Travel tips for Eritrea?
January 22, 2010 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Has anybody been to Eritrea recently (or does anyone have reliable second-hand knowledge, e.g. from a close friend who has been there) and has some travel tips?

I'm fascinated by Eritrea, and want to go there in the Spring after the winter's over and before the rainy season starts. Will be going together with a friend I've travelled with before, so I know he's good company and a good travel companion (not always the same thing). We want to explore the 1930s architecture of Asmara, ride on the restored Italian-built railway, visit the underground city of Nakfa, the Madonna of the Baobab in Keren, go snorkelling off Massaua. The Lonely Planet guide has just been updated and republished, so there's some reliable info available. Oh, and we're not gay, just friends.

But does anyone have any recent essential dos and don'ts? Tips for clean, cheap accommodation? Awsome eating places? Non-ripoff car hire?

For example, widely different info is available from various sources on whether a travel permit to leave Asmara takes one day or 10 days to obtain. Or whether foreigners can get into Nakfa at all. And so on...

And please let's not get involved in the "don't support rogue states" issue: we both feel that boycotting rogue states does nothing to send messages to the dictators, it just keeps money out of the pockets of the hoteliers and restauranteurs who need it most. It's not that I don't respect your opinion, it's just that I already have mine. We were in Uzbekistan recently and I don't think we supported Karimov in any way at all, but we made some great friends.
posted by aqsakal to Travel & Transportation around Eritrea (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hi. I was there in late 2008 for work and stayed two months.

I belive Nakfa was totally off limits for foreigners then. About the railway it goes pretty seldom, If I remember correctly only once every month unless there is some special occation like a festival.

For living In Asmara I can highly recommend Hotel Sunshine on Bdho Avenue. It is not the cheapest option but the cheap options are in general so bad it is not worth it to stay there.
The hotel bar is also very popular on weekend evening when they have live music and is very popular among expats and eritreans. Two cheaper hotels I tried but moved from were Africa Pension (Oh so beutiful building and garden but the house is falling apart and very moldy) and Selam (In dire need of some restroration and far from the city centre)

When out in the countryside there are usually few options for hotels. In Keren I think it is best to skip the hotel at the city edge and go for the one in the centre with the funny observation tower on the roof. The standard is pretty low but at least it is in the city.

Best eating place in Asmara I think is the Italian Club. It is especially great for having lunch outside in their garden. Most places are fine however. Food is almost always fresh and well made.

In general when going outsite of Asmara be prepared to be pretty much the only tourist around. The upside of this is that hotel rooms are always available.

Rip-off risk is very low and most prices are fixed, however due to the high official exchange rate you have to buy currency to it is not super-cheap either. Even at the market I was treated as pretty much anyone else.

I always feeled very safe in Asmara and even more safe when going to the countryside. What can be a little scary are the military patrols that are guarding certain buildings in the night time. Around the main street in Asmara there are some beggars that might try to talk to, but I never feeled thretened. White or Asian people are pretty common in Asmara due to chineese workers and aid workers. Out in the countryside however such people are pretty exotic so many people might be intrested in you but this is mostly genuine with no expectations.

I am a bit unsure on how long i takes to get a travel permit for tourism as I had a goverment one for my work.

As you know up to date information is not very easy to find online. I got to know a guy very well when I was there who was the computer-tech for the hotel i talked about earlier. I remember he was starting a travel agency for tourism in Eritrea but I don't know how it actually did go. He is a very nice guy anyway and could probably look up theese things for you, maybe even apply for out of Asmara travel before you arrive. He speaks good english and have many american friends so he might be able to help you. Mefi mail me and I could put you in touch with him.

Also I can recommend the Bradt Eritrea book highly.
posted by ilike at 7:25 AM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

ilike: Many thanks indeed. That is a very generous and helpful response - exactly what I was looking for! I'll share it right now with my traveling companion, and we'll print it off before we go.
posted by aqsakal at 10:04 AM on January 24, 2010

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