6. Adulis: Explore the ruins of the ancient city of Adulis, a key trading port in antiquity. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site with archaeological remains.
  7. Qohaito: Qohaito is another archaeological site known for its well-preserved ancient ruins, including monolithic obelisks, rock art, and tombs.
  8. Debre Bizen Monastery: Nestled in the mountains, this 15th-century monastery offers breathtaking views and a glimpse into Eritrea’s religious heritage.
  9. Dankalia (Afar Triangle): Journey to the stark and otherworldly landscapes of Dankalia, known for its salt flats, lava fields, and the fascinating active volcano of Erta Ale.
  10. Filfil National Park: This park offers a lush contrast to the arid regions of Eritrea, with hiking trails, waterfalls, and abundant wildlife.
  11. Red Sea Coast: The Red Sea coast, with its pristine beaches and coral reefs, offers opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and water sports.
  12. Eritrean Railway: Take a ride on the historic Eritrean Railway, which winds through scenic landscapes and provides a unique travel experience.
  13. National Museum of Eritrea: Located in Asmara, this museum showcases the rich cultural heritage and history of Eritrea, including artifacts and archaeological finds.
  14. Harat Market: Immerse yourself in local life by visiting the bustling markets, like Harat Market in Asmara, to experience Eritrea’s vibrant culture.

These must-see places in Eritrea offer a diverse range of experiences, from exploring history and culture to enjoying stunning natural landscapes. Remember to check local conditions and travel advisories, and respect any regulations or guidelines in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

What to Do? 📸

Eritrea offers a range of unique and culturally rich experiences for tourists. Here are some must-do activities and things to explore when visiting Eritrea:

  1. Explore Asmara’s Architecture: Wander through the capital city’s streets and admire the well-preserved Italian colonial architecture. Visit iconic buildings like the Central Post Office and the Fiat Tagliero Building.
  2. Coffee Ceremony: Join in on an Eritrean coffee ceremony, a social and cultural tradition. It’s an opportunity to savor the country’s aromatic coffee and experience local hospitality.
  3. Cycling in Asmara: Rent a bicycle and explore the city of Asmara on two wheels. The hilly terrain and scenic streets make for an enjoyable ride.
  4. Visit Local Markets: Immerse yourself in the local culture by visiting bustling markets like the Harat Market in Asmara. Shop for traditional crafts, spices, and fresh produce.
  5. Attend Cultural Events: Check if there are cultural events, festivals, or celebrations happening during your visit. Eritrea has a rich cultural calendar with music, dance, and traditional ceremonies.
  6. Hiking and Trekking: Eritrea’s diverse landscapes offer excellent hiking and trekking opportunities. Explore the highland regions and national parks, such as Filfil, and discover lush forests, waterfalls, and wildlife.
  7. Snorkeling and Diving: Enjoy the Red Sea’s crystal-clear waters and explore its rich marine life. The Dahlak Islands and the Eritrean coast offer excellent snorkeling and diving sites.
  8. Visit Historical Sites: Explore the historical sites, such as the ancient city of Adulis, the monolithic obelisks of Qohaito, and the Nakfa Caves, which played a significant role in the country’s liberation struggle.
  9. Experience the Eritrean Railway: Take a ride on the historic Eritrean Railway, often called the “Lungo Mare,” for a scenic journey through beautiful landscapes.
  10. Relax on the Red Sea Coast: Enjoy the tranquil beaches of Massawa, swim in the Red Sea, and unwind in a coastal town with a rich history.
  11. Taste Eritrean Cuisine: Savor traditional Eritrean dishes such as injera with various stews, zigni, and shiro. Don’t forget to try the local honey wine, tej.
  12. Learn about the Liberation Struggle: Visit museums and historical sites that provide insights into Eritrea’s long and challenging path to independence.
  13. Discover Dankalia (Afar Triangle): Explore the unique landscapes of Dankalia, where you can see salt flats, lava fields, and the active Erta Ale volcano.
  14. Enjoy the Nightlife: Experience the vibrant nightlife in Asmara, with cafes, bars, and restaurants offering live music and entertainment.
  15. Engage with Locals: Eritreans are known for their warm hospitality. Engage with locals, learn about their customs and traditions, and make new friends along the way.

Remember to check for any travel advisories and local regulations before engaging in activities and ensure that you respect local customs and traditions during your visit to Eritrea.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs: Eritrea has a diverse cultural heritage, with numerous ethnic groups and languages. Respect the customs and traditions of the local people, and be open to learning about their way of life.
  2. Greeting and Interaction: Eritreans are generally friendly and hospitable. When greeting someone, a simple handshake is common, and it’s polite to inquire about their well-being. Addressing people with respect, such as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” is appreciated.
  3. Dress Modestly: Eritrea is a conservative society, so dress modestly, especially in rural areas and outside the major cities. It’s advisable to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting religious sites.
  4. Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially in rural areas. Some people may prefer not to be photographed. When visiting military or sensitive areas, refrain from taking photos.
  5. Language: While English is widely spoken, making an effort to learn a few words and phrases in Tigrinya or Arabic, the local languages, can enhance your experience and show respect for the culture.

Safety:

  1. Overall Safety: Eritrea is generally considered a safe destination for tourists. The crime rate is low, and violent crime is rare. However, exercise common-sense precautions, such as safeguarding your belongings in crowded places.
  2. Healthcare: Eritrea has a basic healthcare system. It’s advisable to have travel insurance to cover any unexpected medical needs. Ensure that you have any necessary vaccinations before your trip.
  3. Travel Permits: Some areas in Eritrea, especially near the borders, may require special permits to visit. Check local regulations and obtain the necessary permits before traveling to restricted areas.
  4. Currency: The local currency is the Eritrean nakfa (ERN). Cash is widely used, and credit card acceptance is limited. Carry enough cash for your needs.
  5. Local Regulations: Comply with local laws and regulations. Eritrea has strict regulations, and violations can lead to legal issues. For instance, photographing military personnel or installations is prohibited.
  6. Communication: Internet access is limited in Eritrea, and social media platforms are often blocked. Be prepared for limited connectivity.
  7. Local Advice: Consult with locals or tour guides for advice on safe areas, current conditions, and any travel restrictions.
  8. Travel Advisories: Check for the latest travel advisories and register with your embassy or consulate if required.
  9. Wildlife and Nature: When exploring national parks and natural areas, be cautious around wildlife and follow park regulations for your safety and the environment’s preservation.
  10. Driving: If you plan to drive, be cautious on the roads, especially in rural areas. Roads can be narrow, and road conditions may vary.

By being respectful of the local culture and adhering to safety guidelines, you can have a safe and culturally enriching experience while exploring the unique and diverse nation of Eritrea.

Conclusion

For tourists, Eritrea promises an unforgettable journey through time, from ancient archaeological wonders to bustling modern cities. As you bid adieu to this enchanting land, you’ll leave with treasured memories of Eritrea’s captivating heritage and pristine landscapes. Visit Eritrea, where history meets hospitality, creating a truly remarkable traveler’s tale.