117,600 sq km (45,405 sq miles).
6.4 million (2014).
54.3 per sq km.
Transitional government since independence from Ethiopia in 1993.
Head of state:
President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.
Head of government:
President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.
230 volts AC, 50 Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.
Eritrea is a difficult country to define. Although in Africa, it doesn’t feel wholly African. While its broad shore faces the Middle East, it is not overtly Arabian. And though its capital evokes the spirit of Europe, it is far from European.
For such a small country, Eritrea offers an astonishing variety and it tends to attract a motley crew of visitors: from archaeologists to architects; scholars to scuba divers; historians to hikers; and cyclists to steam railway buffs.
While there are many reasons to come to Eritrea, there is one impression that endures when you leave: the remarkable kindliness of the Eritrean people. Making friends here is an unavoidable pleasure and one that touches the lives of so many visitors.
The country stretches along the Red Sea and is low-lying in the eastern coastal regions and western border with Sudan, with a precipitous mountainous interior rising to a majestic 2,500m (8200ft) above sea level.
Having been colonised in part by the Turks and Egyptians, Eritrea took on a European flavor with the arrival of the Italians in 1885 during their belated entry in the “scramble for Africa”. The legacies of successive foreign forces, combined with a rich mix of nine local ethnic groups have created a diverse cultural landscape that offers the best of African, Middle Eastern and European influences.
Eritrea also boasts an abundance of historical and natural attractions. The colonial and modernist architecture of its towns and cities is as stunning and startling as the wildlife that populates its mountainous escarpments, deserts and coastline.
Elephants, lions, baboons, gazelles, leopards, ostriches, turtles, dugongs and some of the continent’s rarest birds can all be found here. And with a coastline extending nearly 1,000km (621miles) along the Red Sea, Eritrea offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, as well as the most secluded beaches.
Once you’ve experienced Eritrea’s many secrets – travelled across its mountains and deserts, swam off its coastline, and met its warm people – it will only be a matter of time until you return for more.
Last updated: 18 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels are low, but appear to be rising. Take sensible precautions with your personal safety. Don’t walk around late at night alone. Keep valuables, particularly cameras and passports, out of sight. Keep a photocopy of the personal details page of your passport in a safe place, or with friends or family in the UK.
A large proportion of the population has access to arms under the government of Eritrea’s civilian militia programme. We have no evidence that these weapons have increased the threat of violent crime.
The FCO advise against all travel within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia. In most places the border is neither marked nor obvious. There were serious border clashes between Eritrea and Ethiopia in March and May 2012. Tensions remain high and there is a risk of further violence.
The border remains closed and is reported to be mined. In September 2011 a landmine exploded on the road between Senafe and Afoma killing five people.
The FCO advise against all travel within 25 km of Eritrea’s border with Djibouti. In 2008 there was fighting between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region. The situation remains unresolved.
The FCO advise against all travel to Eritrea’s border with Sudan, including the town of Tesseney and areas north and west of Nakh’fa, Ak’ordat and Barentu. In 2009, an attack on an international mining company vehicle on a road 35km north of Keren caused the deaths of one employee and two contractors.
There are extensive mine fields in Eritrea. Driving on main roads away from border areas is generally safe. Avoid driving on non-metalled roads and walking or hiking in the countryside.
Avoid travelling after dark in rural areas. Road signage and barriers are scarce, and steep drops are common. In many parts of the country roads are difficult or impassable during the rainy season.
On 21 January 2013, there were unusual military movements in and around Asmera. Local radio and TV were shut down for several hours after a group took control of the Ministry of Information. However there was no confirmed violence and the situation was back to normal by the following day. British nationals in Eritrea should exercise caution and continue to monitor our website.
Telephone networks are often unreliable and may only work for limited periods each day outside Asmera and larger towns. There are no agreements between Eritrean mobile telephone providers and international providers. You will not be able to receive or send calls or SMS text messages from any overseas mobile phone network on arrival in Eritrea. Local SIM cards can’t be purchased without a resident’s permit.
All electronic items (laptops, mobile phones, cameras etc) should be declared upon arrival. Failure to do so may result in their confiscation by Eritrean customs officials when you depart.
All foreign nationals need a travel permit to leave Asmera. Those working outside Asmera also need a travel permit to leave their area of residence or work. Applications in Asmera are handled by the relevant Ministry. For business travellers, applications are dealt with by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Applications outside Asmera are handled by the local Zoba (Region) Administration Offices. Permission may take several days to be granted and is sometimes refused or delayed. Tourists wishing to travel outside Asmera should apply for a travel permit at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue in Asmera. Processing usually takes around 24 hours.
Restrictions on travel by foreign nationals apply equally to foreign diplomats. Staff from the British Embassy may therefore find it difficult or impossible to provide consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmera.
There have been attacks of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Horn of Africa area. Be vigilant and take appropriate precautions.
Mariners must seek permissions and entry visas before attempting to land in Eritrea.
See our Piracy in the Indian Ocean page.
There are serious constraints on what the British Embassy can do to help British nationals in Eritrea. Foreign diplomats in Asmera must apply ten days in advance for permission to travel outside Asmera. This means that the Embassy is unlikely to be able to offer consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmera.
There are obstacles to the provision of consular assistance even in Asmera. The Eritrean authorities may not inform the relevant Embassy if a foreign national is in need of help and there have been recent instances where the Eritrean authorities have refused consular access to detained foreign nationals.