Top events in Eritrea

May
24

Every year celebrations are held all over the country to commemorate the nation’s independence. In Asmara, a large street carnival is held in the...

June
01

Kina Farda is the ploughing holiday for the Nara and Kunama ethnic groups, does not have a fixed date but is held at the coming of the rains....

July
01

Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans live overseas and every year to nourish their cultural roots the diaspora communities hold an Eritrean ‘...

Tsada Amba, Eritrea
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Tsada Amba, Eritrea

© Edward Denison, 2013

Eritrea Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

117,600 sq km (45,405 sq miles).

Population

5,401,231 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density

55.5 per sq km.

Capital

Asmara.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.

Head of government

President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50 Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.

Eritrea is a difficult country to define. Although in Africa, it doesn’t feel wholly African. While its broad shore faces the Middle East, it is not overtly Arabian. And though its capital evokes the spirit of Europe, it is far from European.

For such a small country, Eritrea offers an astonishing variety and it tends to attract a motley crew of visitors: from archaeologists to architects; scholars to scuba divers; historians to hikers; and cyclists to steam railway buffs.

While there are many reasons to come to Eritrea, there is one impression that endures when you leave: the remarkable kindliness of the Eritrean people. Making friends here is an unavoidable pleasure and one that touches the lives of so many visitors.

The country stretches along the Red Sea and is low-lying in the eastern coastal regions and western border with Sudan, with a precipitous mountainous interior rising to a majestic 2,500m (8200ft) above sea level.

Having been colonised in part by the Turks and Egyptians, Eritrea took on a European flavor with the arrival of the Italians in 1885 during their belated entry in the “scramble for Africa”. The legacies of successive foreign forces, combined with a rich mix of nine local ethnic groups have created a diverse cultural landscape that offers the best of African, Middle Eastern and European influences.

Eritrea also boasts an abundance of historical and natural attractions. The colonial and modernist architecture of its towns and cities is as stunning and startling as the wildlife that populates its mountainous escarpments, deserts and coastline.

Elephants, lions, baboons, gazelles, leopards, ostriches, turtles, dugongs and some of the continent’s rarest birds can all be found here. And with a coastline extending nearly 1,000km (621miles) along the Red Sea, Eritrea offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, as well as the most secluded beaches.

Once you’ve experienced Eritrea’s many secrets – travelled across its mountains and deserts, swam off its coastline, and met its warm people – it will only be a matter of time until you return for more.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 13 March 2017

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Crime levels are low but take sensible precautions with your personal safety. Don’t walk around late at night alone. Keep valuables, particularly cameras and passports, out of sight. Keep a photocopy of the personal details page of your passport in a safe place, or with friends or family in the UK.

A large proportion of the population has access to arms under the government of Eritrea’s civilian militia programme. We have no evidence that these weapons have increased the threat of violent crime.

Local travel

The FCO advise against all travel within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia. In most places the border is neither marked nor obvious. There have been serious border clashes between Eritrea and Ethiopia in the past. Tensions remain high and there is a risk of further violence.

The border remains closed and is reported to be mined. In September 2011 a landmine exploded on the road between Senafe and Afoma killing five people.

The FCO advise against all travel within 25 km of Eritrea’s border with Djibouti. In 2008 there was fighting between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region. The situation remains unresolved.

The FCO advise against all travel to Eritrea’s border with Sudan, including the town of Tesseney and areas north and west of Nakh’fa, Ak’ordat and Barentu. In 2009, an attack on an international mining company vehicle on a road 35km north of Keren caused the deaths of one employee and two contractors.

There are extensive mine fields in Eritrea. Driving on main roads away from border areas is generally safe. Avoid driving on non-metalled roads and walking or hiking in the countryside.

Avoid travelling after dark in rural areas. Road signage and barriers are scarce, and steep drops are common. In many parts of the country roads are difficult or impassable during the rainy season.

Due to the proximity of the Hanish islands in the Red Sea to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, it’s highly unlikely permission would be granted to visit the south western Hanish islands that belong to Eritrea.

Mobile telephones

Telephone networks are often unreliable and may only work for limited periods each day outside Asmara and larger towns. There are no agreements between Eritrean mobile telephone providers and international providers. You will not be able to receive or send calls or SMS text messages from any overseas mobile phone network on arrival in Eritrea. Local SIM cards can’t be purchased without a resident’s permit. There have been unconfirmed reports that phone calls made on the local mobile phone network are recorded.

Electronic items

All electronic items (laptops, mobile phones, cameras etc) should be declared upon arrival. Failure to do so may result in their confiscation by Eritrean customs officials when you depart.

Travel permits

All foreign nationals need a travel permit to leave Asmara. There are checkpoints outside of Asmara where your travel permit will be checked. Those working outside Asmara also need a travel permit to leave their area of residence or work. Applications in Asmara are handled by the relevant Ministry. For business travellers, applications are dealt with by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Applications outside Asmara are handled by the local Zoba (Region) Administration Offices. Permission may take several days to be granted and is sometimes refused or delayed.

Tourists wishing to travel outside Asmara should apply for a travel permit at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue in Asmara. Processing usually takes around 24 hours. When applying for permission to travel outside of Asmara, you should supply details of the car you’ll be travelling in. There have been reports of tourists not being permitted to use public transport to travel outside of Asmara and having to rent a car or use a private taxi.

Restrictions on travel by foreign nationals apply equally to foreign diplomats. Staff from the British Embassy therefore can’t provide consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmara.

Sea travel

Mariners must seek permissions and entry visas before attempting to land in Eritrea.

While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.

Consular assistance

There are serious constraints on what the British Embassy can do to help British nationals in Eritrea. Foreign diplomats in Asmara must apply ten days in advance for permission to travel outside Asmara. This means that the Embassy is unable to offer consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmara.

There are obstacles to the provision of consular assistance even in Asmara. The Eritrean authorities may not inform the relevant Embassy if a foreign national is in need of help and there have been recent instances where the Eritrean authorities have refused consular access to detained foreign nationals.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.