Favorite thing: There are no hunger in Eritrea, but the country faces some food security problems. Eritrea has rejected foreign assistance. I noticed lack of some kind of food. The assortment in the shops were not to good, and the menu content in the cafes shows more than they can offer due to unavailability. Local beer is a good example of this due to to shortage of ingrediens (malt and hops). Lamb meat is the most common meat.
Favorite thing: The prices in eritrea are going up a little bit in the last years. There is only one way to get money in Eritrea: Western Union. The official rate is unrealistic and make the trip expensiv compared to other countries. also you have to screw.
Visa: Visa must be arranged at the embassies before enter the country.
Mobil phone: No roaming. Not possible to buy SIM cards for tourists.
ATM: No ATM in Eritrea. Change currency at official exhange offices, and sign the transaction on a custom receipt.
Recommended language: English.
Infrastructure: Very poor.
Friendliness by the people: Most friendly and polite people in the world.
Attention by Police/military: Very suspicious, but polite. No corruption. Eritrea is a dictatorship, so don't talk negative about the government.
Crime: Safest place in the world.
Rainy period: Asmara: July and August.
Price level: Just a little bit cheaper than Europe. But money exhange on the illegal black marked gives twice the rate. Then it's just as cheap as Ethiopia.
Favorite thing: Internet in Eritrea is very slow and some sites are not available. Sometimes takes 5 minutes to load a page. People told me it was faster before. I even heard that the slow line is a part of the censor in the country. A slow line is easier to control than a fast one, and the line is too slow to send videos. Yahoo mail is OK and load much faster than Hotmail. There are some internet cafes in the the biggest cities.
Fondest memory: It is not possible to get visa on arrival at Asmara airport. And of course not possible at other places in Eritrea either. I had to send my passport to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm two weeks before I left. Fill out the visa application form, add 2 pass photos. A tourist visa costs aprox 500 Swedish kroner (70 USD) incl. the postal fee. Payments must be made in a bank in good time. See http://www.eritrean-embassy.se
Eri TV is the only TV station in Eritrea. But it's possible to see other TV channels with a parabol antenna.
Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea (Dimtsi Hafash) - state-run, in 11 languages
Radio Zara - state-run
Hadas Eritrea - government-owned, published three days a week
Eritrea Profile - government-owned weekly, in English
Tirigta - pro-government youth weekly owned by ruling party
Geled - weekly youth paper
Favorite thing: The military has a great influence on the society in Eritrea, and is the direct cause for Eritreas independence. Banners of the national symbols can be bought at different shops in Eritrea. The photos here are taken at the airport in Asmara.
When you arrive Eritrea you have to sign and declare all your money to the customs. Keep the paper, because you will need it when you shall leave the country. If you have changed too little money at official rate, the customs will ask to see your money.
There are two ways to change forreign currency into Nakfa, the Eritrean money.
1) You can change it in the banks, hotels or exchange offices giving you a lousy official rate. But you will get a legal stamp in your customs paper.
2) Or change it at the black market. But it is illegal.
Forget about travellers cheques in Eritrea. US dollar gives you better rate than anything else. 1 US dollar is 29 Nakfa at the black market and 15 Nakfa at official rate (December 2008).
Some price examples: An average hotel room in Asmara is about 300 Nakfa a night. Coke is 15 nakfa, a big glas of fresh juice is 15 Nakfa, lokal beer is 13 Nakfa (not easily accessible when I was there due to lack of ingrediens). Imported chineese beer is 80 Nakfa. Pizza at a good restaurant is about 120 Nakfa.
Favorite thing: There is only one mobile phone operator in Eritrea, Eritel (January 2009). To buy a sim card you need to have a residence in Eritrea. You can not buy credit as you can in other African countries. Roaming with other sim cards doesn't work. The country code is +291.
Given the dearth of information about Eritrea, we thought it would be useful to tell you about our experiences when we visited for 2 weeks in December 2008.
Visas - As is well documented, the visa you obtain to visit Eritrea only lets you travel to Asmara. You need to visit the Tourist Office on Harnet Avenue and apply for a tourist travel permit for the other places you'd like to visit. This costs 20 Nakfa. When writing where you'd like to visit, be as extensive as possible (make a list before going in). They scored a few places off our list (Lake Badda and surrounds) due to security issues, but happily approved the others. To get a permit you need a photocopy of your passport and Eritrean visa (ideally bring with you, but there are stationary shops in Asmara where you can get copies). Once you have your travel permit, photocopy it a few times - you are asked to show it at large numbers of checkpoints throughout the country and some, eg. Filfil, demand a copy or they won't let you through (though don't have photocopy facilities themselves). The checkpoints otherwise seem to be just a formality, but make sure you do always have your travel permit to show, as they are diligent at checking.
Money - You can't take Nakfa into the country, and there are no ATMs, so the only way of getting more money once in Eritrea is by Western Union transfer. You have to declare ALL currency and travellers' cheques on arrival at the airport. This is written on a piece of paper and stamped. Every time you change money, you must produce this piece of paper which is again stamped, at the approved Himbol exchange agents. At the end of your stay, before you go through customs at the airport, you have to show the paper at a kiosk and have it sanctioned. If there is disparity between the money you declared, the money you changed, and the money you now have, this can cause problems. There are rumours of people who lose the piece of paper getting into trouble and missing their flights.
The beer mystery - You may see Asmara Beer in guidebooks and on menus, but ask for it and the waiters laugh. It hasn't been available for over a year, since the brewery ran out of ingredients and closed. Now the only beer you can find is Heineken or Chinese beer (sometimes) at an eye watering cost of 80-100 Nakfas a can ($7). The only local beer, which we found tasted of petrol, was found, after much hunting and asking of locals, at the Khartoum Hotel bar. Eritrean wine and imported wine are available at most restaurants - at a cost. Locals seem to drink Asmara gin neat... or sparkling water served tantalisingly in old beer bottles, or a cup of tea...
Where to stay
In Asmara, we spent most of our time in the lovely Africa Pension, a villa set in a pretty garden 5 minutes from Harnet Avenue (the main drag). Rooms are large, bright and clean, with comfortable beds. Bathrooms are shared but clean, and the staff are very friendly and obliging. Be sure to book in advance, as we found it full on one occasion. On that night, we looked at the Bristol Pension, which seemed a bit dingy, and the Sheghay Hotel, which seemed overpriced with small rooms and showers that only supplied water several hours after a request was made, before settling on the Khartoum Hotel, which was very centrally located and quite comfortable, though the atmosphere was less friendly than the Africa Pension. The bathrooms are shared but the showers were the best we found in Eritrea. Other tourists we met were staying at the Concorde Pension which they seemed very satisfied with. If you're looking for upmarket grandeur, the Albergo Italia is nicely located and suitable plush. The Intercontinental has opened again under a new name, but is a few kilometres from town, out near the airport.
Where to Eat
We loved the Spaghetti House on Harnet Avenue, which did the best pizzas and crepes in Eritrea, though they're a bit expensive. For Eritrean food we loved the Asmara Restaurant next to the post office at lunchtime, and the Blue Bird in the evening, though both do lack atmosphere. The Albergo Italia is a dining option for a bit more grandeur and romance, and we enjoyed our food there. During the day, the Casa degli Italiani, opposite the Travel House, has a beautiful sunny courtyard and serves nice Italian food. There is a great selection of coffeeshops for morning coffee and brioches. Bar Vittoria was one of the best. Order coffee and you'll end up with a very, very milky drink. For an ordinary cappuccino, ask specifically for a black cappuccino. Or ask for tea, which is served black with sugar and lime.
Where to drink
We tended to drink mostly in restaurants, ordering wine or beer with our meal. However we were very impressed by Zara cocktail bar next to Blue Bird restaurant - great cocktails and an impressive selection of drinks. Almost feels like a London cocktail bar! If you want to try the only local beer, the Khartoum Hotel bar will oblige, but be warned - it tastes of petrol!
Where to stay
In Massawa we stayed at the Red Sea Hotel. This felt overpriced, had no atmosphere (a bit like a Travelodge), had cold showers only, and was quite a trek from Massawa's restaurants and shops (25 minute walk). On the plus side, it was perfectly pleasant, but somewhere nearer the port would be more convenient. The Dahlak Hotel is still being refurbished but will probably end up being the best option. Nothing seems to happen on Taulud Island, so being in a good position to spend the evening on Massawa Island is a good idea.
Where to eat
Options are quite limited, and most people suggest eating at the hotels (the "cheap option" being Luna, and the "expensive option" being Red Sea, but neither are especially cheap). The cuisine is nothing to write home about, but our favourite place to eat was the Massawa Hotel on Massawa Island, in the main square. Sit outside and watch the nightlife warming up as you eat.
Where to drink
Massawa seems to have the best bar life in Eritrea - there are an array of little bars scattered around the main square on Massawa Island and the atmosphere is nice.
Where to stay
In Keren we stayed at the Albergo Sicilia which was in a great location set around a courtyard, and had a large selection of rooms of varying prices. We opted for the most expensive (still extremely good value compared to Asmara) with double bed with mosquito net (not very comfortable, but acceptable), chairs and tables, and private bathroom. Though the hot water was very sporadic it was lovely to have a private bathroom. Again, this hotel was clean and though the receptionists did not speak much English, they were friendly. The courtyard could be quite loud at times, so in retrospect taking a room around the far corner of the courtyard might have been nice.
Where to eat
Options are very limited. On the Giro Fiori roundabout, there is a sweet little restaurant called Peace and Love, with Eritrea and Italian food. Otherwise the best options are the Keren Hotel and the Senhit Hotel. We found the other restaurants a bit intimidating, though if you like fish, Mackerel looked promising.
Where to drink
The best option is the Red Sea Hotel on the Giro Fiori roundabout. We bought a bottle of Asmara Spumante. The staff looked incredulous. It wasn't great... As per everywhere else in Eritrea, the only beer available cost about $7.
There's one bus a day from Asmara to Filfil (7am). There's a hotel 7km from Filfil itself (Mendip Hotel) but if you can afford the taxi it's probably better as a day trip, or a stop en route between Massawa and Asmara (though Mendip Hotel is a good stop for lunch). You specifically have to mention Filfil on your list of places on your travel permit, and you MUST take a photocopy to give the guards or you may be obliged to turn back. And since it's in a remote place, that'd be rather annoying. Note there is a charge of a few dollars to enter Filfil, not mentioned in the guidebooks.
You must get a special travel permit from the National Museum in Asmara before you go, and this is probably tricky by public transport - we hired a car. But the canyon is amazing - really huge and beautiful, and you can hike down it to see prehistoric cave paintings. A man called Ibrahim in the nearby village seems to be responsible for guiding you. The nearby town of Adi Keh has a nice market.
These are beautiful and the snorkelling is better than some guidebooks would have you believe. It's extremely expensive to get there. Ask at the Travel House in Asmara if a group is going that you could join. Otherwise go to the Italian school in Asmara: their teachers go once a fortnight and are happy to share the cost with some tourists.
There are 9 languages in Eritrea (Tigrinya, Arabic, Tigre, Afar, Saho, Bega, Bilen, Nara and Kunama). Tigrinya is the most common language. Here are some words:
I - ane
You - nusiki (to woman), nusika (to man)
We - nehena
Yes - ouwe
No - afalon
How are you? - kame ale ki (to woman), kame ale ka (to man)
Good - Tsebuch
I love you - jefkre ki (to woman), jefkre ka (to man)
Food - megebi
Are you hungry? - megebi tedeli?
Do you want to sleep? - medekas tedeli?
What do you want? - ntai tedeli?
I am tired - anay degimay
Thanks - jekqhanele
You're welcome - genzav ki (to woman), genzav ka (to man), genzav kom (to more people)
Drikke - zesetee
Vann - mai
I am thirsty - temiay
Beautiful - xbechti
Shall we go? - nachshiid?
Do you want to go to toalet? - schuntebit makkad tedeli?
I am happy - hagu siny
I am sorry - aytehazeley
can I take a photo? - kese alekado?
What is your name? - men shem ki (to woman), men shem ka (to man)
Where is...? - abey alo...?
Left - tsegam
Right - yeman
Good night - xbuch leyti
One more advise, in addition to declaring all your hard currency on arrival and keeping receipts while in Eritrea, do not use non authorized money changers. The government is very strict on this and you will be requested to show the balance of your money and all the changes you made on departure. The only authorized money changing agency is called Himbol.
One more advise, in addition to declaring all your hard currency on arrival and keeping receipts while in Eritrea, do use non authorized money changers. The government is very strict on this and you will be requested to show the balance of your money and all the changes you made on departure. The only authorized money changing agency is called Himbol.
While print film is easy to get, the only place where I could find slide film in Eritrea was this shop in Asmara, near the entrance to the presidential palace north of the western end of Harnet Avenue.
Stock up on film here (or bring enough from home) as you can't count on finding what you need once out in the country, and as Eritrea can be very photogenic, your film may run out more quickly than expected!
While some of the banks in Eritrea are so beautiful they are worth a look for the architecture alone, you should avoid monetary transactions with any of them!
The reason is simple: there is a very active and obvious black-market, giving much better than the official rate for your CASH dollars.
For this reason, you should not bring money in form of travellers cheques or credit cards to Eritrea - these, as well as bank transfers, will put you in the hands of government-owned banks giving you the lousy official rate.
Arrived at the hotel after a late night flight from Frankfurt. Staff was always pleasant especially...more