If you’re planning to visit this country, these Eritrea Travel tips are essential. Eritrea is one of the least visited countries in Africa and is known as one of Africa’s most closed-off states. A nation that many people have never even heard of, Eritrea was our final country to visit from all 54 nations in Africa.
Eritrea sits on the horn of Africa, bordering Sudan, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. An African nation with a sprinkling of European and Arabian influence. This former Italian colony has charm and relaxed vibes. If you’re looking for a safe country in Africa that is full of adventure, smiling locals, and incredible architecture – this destination is for you.
There are essential things to know before your Eritrea Travel Adventure begins.
These tips will help you plan your trip and provide you with insider knowledge about travel in Eritrea. We hope you enjoy this fascinating country as much as we did.
Eritrea Travel – 10 Things To Know Before you Go
1. Download a VPN – Be Prepared to be offline
Internet is very limited in Eritrea, so be prepared to be more or less offline in the country. You will need a VPN to access what little internet is available, so download and activate one before you arrive. Be warned though; it’s terribly slow.
We used Atlas VPN and could send/receive emails. But social media such as Facebook and Instagram didn’t work for us. We expected to be offline for the week, so it didn’t bother us too much.
We heard that a VPN called ‘HA Tunnel Plus’ works well for the locals in Eritrea, so this could be a better option.
Either way, many internet cafes in Asmara charge around 15 Nakfa ($1) for an hour. It’s worth asking the young staff at internet cafes to configure the settings on your device. They’re quite savvy at making the necessary changes on your phone to get better access to the internet.
2. Download Google Maps of Eritrea & pin everything
Download an offline Google map of Eritrea before you arrive, and save or favourite all the areas of interest. We’d recommend pinning the location of your hotel in Asmara, cafes, and places to eat, and the many fascinating Art-Deco buildings, churches, and markets too.
If you have the map downloaded before arriving in Eritrea, you can pin more highlights once you’re in the country. Unfortunately, you will not be able to download a map after you arrive in Eritrea, and there are very limited options for maps or navigation once you’re here.
3. You need a Visa for Eritrea & Bring your International Covid Vaccination Certificate
After closing its borders in early 2020 due to the pandemic, Eritrea opened again to tourism in September 2022.
Most nationalities need a visa to visit Eritrea. You must apply for a visa in your country of residence. If your country does not have an Eritrean embassy, you may be able to obtain it in another country or even apply for a VOA (Visa on Arrival).
We’d recommend that you check the ivisa website for assistance or more information.
Alternatively, this list of all Eritrean Embassies and Consulates worldwide may help you to apply for your visa.
Covid Vaccination Requirements for Eritrea
We visited Eritrea in late October 2022. Upon arrival at Asmara airport, we showed our electronic International Covid Vaccination Certificate, advised them what hotel we were staying at, and did a quick rapid test (free of charge); it was all straightforward.
Furthermore, moving through immigration was hassle-free. It took about 5 minutes for the woman to check and process our visas – but no questions asked, and we received a warm welcome to Eritrea with a smile.
4. Bring enough USD cash or EUR for the entire trip – No ATMs
Eritrea is a cash society. Therefore, you must bring enough cash as there are no opportunities to withdraw more money. There are no ATMs that work with international bank cards. The best currency to bring is USD, as it will usually get you the best exchange rate for the local currency in Eritrea, the Nakfa.
Ensure that all USD notes are in good condition and printed after 2006. Otherwise, they may not accept them. Euros are accepted too, however, the exchange rate for local currency is lower than USD.
A currency exchange shop called HIMBOL is in the airport, in the small arrivals hall to your left. There is another one on Harnet Avenue, the main street in Asmara. You will need a passport to exchange any cash.
We visited in late October 2022. The rate of exchange at this time was:
$1 USD = 15 Nakfa
1 EUR = 14.70 Nakfa
Don’t exchange too much cash into Nakfa as it’s almost impossible to change it back before departure. Also, they will not change any Nakfa back to USD or foreign currency before your departure flight, so try and plan your spending on your final day or two accordingly.
5. Bring a good Power Bank
Electricity is usually unavailable during the daytime in Eritrea, so I recommend bringing a good power bank to charge your phone, camera, etc. The more expensive hotels may have generators to run the power, which is what you’re paying more for.
The water supply for showers and toilets runs on electricity, so you cannot shower or flush the toilet if the electricity is off. Plan your bathroom time accordingly.
Many bathrooms usually include a big bucket filled with water and a large cup to have a bucket shower or manually flush the toilet.
6. Book your first night’s accommodation before you arrive
Many flights to Asmara will arrive very late in the evening and we’d recommend booking at least your first night’s accommodation online, so you have somewhere to sleep.
We emailed 10+ hotels in Asmara to check availability and price for our arrival dates. Still, because the internet is so limited, we received only one reply from Crystal Hotel in Asmara. This is one of the better tourist hotels in Asmara, and the price of a room is USD 60 (single room) OR $83 (standard double room), which includes breakfast and wifi.
There are superior rooms available for approx $100 per night too.
We booked our first two nights here as our arrival flight was scheduled for 11 pm. It was easy to get a taxi from the airport, and there was a flat rate of 300 Nakfa or $20. Staff was waiting for us to arrive around midnight, with big welcoming smiles.
You can reserve a room at Crystal Hotel on Booking.com or email them directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once you’re in the country, there are many more choices for hotels, guesthouses, and pensions for every budget that you cannot find online.
Note: We’re currently working on putting a list together for more accommodation options in Asmara. This will include more information and prices.
7. Plan to Get your Permits to Travel in Eritrea on a Weekday
If you wish to travel to different cities or areas in Eritrea, you must first obtain permits from the Tourist Office on Harnet Avenue in Asmara. Do this as soon as possible, as they can sometimes take time to process.
Our experience was very smooth in getting our permits to travel to Keren and Massawa (which includes Dahlak Islands). You will need to tell them what dates you wish to travel to these cities, so it’s good to know a rough itinerary of your movements.
We applied on Thursday morning and returned to the office on the same day between 2-6 pm to collect them. You will need your passport to apply for the permits and pay 50 Nakfa ($3.40) per permit.
Note: The Tourist Office will request that you go next door to the copy shop and get a photocopy of your passport and Eritrean Visa Page for them to submit the permits on your behalf. The lady in the copy shop charges 3 Nakfa per page to photocopy it for you. Make sure you have photocopies of your permits when you leave Asmara as we were asked for copies at the military checkpoints.
The Tourist office is open Monday to Friday from 8-12 and 2-6 pm and 8 am-12 pm on Saturdays. CLOSED on Sundays.
8. Bring clothes for all seasons to travel Eritrea
The best time to visit Eritrea is during the high season, from October to March. The shoulder season is April and September, also pleasant times to visit. The low season in Eritrea is from May to August; it is very hot during this time, we don’t recommend visiting at this time.
Bring clothes suitable for both hot and cold weather. If you want to go swimming, snorkelling, or diving in the Dahlak Islands – remember to bring your swimsuit, sunscreen, and perhaps snorkel gear (as this is hard to find in the country).
For women, a scarf is recommended to cover your head if you wish to visit the churches.
Check out our Ultimate Packing List for Africa for all the essentials for Eritrea travel and beyond.