Given its long history of conflict, both with colonial powers as well as with neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea does not always top the lists with regard to African tourist destinations. But the natural and historical wonders of the country absolutely deserve a visit, and the lack of aggressive tourism development means that those that are able to make it will be rewarded with unlimited opportunities for exploration that seem more off-the-beaten-track. Here are ten reasons you should absolutely visit Eritrea.
Sources: LonelyPlanet.com, MapsofWorld.com, Explore-Eritrea.com, TravelEritrea.com, BBC.com
A deep cleft in the country’s coastline, the Gulf of Zula plunges 50km south and is the birthplace of the entire Great Rift Valley on the continent. The incredible sight is made even better by hot springs set amongst the cracks in the rocks, which many believe to have medicinal vapor (you will often find locals and tourists alike crouching above the springs to inhale the vapor).
The stark landscape of the Denakil Depression makes for an incredibly forbidding sight, but is harshly beautiful in its own way. The depression, formed by the earth’s movements millions of years ago, is one of the lowest points on earth that is not covered by water, and remains so due to the immense heat that makes it seemingly impossible for life to exist there.
The capital of the North West region of Eritrea, Keren is set over 1200m above sea level and is surrounded by even higher mountains, creating a remarkable landscape (the name alone, “Keren,” translates to “highland,” which makes a fair bit of sense). The temperate climate and fertile soil has made Keren a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, and is home to many historically and religiously important landmarks, alongside its breathtaking scenery.
The Dahlak Marine National Park is set in the waters surrounding the Dahlak archipelago, and was untouched during the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict, allowing its marine life to grow and prosper undisturbed. This has created unbelievably rich biodiversity, with over 350 varieties of fish alone. Scuba diving is extremely popular in the park, mostly led by former freedom fighters who have since been trained as dive instructors. The occasional wrecked ship can also be viewed in the waters, aftermath of the country’s long history of conflict.
The ancient ruins of the port of Adulis lie just 60km south of Massawa, and represent one of the former greatest ports of the ancient world. It is the oldest site in Eritrea, inhabited since at least the 6th century B.C.E., and was a massive center of trade on the Red Sea. The port has been entirely excavated, and evidence has been uncovered that shows the important role Adulis played in connecting the Roman, Egyptian, and Greek empires.
The Debre Bizen Monastery is an impressive 600-year-old monastery located over two hours from the closest town, Nefasit, and is set magnificently in the mountains of Eritrea. The views from the monastery are a sight indeed, but the structure itself represents the most prominent symbol of Christianity in the country and exudes an atmosphere of other-worldly, medieval holiness. It is said that the monastery was founded by His Holiness Abune Filipos, a man so holy that just his shadow was able to cure three cripples.
Hailed as some of the most beautiful countryside landscape in Eritrea, Filfil is located just northeast of Asmara and is known as the “Green Belt” region. It is home of the last of Eritrea’s evergreen tropical forest, making an ideal habitat for a variety of birds and mammals. The area is lush year-round, but is best visited from October to February, following the period of heavy rains.
The Shuq market in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, is a mandatory stop for all visitors to the country. The largest market in Eritrea, located in Eritrean Square, the Shuq offers all varieties of food for purchase, and allows visitors to witness the bustling commerce of the city. Mini-mills are set up around the outside of the market as well, where workers are busy preparing different grains for flour and other bread products. The hustle and bustle of the Shuq is incredible to watch, and should not be missed.
Opened after the conclusion of the country’s war with Ethiopia, Semenawi National Park offers incredible opportunities to see the vast wildlife that Ertirea has to offer. Leopards, klipspringers, bushbucks, warthog, and many more can all be found at Semenawi, set amongst a breathtaking vista in the foothills of mountain ranges stretching up to 2400 meters into the sky.
The ruins of Qohaito cover an impressive amount of area – over 15km long and 2.5km wide – and are thought to represent the ancient town of Koloe, a center of commerce and culture of the Aksumite kingdom. Even though only 20 percent of the ruins have been entirely excavated, visitors still have a plethora of sights to see, including the Temple of Mariam Wakiro and the impressive Egyptian Tomb.