Eritrean Highlights

Eritrea is a curious country. It’s squashed between its giant neighbours Ethiopia and Sudan, and tumbles down from highlands to the turquoise waters of the Red Sea. With a distinctly Italian feel in many places, it often doesn’t feel quite African. Yet turn the corner and step into the side streets and you’ll meet brightly robed women and men from remote villages trading camels and other livestock.

Our Eritrean tour encompasses the highlights of a country that few know much about. We start in the capital Asmara, one of the best places to see Italian Art Deco style architecture. It’s one of Africa’s cleanest and safest cities. Here people walk the streets each evening in the style of a ‘passegiata’ more reminiscent of Rome or Milan than the Horn of Africa. We explore its churches and remnants of colonial rule before driving through the mountains to the town of Keren to visit its colourful Monday market.

From here we venture into more rural areas and the town of Barentu. We use the town as a base for visiting the intriguing Kunama people, one of Eritrea’s oldest and most traditional ethnic groups. We then descend to the coastal town of Massawa, with its whitewashed buildings and Ottoman / Arabian atmosphere. Once an important port, Massawa has a decidedly languid feel, full of historic architecture. It’s a good place to get to grips with the country’s complex history.

Stepping back a few millennia, we also visit the remains of the pre-Axumite city of Qohaito, a testament to the fact that this region once played an important role in the ancient world, well before Europe was even a player.

Eritrea has a feel that is hard to put your finger on. The country’s mix of styles and influences have combined to create one of Africa’s most unique and surprising corners.

Eritrean Highlights tour - itinerary tile

Highlights

  • Meet the Kunama people
  • Wander through the streets of Massawa
  • Spectacular highland scenery
  • Italian colonial heritage in Asmara
  • The lively market of Keren

Day 1 - Asmara

Arrive in Asmara and transfer to the hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Albergo Italia or similar.

Asmara
At 2500 metres above sea level, Asmara has a pleasant climate and its architecture makes it one of Africa’s more unusual cities. Colonised by Italy in the 19th century, the city is home to many remnants of that past, with buildings still displaying old Italian signs, and numerous examples of old Art Deco architecture to be found. Undamaged during the long war with Ethiopia, Asmara retains its historic charm and although a little run down these days is a pleasant place to walk around and explore.

Day 2 - Asmara

A guided tour of Asmara to see some of its main sights, visiting the Catholic cathedral of Santa Maria, the Coptic Church of N’dia Mariam and the mosque of Jami el Kufala. Visit the old town with its traditional districts, where artisans and craftsmen still work. Overnight Albergo Italia or similar. (B)


Day 3 - Keren

Drive to Keren, Eritrea’s third largest city and sitting in its highland region. Our journey takes us through panoramic landscapes and past traditional villages and old Italian farms. On arrival visit some of its most impressive buildings including the mosque and the villa of the old Italian governor, among other sites. Overnight Sarina Hotel or similar. (B)

Keren
Situated in the highlands, at around 1400m in altitude, Keren is a relaxed town best known for its markets and collection of old Italian buildings – the Italians used the town as a retreat from the often searing heat of the lowland, and it was a major centre of industry during that period. It was also the site of a major battle during the Second World War, with Allied Forces taking 52 days to conquer the well defended town – the history of this can be seen in the Italian War Cemetery here. It’s best visited during its weekly market, when various ethnic groups come to trade vegetables, spices, livestock and just about anything else you can imagine.

Day 4 - Keren - Barentu

Visit Keren’s lively Monday market, then head to the small town of Barentu, our base for visiting the Cunama people. Overnight simple hotel. (B)


Day 5 - Kunama Village - Asmara

Visit a village of the Kunama people, one of Eritrea’s most traditional ethnic groups, with a matriarchal society. In the afternoon, travel back to Asmara. Overnight Albergo Italia or similar. (B)

Kunama people
The Kunama are one of Eritrea’s smallest ethnic groups, comprising just 2% of the population, and live in the west of Ethiopia. Unusually for Eritrea they are an animist people, and their society is based along matriarchal lines. Many however have converted to Islam and Christianity in recent years, although their older beliefs often still simmer beneath the surface. The Kunama venerate their ancestors and have a special reverence for the elders of the tribe. This respect for their elders allows the tribe to make important decisions, which always involve two elders. The Kunama work together, designating certain months for particular events. September, for example, is the time for harvest; January is the month for repairing houses.

Day 6 - Massawa

Drive to the historic trading port of Massawa on the Red Sea Coast and start exploring the city, with its striking whitewashed buildings and atmosphere reminiscent of Arabia. Overnight Grand Dahlak Hotel or similar. (B)

Massawa
A major trading hub in days gone by, Massawa has seen many conquerors and invaders, from Turks and Egyptians to the British and Italians. It has a reputation for being one of the hottest places on the continent. Walking among the narrow streets of the old town is the best way to appreciate the Moorish architecture of the buildings, and highlights include the old headquarters of the Bank of Italy and the Palace of the Governor. Throughout the town, but especially on these buildings you will see the signs left by the liberation war.

Day 7 - Massawa

After final visits in Massawa, return to Asmara. Overnight Albergo Italia or similar. (B)


Day 8 - Qohaito

An excursion to the archaeological site of Qohaito, returning to Asmara for the evening. Overnight Albergo Italia or similar. (B)

Qohaito
Qohaito was once a major city in the Horn of Africa, dating back to before the Axumite Empire of the ancient world. Most of its ruins have yet to be excavated, but one can see the remains of an old dam, the ruins of the palace of King Saba, and other buildings dotted around the site.

Day 9 - Asmara

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


Market scene in Keren - Eritrea holidays and tours
Historic architecture in Massawa - Eritrea holidays and tours

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If, however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

All travellers will require a visa to enter Eritrea, which must be obtained before travel. US travellers do not require a visa for Equatorial Guinea.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Please note that Yellow Fever is a compulsory vaccination for entering Eritrea and you must bring your vaccination certificate with you, otherwise you may not be allowed to enter.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Eritrea is the nakfa, which cannot be obtained outside the country. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place.

In addition, roads throughout the parts of Africa that we visit are often poorly maintained (if at all!) and distances between key sites of interest can be long. Travelling in Africa can be tiring, hot and dusty at times, and inevitably it can be frustrating. While there are some issues that we are able to solve, others are intrinsic to the countries that we travel through, and you should be aware that many of the countries that we operate in cannot be compared to others on the continent that have better infrastructure – for example the popular tourist destinations of east and southern Africa.

Although travelling in these countries can at times be an ‘unpolished’ experience, this is all part of the adventure. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and putting up with a pothole (or ten) is undeniably worth it for the amazing sights and cultural experiences you will encounter along the way.

The concept of tourism is not particularly well understood in Eritrea. You can expect officials and police to ask questions along the way, and we ask that you let your guide deal with these. Despite the reputation, most encounters with officials tend to be dominated by curiosity rather than anything else.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any parts of Eritrea that we visit on this tour.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Market scene in Keren - Eritrea holidays and tours
Historic architecture in Massawa - Eritrea holidays and tours
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
29 October 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,149
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
14 January 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,149
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
28 October 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,149
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available