Scenically captivating, historically intriguing, culturally inspiring, Eritrea is Africa’s best kept secret and one of the world’s last most secretive countries. If you’re looking for a place that will put you outside of your comfort zone and test your patience, Eritrea is worth your visit.
Why I chose Eritrea
Every year I look forward to exploring a new offbeat destination that will inspire hundreds of stories. 2019, eventually, was awarded with a fantastic trip to Eritrea.
The reason why I chose this secret African jewel is mostly because its culture is basically a melting pot. It might look tiny on your map, but the truth is Eritrea hosts a prismatic range of ethnic groups as well as being an old Italian landing port. I was also drawn to its complex political and economic situation, its increasingly difficult travel restrictions that would demotivate even the bravest ones. Why not mention its untouched archaeological sites and the fact that Eritrea is often associated to dictatorships such as North Korea.
Despite all this, Eritrea remains one of the most inspiring countries I’ve ever been to, particularly for travellers like me who crave for something a little different.
How I got the Entry Permit
Allegedly very restrictive in terms of who gets the approval and who doesn’t, my process was rather simple and straightforward.
The visa requirements were given to me through the embassy and over the phone for further clarification. Once I submitted my form, I had to wait for the Eritrean government to approve it and send back my passport with the visa stamped on it. All in no more than 1 week.
Now here is the challenging part. This is where I experienced a bureaucratic nightmare like never before.
You can walk freely in Asmara and many other towns, but, to travel anywhere outside Asmara, you need to get permits from the Ministry of Tourism. This office basically looks like a travel agency with one man or two girls sitting behind a counter. Because of the government’s restrictive control policies, you will need one permit for every town and means of transport you take. So, if you go from Asmara to Keren, you’ll need a permit that covers the round trip with exact dates, name of the hotel where you booked, car plate number or bus you intend to ride. In few words, these permits indicate where you will travel and how long you will stay. They are issued rather fast, usually the same day or the following morning if you request them in the afternoon.
You don’t need permits to go around Asmara. However, few museums will require an official permit for you to visit them. These are few places in and out of Asmara that require a special permit:
- The Military Tank Graveyard in the outskirts of Asmara
- The Dahlak Islands (a permit for each island)
The challenging part, at least for me, was having to plan the whole trip down to details, thus making it not fluid and spontaneous as I would normally prefer it to be.
Know before you go & Myths
There is a lot of speculation and skepticism about Eritrea’s reputation, so, here is my experience.
- You can travel on your own, you do not necessarily need a pre-arranged tour. You can do this trip on your own, thus bearing the challenges I mentioned above.
- There are no ATMs in the country, so bring with you US Dollars and Euros. The notes serial number must not be older than 1998. This particular requirement is also found in other African countries and some of the Emirates. If you run out of cash, you can turn to Western Union or a hotel that accepts foreign credit cards by charging a small fee for the service.
- Wi-Fi? Yes, you can find it. Around Asmara there are many internet cafes where you can pay a small fee and navigate. Some cafes are better equipped than others, thus solving the basic problem of connection.