Eritrea occupies an area of 121,320 square kilometers and is located between Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti in Northeast Africa. The name of the country has ancient roots. It comes from “erythros”, the Greek word for red, and this is because of its location on the Red Sea coast. Although the area was inhabited since ancient times and brings ancient spirit and culture, Eritrea is a young country. During the first millennium AD the territory of present-day Eritrea was part of the famous Kingdom of Axum.
In modern times, the country was a colony of Italy and later an autonomous region within the borders of Ethiopia. In 1991, after decades of struggle, the country declared independence.
According to the 2008 census Eritrea has a population of about 5,291,370 people. Most of them are Muslims, although there are also a small number of Christians.
The official languages in the country are Arabic and Tigrinya, but English and Italian are widely distributed.
The Italian language is a heritage of the Italian colonial period between 1882 and 1941. With a population of about 650,000 inhabitants, the largest city is the capital Asmara.
It was founded in the mountains because of the more pleasant and favorable weather conditions and traditionally lower temperatures. The list of the largest cities include Keren, Teseney, Mendefera and the coastal cities of Massawa and Assab.
Since Eritrea is one of the poorest countries on the continent, the population suffers from low standards of living and high unemployment. Although rich in oil, the country is heavily dependent on international humanitarian aid.
Although agriculture is the main industry, many people are condemned to starvation because of the prolong periods of drought that destroy the crops.
Most of Eritrea is occupied by mountains and high plateaus. The Great African Rift Valley crosses the southeastern part of the country in a north-south direction and reaches the shore of the Red Sea.
The highest point in the country is located not far from the Eritrean-Ethiopian border in the mountain of Emba Soyra. It rises approximately 3018 meters above sea level not far from the coast.
The majority of Eritrea is covered by deserts and semi-deserts. It is dominated by dry and dusty landscape with sparse vegetation.
The Danakil Desert, the most inhospitable part of Eritrea, is situated within a narrow coastal strip in the southeast of the country.
The only places in Eritrea that can boast more greenery are some mountain areas east and northeast of the capital Asmara, where the humid and cool climate favors the development of fresh and relatively lush vegetation, and the extreme southwest, where lies a green and fertile savanna.
Eritrea’s coastline is nearly 1,000 km long. For the most part to the north the shore is straight and without specifics.
The southern and central regions, however, are dominated by numerous peninsulas, bays and islands. The coastal waters of Eritrea are very warm throughout the year.
The variety of sea creatures that inhabit the coral reefs is stunning. Off the coast of central Eritrea is located the Dahlak Archipelago – the largest island group in the Red Sea.
After 30 years of armed struggle for independence in the area, the wildlife of Eritrea has changed beyond recognition. Many species of animals, such as lions and cheetahs, fled away from here.
Today in Eritrea you can see just a small part of the biodiversity in comparison with the early 20th century.
Among the most famous inhabitants are different kinds of antelopes, spotted and striped hyenas, jackals, elephants, ostriches, and leopards (but only in some remote and isolated forested areas). You can see also a small number of representatives of the Abyssinian wild ass.
Eritrea is located in probably the hottest area on the planet. The low-lying parts of the country have very hot tropical climate with scant rainfall, clear and cloudless skies and average daytime temperatures between 29 and 40°C.
Extreme temperatures of over 50 – 55°C are also possible.
Eritrean nights along the coast are always warm ranging between 20 and 30°C. Most areas situated at higher altitudes, such as the capital Asmara for example, have a cool climate with traditionally lower temperatures, especially at night, and more abundant precipitations.
Food. While in Eritrea, it is advisable to try traditional local pancake-shaped bread. Its name is injera and is prepared by local grown cereal, which is called teff.
As the plant grows only in this part of the world, it is really hard to find a real authentic injera elsewhere. Resembling an Arab bread, injera is usually served with various sauces or puree of vegetables and, if possibly, with tiny bits of beef, chicken and other meats.
The dish is usually eaten with the fingers from a large tray. Another typical meal in Eritrea is Kitcha Fit-Fit.
It is made from torn pieces of wheat bread, pure butter and traditional spice called Berbere. Kitcha Fit-Fit is usually served in a deep bowl and with some yogurt in the middle.
And now a few words about local drinks. Eritrean coffee is something that everyone visiting this country should try.
It has an amazing flavor and is traditionally served heavily sweetened, sometimes flavored with ginger. Also, don’t miss to try a glass of traditional local suwa, a kind of drink resembling beer.
What not to miss? Start your journey from the capital Asmara. It is a beautiful city known for its Art Deco architecture. You can make a long walk on Harnet Avenue – the most beautiful and famous street in the country.
The main attractions include the Coptic Orthodox Church Enda Mariam, the Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph, the Church of St. Francis, the Grand Mosque and the National Museum of Eritrea. Do not miss to visit Semenawi Bahri National Park.
This place offers the most diverse and rich landscapes in the country. The coastal town of Massawa is also interesting. Here you will see inspiring old Ottoman-style buildings and some really beautiful churches and mosques.
From there by boat you can reach to another major landmark in Eritrea – the Dahlak Archipelago. Here is situated Dahlak Marine National Park.
Its amazing underwater world has flourished undisturbed for decades during the long-standing armed conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Without doubt one of the most remarkable places across Africa is the Danakil Depression, which, however, falls within the troubled border areas between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
When to visit Eritrea? The best time of year to travel to Eritrea is during the winter months or approximately from October to April. Summers are very hot in coastal areas and too wet in the mountains.
Among the top destinations are Dubai (UAE), Frankfurt (Germany), Rome (Italy), Nairobi (Kenya), Johannesburg and Cape Town (South Africa), Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Cairo (Egypt), Sana’a (Yemen), and many others.
WARNING! The capital Asmara can be described as a relatively calm and safe place with very nice and friendly people. Outside the city, however, it is good to be careful. Some parts of the country can be very dangerous.
The risk is especially high in Eritrea-Ethiopia border areas because of the conflict that exists between these two countries.
For this reason, if you are planning to take a trip to the Danakil Depression, you must know that the place is quite dangerous.
Another danger not to be underestimated comes from the extremely high temperatures. Because of the horrible heat in some parts of the country, going out is possible only in the early morning or late evening hours.
Before traveling to Eritrea you will probably need some very important vaccinations. Your doctor will thoroughly explain to you exactly what precautions should be take to protect your health while in the African country.
It is important to take care of yourself in advance because health in Eritrea has always been particularly poor.