Situated along the Red Sea, this north eastern African country is one of the countries that make up the “Horn of Africa” (also includes Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia). Geographically, Eritrea shares land borders with Ethiopia in the south, Sudan in the west and Djibouti in the southeast and water borders with Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Our Eritrea tourism guide gives a basic idea about the country and its tourist attractions.
What does this ancient name ‘Eritrea’ mean?
The sea we know as “Red Sea” now was earlier called the Erythraean Sea, and hence it is of no surprise that the Greek form of Eritrea, “Erythraia” translates to Red Sea. However, Eritrea was given its current name only when the Italians colonized the region in 1890. Asmara is the capital city of Eritrea since the independence of Eritrea in the year 1991. Until 1991, Eritrea was the part of Ethiopia.
The ethnic diversity found in the country is closely related to that of Ethiopia, its neighboring country. Nine main ethnic groups are found here, with the largest being the Tigrinyas community.
Eritrea is one of the richest countries of Africa
It is a lesser known fact that Eritrea is one of the richest countries in Africa. It is dubbed as the trade hub of Africa. Eritrea has large reserves of natural gas, oil, gold and deposits of precious metals all over the country. From livestock to textiles, Eritrea exports a number of goods to countries such as Sudan, Britain, Egypt, China, Italy and Saudi Arabia.
What to expect as a tourist in Eritrea?
Eritrea is famous for its beautifully constructed buildings and houses. However, this has to be owed to those Italian architects who chose the empty, mundane streets of Eritrea to try out their latest experimental designs in architecture. Contemporary style buildings filled the city of Asmara. The magnificence of the modernist buildings earned it the nickname, “Piccola Roma” or “Little Rome”.
You’ll come across many unconventional buildings in this East African country. It is amusing to see train-shaped cinema halls and airplane shaped petrol stations in Asmara and around!
There are a lot many tourist attractions in the country. Without mentioning at least a few major attractions and things to do in Eritrea our Eritrea tourism guide cannot be completed.
Explore the “Little Rome” of Eritrea
If you are a person who appreciates fine architecture, then Eritrea is just the place for you. Start your trip by heading over to the “Little Rome” of Eritrea.
Visit the Catterdale di Asmara or the Cathedral of Asmara, which is a Roman Catholic Church, built in Lombard Romanesque style (the architecture of the Kingdom of Lombards in Italy). It was built by the Italians during the colonial years. It has a sky-high bell tower and can be spotted from miles away.
Another incredibly built building you should definitely visit is the Fiat Tagliero. This historic service station, built in the shape of an airplane, has very often been described as a reflection of Italian “futuristic” architecture. The building has a tall central tower with two cantilevered wings on either side. The building is nearly 75 years old.
If you want to get an insight into the Italian colonial years of Eritrea, then you should definitely pay a visit to the Cimitero Italiano Di Asmara, which is the resting place for many Italian war soldiers. The tombstones have been remarkably made in perfection. It is open to public from Monday to Friday between 6 am and 6 pm.
During the evening, if you want to go for a quiet stroll, then head over to the Liberation Avenue. This street has many elegant buildings and restaurants for fine dining.
Check out the Asmara’s Opera House on the Beleza Street in Asmara. The building has been magnificently structured combining the two styles – Romanesque Revival and Neoclassicism. The roof of the opera house is covered with splendid paintings.
One of the major tourist attractions is the Central Market of Asmara, famous for its spices and souvenirs. The locals sell home-grown produce and other artisan goods. Be sure to visit on an early Saturday morning. Afternoons tend to become extremely crowded.
Another famous market is the Medebar Market where you’ll find countless workshops where locals work on mostly recycled metals. It is quite a fascinating sight.
If time permits, visit the Synagogue of Asmara that consists of a Jewish cemetery and a sanctuary.
Another place of interest is the Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque in Asmara. If you want to know more about the history of Eritrea, visit the National Museum of Asmara as well.
Go for a desert safari through the Denakil desert
Take a break from the city and go on a desert safari or camel trek to the Denakil Desert. During the safari, visit the Wongobo Crater where you are likely to spot gazelles and ostriches. Adjacent to the Wongobo Crater is Buya, a well-known archaeological site where fossils of elephants, rhinos and some extinct species were found.
Stop by the Gurgusum beach and go swimming!
Visit the City of Islands
Massawa, known as the “City of Islands” and “Pearl of the Red Sea” is another major tourist destination. It is one of the most important port cities of Eritrea. You can sense a Turkish influence in the architectural designs of their buildings.
The city is mostly inhabited by the people of the Rashaida tribe.
Some other tourist attractions here are the Tank Graveyard which is filled with used cars, trucks and many war vehicles, the Former Imperial Palace in Massawa and the ancient city of Qohaito which is located on a high plateau.
Try a plate of Injera and sip on some Mes
The Eritrean cuisine is simplistic. The staple diet of the locals is the tsebhi, which is a type of stew made from mutton, beef, chicken or vegetables. Generally they have the stew with taita which is a flatbread made of wheat, and hilbet which is made from faba beans and lentils.
Injera is the flatbread consumed commonly in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Injera is usually made from fermented Teff and has a bit of sour taste.
Eritrean cuisine is very similar to the Ethiopian cuisine. However, certain dishes such as Panettone, a type of bread served with tea has been deeply influenced by the Italian cuisine.
The locals of Eritrea love to have Mes, a homemade alcoholic mead. Mes is made of fermented honey. The drink is homemade and that warns you the strength of this drink. The strength of Mes vary from brewer to brewer.
Where to stay?
Eritrea offers many flexible accommodation options. Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, has a variety of options from budget hotels to super luxurious five star hotels. However, during the summer holidays Eritrea can be a bit expensive as many Eritreans visit the country during their vacation. Mostly, there won’t be a trouble finding an accommodation in Eritrea at your budget.
In Eritrea, mostly hotels do not offer bed and breakfast. Luxurious and hotels of higher standard has their own restaurants while budget hotels and pensions usually do not offer food to their guests.
Eritrea doesn’t have any recognized campsites but there are no reported problems in pitching a tent in certain convenient locations including the coastal Eritrea.
Some of the best hotels in Eritrea include:
- African Pension Hotel, Asmara – villas with beautiful gardens at reasonable prices
- Albergo Italia, Asmara – a large Italian villa converted into a luxurious boutique hotel
- Central Hotel, Asmara – a hotel with rooms overlooking the sea at decent rates
- Khartoum Hotel, Harnet Ave – one of the best hotels located on the valley side
The currency used locally is the Eritrean nakfa (ERN). 1 US dollar is approximately 15 ERN (on 1st of August, 2017).
Eritrea, one of the lesser known countries of Africa, is a nation that has so much to offer to tourists at reasonable rates. From city tours to desert safaris and boat rides, this will definitely be a memorable trip!
Author: E Jey
Just a passionate traveler who loves scribbling his expeditions @ www.jauntmonkey.com, www.outonroads.com, and www.blogthatall.com