Mysterious, unknown, secretive, closed-off… These are just some of the words I’ve read people use to describe Eritrea. You will rarely hear anyone ever say they have been there, partly because their visa system is one of the toughest to get through to. It may also be because travel advisories are telling them against visiting Eritrea due to its current political issues.
It is unfair, however, to judge a country based on what we see on its surface. Beyond the seemingly impenetrable walls of Eritrea are a country of warm people and stunning sights. Its past as an Italian colony together with the Turkish, Egyptian and even some Arabian due to its geographical location makes for a very interesting country to pay a visit to.
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Let me list down some exciting things you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Eritrea.
Key Cities in Eritrea
Asmara – This is Eritrea’s capital and most populous city. Asmara is at an elevated location in the country, making it a cooler region than towns on the outskirts of Eritrea.
Historically, Asmara has been around for ages and has seen several changes from being a settlement of 4 clans to become the UNESCO World Heritage Site that it is now for its outstanding architecture.
Going around, you’ll find Italian-style villas and mansions still scattered around the city and used for major establishments. It is also the location of most colleges and universities around the country, aside from the airport and other important offices.
Keren – Another large city in Eritrea, Keren is the capital of the Anseba province and is known to be a rather relaxed and quiet town.
Keren is sometimes referred to as the cultural capital of the country due to its hold of significant heritage sites dating back to its colonial times. It was also a favorite among tourists even back in the day due to its natural charm and beauty.
Massawa – It was once called the “Pearl of the Red Sea” due to its incomparable beauty and allure during its glory days. Massawa serves as Eritrea’s port city due to its proximity to the Red Sea.
Nowadays, only ruins of the stunning Italian and Ottoman buildings remain in its place. However, there’s no denying that at its peak, Massawa was one of Eritrea’s most prized possessions.
Assab – This city has more of an Ethiopian vibe to it than the rest of the country due to its proximity to the said country. Assab is currently a modern port with a Soviet-built oil refinery.
This region is known for its beaches and nightlife.
What Are The Things To Do in Eritrea
1. Revisit Italian Eritrea in Asmara
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As Italy’s colony when most European countries have a hold on African countries, Eritrea was able to adapt some things from the Western countries, including their visually appealing architecture.
The city of Asmara was able to preserve much of the colonial structures, from a classy 1930s style cinema to old cafeterias. With the vibrant city life as its backdrop, most of these buildings make for a very interesting African city that does not look like its other African counterparts.
2. Soak up the sun by the beach
Since Eritrea is situated by the Red Sea, this country has its fair share of beaches that are perfect for all sun, sea and sand lovers who are willing to pay a visit.
Massawa is one of the well-known areas with beaches in the country. Despite it being predominantly Muslim unlike the rest of the country, you will still find tourists walking around the shore in their beachwear.
If you have the extra time, go and visit Madote Island via Massawa by riding a boat. This sort of a big white sand strip is perfect if you want some quiet time at the beach.
3. Visit the ruins of Massawa
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Massawa is one of the most historical cities in Eritrea. Having experienced some of the most important kingdoms in history aside from being the first capital of the Italian colony, it has some of the most photogenic sights in the whole country.
Although the war with Ethiopia destroyed some of the ancient buildings in the city, you’ll still find some of them standing up to this day. What’s more amazing is that most of the buildings in the old town were made out of coral!
4. Take part in an Eritrean coffee ceremony
Coffee is an integral part of the Eritrean culture and is offered during important celebrations, like having a visitor for instance.
During the ceremony, you’ll witness the green coffee beans being roasted and will be given the chance to sample its aroma. Eventually, the beans will be ground and poured onto a boiling pot before it’s served to the guests.
If you are not into coffee, don’t worry! Tea will most likely be served to you if you let them know politely.
5. Go shopping at the Monday Market
Keren is known to have a Monday Market full of produce and household goods. Of course, this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but aside from having good finds, this market is also an attraction on its own due to the sights and sounds you’ll get to experience once you’re there.
Frequently Asked Questions About Traveling to Eritrea
1. How do I travel to Eritrea?
Major airlines travel to Eritrea through its major airport regularly so it’s easy to find flights to the country.
There are also land borders which you can cross, however, these are currently closed and off-limits for tourists.
2. How do I apply for a tourist visa to Eritrea?
Eritrea has one of the most meticulous visa application processes that most travelers suggest for future visitors to hire a service to assist them in obtaining one.
Sure, you can go ahead and apply on your own but getting your application granted can be a gamble. They might also require some documents from you which you’ll have to get from a tour operator.
3. How long is the tourist visa application process?
It might take around 10-15 business days for you to obtain your copy.
4. How long will the tourist visa be valid for?
It’s valid for around 90 days and will allow you to enter the country one-time for 30 days.
5. Is Eritrea safe for tourists?
Yes, it is! Eritrea is one of the safest places a tourist can ever visit in Africa and probably the world. Of course, it’s still a must for you to be vigilant at all times. But for the most part, people have reported feeling safe and secure while they’re in the country.
Before you travel, however, make sure that you’ve checked your country’s travel advisory on Eritrea to make sure you don’t miss any updates about restrictions and stuff.
6. How do I go around Eritrea?
Here’s the thing: You can’t just go around Eritrea on your own free will. You need permission to visit almost every place in the country, one of the main reasons why a travel operator comes in handy if you plan on coming over.
Aside from that, tourists aren’t allowed to use public transportation and can only travel from one place to another using vehicle provided by their pre-booked tour.
7. Do they speak English in Eritrea? Will I need a translator?
Yes, according to reports, there are people around the country who do speak English on top of their local language, Portuguese.
In case you do have a hard time communicating with someone, you can always ask for help from your tour guide.
8. When is the best time to visit Eritrea?
If you’re looking to avoid the “peak season” for tourism, then you won’t have much problem since Eritrea doesn’t get a lot of visitors at any given time.
As for the perfect weather to explore Eritrea, you can come over during winter, which lasts from December to March. During this time, the country is relatively dry and warm with cold winds in the night.
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