Eritrea, the northwestern African country, whose name transliterates to “red” due to its location along the coast of the Red Sea, is a country loaded with historic and cultural significance, architectural brilliance, and attracts tourists from all over the world. Here’s our list of 10 major attractions of Eritrea.
The city of Asmara is the capital of Eritrea. Although no language has been declared as the official language of Eritrea, Arabic and Tigrinya are commonly used especially for work purposes. English and even Italian are widely spoken and understood by the people, along with a number of dialects of African languages of the different inhabitants.
The locally used currency is Eritrean nakfa (ERN).
The Eritreans gained their independence from the Ethiopians in 1991, on May 24 which is celebrated as Independence Day every year. Find some of the highlights of Eritrean tourism in this article.
Selected 10 Major Attractions of Eritrea
1. Asmara, the Capital of Eritrea
Asmara is better known as “Picca Roma” or “Little Rome” of Eritrea, due to the strong influence of Italian architectural designs in the buildings found here. The influence owes to the time when Eritrea was colonized by the Italy with the primary intention to make Ethiopia as their colony.
Italian architects during that time felt that the streets of Eritrea was best place to experiment their unconventional constructional designs and thus creating the ever so fascinating “Italy’s African city”- Asmara.
One the major attractions of Eritrea, is the magnificently built Cattedrale di Asmara or the Church of our Lady of the Rosary, Asmara. This architectural brilliance was built using the Lombard Romanesque style. The church has a number of awe-inspiring paintings and statues.
Another place of interest that leads to great amusement among tourists is the Fiat Tagliero building which is shaped like an airplane. The building, constructed with the intent of being a service station is a towering building with two adjacent wing-like cantilevers with no visible support holding it up.
The National Museum of Asmara is a must-visit place for tourists. It provides an insight into the history of Eritrea. The museum houses in-numerable artifacts that relate to the past of Eritrea. The museum has made it one of their top priorities to facilitate prospective excavation parties to unearth more of the Eritrean past.
The Medebar Market in Asmara is another major attraction of Eritrea. The market provides quite an interesting sight of countless open-air workshops with locals working on recycled materials to create many utilitarian items of daily use.
Asmara is famous not just for churches but for its mosques as well. The Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque of the Great Mosque of Asmara is a historical monument of great religious and cultural importance.
Some other places of interest of Eritrea are the Synagogue of Asmara, Cinema Roma which is a train-shaped cinema hall, the Tank Graveyard which holds age old wrecked military tanks, Asmara’s Opera and many more.
2. Debre Bizen Monastery
The famous Debre Bizen monastery is located atop the Mt. Bizen, nearly 2700 feet above the small village of Nefasit. The monastery contains a few houses for monks, classrooms and three churches. The monastery’s library has preserved many age-old invaluable medieval manuscripts and parchments.
It is a strict rule of the monastery that women are not allowed inside – not even female species of animals. The area usually has many baboons moving about, snatching and getting away with food supplies from the stores of the houses.
The monastery, built in the 14th century has witnessed many battles and changes in reign.
One of the major attractions of Eritrea is Massawa while in Massawa a prime destination is the Imperial Palace of Massawa, built by Osdemir Pasha, a Turkish ruler of the 16th century. The gates to this palace are seldom locked and visitors may wander about the palace and grounds soaking in the magnificence of the monument. The palace was subject to destruction during the war for Independence.
Another tourist attraction here is the Eritrean Railway that has a single route – between Asmara and Massawa. Despite having been built in the 19th century and being subjected to war damages and restoration, the equipment used by the railways is still of vintage quality.
The city of Massawa, popularly known as the “Pearl of the Red Sea”, has a number of beautiful religious monuments such as the St. Marium Cathedral and the Shaafi Mosque.
Massawa offers opportunities for many adventure water sports such as snorkeling and some beautiful sunny beaches to bask in the Eritrean sun, located in the nearby Sheikh Saeed Island, also known as the Green Island.
Some other places to visit in Eritrea are the Covered Bazaars with roofs built of Turkish design, the House of Mammub Mohammed Nahari and the Memorial Plaza for Victims of the Massawa Battle.
Another major attraction of Eritrea is the ruins of Adulis located about 30 miles from Massawa. Adulis was once the port city of Eritrea bustling with trade activities. Excavations at Adulis have provided evidence of connections to the Egyptian, Roman and Greek civilizations and many important trade routes followed since the 6th century BC!
Filfil, connected to Asmara and Massawa through a highway is a beautiful town with lush green plantations and is in rich in flora and fauna. It has a cool climate compared to the other cities of Eritrea. The main inhabitants are the people of the Rashaida tribe. It exhibits a bio-diverse environment with animals such as gazelles, bushbucks, warthogs, baboons and birds such as weavers, owls, eagles and many more.
This green belt region of Eritrea, offers tourists an opportunity to go bird-watching. The Sabur Recreation Centre and the Medhanit Recreation Centre are two renowned centers that facilitate various treks, hikes and bird-watching trips in this region. They provide food and accommodation as well.
Tourists may be able to spot many different species of hornbills, eagles, canaries, owls and woodpeckers.
Fruit plantations and coffee plantations are most commonly found here. Tourists are allowed to take a tour through some of the plantations as well.
5. Matara Ruins
One of the major attractions of Eritrea, Matara is an archaeological site to visit in Eritrea that has great historic significance attached to it. It is located close to the city of Senafe. Excavations have proved that the city of Matara has been witness to the kingdoms of Aksumite and D’mt. The Aksumite rulers reigned from roughly 100 AD to 940 AD.
Majority of the kingdom was situated across the now-Ethiopia. Hence, many historical artifacts were found in the museums of Ethiopia and later shifted to the National Museum of Eritrea.
The ancient ruins of impressive temples of the Aksumite era can be visited with tour guides explaining the significance of each monument. A monument of interest here is the Hawulti, obelisk that dates back to the pre-Aksumite era.
6. Qohaito (Kohaito)
Qohaito is an ancient city of Eritrea which has been subjected to many archaeological and excavation parties. Archaeologists have found evidence of people inhabiting this region from almost as long before as 5000 BC.
There are a number of places of interest such as small dam that is the main source for water for the entire village and an ancient canyon.
Tourists can go on camel rides through the plateau region where this ancient city is located. There are many caves here that were once upon a time inhabited by the people in the region. These caves are filled with stunning paintings and awe-inspiring rock art.
This plateau is located near the edge of the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia. The view from the top of the plateau is simply mesmerizing and worth the long trip!
The ruins of Qohaito prove that centuries back, the city was very beautiful with its impressive buildings.
Keren, previously known as Sanhit is a popular African destination, located about 57 miles from the capital city, Asmara. Keren is a picturesque city, located in the heart of lofty mountains. The view of sunrise and sunset from the hidden city is simply stunning. The sun rises in the east from the midst of the huge mountains and sets in the west over the mountains on the other side.
Keren is also famous for its markets. One of the major tourist attractions is the Camel Market where buyers and sellers from all over the country come for sale. There are also a number of weekly markets that sell household goods of daily use.
There are also a number of African pensions that provide food and accommodation to tourists at reasonable rates.
Another place of interest is the village of Halib Mentel, inhabited by the people of the Bilen tribe. The neighborhood has a culture and architectural style of its own
Some other famous places to visit in Eritrea are the Tigu Egyptian Fort that dates back to the 19th century, Debre Sina monastery, the Sayed Bakri Mausoleum (museum).
A place of religious significance is the St. Mary’s Chapel, which is a church, devoted to Mother Mary, located within a baobab tree, a species of tree common in Africa. The chapel is crowded with devotees and tourists alike.
Some of the famous war cemeteries here are the British Army cemetery and the Keren War cemetery which are the resting places of many brave soldiers who laid their lives during battles.
8. Denakil Depression
The Danakil Depression, one of the hottest and lowest lands on Earth, is a famous African destination. The Denakil desert is a part of the Denakil Depression. It is an arid region and records very less rain throughout the year.
Geologically, the depression is said to have been formed as a result of the rifting of tectonic plates in the region constituting the Horn of Africa.
The depression has a number of hot yellow springs that disgorge sulfuric acid. Most of the depression is located in Ethiopia, yet the portion that spreads to Eritrea makes it one of the major attractions of Eritrea.
Tourists can book tours before-hand to visit the Denakil Depression, one of the most geologically active regions in the world.
9. Dahlak Islands
The Dahlak Archipelago is a group of islands – small and large – that are located in the Red Sea. These islands offer many water sports such as diving, snorkeling, fishing trips and so on. Scuba-divers have an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful world under the sea, with an assortment of colorful coral reefs, as well as dolphins to accompany them.
Out of the many islands that form the Dahlak Archipelago, the island of Dahlak Kebir is the largest and accounts for the largest population recorded.
The coasts of the islands exhibit a number of marine and bird species. The islands are also home to a number of mangrove species. The islands can be easily reached from the city of Massawa by private boats.
Most tourists claim that a trip to the Dahlak Islands is a must and we know that it deserves to be in the list of 10 major attractions of Eritrea.
10. Gulf of Zula
The Gulf of Zula, also known as Annesley Bay is a coastal body of water that connects to the larger Red Sea. The Gulf of Zula is a major attraction of Eritrea and attracts tourists visiting Eritrea due to its scenic beauty. There are a number of natural springs found in the region. The area was once well-irrigated and hence was able to grow good agricultural produce. However, currently the land is dry and not suitable for cultivation purposes. It has also been a site of great archaeological interest.
With its water springs, smooth, jet-black rocks found all around and the distant hills, the Gulf of Zula which is said to be the origin of the Great Rift Valley is a place where one can simply soak in the magnificence of Mother Nature.
These are just a few of the major attractions of Eritrea! Eritrea is a country rich with cultural heritage, historical significance and scenic beauty.
Have a happy trip to Eritrea!
Author: E Jey
Just a passionate traveler who loves scribbling his expeditions @ www.jauntmonkey.com, www.outonroads.com, and www.blogthatall.com