Vacation In Eritrea

Almost unheard of until the last decade, vacationing in Eritrea has become more common as the country liberalized in travel and opened its doors to foreign visitors in 2007. Despite this relative newness to the tourism industry, there are a variety of activities that make traveling here worthwhile, particularly for adventure-seekers who want to experience an off-the-beaten path destination.

The Red Sea province of Eritrea is one of the most beautiful and unfamiliar parts of the African continent. It is relatively unknown compared to neighboring countries, but it still receives strong support from the international backpackers and travelers who venture there for their vacations.

Eritrea is a small country, roughly the size of the state of Tennessee. And while it’s sometimes called “the forgotten nation,” this small African country has captivated many travelers.

Eritrea served as a colony of Italy in1941. Eritrea became independent in 1991. The capital of Eritrea is Asmara. The total area of Eritrea is 117,600sq miles and this country lies between the Red Sea and the Nile River. The most widely spoken language in Eritrea is Tigrinya and Arabic.

As I am sure you have seen by now, Colonial Africa provides an excellent means of travel for all ages and budgets. However, as a budget-minded traveler, I should tell you that not all vacation spots in Africa are created equal.

Vacation In Eritrea

Eritrea remains one of the least visited countries in the world for a reason. The visa isn’t the easiest to obtain and just this year, it became even harder. On top of the visa issues, in order to travel anywhere outside of the capital – Asmara, or attend national events you need each individual permit. These permits aren’t the easiest to obtain due to the country’s bureaucracy and they’re often rejected.

But don’t let this stop you. Eritrea is a country with friendly locals and as a tourist, you don’t have to worry about safety. As I mentioned in my other post on Eritrea if you choose to visit, make sure to do your research and be respectful. Don’t be surprised if people won’t tell you the truth about politics or they’ll completely shut you off.

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Is It Ethical to Visit Eritrea?

I think it depends on your purpose of traveling to Eritrea. I don’t believe that boycotting to visit any country with military regime or human rights issues, isn’t harming the government but punishes the most vulnerable. If I really wanted to boycott every country the government does inhumane and unethical things, I would never visit my own family in Poland.

Similar to Iran or Cuba, you can definitely help locals in Eritrea, interact with them, and learn their stories. Locals didn’t set the rules their country established, the government did.

Eritrea tourism

How to Get a Visa to Eritrea

I opted for going with a travel company that helped me to arrange the visa and permits. I used my Polish passport and my dad’s address in Poland to obtain authorization to get my visa on arrival (if I used my US residency or any country that has an Eritrean Embassy, I would have had to go there for an interview).

I also had to hide the fact that I have this blog and research Eritrea, otherwise, I would obviously receive a rejection. The whole process at the airport took over an hour, five people to process my visa, and cost me $70.

However, upon arrival, I quickly learned that I was very lucky with my visa. I was actually the last person to enter Eritrea with a visa on arrival, as the rules changed back in May 2018 and now everyone has to go to the Embassy for an interview. It goes to show how little does the government of Eritrea care about tourism, making traveling to and around the country even more complicated.

I had my first taste of it upon arrival as I was supposed to be picked up from the airport with a pre-arranged transport, but respectively, that didn’t happen because… who knows why.

How to Get a Visa to Eritrea

Is It Safe to Travel to Eritrea?

Truth to be told, for tourists Eritrea is very safe. As my taxi didn’t show up I started looking for a regular taxi outside of the airport. As there were no other tourists arriving, there was only one taxi. I had no troubles walking around alone in the dark and not once anyone actually stared or bothered me.

Asmara felt quite safe and calm, locals kept to themselves. I took walks alone during the day and night when everyone seems to be out in the street and not one I got bothered. Unless you ask for help in which case people will go out of their way to help you. During the National Day Parade streets were very crowded, but the police were always clearing out the crowds when they saw foreigners so we could all pass freely.

Massawa and Keren gave me a similar feeling. In Keren, when my friend and I got caught in the rain we got immediately invited to a local house for a cup of coffee.

The only rough areas are near the border with Ethiopia, as there’s a lot of tension in the area.

Eritrean women
Asmara Eritrea

Best Time to Visit Eritrea

There’s no high or low tourist season in Eritrea, so you can come whenever and be on a very few tourists. I went in May around the National Day and the weather was very nice in Asmara – around 75 during the day and 65 at night. In Massawa, at the Red Sea, it was around 90 during the day with 80 at night.

Getting Around & Accommodation in Eritrea: Obtaining Permits

To get to Eritrea you need to fly to the capital city Asmara. There are flights from Cairo, Egypt (on Egyptair), Dubai, UAE (on flyDubai), and Istanbul, Turkey (on Turkish Air). I flew Egyptair and the flight was fine. Most people on the flight were Eritreans living abroad visiting family, so each person had many bags. I’ve never seen a plane so full of bags everywhere.

The most renowned company in Eritrea is Asmara Grande. Even if you’re booking your trip with another foreign provider they’ll still use Asmara Grande on the ground. Why do you need a local company?

Tourists are also not allowed to visit any other places without a permit from the Eritrean government. The permits outside Asmara have to be arranged in advance by the local travel agency but will be accepted or rejected very last minute when you’re already in Eritrea.

bowling Asmara Eritrea

If Asmara Grande gets you permits it’ll be easy, but if you try on your own you might not get them. Even with them, my group was denied for a few places, simply because sometimes it just happens.

Tourists are also not allowed to use public transportation outside of Asmara. You’ll need to hire a car and driver. That said, if you think you can visit Eritrea without some prearranged paperwork think again as you’ll most likely be stuck in Asmara the entire time.

What you will outside of Asmara is a completely different Eritrea. If you visit Eritrea without leaving the capital it’s like if you never visited this country at all!

travel to Eritrea

Money in Eritrea

Eritrea is strictly a cash economy and it’s best to exchange money at the airport, as it can be difficult to do it later in Asmara. You will not be able to purchase Eritrean Nakfa outside of Eritrea. Obviously, there are no ATMs in Eritrea.

Asmara Eritrea

What to See in Eritrea

Online information about Eritrea is very outdated. Printed guidebooks are usually also from 1990s, so while you can read up on some history you won’t find a very useful information there.

Asmara

Eritrea is a former colony of Italy, so the existing architecture echoes Italian ones from the early twentieth century and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is full of gelaterias, cafeterias, and Italian theaters. It appears way different than any other African capital city, as you will find a genuine eastern African culture with a touch of Italian culture. It’s a very clean and vibrant city.

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