Eritrea takes its name from the Greek “erythros”, in reference to the Red Sea. She was baptized by Italians, the colonizers. The Eritrean monuments are hence a testimony of its Italian origins, but its Egyptian and Turkish influences are also omnipresent. This small country in the Horn of Africa is bordered by the Red Sea. The country is famous for its diving spots.
The center of Eritrea, Mount Soira culminates at 3000 meters above sea level. Massawa, the main coastal city, bears Turkish and Egyptian architectural influences. From Massawa you can rent a boat to tour or visit the Dahlak Archipelago. Only 10 of the 209 islands are inhabited. A trip to Eritrea will give you a lifetime opportunity to discover the unique culture of the inhabitants and beautiful pristine beaches. The islands are an excellent place for diving, especially Shumma, Nora and Isratu for scuba divers, and Madote and Dissei for others. Asmara, the capital, is located a hundred kilometers from the coast. Asmara is also called “Little Rome“, because many constructions in the city reflect the Italian architecture. One of the capital’s famous monuments is St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Its bell tower echoes the Italian religious buildings. You can also visit the National Museum of Eritrea and Pension Africa. Keren, the third largest city in the country, is home to many tourist attractions such as the tombs of Said Abu Bakr el Mirgani and St. Mariam Dearit. The city of Agordat reveals an architecture influenced by Egyptian and Turkish styles.
Eritrea is an extension of the Ethiopian Plateau, bordered by lowlands in the east and the west. The mountainous plateau is carved by valleys and rivers. In the west, the plains, covered with a savanna of acacias and open forests, incline smoothly towards Sudan. In the East, the coastal plain is desert. It is necessary to cross the 105 km of roads that separate Asmara from Massawa, to have a glimpse of the most beautiful landscapes of the country. The winding road goes down from 2438 meters altitude to the sea level, crossing valleys, deserts and forests. The road offers a magnificent view of the coastal desert of the Red Sea, and passes by the Orthodox monastery of Debre Bizen. The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places in the world. It goes down to 155 meters below sea level. This depression is considered a geological curiosity. The landscape extends over more than 4000 km² and the topography features can reach 4000 meters of altitude. The largest river in the depression, the Awash, has its source in Ethiopia, then flows north and forms a series of salt lakes. If you want to attend the salt harvest, you have to get up very early. The natives come to extract it at the first light of the day to avoid working during heat.
It is necessary to get a visa to stay in Eritrea. When you arrive, remember to declare all your camera, camcorder, laptop, etc. which, at the time of departure, are systematically checked. The Eritreans let themselves be photographed but ask for a tip in return. It is not advisable to photograph military installations, the airport, official buildings and bridges. Out of respect for religious traditions, it is advisable not to wear shorts, and cover your shoulders.
It is better to eat cooked food and drink bottled mineral water. Be cautious in the lowlands as they can have scorpions and venomous snakes. In order to avoid periods of intense heat (up to more than 45 degrees) it is not recommended to travel to western and eastern lowlands between May and October. Access to the entire area outside the capital Asmara is subject to prior authorization by the Eritrean authorities. They will issue travel permits via the Asmara tourism office within 24 hours. Due to the presence of armed groups in the Danakil Desert, it is not advisable to visit this region. Border areas with Ethiopia and Sudan may also present dangers so these areas are also discouraged.
• Landscapes along the Asmara-Massawa road are splendid.
• Swimming and diving in the Red Sea.
• The hospitality of the locals.
• The situation is still very fragile with Ethiopia.
• The cultural poverty of the country.
• The comfort is not optimal in many areas.
Among its inhabitants, Eritrea has as many Muslims (Sunnis) as Christians (Monophysites). There are Catholic and Protestant churches that officiate in local languages and English. Mosques are present in all major cities of the country. It is important to respect local customs and traditions, such as eating with only your right hand and never touching your lips with your fingers. The coffee ceremony is an unavoidable tradition in the country. It is the women who prepare the coffee according to ancestral tradition that lasts about an hour and is usually held in the late afternoon. They offer coffee as a sign of hospitality to family members, friends, and guests, daily or during festivities. It is usual to drink at least three cups before taking leave. To leave before would be regarded as discourteousness. Dance plays a very important role in Eritrean society. It marks the great events of life, such as weddings or birthdays. Dance is also present in religious festivals. Traditionally, it allowed young men and girls to meet and warriors to demonstrate their prowess.
Italian cuisine dominates in most restaurants in big cities. The traditional dishes (stew, lentils, beans, goat, chicken), usually very spicy, are served on a kitcha (relatively thin unleavened bread typically made of wheat) or an injera (flatbread with a slightly spongy texture, traditionally made out of teff flour). Among the most typical dishes are the gored gored, raw beef dish and berbere (a mix of multiple spices) or the shiro (mashed chick peas). Massawa is renowned for its excellent fish and seafood, such as shrimp and lobster. Tea and coffee are always served strong and very sweet. In some areas, coffee is flavored with ginger or black pepper.
Souvenir and crafts
Gold and silver jewellery (sold by weight), wooden carvings, leather goods, spears, drums, carpets and basketry can be purchased. In the local markets, every purchase must be haggled. Shops are generally open Monday to Saturday, 8 am to 1 pm, and 2:30 pm to 7:30 pm, but schedules vary by region.