Eritrea Travel Guide
Formed in 1993 after a generation-long civil war with neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea is Africa’s youngest nation. Although it is a very poor country and the process of obtaining a visa can be a ponderous affair, visitors will be surprised (even shocked) at the impressive stock of Italian architecture that they will find in its capital, Asmara.
Most of your sightseeing will be confined to the city and its surrounding areas, as Eritrea’s rural areas are ill-equipped for tourism at this time. However, those looking to collect an exotic new stamp for their passport will find their trip here to be an intriguing one.
Currency: Eritrean Nakfas
Languages: Tigrinya, Arabic, English
What To Do
After getting settled, head over to the Cathedral of Asmara. Built during the Italian occupation of Eritrea, it is the crown jewel in a city filled with stunning colonial Italian architecture.
Built in the Romanesque style with hints of Art Deco, this church’s construction was completed in 1922. Its 52-meter high spire is accessible to visitors, giving them a great vantage point to capture the surrounding city from an elevated perspective.
Although their departure was desired for a long time by the locals, the cemetery in which Italian military personnel members were buried throughout their 60-year long occupation of Eritrea is also a worthwhile point of interest for visitors.
Ask locals for directions to Cimitero Italiano Di Asmara, then walk amidst the rows of graves where soldiers were sent to their final rest. Some plots are humble, while others are far more ambitious, with the wealthiest and most important inhabitants having shrines and sculpture gardens adorning their cemetery plot.
In order to secure independence from Ethiopia after their annexation in 1962, Eritrea had to wage a long, bloody struggle against them. The Tank Graveyard is a stark reminder of those days, as this plot of land contains the rusting hulks of armored vehicles that dealt plenty of death and destruction during their heyday.
Fuelled by the Soviet Union, the communist Derg regime waged a ruthless campaign of terror against Eritrea over the course of 30 years, wiping out over 65,000 lives. However, the desire of Eritreans to be an independent country was stronger than any suffering brought against them, which eventually led to their victory in 1993.
Despite the value of the scrap metal within these tanks, officials and fellow Eritreans have left them intact, as they are a reminder of the sacrifices they had to make in order to earn their independence.
Asmara and most of Eritrea is a very dry place. This aridity has made the surrounding countryside a visually stunning place for visitors to experience first-hand. As such, making a trip out to the Denkalya Desert is one the best places to go if you want to get out of Asmara for a few days.
The natural appearance of this region often draws comparisons to the surface of Mars. Sulfur and salt formations create a landscape that you would expect to find on an alien world, so be sure everything is in order with your photographic equipment before heading here.
This attraction and may or may not be open when you make your trip to Eritrea, as maintenance issues often force its periodic closure. Despite this, you should definitely make a point to ask the locals whether the Ferrovia Coloniale Massawa-Asmara is operating.
Although this railway was destroyed during the civil war, the rail line between Asmara and the Red Sea port of Massawa has been completely restored since hostilities ended in 1993. The locomotives and carriage cars used on this route date back to a bygone era, making a trip on this railway worth it on this merit alone.
The scenery between the interior highlands and the shores of the Red Sea only seals the deal: the pictures you will get on this journey will be priceless, so be sure to ask whether the Ferrovia Coloniale is operating when you arrive in Eritrea.
What to Eat
Although there is plenty of Italian cuisine in Asmara due to the lengthy Italian occupation of Eritrea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, do make an effort to try some traditional local dishes during your visit here.
Those wanting to have a typical Eritrean breakfast should seek out some Fit-Fit. Comprised of a flat bread that has been shredded and then cooked with clarified butter and a hot spice known as berbere, it is a wholesome and delicious way to begin your day.
Some locals spread meat sauce over theirs, eat them with raw chili peppers, or dip wedges into plain yogurt on the side, so be sure to follow their lead if you are eating with them in a local restaurant.
If you choose to go local at dinner, be sure to have some Tsebhi. This is a chicken stew that is served with Injera bread. While it does bear similarities to Ethiopian Wat, it differs in that it makes liberal use of tomatoes, and is lighter in its consistency.
Eritreans that live closer to the southern border will often have some Ga’at with their meals. Bearing considerable similarity to Ugali, which is a staple dish in places like Uganda and Kenya, Ga’at is made with wheat or barley flour.
Where it differs from its cousins is that it is made with an indentation in its center. This depression is filled with tesmi, which is a type of clarified butter that is flavored with a variety of spices and yogurt, making this usually bland dish far more interesting.